Football: Muto leaves champs Evergrande on brink of shock exit

SAITAMA (AFP) - Yuki Muto's second-half winner left title-holders Guangzhou Evergrande teetering on the brink of a shock AFC Champions League exit as they went down 1-0 to Urawa Red Diamonds on Tuesday.

Muto's header seven minutes after half-time consigned Luiz Felipe Scolari's super-rich Chinese champions to their second defeat in four games and left them rooted to the bottom of Group H.

With two games to go, winless Evergrande have just two points so far, five points off second place and a spot in the last 16, with their title defence seemingly at an end.

Evergrande, part-owned by Internet giant Alibaba, are the poster-child for President Xi Jinping's push to turn China into a football power, which has translated into heavy investment in players by Chinese clubs.

But the five-time defending Chinese Super League champions looked anything but winners in a cauldron atmosphere as they faced Japan's Urawa and their massed ranks of fans in Saitama.

If not for some agile keeping by Zeng Cheng, the scoreline could have been worse for a team featuring ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho and former Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez, their record signing.

Muto put Evergrande on the ropes on 52 minutes when he instinctively got his head to Tomoya Ugajin's first-time ball across the box, following a cross from Takahiro Sekine.

Zeng saved brilliantly from Sekine at close range but Tadanari Lee was left thumping the turf in exasperation when he passed up an open goal and instead tamely poked his shot at the goalkeeper.

Zeng also saved from Shinzo Koroki one-on-one to keep Evergrande in it but the visitors' costly strikeforce was finding little joy at the other end of the pitch.

Urawa's victory lifted them to second in Group H behind Sydney FC, who moved to the verge of the knock-out stages with a 1-0 home win over South Korea's Pohang Steelers.

Milos Ninkovic grabbed the winner for Sydney, who now have nine points from four games, in the 51st minute and at the second attempt after two Pohang players failed to clear the ball.

Elsewhere, in Group F, free-scoring FC Seoul lost their perfect record when they were held to a 0-0 draw by China's Shandong Luneng, with Brazilian sharpshooter Adriano unable to add to his nine goals so far.

And Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima kept up their bid for the knock-out stages when they beat Thailand's Buriram United 2-0 away.