Singapore (AFP) – Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande hit back after conceding an early goal to floor Japan's Kashiwa Reysol 4-1 and put one foot in the AFC Champions League final on Wednesday.
Striker Cleo, who is on loan from Guangzhou, put Kashiwa ahead after 10 minutes. But four second-half goals, including a Muriqui double and a Dario Conca rocket, gave the visitors a big win in the semi-final first leg.
The Chinese champions, coached by World Cup-winning manager Lippi, will now be huge favourites to reach the final as they seek to end China's 23-year Asian title drought.
In Wednesday's other semi-final fixture, FC Seoul scored either side of half-time in a 2-0 home win over Iran's Esteghlal to give themselves a glorious chance of reaching the final.
Kashiwa were quickly on the scoresheet and it was a soft one as Jorge Wagner's diagonal free-kick floated in and bounced into the net after a barely perceptible touch from the head of Cleo.
The early strike rocked the visitors, and with Kashiwa's massed ranks of yellow fans in full voice, the tournament's form team suddenly looked out of sorts.
Cleo and Junya Tanaka both had chances but Kashiwa rode their luck when Guangzhou's Muriqui, latching on to a scuffed shot, curled his strike at goal -- only to be denied by the inside of the post.
Wagner's deliveries were causing constant problems for Zeng Cheng in the Guangzhou goal, and it was only the goalkeeper's trailing legs that kept out Tanaka when he looked odds-on to score.
Cleo was also picked out by Wagner near half-time with a high one that he chested down and half-volleyed over the bar from close range.
Lippi introduced midfielder Zhao Xuri after half-time and he was quickly in the thick of it, setting up Muriqui for a chance in the box and taking a pot-shot from distance.
And Guangzhou were firmly in the ascendancy when Muriqui pounced to make it 1-1. Sun Xiang's cross from the left was poorly dealt with by the Kashiwa defence and the Brazilian made no mistake this time as he thumped in his shot into the roof of the net.
Kashiwa nearly regained the lead but Naoya Kondo's header was cleared off the line -- and they were immediately floored when Guangzhou went straight up the other end and grabbed a second.
As Guangzhou poured forward, the ball fell to Conca and the sparkling Argentine midfielder unleashed a fierce left-footed shot that gave the visitors a 2-1 lead on 67 minutes.
Kashiwa gifted Guangzhou their third when Conca's corner bounced off a defender at the near post and into the goal on 82 minutes, in a strike that was credited to Brazilian striker Elkeson.
And Muriqui rubbed salt into the wounds with Guangzhou's fourth when he rounded Kashiwa goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno and completed his brace in the first minute of injury time.
In Seoul, it was honours even until six minutes before half-time when dependable Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic popped up to put the home side in front.
Go Yo-Han fired the ball across the area and when Mauricio Molina's header was athletically parried by the goalkeeper, Damjanovic was on hand to nod the rebound home at the far post.
Seoul doubled their advantage two minutes after the break when Go, fed by a pull-back across the box from Yun Il-Lok, turned on to his right foot and lashed his shot into the net.
Esteghlal nearly hit back when Javad Nekounam's free header floated over, and when Mohammad Ghazi's thumping volley flashed wide.
But Seoul's Molina and Damjanovic both had their heads in their hands when they nodded what looked certain goals narrowly off-target in a frantic few minutes at the end.
And Molina drew a fantastic save from Mahdi Rahmati in injury time when his sizzling drive was turned away for a corner.
Seoul will defend their lead in a tough away leg in Tehran on October 2, while Guangzhou have an easier task in front of their home fans on the same evening.