Jinan: Fabio Cannavaro was delighted Guangzhou Evergrande shook off their Chinese Super League hoodoo to advance to the last eight of the 2019 AFC Champions League with victory over Shandong Luneng on Tuesday.
The Italian’s team needed a penalty shootout to book their place in the last eight after Shandong overturned Guangzhou’s 2-1 first leg advantage to take the game into extra-time, where both teams found the net again before penalties were required.
And with Zhong Yihao scoring in the sixth round of spot-kicks after Liu Dianzuo had saved Cui Peng’s effort for Shandong, Guangzhou saw off their compatriots having exited the competition at the hands of Shanghai SIPG and Tianjin Quanjian in each of the last two seasons.
“Evergrande have been eliminated by Chinese Super League teams the past two years in a row but we came through today, finally,” Cannavaro said. “We were not at our best in the second half and we were sitting too close to the goal. They had an advantage with the high ball and that was a big threat to us.
“We expected this situation before the game. We did well in the first half but Shandong are good with the high ball and in order to defend against it we needed to take more control of the ball.”
Round of 16 2nd Leg: Shandong Luneng FC v Guangzhou Evergrande FC
Evergrande looked to have the game under control when Paulinho scored in the first half to extend their aggregate lead to 3-1 but goals from Zhou Haibin and Marouane Fellaini took the game into extra-time.
There, Liu Junshuai put Shandong in front on aggregate for the first time in the tie only for Paulinho to strike again, this time with a stunning free-kick that meant the game went into a penalty shootout.
After five perfect rounds, Cui had his attempt saved by Liu, leaving Zhong to score the penalty that took Guangzhou into the next phase of the competition.
GAME-OVER | Shandong Luneng ?? 3-2 (5-6 on penalties) Guangzhou Evergrande ?? (Aggregate 4-4)
Guangzhou prove the coolest from the spot as they head into the quarter-finals after winning the penalty shootout! #SDLvGUA #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/6PKVBcSqSR
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) June 25, 2019
“I’m very happy with this result,” said Cannavaro, whose side has struggled with injuries to key players in recent weeks. “Given the state of our team it means a lot to me.
“Gao Lin hasn’t played for a long time and that’s why he hasn’t played in the last few games. We asked him to play in extra time because he’s the kind of player who gives me confidence. I wanted to see someone I know I can rely on when I need help.
“All I can do is trust our young players. If Anderson Talisca had been here the game might have been easier and I hope our missing players can return as soon as possible.”
A disconsolate Li Xiaopeng revealed his team had not practiced penalties prior to the game and offered his apologies to Shandong fans for his side’s elimination.
“Everyone worked very hard today and I’m sorry we are eliminated,” he said “Sorry to our fans. We didn’t prepare for a penalty shootout before the game but I had confidence in my players.”