The Central Coast Mariners matched one of world soccer's richest clubs for more than an hour before a late goal by Brazil forward Muriqui gave Guangzhou Evergrande a 2-1 win in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League.
Mitchell Duke put the A-League champions ahead in the seventh minute of Wednesday's game and, although Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios equalised midway through the first half, the home side looked good for at least a draw until Muriqui blasted past goalkeeper Mat Ryan with 15 minutes left.
The smallest club in the tournament may not overcome the loss of two away goals in next week's return leg but the Central Coast players competed well against the rich Chinese side and its World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.
Guangzhou opened up early, Bernie Ibini lifting in a cross from the right corner of the area that the falling Mitchell Duke volleyed in with the help of a deflection.
It could have been 2-0 just 10 minutes later when Michael McGlinchey laid on a chance for Daniel McBreen.
The A-League's leading marksman put his shot across goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and wide of the far post, one of several chances he did well to get into position for.
Patrick Zwaanswijk marked his final home match before retirement with a yellow card for a tackle from behind.
However, he was unperturbed, putting a sliding block on Dario Conca's goal-bound effort after Ryan stood up well to block Lucas' initial shot with his body.
But the Mariners were badly stretched after losing possession in attack.
Conca miscued a shot from the edge of the area but the ball bobbled kindly to the advancing Lucas and the striker, Borussia Dortmund's leading scorer when they won the 2010-11 Bundesliga, hammered an equaliser past Ryan.
Josh Rose twice went close before the interval with what looked like over-hit crosses from the left.
Ryan had to be alert at the start of the second period to tip over Gao's acrobatic overhead kick and scrambled the ball away when Muriqui's 71st-minute flick rolled onto his post.
But there was nothing he could do when the Brazilian collected a flick and smashed the ball in to the delight of the away fans in the 8953 crowd.
"Their first goal was lucky, a mis-kick went up and over our defence and it was a quality finish the second one," Mariners coach Graham Arnold said.
"They both came from our mistakes and that's what they're good at doing.
"Obviously it makes it a bit more difficult (to win) but football is a funny game.
"There's a huge difference between the budgets and the quality in the front part of the field but again I was very proud of the performance and we'll go over there and give it our best shot.
Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, highlighted the industrious McGlinchey as the Mariners' key performer.
"The whole team impressed me. They took advantage of their height and their physical ability," Lippi said.
"But if I must say one player, No.14 has very good technique and that helped the team advance as they did."
The return match will be played at Tianhe Stadium, Guangzhou, next Wednesday.