Guangzhou Evergrande squeezed into the knockout stage of the 2017 AFC Champions League with a 2-2 draw against Suwon Bluewings at Tianhe Stadium on Tuesday evening, thanks to a controversial goal from Brazilian forward Ricardo Goulart.
The Chinese Super League big-spenders, who were continental champions in 2013 and 2015, avoided last season’s ignominious first-round exit to finish second in Group G.
Goulart’s second goal, that gave Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men the point they needed to finish second in the group, looked to be clearly offside.
It was cruel on the South Koreans who pushed the six-time Chinese champions all the way. But they bow out of the competition after finishing third.
The game started well for Suwon. The K-League team, needing to win, almost took the lead as Kim Min-woo forced a point-blank save from goalkeeper Zeng Cheng. It got better for the visitors after eight minutes as Yeom Ki-hun side-footed the Blues ahead to silence the home crowd.
Elimination would have put Scolari’s job on the line but Goulart eased the pressure nine minutes later. There seemed to be little danger when the Brazilian collected the ball outside the area, thanks to a clever flick from compatriot Alan. But an instant low shot crept past Shin Hwa-yong in the Suwon goal.
Shortly after Shin was in action again, tipping a fierce shot from Paulinho over the bar.
Both teams continued to have chances but after the break, Suwon piled the pressure on the hosts. Kim Min-woo bent a shot just wide from the edge of the area.
Shortly after, Yeom Ki-hun forced a fantastic save from Zeng as the Guangzhou number one somehow palmed a shot that seemed destined for the top corner away for a corner. Midway through the second half, Goulart did it again, although his header from a Gao Lin cross looked to be from an offside position — not that 40,000 plus home fans cared, as the stadium celebrated what seemed to be progression to the second round.
With 11 minutes remaining, however, Suwon were level. It was a fine strike from Kim Jung-woo who turned outside the area, and let fly a fierce, low shot that clipped the inside of the post before crossing the line.
Guangzhou held on for the point they needed to spark major celebrations.
As expected Kawasaki Frontale booked their place in the second round, and took top spot with a 4-0 win over group-whipping boys Eastern SC, of Hong Kong.
Australian hopes of a representative in the knockout stage were dashed as Adelaide United failed to take second spot in Group H. The A-league team had to defeat the already-through Jiangsu Suning at home, and hope that South Korea’s Jeju United failed to defeat Gamba Osaka of Japan.
Neither came to pass.
Jeju’s 2-0 win was started by Chung Woon, who got behind a napping Japanese defence just before the half hour to put the Koreans ahead.
Midway through the second half, Hwang Il-su sealed Adelaide’s fate with a strike worthy of any stage. Hwang collected a weighted pass just inside the Gamba half, set off for goal and, from just outside the area, bent an unstoppable shot high into the Japanese goal.
Adelaide lost 1-0 to their Chinese opponents. The hosts enjoyed plenty of chances against Jiangsu, who had left expensive stars such as Alex Teixeira and Ramires at home, but were punished for their wastefulness by Ji Xiang nine minutes from the end. It completes a dismal campaign for Australian teams with all three clubs falling at the first hurdle.
John Duerden covers Asian football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.