GUANGZHOU: Paulinho’s late strike put Guangzhou Evergrande in the driving seat as they beat Kashima Antlers 1-0 in the first leg of their AFC Champions League round of 16 clash on Tuesday.
The ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder struck on 75 minutes to reward heavy pressure from Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Evergrande, who lifted the Asian title in 2013 and 2015.
It was all the Chinese champions deserved against an unambitious Kashima team, who nevertheless will have hopes of overturning the deficit at home in next week’s second leg.
At Thailand’s Thunderdome Stadium, Yu Kobayashi’s stunning volley was the highlight as Kawasaki Frontale struck three times in the second half to convincingly beat Muangthong United 3-1.
Kengo Nakamura scored on 66 minutes to cancel out Teerasil Dangda’s first-half opener, before Kobayashi cracked home his instinctive volley with the outside of his right boot on 69 minutes.
Kobayashi turned creator in the 89th minute for Kawasaki’s third, when he fired a low ball across the face to set up Hiroyuki Abe for an easy finish.
In Guangzhou, Evergrande edged an open first half in which Li Xuepeng and Alan were both denied by Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae in the early exchanges.
Kento Misao almost gave the visitors a surprise lead when his glancing header from a corner crept past the far post on 21 minutes.
Evergrande coach Scolari looked increasingly agitated as Ricardo Goulart passed up a series of chances and Alan was unlucky with a turn and shot which juddered the stanchion on 66 minutes.
But the pressure finally told on 75 minutes, when a corner from the right bounced across the goalmouth and Paulinho gobbled up his fourth goal of the campaign.
Goulart came close with a spectacular overhead and at the other end, Ryota Nagaki squandered a golden chance to equalize when he put a free-kick wide in the dying minutes.
Quick-fire second-half goals from Al Hilal’s Abdullah Al Zori and Carlos Eduardo negated Hassan Beit Saeed’s opener for Esteghlal Khuzestan as the Saudi side—runners-up in 2014—secured a 2-1 victory in Iran.
Mehdi Taremi, the competition’s leading scorer, missed a late penalty as Iranian outfit Persepolis were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Lekhwiya of Qatar.
Luiz Junior struck the post for the visitors with a fizzing long-range effort in the first half, but they were indebted to goalkeeper Mohammed Musa who produced a superb stop to deny Taremi from the spot on 82 minutes.