Marcello Lippi was sent to the stands, Zhang Linpeng was shown a late red card and the Urawa Reds won 3-2, but Guangzhou Evergrande still progressed to the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League.
Guangzhou's first defeat of the season came at the hands of the former Asian champions in an end-to-end encounter at Saitama Stadium that Evergrande led at half-time thanks to an opportunistic strike by Lucas Barrios and in which Muriqui scored his sixth goal of the campaign late in the game to set up a thrilling finish.
But in the end, even the loss was not enough to deny Guangzhou a place in the next phase of the competition as the 10 points accumulated over the previous four games ensured the Chinese Super League champions booked a berth in the competition's last 16.
A draw against Jeonbuk Motors next week will secure top spot in group F for Guangzhou and home advantage in the second leg of the encounter against the runners-up from group E.
"It was a very hard game," said Guangzhou assistant coach Massimiliano Maddaloni. "We had a good first half. But Urawa came back into the game in the second half and we were under pressure.
"I don't think our players were affected by the atmosphere of playing away. However, the home-ground atmosphere gave the Reds an advantage. But still, we should be capable of playing our brand of football, or we won't be able to go any further."
Barrios gave Guangzhou the lead nine minutes before the break but goals from Shinzo Koroki, Yuki Abe and Marcio Richardes put Urawa in control during a 14-minute spell in the second half.
Lippi was sent from the bench by referee Mohsen Torki for kicking a water bottle in frustration before Muriqui scored from close range to reduce the deficit with less than five minutes of the game remaining.
But Zhang capped a bittersweet evening for Guangzhou deep into injury time when he reacted to a collision with Nobuhisa Yamada, barging the Japanese defender off the ball and earning a straight red card.
There was disappointment, too, for Jiangsu Sainty, who slipped to a 2-0 loss at the hands of FC Seoul, although with Buriram United and Vegalta Sendai drawing in the other game in group E, Dragan Okuka's side have a slim chance of advancing.