Alessandro Diamanti worth his weight in Guangzhou goals
Italy international proves potential in come-from-behind effort for hosts against Melbourne
Alessandro Diamanti dispelled any doubts he could replace the departed Dario Conca at Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday night as Guangzhou Evergrande kicked off their AFC Champions League title defence with a 4-2 win over Melbourne Victory.
Diamanti proved his worth in an inspired second-half performance when he fired in two goals in Guangzhou's spectacular come-from-behind victory.
The 30-year-old current Italy international, who was signed from Serie A side Bologna during the close season, proved to be 7 million euros (HK$74.6 million) of money well spent as he led Guangzhou's successful fightback against a spirited Melbourne side.
He scored in the 65th and 85th minutes as well as being instrumental in the build-up to Huang Bowen's goal, which halved Melbourne's lead, and he left the field to a tumultuous reception when he was substituted late in the game by coach Marcello Lippi.
"Tonight was a difficult game," said the Italian World Cup-winning coach.
"My team were not 100 per cent prepared. Last season finished late, so we had an off-season for a month and we started back late. Our players haven't reached their best form to face a challenge at the level of the AFC Champions League.
"Our opponents are in the middle of their league season and in good shape. We were behind their performance in the first half and they deserved to lead 2-0.
"But, in the second half, we found our tempo to control the game. Most importantly, our players showed a strong desire to win."
Diamanti's selection in the middle of the team was the only change to the side that dominated Chinese and Asian soccer last season. The Italian took over as the conductor of the Guangzhou team following Conca's return to Brazilian side Fluminense at the end of last season.
His initial performance, however, was disjointed and uneven, with Melbourne taking advantage of Guangzhou's uncertainty in the first half to claim an unexpected two-goal lead via Pablo Contreras and Leigh Broxham in the 36th and 41st minutes, respectively.
Lippi replaced the ineffective Muriqui at half-time with Liao Lisheng and the rejig worked wonders for Guangzhou. Huang's volley pulled the champions back into the tie in the 59th minute before Diamanti's long-range effort deceived Nathan Cole in the Melbourne goal six minutes later.
Elkeson gave Guangzhou the lead in the 71st minute and, with five minutes remaining, Diamanti made sure of the win when he stabbed his effort home after skipping past Contreras.
China's other representative in the AFC Champions League, Guizhou Renhe, began their campaign with a 1-0 loss away to Japan's Kawasaki Frontale, with Brazilian Renato scoring the only goal of the game.