Hosts Guangzhou Evergrande cruised to victory in the second leg, sending the Central Coast Mariners packing courtesy of a 5-1 aggregate win
|By DOUG BOOTH
The AFC Champions League dreams of the Central Coast Mariners ended in China on Wednesday when they were beaten 3-0 by impressive Guangzhou Evergrande.
The Mariners' never-say-die approach had to be admired, but against the wealthy Chinese Super League leaders they needed much more than a spirited performance to overcome the 2-1 first leg deficit and reach the quarter-finals.
Two first-half goals, including a dubious penalty on the stroke of the interval, put the home side in the box seat in front of a noisy 'Red Army' crowd at the Tianhe Stadium.
Chinese international striker Gao Lin put the result beyond doubt in the 68th minute despite justifiable appeals for offside.
But there was no doubting the talent and skill of the home side as they confirmed their superiority and favouritism to lift this season's crown.
Goalkeeper Mat Ryan produced a string of fine saves to keep the Mariners in the match but in the end it was a sad farewell for veteran centre-back Patrick Zwaanswijk, who had the ball in the net in the final seconds but his header was disallowed for offside.
Ryan had to produce his best as early as the third minute, turning a low right-foot shot from Argentine midfielder Dario Conca around the post.
Brazilian attacker Muriqui gave the home side the lead after seven minutes with his eighth goal in this season's competition.
Muriqui dashed onto a fine flick from Gao Lin to place his right-foot shot past Ryan and in off the right-hand post.
Ryan was in action constantly in the opening 20 minutes, with Conca proving a continual threat - his left-foot drive forcing the highly rated shot-stopper to make a fine save down at his left post.
The Mariners then hit back and Shao Tin had to make a desperate clearance from a Nick Montgomery cross from the right.
Their best effort came on the half-hour mark, when Michael McGlinchey found himself in space deep inside the Guangzhou penalty area but his right-foot shot took a deflection for a corner.
But it was the Australian champions who fell further behind a minute before half-time, when Bernie Ibini produced a clumsy challenge on Muriqui as the Brazilian cut in from the right.
Referee Abdou pointed to the penalty spot despite Muriqui jumping to his feet immediately after the challenge.
Conca made no mistake with his left foot to give the Australian side the almost impossible task of clawing its way back from a 4-1 aggregate deficit.
The Mariners began the second half as they ended the first - back pedalling and under pressure.
First Muriqui then Gao Lin had their opponents on the ropes in the final third, giving the besieged Ryan plenty to think about.
A quick Central Coast counter-attack in the 51st minute found Ibini free down the left, but Shao Tin was well placed to block the left-foot shot.
Striker Gao Lin effectively ended the tie after 68 minutes when he fired home from the edge of the penalty area after a fine pass from Conca, despite appeals for offside.
As the clock ticked down inside the final 10 minutes, the Mariners had their best chance of the match but Daniel McBreen was unable to add the finishing touches, with Guangzhou defender Zhang Linpeng making a well-timed clearance.
Then, to add to the Mariners' misery, Zwaanswijk - in his final match before retiring to take up a coaching role at the club - rose high to head home in injury time but he was ruled offside.