KASHIMA: A bizarre own goal 10 minutes from time gave two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande a 2-1 win over Shandong Luneng, while title holders Kashima Antlers edged Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 as the AFC Champions League last 16 kicked off on Tuesday.
Shandong looked like they had snatched a draw against Fabio Cannavaro’s injury-depleted side when Zhang Chi lashed home a second-half equalizer, set up by the former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
Evergrande, with first-choice strikers Talisca of Brazil and Gao Lin missing, had started with an inexperienced frontline of Wei Shihao and Yang Liyu up front.
The 24-year-old former Shandong academy player Wei blew a golden chance to score against his old club when he blazed over when put clean through by veteran skipper Zheng Zhi after 20 minutes.
But he made amends 15 minutes later, when former Barcelona and Spurs midfielder Paulinho broke powerfully down the right and cut back from the byline.
Goalkeeper Wang Dalei failed to deal with the cross and Wei gleefully poked home from seven yards to give the home side the lead, before leaping into manager Cannavaro’s arms in celebration.
After Zhang’s equalizer gave Shandong a crucial away goal, the match seemed to be heading for a draw until the 80th minute.
Yang Liyu’s speculative cross from the right touchline took the slightest of deflections from defender Zheng Zheng’s outstretched foot.
But that proved enough to beat Wang, who had inexplicably vacated his near post and could only watch helplessly as the ball squirmed across the line for the winner.
In the first all-Japanese last 16 clash since 2011, Sanfrecce Hiroshima finished with 10 men after Sho Inagaki received a second yellow card in the 86th minute at Kashima. The visitors conceded the only goal in the 24th minute when a long clearance fell to the Kashima’s Shoma Doi.
The attacking midfielder drove down the left and into the Hiroshima box where his cross looped up off Yuki Nogami’s attempted block for Brazilian striker Serginho to head in from close range for his third goal of this year’s competition.
Douglas Vieira enjoyed the best chance for the visitors, but turned and blasted wastefully over the bar when finding himself unmarked on the penalty spot from a 38th-minute corner.
The in-form Sanfrecce arrived in Ibaraki Prefecture on the back of five consecutive AFC Champions League victories, but they rarely threatened Kashima’s Korean goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae in a lacklustre match. The second legs to decide the first two quarterfinalists will take place in Shandong and Hiroshima next Tuesday.