Pelle brace rescues draw for Shandong against Gyeongnam

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Former Italian international striker Graziano Pelle marked his AFC Champions League debut with a brace as Shandong Luneng came from behind to draw 2-2 with tournament debutants Gyeongnam FC in a hotly contested Group E encounter on Tuesday. 

On a chilly night at the Changwon Football Center Stadium, both sides started well in an evenly contested opening half.

Shandong had the first chance of the match when Wu Xinghan was left free in the box from a free-kick, but he couldn't direct his header on target.

At the other end, Shandong's star signing, Belgian international Marouane Fellaini made a crucial defensive header on 11 minutes as Song Ju-hun looked to get on the end of Lee Yeong-jae's in-swinging free-kick.

It was the visitors who struck first as Liu Binbin was played into space on the right hand side, running to the byline before chipping a cross to the back post where Pelle was found unmarked to head into an open net.

Li Xiaopeng's men were gifted the chance to double their lead on the stroke of half time when Gyeongnam turned the ball over in a dangerous area, but Fellaini's put his shot over the bar. 

The home side came out in the second half with renewed vigour as they pushed hard for an equaliser, dominating possession and territory in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.

Eventually that domination told as they drew level on the hour mark. Shandong goalkeeper Wang Dalei did well to deny Negueba's powerful volley, but he could do nothing to stop Woo Ju-sung's rebound as the Changwon Football Center Stadium erupted.

Kim Jong-bu's side should've taken the lead five minutes later when Lee Yeong-jae was found free in the box, but Dai Lin put his body on the line to deny the Korea Republic side. 

The Shandong defence eventually succumbed to the pressure on 67 minutes, with Luc Castaignos' cross from the left splitting the defence to find Kim Seung-jun, who controlled the ball perfectly with his thigh before poking the ball past Wang to give the home side a deserved lead.

That goal spurred Shandong into action and they almost drew level five minutes later, but Lee Bum-soo produced a brilliant point blank save to deny Fellaini.

In a half of end-to-end action, Gyeongnam came close to adding a third two minutes later as Jordan Mutch's long range free kick was tipped onto the crossbar by Wang. 

It proved a crucial save for Shandong, as Pelle grabbed his brace at the other end with a clever finish on 78 minutes.

The Italian came close to getting his hat-trick on 88 minutes, but his header from a corner went just wide of the target as both teams had to settle for a point to start their campaigns.

Shandong Luneng now return to China to face Kashima Antlers, while Gyeongnam travel to Malaysia to face Johor Darul Ta'zim.

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