Alexandre Pato inspires Tianjin Quanjian into Asian Champions League quarters

Alexandre Pato helped fire Tianjin Quanjian into the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 15 May 2018
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Alexandre Pato inspires Tianjin Quanjian into Asian Champions League quarters

  • Former AC Milan forward scores one and makes another to beat Guangzhou Evergrande
  • Defeat ramps up pressure on Fabio Cannavaro

SHANGHAI: Alexandre Pato scored one and was instrumental in the other as Tianjin Quanjian beat two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande on away goals to reach the Asian Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.
The Brazilian former AC Milan starlet, who has rejuvenated his injury-disrupted career in China, inspired Tianjin to twice swiftly peg back Guangzhou in a 2-2 draw and squeeze through after the first leg ended goalless.
In the earlier game, a volley from Ricardo Lopes helped Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea into the last eight as they saw off Thailand’s Buriram United.
Defeat in the all-Chinese last-16 tie increases the scrutiny of Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian World Cup winner who took over from Luiz Felipe Scolari at Guangzhou in the close season after steering Tianjin into the Champions League for the first time before quitting.
Guangzhou have dominated Chinese football for nearly a decade, winning seven Chinese Super League (CSL) titles on the spin, but they have now failed to win in their last five matches in all competitions under Cannavaro, exiting the Chinese FA Cup and now Asian competition.
Guangzhou, who lifted the Champions League trophy in 2013 and 2015, have vowed to build an all-Chinese team by 2020, but it was their Brazilian star who put them ahead in the 17th minute.
Winger Alan saw his shot parried by visiting goalkeeper Zhang Lu into the path of striker Ricardo Goulart, who scrambled in.
The home side’s lead lasted just two minutes, however, as Belgian international Axel Witsel stabbed over a floated cross for the 28-year-old Pato to head down and in for Tianjin.
Goulart nabbed his second goal with a free header on 48 minutes, but again the visitors hauled themselves level almost immediately, defender Wang Jie prodding in from close range four minutes later following a Pato set-piece.
In South Korea, Lopes’ clean strike on 18 minutes and Lee Jae-Sung’s 84th-minute free-kick made it 2-0 on the night to Jeonbuk and 4-3 on aggregate as the former champions went through against Buriram.
Jeonbuk won the Asian club championship in 2016 but the South Korean side were banned from last year’s competition over a bribery scandal.
A cushion header from World Cup-bound South Korea striker Kim Shin-wook teed up the Brazilian forward, who volleyed into the top corner to make it 3-3 on aggregate and put Jeonbuk ahead on away goals.
Lee, another Jeonbuk player named in South Korea’s preliminary World Cup squad, sealed the win when he curled home his free-kick left-footed with six minutes to go.


Van Dijk backs Salah to shine in Kiev showpiece

Updated 14 min 8 sec ago
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Van Dijk backs Salah to shine in Kiev showpiece

  • Virgil van Dijk: He (Mohamed Salah) is a nightmare for defenders, creating and scoring goals.”
  • Van Dijk: “To be calm, that is sometimes a very good thing to have, but personally sometimes I have to learn, too.”

LIVERPOOL: As Mohamed Salah prepares for a career-defining period, Virgil van Dijk is confident his Liverpool teammate’s star will only shine brighter on football’s biggest stages.
The Liverpool frontman will face-off with Ballon d’Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid tonight in the Champions League final before heading off to a debut World Cup with Egypt.
And having witnessed an incredible season that has brought 44 goals — a record 32 in the Premier League ­— for the Egyptian star, Reds defender van Dijk says he has the all-round ability to strike fear into the reigning European champions and international sides.
“He is a nightmare for defenders, creating and scoring goals,” said the Dutchman of the 25-year-old Salah. “It’s complete for him.
“He’s like everyone in our squad, laidback, calm, no big personalities and egos. We work hard for each other and just want to be better.
“I think he can definitely be the best in Europe, but there are two other players who are pretty good at the moment as well (in Ronaldo and Lionel Messi). I hope for Mo it happens because he deserves it. He is that kind of player to light up a World Cup as well.”
While all eyes will be on Salah and Ronaldo as potential match-winners in Kiev, van Dijk, 26, will have a major role on the defensive front.
The game will offer the center-back the chance to prove he was worth the £75 million ($100 million) it cost to sign him from Southampton in January.
“Any player who arrived at this club, they want to play in these games, they want to be under this kind of pressure, they want to get trophies,” he said.
“I don’t think I have been bought to win the Champions League final. I have been bought to hopefully get the best out of myself and the best out of the team with the help of everyone else.
“To be calm, that is sometimes a very good thing to have, but personally sometimes I have to learn, too.
“Against Manchester City in the away game (of the quarter final) I was a little bit too calm in the beginning, for example. That is something I have to learn as well. To be in the final right now, it has been a crazy journey.”
Watching last season’s final between Real and Juventus, van Dijk realized just how much he wanted to be a part of the competition — and why Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were the club for him, despite interest from City.
“I never really go to big games to watch as a fan, but I was in Cardiff,” he recalled. “The sponsors (Sony) hooked us up with two fantastic seats and it was two hours from where I used to live, so we thought, ‘let’s go.’
“From the moment I got there a lot of people in hospitality were Liverpool fans and they were saying, ‘join, please join.’