A quintet of sides from west Asia booked their places in the Round of 16 after matchday 5, while Pohang Steelers became the only team from the east half of the continent to progress so far. Al Shabab and Al Jazira from Group A, Group B’s Foolad, plus Al Ain and Al Ittihad of Group C all went through with a game to spare. Pohang, too, maintained their impressive form to seal qualification as section winners.
Bunyodkor 3-2 Al Fateh
Two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor from Group B registered their first win in the campaign by edging Al Fateh 3-2 at home as the Uzbeks salvaged a lifeline. Having reached the knockout stage in each of their previous six appearances, the hosts demonstrated their trademark resilience throughout to be acclaimed as “deserved winners" by opposition coach Fathi Al Jabal. Facing an equally desperate Al Fateh, Bunyodkor came out firing on all cylinders and took the lead three minutes before the break, with Oleg Zoteev latching onto Vokhid Shodiev's smart pass to break the deadlock.
The visitors emerged a different side after the restart and nearly turned the game on its head with a pair of goals within nine minutes from Doris Salomo and Hamdan Al Hamdan putting them in front. With their hopes hanging by a thread, the hosts threw everything forward and restored their advantage with a two-goal salvo. The impressive Shodiev turned scorer on 82 minutes, before substitute Alibobo Rakhmatullaev settled the contest three minutes later. With Foolad sealing progression with a 3-1 El Jaish in the other match, Bunyodkor maintained their slim hopes and can advance with a big win against the Qataris in the closing match.
Yokohama F. Marinos 2-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Group G continues to provide intrigue with joint leaders Jeonbuk and Guangzhou both losing in unexpected fashion. In the process, the former took an early lead at Yokohama and dominated the proceedings thereafter, until Manabu Saito's second-half brace handed the hosts an unlikely triumph. Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou, meanwhile, were shadows of their normal selves at Melbourne Victory in a highly entertaining contest. Last year's tournament top-scorer Muriqui missed three one-on-one chances amid numerous chances at either end as the defending champions suffered their second defeat of this campaign. The shock results leave the group wide open with a game remaining, with all four sides level on seven points.
The other attractions
Needing just a point to progress, Group A's Al Shabab and Al Jazira completed their missions in style by prevailing in their respective matches. In what proved to be a hard-fought home game, the former coming from behind to dispatch Esteghlal 2-1 with Saeed Al Dosari scoring a stoppage-time winner. Al Jazira, too, fought back to win 3-2 at Al Rayyan courtesy of Felipe Caicedo's last-ditch strike.
Former winners Al Ain and Al Ittihad underlined their pedigree by progressing with victories in Group C. But it was Al Ain that stole the show by producing the matchday's biggest win after firing five unanswered goals past hosts Lekhwiya. Notably, Asamoah Gyan completed a brace which maintains his place at the summit of the tournament's scoring-chart. In the other match, Abdulfattah Asiri and Mukhtar Fallatah scored in each half as Al Ittihad defeated Tractor Sazi by 2-0.
Group D remains undecided after Sepahan thrashed Al Sadd 4-0 and Al Ahli played out a goalless draw against Al Hilal. Mehdi Sharifi was twice on target after the restart to set Sepahan on the road to a resounding home win, a result which moves the Iranians top alongside Al Ahli. With just a point separating the leading duo and bottom side Al Sadd, an enticing closing matchday is ensured with all four teams harbouring hopes of their own.
Pohang from Group E had the honour of becoming the first east Asian side through to the Round of 16, after outlasting hosts Cerezo Osaka 2-0 to not only seal progression but also the section’s top spot. In the other match, the absence of top-scorer Vagner Love took its toll as Shandong Luneng lost 1-0 at Buriram United despite the numerous chances they produced. With their first win, the Thais now head a three-way battle for the second qualifying spot and can advance with a victory in the next outing regardless of the other result.
Central Coast Mariners captain John Hutchinson turned Kim Chiwoo’s stoppage-time cross through his own net to gift FC Seoul a 1-0 away win, while Beijing Guoan threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 against Sanfrecce Hiroshima at home. The results saw FC Seoul establish a two-point gap at the Group F summit with the remainder all level on six points in an intriguing race.
In Group H, Guizhou Renhe emerged the first eliminated side after losing to Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 at home. Western Sydney Wanderers, meanwhile, pulled off a 2-0 victory at Ulsan Hyundai to edge the former champions out of top place on goal difference.
Sent on midway through the second half when his side were two goals down, Kohei Shimizu played a key role as Hiroshima earned a precious away point. The diminutive left-winger perfectly crossed for Naoki Ishihara to half the deficit, before flicking a wicked pass which led to Zhao Hejiang putting through his own net.
3 - Stand-out individual performances set the stage alight in the penultimate matchday with Sharifi, Saito and Gyan scoring two goals each.
What they said
"We knew that Al Rayyan would be playing with fighting spirit and that is what happened. The two sides tried their best but we had better determination to win. It is an important win for us and we deserved to have such a good victory," Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga
Matchday 5 results
15 & 16 April
Group A: Al Rayyan 2-3 Jazira, Al Shabab 2-1 Esteghlal
Group B: Foolad 3-1 El Jaish, Bunyodkor 3-2 Al Fateh
Group C: Al Ittihad 2-0 Tractor Sazi, Lekhwiya 0-5 Al-Ain
Group D: Al Ahli 0-0 Al Hilal, Sepahan 4-0 Al Sadd
Group E: Buriram United 1-0 Shandong Luneng, Cerezo Osaka 0-2 Pohang Steelers
Group F: Beijing Guoan 2-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Central Coast Mariners 0-1 FC Seoul
Group G: Yokohama F. Marinos 2-1 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Melbourne Victory 2-0 Guangzhou Evergrande
Group H: Ulsan Hyundai 0-2 Western Sydney Wanderers, Guizhou Renhe 0-1 Kawasaki Frontale