Ricardo Goulart inspirational for Guangzhou Evergrande in AFC Champions League
Brazilian striker takes over the role from 2013 star Muriqui as the Chinese side edge Kashima Antlers 4-3 in their latest victory
When Guangzhou Evergrande ended China's 23-year wait for a continental title at the end of 2013, the side from Guangdong province did it thanks to goals from a Brazilian import.
Now under the control of former World Cup-winning defender Fabio Canavarro, the four-time Chinese Super League champions have a new hero from the South American country famed for producing world-class strikers.
In 2013, it was Muriqui who found the net 13 times for Guangzhou. This year, compatriot Ricardo Goulart is the one banging in the goals.
Goulart already has six goals to his name in just three AFC Champions League games after scoring twice on Wednesday night as Canavarro's side edged Japan's Kashima Antlers 4-3 in a group H thriller at Tianhe Sport Centre Stadium, maintaining their 100 per cent record.
The 25-year-old, who has also scored two in two games at the start of the new domestic season, headed home after just 10 minutes, having netted a hat-trick against defending champions Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia two weeks ago.
Kashima did take the lead before the hour mark with goals from Hiroyuki Takasaki and Shoma Doi either side of half-time.
But after Guangzhou's other Brazilian Elkeson levelled with a header before the 60-minute mark, Goulart saved the best for last as the striker found the bottom corner from the edge of the penalty area after driving at the heart of the Kashima defence, having picked the ball up 40 yards from goal.
And with substitute Zhao Xuri crucially adding the fourth in stoppage time before Gaku Shibasaki netted for Kashima, Guangzhou's third consecutive win leaves the 2013 champions five points clear at the top of group H with three games remaining after Western Sydney shared a goalless draw with FC Seoul in the Korean capital.
"It is natural to score in a good team like this," said Elkeson after netting his first goal of year.
And China are on course to have two teams in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2013 after Brisbane Roar and Korea Republic's Suwon Samsung drew 3-3 in Australia yesterday to leave Beijing Guoan also five points clear at the top of group G at the halfway stage of the round-robin phase.
Beijing beat Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds 2-0 on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, South China went top of group G in the AFC Cup after a 1-0 away victory over Malaysia's Pahang.
Striker Chan Siu-ki scored the only goal on 13 minutes to silence the 10,000-crowd in Kuantan. "This is an empathetic win and we have to capitalise on the opportunity by winning the next two games to finish top of the group," said Chan.
With three wins in a row, the Caroliners lead the table with nine points, five more than second-place Pahang.
Additional reporting by Chan Kin-wa