Matchday 5 proved to be productive for ten teams who secured their passage to join the already-qualified Al Ittihad in the AFC Champions League Round of 16. The five remaining spots will be decided in the concluding round of the group stage next week.
In the continent's west, Iranian duo Sepahan and Zob Ahan progressed while Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Al Nassr and Al Shabab all moved within a point of qualification. Qatar's Al Sadd rounded off their qualifying job with a 2-2 against Esteghlal, while Uzbeks Bunyodkor overcame their lack of form in the early stages to claim their section's second spot.
Korea Republic continued their dominant run, with three of their quartet, namely FC Seoul, Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors, all advancing with victories. Japanese champions Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers also achieved their aims, while China’s Tianjin Teda are set to be the only team to break the Japan/Korea Republic hegemony in the east, unless Australia’s Melbourne Victory claim a last-round miracle.
The big game
Bunyodkor 3-2 Al Wahda
Trifunovic 12, 36, Soliev 85; Matar 2, Hugo (penalty) 54
Serbian striker Milos Trifunovic was twice on target as Uzbek giants Bunyodkor edged out UAE holders Al Wahda 3-2 to book Group C's second qualifying spot behind Al Ittihad. Both teams entered the re-match determined to win with the central Asians needing three points to go through while the opponents faced a do-or-die encounter. Not surprisingly, the game got off to an explosive start with Ismail Matar putting the visitors ahead after only two minutes, before Trifunovic hit a double to give the home side a 2-1 half-time lead. Al Wahda hit back hard after the interval with their Brazilian striker Hugo restoring parity from the penalty spot. Both sides produced a series of chances but the hosts had the final say, as Anvarjon Soliev headed home for the decisive moment of the match.
Tianjin Teda 3-0 Jeju United
Luciano Olguin 8, Wu Weian 21, Cao Yang (penalty) 72
Tianjin Teda clinched Group E’s first qualifying spot by crushing visiting Jeju United 3-0 at home. After a hard-fought first leg won by the Chinese side 1-0, the pair, who both finished last season as runners-up in their respective leagues, were expected to turn on a tight battle in the return match. However, the anticipated tight contest turned out to be one-sided in favour of the Chinese hosts, who emerged unlikely 3-0 victors.
Seeking to avenge their first-leg defeat, Jeju were the first to attack but Tianjin took the lead on eight minutes courtesy of their Argentinian striker Luciano Olguin. Midfielder Wu Weian doubled the lead midway through the opening half when he pounced onto a rebound to tap in, before captain Cao Yang put the game beyond any doubt with a spot-kick. Melbourne Victory played out a 1-1 draw with Gamba Osaka in the other match, meaning the final round will see a three-way battle for the remaining berth.
In Group A, favourites Sepahan went through as expected with a 1-1 draw against Al Hilal, but it was Bruno Metsu's Al Gharafa that stole the show by sweeping past Al Jazira 5-2. Despite trailing Al Hilal by three points, the Qatari champions remain alive and can still qualify if they produce a better result than 1-0 against the Saudi champions in the closing round.
With Al Sadd qualified thanks to their 2-2 draw with Esteghlal, the contest in Group B has become a dual between the Iranian giants and Al Nassr, who knocked out the tournament's perennial participants Pakhtakor with a 4-0 scoreline. Leading Esteghlal by three points, the Saudi outfit need simply a point to qualify, while the Iranians face a do-or-die contest.
Mohammad Ghazi scored the only goal against Emirates as last year's runners-up Zob Ahan recorded their fourth victory to win Group D, and thus the first qualifying spot. Meanwhile, Al Shabab saw off Al Rayyan by an identical scoreline with the result leaving them in the driving seat for the remaining spot ahead of Emirates.
There were no big surprises in Group F, with J.League champions Nagoya Grampus and Korea Republic champions FC Seoul advancing after prevailing over Hangzhou Greentown and Al Ain respectively. The same can be said of Group H, where Suwon and Kashima have built an unassailable lead thanks to victories over Sydney FC and Shanghai Shenhua.
Free-scoring Lee Dong-Gook netted a brace as Jeonbuk Motors overcame hosts Shandong Luneng 2-1 to take the summit in Group G. In the section's other game, Cerezo Osaka came away 4-0 victors at Arema Indonesia, with the result offering them a two-point edge over Shandong ahead of the pair’s all-important final day meeting.
What they said
"I felt grateful to my players because we had only two days to rest following a match in the domestic league. But our stamina turned out much better than I expected. In a sense Shandong were outplayed by us in terms of stamina," Jeonbuk Motors coach Choi Kang-Hee.
2011 AFC Champions League Matchday 5 results:
Tuesday 3 & Wednesday 4 May
Group A: Al Gharafa 5-2 Al Jazira, Sepahan 1-1 Al Hilal
Group B: Al Nassr 4-0 Pakhtakor, Al Sadd 2-2 Esteghlal
Group C: Persepolis 3-2 Al Ittihad, Bunyodkor 3-2 Al Wahda
Group D: Emirates 0-1 Zob Ahan, Al Shabab 1-0 Al Rayyan
Group E: Gamba Osaka 1-1 Melbourne Victory, Tianjin Teda 3-0 Jeju United
Group F: FC Seoul 3-0 Al Ain, Nagoya Grampus 1-0 Hangzhou Greentown
Group G: Shandong Luneng 1-2 Jeonbuk Motors, Arema Indonesia 0-4 Cerezo Osaka
Group H: Kashima Antlers 2-0 Shanghai Shenhua, Suwon Bluewings 3-1 Sydney FC