Evergrande wins AFC title

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Guangzhou Evergrande claimed a quite Marcello Lippi-style "victory" on Saturday to fulfill the whole country's expectation of ending China's long run without a continental champion.

Having been pegged back to tie 2-2 by a late equalizer in Seoul two weeks ago, the Chinese Super League champions managed a 1-1 draw with FC Seoul at the second leg of the AFC Champions League final, to be crowned on away goals after aggregating 3-3.

The triumph was China's first Asian title in 23 years. It was back to the year 1990 when the country's soccer fans, who had little to celebrate on both national and professional level, last and for the only time tasted continental success as Liaoning lifted the trophy of the now-defunct Asian Club Championship.

It's also another title-winning game for the Evergrande's coach Lippi without a straight vicotry in 90 minutes. The 65-year-old Italian coached Italy to the 2006 FIFA World Cup title and Italian club Juventus to the 1996 UEFA Champions League crown, both through penalty kickout.

With the Asian crown, Lippi became the first coach to win both the European and the Asian club championships.

"I could faithfully speak from my heart that Guangzhou Evergrande deserve the champions," said Lippi at a post-match press conference.

Taking home the title with draws from both away and home games brought in a lot of voices to question on the "gold content" of the Evergrande's trophy, but Lippi declined to agree.

"You should look back at our performance en route to the final," he said. "We won all way long to get here and I think we totally deserve to stand on top podium."

Brazilian striker Elkeson put the Evergrande ahead in the 58th minute after a solo run into the box linking up to a nice play by the hosts' attacking trio.

However, Dejan Damjanovic equalized for Seoul just four minutes later, getting a lucky touch of the ball on the box line to beat Guangzhou goalie Zeng Cheng, who had been barely threatened before the break.

Damjanovic had scored a crucial equalizer with only eight minutes from time to help FC Seoul level the first leg at home.

Tonight, the last 10 minutes were so breath-taking as both sides fought like fighters. In front of 42,000 home fans in Tianhe Stadium, Lippi's second-half substitute Gao Lin still made scoring attempts with less than one minute to go.

The visiters lost patient in the end as one of the Seoul club's assistant coach was red-carded during the stoppage time.

"I feel really bad right now. We made a lot of easy mistakes in this match," said the South Korean coach Choi Yong-soo. "But what can say now? We're still struggling in earning a berth to next season's Asian Champions League. Congratulations to Lippi and his Evergrande. The better team here today came out the winner."

As the reigning K-League champions, FC Seoul, who could have become the fifth South Korean side to win the Asian title if they won tonight's game, are now ranked the fourth in their local league.

Most Evergrande players had never played in an AFC Champions League Final. Only Huang Bowen was a unused substitute for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors when they lost to Al Sadd in the 2011 Final.

Evergrande's Muriqui of Brazil secured the Golden Boot after having bagged 14 goals in this season's AFC Champions League, six more than his closest rival and teammate Dario Conca.

Guangzhou made the final by scoring 14 goals in the previous two rounds, defeating Qatar's Lekhwiya over two legs before beating Japanese J-League's Kashiwa Reysol 8-1 on aggregate in the semifinals.

Just a few days before the second leg, the Evergrande thrashed Wuhan Zall 5-0 to clinch their third straight Chinese Super League title in convincing fashion, losing only one game and finishing 18 points ahead of runners-up Shandong Luneng.

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