With two matches to spare, a quartet of East Asian clubs, three of whom are from Korea Republic, have become the first to book their spots in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League.
K-league sides emerged the biggest winners on Matchday 4 with Seongnam Ilhwa, Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors winning their respective games to advance. The fourth South Korean representative, defending champions Pohang Steelers, are also on the verge of progression after defeating Shandong Luneng 2-1. Joining the Korean trio are Japanese heavyweights Kashima Antlers, who have reached the group stage for the third consecutive year following a 3-1 away win over struggling Indonesians Persipura Jayapura.
In the continent’s west, Al Hilal maintained their dominant run with a 3-2 win away over Al Ahli to move within touching distance of qualification. Elsewhere, a 1-1 draw saw Iranian’s Al Esteghlal remain at the top of Group A, while compatriots Zob Ahan edged out Bunyodkor 1-0 to cement their leading place in Group B.
The big game
Al Ahli 2-3 Al Hilal
Goals: Ahmed Khalil 43, Cesar 65; Yasser Al Qahtani 10, Christian Wilhelmsson 15, Lee Young-Pyo 90+2
After being denied all three points by a stoppage-time goal from Al Ahli at home last week, Group D leaders Al Hilal were desperate to make amends. The Saudi giants made a good start when Yasser Al Qahtani got his head onto Thiago Neves' cross to open the scoring after just ten minutes. It took the visitors a further five minutes to double their lead when Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson fired past Al Ahli goalkeeper Yousif Abdulla. After pulling one back through Ahmed Khalil just before the break, the hosts then found an equaliser when Cesar pounced onto a loose ball to draw them level just past the hour mark. Al Hilal would not be denied however and Lee Young-Pyo sealed the match for Al Hilal deep into injury time.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 Adelaide United
Goals: Hisato Sato 45
Despite languishing at the bottom with three defeats, tournament debutants Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Group H showed they do not intend to simply make up the numbers and their 1-0 defeat of Adelaide United keeps their slim hopes alive. The hosts pushed forward from the outset with their attacking duo Hisato Sato and Masato Yamazaki looking dangerous in the opening stages. Yamazaki hit the bar on 26 minutes before Satoru Yamagishi was denied by Reds goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic in the last minute of the opening half. But the resultant corner yielded the game's only goal; Koji Nakajima flicked on Morisaki’s delivery at the front post for Sato to tap in from close range.
Uzbek big guns Bunyodkor again slipped up, this time losing 1-0 to unfancied Zob Ahan in Tashkent, with the result coming on the back of their 3-0 defeat last week. With two back-to-back losses the Uzbek giants slipped into the third place, three points adrift of the Iranian club and a point behind Al Ittihad, who made inroads into the top two courtesy of their 4-0 home win over Al Wahda.
In Group E, Seongnam Ilhwa beat a ten-man Beijing Guoan with Mauricio Molina scoring the only goal. The win leaves Seongnam home and dry, with Beijing holding onto second place three points clear of Kawasaki Frontale, who fell 1-0 at Melbourne Victory. Joining Seongnam in the last 16 were Group G pace-setters Suwon Bluewings, who dispatched Henan Jianye 2-0 at home. Hot on their heels are Gamba Osaka, who cemented their hold on second place with a 3-0 home defeat of Singapore Armed Forces.
The only decided section is Group F, where Kashima Antlers and Jeonbuk Motors both won to advance. Kashima Antlers’ victory maintained their perfect record but they had to wait four hours to see their progression confirmed as Jeonbuk defeated Changchun Yatai 1-0.
Two second-half goals in as many minutes from Ibrahima Toure and Mohsen Benga helped Group C’s Sepahan register a 2-0 home win. The result saw Sepahan move off the bottom into third while Pakhtakor conceded the lead to Al Shabab, who overcame Al Ain 3-2 in the other match.
The top-of-the-table contest in Group A ended in a draw after Esteghlal held hosts Al Gharafa 1-1. Mehdi Selehi scored 14 minutes after the interval to cancel out Younis Mahmoud's first-half strike. Meanwhile, Al Ahli moved to within a point of the top two after their 2-0 triumph against Al Jazira.
Last season’s K-league top scorer with 20 goals, Lee Dong-Gook proved the differences between Jeonbuk Motors and Changchun Yatai. After striking late to seal their 2-1 win last week, he scored the only goal in the return leg which ensured Jeonbuk’s progression.
8 – The much anticipated China-versus-Korea Republic derbies ended overwhelmingly in favour of the four K-league sides who won all eight meetings over the two matchdays.
What they said
"We nearly gave the game away because we played so much below our level. But at the end we were a bit lucky to win the game." Al Hilal coach Eric Gerets
2010 AFC Champions League Matchday 4 results
Group A: Al Gharafa (QAT) 1-1 Esteghlal (IRN); Al Jazira (UAE) 0-2 Al Ahli (KSA)
Group B: Al Ittihad (KSA) 4-0 Al Wahda (UAE); Bunyodkor (UZB) 0-1 Zob Ahan (IRN)
Group C: Sepahan (IRN) 2-0 Pakhtakor (UZB); Al Shabab (KSA) 3-2 Al Ain (UAE)
Group D: Al Ahli (UAE) 2-3 Al Hilal (KSA); Mes Kerman (Iran) 3-1 Al Sadd (QAT)
Group E: Beijing Guoan (CHN) 0-1 Seongnam Ilhwa (KOR); Melbourne Victory (AUS) 1-0 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
Group F: Jeonbuk Motors (KOR) 1-0 Changchun Yatai (CHN); Persipura Jayapura (IDN) 1-3 Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Group G: Gamba Osaka (JPN) 3-0 Armed Forces (SIN); Suwon Bluewings (KOR) 2-0 Henan Jianye (CHN)
Group H: Shandong Luneng 1-2 Pohang Steelers (KOR); Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN) 1-0 Adelaide United (AUS)