Evergrande hammer Muangthong 4-0 in AFC Cup
Scintillating second-half goalfest leaves Guangzhou sitting pretty at top of their Asian Champions League group, but Lippi remains cautious
Guangzhou Evergrande made a statement of their intent to challenge for the continental championship last night, as they reached the halfway point in the AFC Champions League group stages by handing Thailand's Muangthong United a 4-0 hammering.
This leaves Marcello Lippi's side in pole position to progress to the knockout phase.
The win - secured thanks to a double from Dario Conca as well as goals from Muriqui and Gao Lin - puts Guangzhou two points clear of Jeonbuk Motors at the summit of group F and a further two points clear of Urawa Reds in the quest for the two berths in the next round of the competition.
Guangzhou travel to face the Thai Premier League side again next week and victory coupled with a defeat for Urawa in South Korea against Jeonbuk would send the Chinese Super League side into the knockout phase for the second season in a row.
Despite his side's proximity to the round-of-16 phase of the competition, Lippi remains cautious.
"This was a difficult game and our opponents put up a good fight," said Guangzhou's World Cup and Uefa Champions League-winning coach. "We were not good enough in the first half and the players were playing too narrowly. We improved in the second half, though, and won.
"There are still many uncertainties regarding final qualification from the group. I am a bit surprised to hear that Jeonbuk beat Urawa in an away game, so it's still too early to tell who will qualify. We have to be careful.
"I never expected that we would score four goals in the second half. But I did think we would have goals. The next match will be a very tough away game. It's always tough to play at another team's home."
All four of last night's goals came in the second half as Muangthong frustrated Guangzhou before Conca opened the scoring with a header from Gao's cross in the 51st minute. Muriqui doubled the lead seven minutes later after Lucas Barrios' return pass sent the Brazilian through on goal.
Gao made it 3-0 when Muriqui turned provider seven minutes from time.
Conca completed the rout from the penalty spot in injury time, as Guangzhou notched their biggest win in the competition so far this season and laid down a marker that they intend to build on last season's run to the quarter-finals.
Guangzhou lost out on the away-goals rule to two-time champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in the last eight in 2012, but have set their sights on a place in the semi-finals at least this time around, a stage no Chinese club have reached since Shenzhen Jianlibao in 2005.
Guizhou Renhe's hopes of making it through to the knockout rounds in their debut season suffered a blow as they slipped to the bottom of group H earlier in the day, with a 2-1 defeat in Australia against Central Coast Mariners in Gosford.
Gong Lei's side are eight points adrift of leaders Kashiwa Reysol after the Japanese side handed former Asian champions Suwon Bluewings a 6-2 thrashing in South Korea. Suwon missed three times from the penalty spot and the victory maintains Kashiwa's perfect start to the group stages.
With two teams advancing to the next phase, the Chinese FA Cup runners-up are three points behind second-placed Central Coast, who won thanks to a Trent Sainsbury goal nine minutes from time and victory in the return clash in China next week would restore Guizhou's chances in the competition.
"It was a very fast-paced and exciting match," said Gong, whose side pulled level via a Mat Ryan own goal after Pedj Bojic had given Central Coast the lead.
"It was topsy-turvy and frantic, filled with suspense until the last minute. We had a lot of chances in front of goal, but we failed to take them, whereas the Mariners took theirs.
"Having said that, this is just one of the fixtures in the group, so we have to learn to take our chances to avoid making the same mistake in future group fixtures."
Central Coast are now second in the group, with head coach Graham Arnold relieved that his side managed to pick up the three points after struggling to turn their domination into goals.
"It was a good performance, although we made it hard for ourselves," said the former Socceroos coach. "We could have easily been three or four nil up before they scored. It was a very sloppy goal to give away and we gave them some energy to get back into the game, but overall it was a fantastic performance."