Guangzhou break jinx to put campaign back on track

Kobe’s midfielder Andres Iniesta is marked by Guangzhou’s forward Ai Kesen (L) and midfielder Zhang Xiuwei (R) during the AFC Champions League group G football match between Japan’s Vissel Kobe and China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on November 28, 2020 at the al-Janoub Stadium in the Qatari city of Al Wakrah. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande snapped a seven-game winless streak in the Asian Champions League with a 2-0 victory over Japan’s Vissel Kobe on Saturday.

First-half goals from Brazilians Anderson Talisca and Ai Kesen were enough for Guangzhou to avenge their defeat to Vissel Kobe just three days ago and put themselves in contention for a spot in the round of 16.

Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro had been at his wit’s end with his team’s inability to crack open rival defences, conceding he didn’t have an explanation as to what was wrong with them.

But his strong words at press conferences – and probably in the dressing room, too – finally seemed to have their desired effect as the 2013 and 2015 winners broke their long-standing jinx to jump to second spot in Group G with four points, two behind Vissel Kobe.

The Japanese side had already qualified after two wins from as many matches after their group was left with only three teams following the withdrawal of Malaysian outfit Johor Darul Ta’zim.

Guangzhou, who won the Chinese Super League eight times in a 10-year period starting 2011 – they were also runners up when they didn’t win the tournament in 2018 and 2020, also had a poor record against Japanese teams in the continental competition.

They had lost four of their past six games against Japanese outfits and knew full well another defeat on Saturday would have severely compromised their chances of making the round of 16.

Guangzhou established control over the match early on Saturday and went ahead in the 17th minute with a perfectly taken penalty by Talisca after he was fouled by Hirofumi Watanabe.

Talisca went on to miss two chances after that and Zhong Yihao also saw his effort saved by Vissel Kobe goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura.

Iikura, however, couldn’t keep out a free-kick from Ai Kesen as Guangzhou increased their lead in the 38th minute.

Vissel Kobe managed to put pressure on Guangzhou in the final 15 minutes of the game, but Andres Iniesta saw his shot saved while Douglas headed the ball just over the bar.

Eight minutes from time, Cannavaro’s men almost extended their lead when Ai Kesen beat two defenders on his way to left footing a low shot that narrowly missed the far post on its way out of bounds.

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