Guangzhou Evergrande 0 Western Sydney Wanderers 2

Western Sydney Wanderers have fallen just short of a remarkable revival in the AFC Champions League, beating Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 away from home but failing to progress to the round of 16.

The Australian holders had looked likely to bow out of the tournament in the group stage when they lost 2-1 at home to Kashima Antlers on matchday six last month.

Tony Popovic’s men demonstrated their pedigree for upsets and improbable triumphs by defeating the Chinese Super League title-holders away from home on Tuesday night, courtesy of goals from Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric.

But an injury-time winner in the other Group H fixture saw FC Seoul defeat Kashima 3-2 away from home, the South Korean side securing second spot behind financial powerhouse Evergrande as the pair advanced to the knockout stages.

Coached by Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, Guangzhou had the better of a disjointed start to the game, as both sets of players struggled to cope with heavy rain and a pitch that was threatening to become waterlogged.

Five minutes in Li Xuepeng connected with a corner at the back post but sent his effort wide of goal. It took until the 18th minute for the Wanderers to register a meaningful attempt, Nikita Rukavytsya completing a smart turn and smacking a shot against the post from a tight angle.

Eight minute later Zhang Jiaqi did well to create space for himself at the top of the Wanderers’ penalty area but ended up firing his shot well over. On the half-hour mark Yu Hanchao sent a half-chance harmlessly wide, but there’s no denying it was the home team enjoying the majority of the opportunities.

That mattered little on 33 minutes though, when defender Kim Young-Gwon slipped as he attempted to clear the ball on the edge of the area. Bridge, who had previously appeared to be in an offside position, collected possession, beat Feng Xiaoting with a nutmeg and dispatched a shot past Li Shuai at the goalkeeper’s near post.

The Wanderers twice went close to doubling their advantage early in the second half. Iacopo La Rocca, outstanding throughout the match, stung the palms of Li Shuai with a fierce long-range effort in the 49th minute.

On 63 minutes the Italian midfielder was involved again, slipping in Dutch winger Romeo Castelen, who also forced a save with his shot.

The closet Guangzhou came to equalising was through Dong Xuesheng, who raced onto a headed through-ball in the 57th minute but was denied by the quick thinking of Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic, who rushed out to clear the danger.

The Wanderers refused to sit back and protect their lead, going close again in the final 10 minutes through Yojiro Takahagi, who nearly scored straight from a corner, and Tomi Juric. The Socceroos striker sealed the result in Western Sydney’s favour with a superb strike across the face of goal in the final moments.

But Mauricio Molina’s 91st-minute winner for FC Seoul in Japan ultimately meant the Wanderers’ heroics counted for nothing.