Adelaide United’s hopes of playing in this year’s AFC Champions League have been extinguished after a heart-breaking 2-1 play-off defeat to Shandong Luneng on Tuesday night.
First half goals to Yang Xu and Diego Tardelli had the Chinese Super League club and seemingly easing through to the group stage of the competition.
But the second half dismissal of Wang Yongpo gave the Reds hope and despite Marcelo Carrusca’s missed penalty with seven minutes left, they pulled one back in the final minute through Sergio Cirio.
The Reds pushed hard for an equaliser with Sergio van Dijk and Cirio both going close during a dramatic six minutes of stoppage time.
But Shandong held on under great pressure to prevail in an entertaining clash at Coopers Stadium to book their spot in the ACL proper.
Despite being eliminated Adelaide were far from disgraced against the highly-fancied Chinese side, creating some great scoring chances throughout which they just couldn’t capitalise on.
The defeat means Melbourne Victory and Sydney will be the two Hyundai A-League clubs to play in this year’s competition.
The Reds had the best of the early moments with Dylan McGowan going agonisingly close to an opener on 14 minutes.
Shandong failed to deal with a corner and after a mad scramble the ball fell to McGowan, but his shot from six yards was hacked off the line.
And it proved pivotal as just three minutes later the visitors were in front.
A sloppy turnover allowed Walter Montillo to drive at the heart of the defence before hitting a powerful shot which Eugene Galekovic did well to save, only for Xu to head in the rebound.
Adelaide continued to have bright moments with Bruce Djite testing Wang Dalei with a volley from distance, while Craig Goodwin also went close from a corner.
But Shandong doubled their lead six minutes before the break as Tardelli finished off a well-constructed move when he headed in Wang Yongpo’s cross.
Desperate to try and save their ACL campaign, Gui Amor’s troops lifted after the break and tried everything they could to get back into the contest.
Goodwin was inches away from pulling one back with a header then went just wide, while Sergio Cirio and Carrusca both had efforts saved by Dalei.
Amor threw on Sergio Van Dijk just after the hour mark to try and spark the home side, who were given even greater hope with 20 minutes left when Yongpo was dismissed for pulling back Goodwin.
And the drama wasn’t done there.
Adelaide won a penalty for a handball by Zhao Mingjian with seven minutes left only for Carrusca to slam his effort onto the crossbar.
Cirio then gave them a lifeline in the last minute as he headed home from close range and despite piling forward in the closing stages, the Reds came up agonisingly short.
While Adelaide can now able to focus on their Hyundai A-League tilt, Shandong move into Group F for the ACL and will play against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, FC Seoul and Buriram United.
Adelaide United 1 (Cirio 89’)
Shandong Luneng 2 (Xu 17’, Tardelli 39’)
Crowd: 8407 @ Coopers Stadium
Adelaide United: Galekovic (gk) (c), Marrone, McGowan, Elsey, Elrich (Dugandzic 84’), Isaias, Mauk (Kamau 77’), Carrusca, Goodwin, Djite (Van Dijk 63’), Cirio
Shandong Luneng: Wang Dalei, Dai Lin, Zheng Zheng, Gil, Zhao Mingjian; Jucilei, Wang Yongpo, Montillo (Zhang 84’), Hao Junmin (c); Tardelli (Wenzhao 87’), Yang Xu (Lui Bin Bin 76’)
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