SHANGHAI: Brazilian international Hulk scored one and made another as Shanghai SIPG all but sealed their spot in the AFC Champions League semifinals with a 4-0 first-leg rout of Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Evergrande are on course to retain the Chinese Super League (CSL) title but barring a miracle they are out of this quarterfinals all-Chinese tie even with the home leg to come.
Short of key midfielder Paulinho, the Brazilian who last week moved to Barcelona, Scolari’s men only woke up very briefly after the break but by then they were 2-0 down and their dreams of a domestic and continental double dead.
Two second-half goals in as many minutes by Chinese international Wu Lei, one fed by Hulk, put the tie out of sight.
Scolari, who repeatedly shook his head at Monday’s pre-match press conference after rain played havoc with his training plans, revealed after the match that the air conditioning in the away changing room at Shanghai Stadium was broken.
“We are in a sauna!” the Brazilian veteran coach exclaimed to the press in English, with temperatures hovering around 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) in the city even as night fell.
He refused to blame the defeat on that but his Evergrande side did feel the loss of Paulinho, he said.
“SIPG deserved the win tonight,” added Scolari, who like opposite number Andre Villas-Boas is a former Chelsea manager.
“Hulk is very strong, he has pace and he creates a lot of chances. He’s very threatening.”
In the formidable form of Hulk, SIPG had a forward who was a muscular menace throughout.
Twice early on he shot weakly at Evergrande goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and midway through the first half he was snuffed out by the overworked Zeng.
Next Hulk teed up the 60-million-euro man Oscar, his fellow Brazilian who had a quiet game, but he too shot straight at Zeng.
Then Oscar saw a right-footed curler from distance whistle past Zeng’s far post.
Scolari spread his arms out in despair on the sidelines and gestured to his defense to engage their brains.
But they didn’t and after attacking midfielder Wu went over under minimal contact in the box, Hulk stepped up to ram home the penalty on 38 minutes.
It was his seventh goal in the Champions League this season.
On the brink of half time Villas-Boas’s men made it 2-0, skipper Wang Shenchao popping up at the backpost to bundle the ball in.
No doubt Scolari gave his men a half-time grilling and Evergrande, two-time Champions League winners, started the better in the second period.
But Wu punished them with just over an hour on the clock with a classy solo effort and on 64 minutes he scored again after being played in by the rampaging Hulk for 4-0 and game over.
“Excellent performance, great attitude from the players. We proved our power and ambition,” said Villas-Boas, whose SIPG has hit a rocky patch of form in the CSL to drop out the domestic title race.
“The referee should have sent off two Evergrande players, but he forgot,” deadpanned the Portuguese, without saying which players he was referring to.
Meanwhile in West Asia, Iran’s Persepolis struck twice late on to snatch a 2-2 draw with Saudi giants Al Ahli in their quarterfinals first leg.
Al Ahli, the runners-up in 1985 and 2012, appeared to have sealed victory in Muscat when they took a commanding 2-0 lead thanks to a second-minute strike from Omar al-Somah and a 58th-minute effort from Brazilian midfielder Leonardo.
But with the game winding down Persepolis injected fresh life into their campaign through Shoja Khalilzadeh’s header before they leveled on 84 minutes when Nigerian Godwin Mensha rifled home from the edge of the box.