Al Hilal and Guangzhou Evergrande put one foot in the AFC Champions League semi-finals with comfortable victories, while Al Ahli took a step towards reaching that stage for the first time with a surprise 1-0 win at Naft Tehran. In the all-Japanese quarter-final, first leg, Jeonbuk Motors and Gamba Osaka finished goalless. FIFA.com reviews the developments.
Al Hilal 4-1 Lekhwiya
The Saudi giants’ King Fahd Stadium was, for so long, a feared fortress. Lekwiya ripped up the script in the 2013 edition, however, when they won 1-0 in Riyadh en route to making the last eight at Al Hilal’s expense. There was to be no repeat this time around. Last year’s runners-up, indeed, maintained their unbeaten home record in this year’s tournament with an emphatic 4-1 success. New singing Ailton capitalised upon a goalkeeping error to break the deadlock early on, and although Youssef Msakni equalised, goals from Khalid Kaabi and Carlos Eduardo sent Hilal in at the break leading 3-1. The latter’s second of the game, four minutes from time, gave Giorgos Donis’s side a three-goal cushion to take to Doha in three weeks’ time.
The other attractions
Guangzhou put new salt to their opponents’ old wounds as they maintained their undefeated record against Kashiwa with a fourth win in five encounters. The 2013 champions made a dream start when the hosts’ captain Daisuke Suzuki put through his own net, and Paulinho, on his AFC Champions League debut, doubled the advantage with a swerving, 40-yard free-kick. Gao Lin made it 3-0 to Luis Felipe Scolari’s men with a header on the stroke of the hour, but Masato Kudo’s last-gasp effort salvaged a glimmer of hope for Kashiwa.
The much-anticipated champions' derby ended in a goalless stalemate – a result more pleasing to visiting Gamba. Jeonbuk, indeed, monopolised possession and missed a few gilt-edged chances in the first half. They then spurned a golden opportunity late in the second half, when veteran striker Lee Donggook failed to latch on to Luiz Henrique's cross.
Finally, a scrappy affair at the Azadi Stadium was settled by Lima’s solitary goal just after the hour. Naft pressed hard from the outset, but Al Ahli always looked dangerous on the break and got their reward through the Brazilian’s fine diving header.
Four Brazilians took to the field at the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium, but it was Paulinho who stood out. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder’s menace caused Suzuki to score an own-goal, before he extended Guangzhou’s lead with a spectacular free-kick.
5 – Of the ten goals scored in the quarter-final first legs, 50 per cent game from Brazilians.
What they said
“We can’t take the return leg lightly. I am very confident about my team's performance in the second leg, but I also respect Kashiwa and we won’t underestimate them. They are the strongest opponents I have faced in my 12 games in charge of Guangzhou." Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guangzhou coach.
Al Hilal 4-1 Lekhwiya
Naft Tehran 0-1 Al Ahli
Kashiwa Reysol 1-3 Guangzhou Evergrande
Jeonbuk Motors 0-0 Gamba Osaka