Guangzhou prove a step too far for Al Ahli in pursuit of Asian Champions League crown

In the end, it was simply one step too far for Al Ahli as Guangzhou Evergrande clinched the Asian Champions League title courtesy of Elkesen's second half goal at Tianhe Stadium.

Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkesen celebrates the goal that proved enough to clinch the Asian Champions League title for his team. AFP
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GUANGZHOU, CHINA // In the end, it was simply one step too far for Al Ahli.

One match from being crowned Asian Champions League winners, one more colossal effort required that ultimately proved just beyond them.

Guangzhou Evergrande were the victors, on the night and in the tie, triumphing 1-0 in Saturday’s second leg at a teeming Tianhe Stadium to take it 1-0 on aggregate.

Elkeson got the goal, supplied the decisive strike that secured the trophy. Ahli concluded a fraight encounter with 10 men, when Salmeen Khamis first saw a straight red and then the red mist descended.

Yet Guangzhou, the 2013 champions, were hoisted to that rarefied place, becoming only the second side to lift the title for a second time.

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Ahli, those knockout-round rookies, were knocked cold and then knocked out. What always seemed the impossible dream, despite the coups and the comebacks, had finally run its course. The UAE’s wait for another Asian club champion lives on.

In truth, Guangzhou always represented Ahli’s toughest test thus far, stacked with Brazilian talent and coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who led the Brazil national team to the 2002 World Cup

It was a compatriot who clinched another trinket for the collection, when Elkeson swivelled in the Ahli area on 52 minutes, let the ball run through Khamis and slotted past Ahmed Dida in the visiting goal. The Tianhe, packed tight with 42,499 fans, pulsated and it pounded. Guangzhou had lift-off.

Until that point they had the upperhand, with Ricardo Goulart and Zheng Long forcing a couple of first-half saves from Dida. Ahli had one of their own in the 27t minute, but Rodrigo Lima could only sting the palms of Guangzhou’s Zeng Cheng.

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Ahli’s chances seemed to end when Khamis’s night terminated early, the Emirati defender sent off not long after the hour for an apparent stamp on Zheng. Twisted with rage, Khamis had to be hauled down the tunnel by members of the Ahli bench, an ugly denouement to what had been a competent campaign.

Ahli did have one final burst, though, but Lima’s tame shot on the breakaway was blocked and the rebound, ricocheting off his body, sailed over. It was over for Ahli, Guangzhou just too strong, too schooled. Ahli’s fairy-tale foray had come up agonisingly short.