GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Guangzhou Evergrande became the first Chinese winners of the AFC Champions League when they drew 1-1 with FC Seoul in the second leg on Saturday to prevail on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate tie.
Brazilian forward Elkeson opened the scoring for the Chinese champions in the 58th minute to send the majority of the red clad 58,000 capacity crowd at the Tianhe Stadium into raptures.
But FC Seoul were back level four minutes later with their first chance of the game, Dejan Damjanovic firing home to make it a nervy finale but Guangzhou survived to deservedly take the title.
Guangzhou’s victory means they will be Asia’s representative at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco next month and it also made Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi the first coach to win both the European and Asian Champions League titles.
His expensively assembled Chinese side were heavily favoured to win the final after claiming a 2-2 draw in the opening leg in Seoul last month and their milestone success will be celebrated throughout the country despite their failure to hit the heights set in previous rounds.
Lippi sprung a surprise with his lineup by selecting midfielder Zhao Xuri ahead of forward Gao Lin but his side could have done with the extra attacker as they dominated the opening half against negative Seoul.
Argentine playmaker Dario Conca peppered the post with two early efforts and Elkeson also went close with a long drive as the South Korean champions were fortunate to make halftime at 0-0.
The contest burst into life near the hour mark when Elkeson opened the scoring with some samba flair, producing an exquisite first touch to take a pass which fell behind him into his stride and calmly slotted home.
Damjanovic quickly levelled with a sharp strike as Guangzhou failed to clear but the Koreans failed to test Zeng Cheng in the home goal again to leave China celebrating a first Asian club success since Liaoning won the Asian Club Championship in 1990.
Fans and even regional governments took to popular microblogging site Sina Weibo - China’s answer to Twitter - to rejoice in victory.
“After 24 years, the Asia cup has returned to China. Evergrande, this battle will live on in memories forever!” the government of the poor northeastern province of Jilin wrote on its microblog.
The Chinese Football Association wasted little time in expressing its congratulations on the achievement many hope will spark a resurgence in the game there after years of corruption had blighted its growth.
“This is the highest honour for Chinese football,” it said in a congratulatory message carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency. “We sincerely hope you keep working hard, but guard against pride and impatience.”
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing. Writing by Patrick Johnston, editing by Justin Palmer