Both games on the opening night of the AFC Champions League knockout stage featured games between two teams of the same nation. Kashima Antlers hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the all-Japanese tie, while Chinese Super League rivals Guangzhou Evergrande took on Shandong Luneng.
Kashima and Sanfrecce were the first sides to take to the field, with the home side looking to defend their continental title. They got off to a great start, finding the net after 24 minutes as Brazilian attacker Serginho got on the end of Shoma Doi’s cross to give his side the lead.
The hosts had the better of proceedings, limiting Sanfrecce to only a single shot on target despite controlling only 39% of the possession.
Elsewhere, Guangzhou Evergrande had to struggle to secure their first leg win at the Tianhe Stadium. Fabio Cannavaro’s men took the lead when Shandong goalkeeper Wang Dalei flapped at Paulinho’s cross. His insufficient punch allowed the ball to fall to the feet of Wei Shihao, who made no mistake in burying the ball into an empty net.
Shangdong hit back six minutes after the hour mark, when midfielder Zhang Chi received Marouane Fellaini’s layoff, smashing the ball into the net from an improbable angle with his first touch to restore parity.
However, their efforts were undermined in the 80th minute, when a cross from Guangzhou’s Yang Liyu deflected off a Shandong defender, wrong-footing the goalkeeper and finding it’s way into the back of the net to the delight of the home crowd.
Both Kashima and Guangzhou travel to their away matches next week with a one-goal lead to protect on aggregate, while Shandong at least have an away goal to celebrate and build on in the second leg.