Guangzhou Evergrande eye final after crushing Kashiwa Reysol
Coach Marcello Lippi remains cautious but his side hold a 4-1 advantage for the semi-final return leg in the AFC Champions League
Guangzhou Evergrande put themselves within touching distance of the AFC Champions League final last night, handing Kashiwa Reysol a 4-1 thrashing thanks to an irresistible second-half performance, but coach Marcello Lippi refused to consider his team's mission accomplished with next week's second leg remaining.
Lippi's team look set to become the first Chinese side to reach the deciding game of the continental championship since Dalian Wanda lost on penalties to Pohang Steelers in the final of the Asian Club Championship in Hong Kong in 1998. Only a disaster at Tianhe Stadium next week will see Guangzhou fall short.
Two goals from Muriqui - his 10th and 11th in the tournament in 11 games so far this season - as well as a thunderous strike from Dario Conca and an own goal by Kim Chang-soo cancelled out a 10th minute header by former Guangzhou forward Cleo.
But despite holding such a substantial lead - which features four precious away goals for Guangzhou and which could have been more as Muriqui also hit the post - World Cup and Uefa Champions League winning coach Lippi remained cautious ahead of next Wednesday's return meeting.
"We suffered early in the game as we gave away the goal to Reysol on a free kick," said the Italian. "We won our confidence back as the game wore on, and started showing what we can do around the time when Muriqui hit the post in the first half.
"After that our team found the pace of the game, played well and scored four goals in the second half. That shows our capability. Reysol played fast but I think we were the better side.
"I don't think we have got [a place in the final] yet. I'm 64 years old this year and have been in the coaching business for 30 years, and from that experience I can tell that you that you never know what will happen next in football. Reysol have ability and were a tough side to play this time."
Reysol deserved their half-time advantage, but an irresistible showing in the second half after the introduction of Zhao Xuri into the Guangzhou midfield and a rejig in defence that saw Feng Xiaoteng replaced by Zhang Linpeng saw the Chinese club look more fluent and confident.
Soon after the goals started to flow. Muriqui levelled in the 58th minute with an effort that was powered into the roof of the net and, nine minutes later, Conca's left foot shot from distance gave Takanori Sugeno no chance in the Reysol goal.
Conca's 82nd minute corner was deflected into his own goal by Kim and, as the game went into injury time, Muriqui put the outcome on the night - and very likely of the tie overall - beyond doubt.
Any hopes Reysol might have of Lippi and his team easing off in the second leg would appear to be forlorn. "We are still on the way to moving to the next stage," said Lippi. "But we want to win to advance to the next round."