Sydney FC top ACL 'group of death'

Sydney FC have topped their group in the AFC Champions League despite being beaten 1-0 by reigning holders Guangzhou Evergrande in China on Tuesday night.

An early goal from the hosts proved decisive as the Sky Blues were thwarted in their attempt to claim the three points they needed to guarantee their spot at the summit.

However with the Urawa Red Diamonds only managing a 1-1 draw against the Pohang Steelers in the other match of Group H the Sky Blues finished on top of the standings.

Their reward will be a match-up against CSL outfit Shandong Luneng in the round of 16 which kicks off in a fortnight’s time, with the second-leg to be played on home soil.

Sydney FC

With a number of players sitting on yellow cards and a place in the knockout stage already secure Graham Arnold fielded a new-look backline at Tianhe Sports Stadium, with central pairing Aaron Calver and Zac Anderson flanked by Riley Woodcock and Rhyan Grant.

The Sky Blues had gone more than six hours without conceding in Asia, however were undone in just the second minute as they were made to pay for some lethargic defending.

Li Xuepeng stormed down the left flank and was allowed to fire across the face of goal where Gao Lin was able to peel off his marker and angle the ball past Vedran Janjetovic.

Gao Lin

The Chinese Super League leaders squandered a chance to double their lead midway through the first-half when Huang Bowen fired a long range free-kick into the post.

The ball rebounded kindly for Yu Hanchao and with Vedran Janjetovic beaten the midfielder could’ve stroked the ball into an empty net but inexplicably shot wide with his first time effort.

Despite the hosts dominating possession Milos Ninkovic had a strong chance to drawn his side level before the break when Chris Naumoff hooked in a cross from the byline. 

The Serbian made strong contact with his volley but the shot was blocked by a vital intervention from the covering defence.

Sydney FC got much more of a foothold on the match in the second-half but struggled to find a clear route to goal with Shane Smeltz spurning the best of the second-half chances.

A tiring Guangzhou side sucked the life out of the contest in the closing stages, with numerous stoppages frustrating the Sky Blues attempts to find an equaliser.

Despite the final result Graham Arnold’s side achieved what they set out to accomplish and will now be back in China in two weeks for their opening leg round of 16 clash on 18 May.