A late Sergio Cirio goal was unable to inspire a dramatic comeback by Adelaide United, the Reds losing their do-or-die AFC Champions League play-off match against Shandong Luneng 2-1.
Two first half goals from Shandong were enough to see the Chinese giants progress into Group F of this year’s AFC Champions League (ACL), subsequently knocking United out of the competition.
Play commenced at a blistering pace, both sides looking for an early goal to put their opponent on the back foot.
Shandong had the first half-chance, countering a failed United attack and earning a corner, but the Reds cleared the danger and proceeded an attack of their own.
Neat interplay between Stefan Mauk, Marcelo Carrusca, and Bruce Djite saw Argentine, Carrusca, through on goal, but the creative midfielder mistimed his run and was caught offside.
But the clearest chance in the opening stages for United came when a Stefan Mauk corner curled deep and wasn’t cleared by the Shandong defence. The ball was then headed back into the middle of the box before falling at the feet of Dylan McGowan, whose shot from six yards was scrambled to safety.
The Reds continued to probe Shandong’s defence, but were caught on the counter and punished by Wang Yongpo when his followed-up header tucked away a parried save by Eugene Galekovic.
Following the goal, United were not disheartened, maintaining possession and looking for clever forward balls that would potentially catch their Chinese opposition out.
A quickly controlled lobbed ball by Djite saw the frontman turn in an instant and rifle a left-footed volley towards goal, but Shandong’s goalkeeper, Wang Dalei, caught Djite’s effort.
Six minutes from the break, Shandong doubled their lead through Tardelli, whose glancing header nestled within the back post.
A revitalised and better organised United returned following half-time, but they were forced to deal with blatant time-wasting techniques from Shandong that made it increasingly difficult for the Reds to maintain momentum.
On the hour mark, Carrusca delivered a cross, deep towards the back post that was met by Craig Goodwin, however the winger’s header couldn’t find its way on goal and drifted wide.
A few minutes later, United Head Coach, Guillermo Amor, made the decision to introduce striker Sergio van Dijk into the fray. And in the 68th minute, van Dijk’s presence almost paid dividends when he laid a perfect ball off for Carrusca, but the Argentine’s strike cannoned directly down the throat of Wang Dalei.
With twenty minutes remaining, United were suddenly a man up, when Wang Yongpo was sent from the field for his second bookable offence.
The Reds’ intensity immediately increased, as they sensed a deserving goal was just around the corner. And it looked to have come when the ball fell to Carrusca at the top of the box, but, again, his effort cleared the crossbar.
Yet it would be the same crossbar to deny United a goal back, when a Carrusca penalty rebounded off the woodwork. Nevertheless, the Reds managed to pull a goal back through Cirio, when he nicked in first to glance a header past a helpless Wang Dalei.
Into stoppage time and United had a host of opportunities to equalise, but it wasn’t to be.
Following the match, Amor reflected on what was a difficult and disappointing match, saying: “In the end, what was important was the result and we have not gotten the result we were after.
“We had our opportunities and I think we could have won the game, but we didn’t.
“The result is a bad result and it is a difficult moment for us. But the level of football from our players was fantastic.
“The less mistakes you make, the easier you can win and it is the small details that can have the biggest impact on a game, like tonight.
“Tomorrow we will recover from this game and prepare ourselves for our next game against Central Coast.
“Now we are out and we are sorry to the supporters and the people of Adelaide. It is hard for us because we deserved a better result.”
Tuesday, 9 February 2016
AFC Champions League Play-Off
Adelaide United 1 (Cirio 89’)
Shandong Luneng Taishan 2 (Yang X 17’ Tardelli 39’)
Venue: Hindmarsh Stadium