Half of the Round of 16 slots were claimed on matchday 5 with eight heavyweights sailing through. Stealing the show were a quartet of former champions in Seongnam FC, Al Ain, Al Sadd and Guangzhou Evergrande, all of whom earned the results they needed to seal progression. Joining them in the knockout stage were last year's runners-up Al Hilal, Kashiwa Reysol, Al Ahli and Suwon Bluewings.
Japanese duo Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers continued their impressive comeback, each registering a second consecutive win which truly revived their fortunes. In contrasting fashion, though, defending champions Western Sydney Wanders lost again to leave their hopes hanging by a thread and Buriram United suffered a second successive defeat.
Lekhwiya 3-0 Persepolis
Newly-crowned Qatari champions Lekhwiya avenged their 3-0 opening defeat at Persepolis with an identical home victory, a result which saw them edge the Iranians at the summit of Group A. All the more notable is the fact that this marks their third win on the trot, as the Michael Laudrup-coached side overcame a slow start to move within a whisker of progression in a group which also features Uzbek giants Bunyodkor and Al Nassr.
All three goals came in the final 21 minutes as the hosts triumphed following a lackluster first half. Nam Taehee crossed for Youssef Msakni to open the scoring before the Korean midfielder turned scorer by doubling the lead with a lone effort. Ali Afif sealed the triumph with a stoppage-time strike which handed new boss Branko Ivankovic a second defeat having also lost to Sepahan in the Iranian league.
Guangzhou R&F 0-5 Gamba Osaka
Guangzhou's 2-0 opening victory at Gamba came as a result which flattered to deceive as the desperate tournament debutants, with four points from four outings, conceded five unanswered goals against the same opponents at home to crash out. While the result was a bitter pill to swallow for the Chinese hosts, the visitors moved into the second place and can progress with a home win against the already-qualified Seongnam.
Both Patric and Hiroyuki Abe were twice on target but the night's shining star was Takashi Usami, who had a hand in three goals as they stunned the hosts. After Yasuhito Endo set-up Patric for the opener on 14 minutes, Usami initiated a move which was completed by Abe two minutes from the break. And within a minute they made it 3-0, the 22-year-old providing the assist for Patric to score his second. The former Bayern Munich forward would wrap up the drubbing by slotting home after Abe put the game beyond doubt with a second-half strike.
The other attractions
Asamoah Gyan scored the only goal on the stroke of the hour-mark as Al Ain earned a hard-fought victory at Al Shabab to progress from Group B. Both hosts Naft Tehran and Pakhtakor maintained hopes following a 1-1 draw but the Iranians look the more hopeful side courtesy of their two-point cushion. It was, though, more straightforward in Group C as joint leaders Al Sadd and Al Hilal won their respective games to jointly qualify. Notably, 2013’s top-scorer Muriqui struck the match-winning goal as Al Sadd edged Foolad 1-0 at home.
The clash between two teams named Al Ahli in Group D ended in favour of the home side, with the Saudi giants fighting from behind to claim a 2-1 victory which sealed their progression. Group E's Kashiwa Reysol also went through with a narrow 3-2 home win against Jeonbuk Motors but the Japanese, who were three goals up after 39 minutes, were made to sweat throughout the second half with Lee Donggook twice reducing the deficits.
Group G leaders Beijing Guoan saw their undefeated run brought to an abrupt end by visiting Brisbane Roar, who re-ignited their hopes with a 1-0 win after Andrija Kaluderovic netted the only goal. With Suwon qualifying following a 2-1 victory at Urawa Red Diamonds, the Chinese capital side could yet crash out if they lose to Suwon and the Roar defeat Urawa by a big scoreline.
The Wanderers from Group H threw away a first-half lead as they lost to Kashima 2-1 at home, a result which put the holders' campaign in real jeopardy. Guangzhou Evergrande, meanwhile, fought out a goalless draw at FC Seoul with the point sealing their place as section winners.
Despite his side's erratic form, Shandong forward Yang Xu continued his eye-catching display in this campaign completing his second brace in their 3-1 home defeat of Binh Duong which saw him become the joint top-scorer alongside Guangzhou's Ricardo Goulart with six goals each. With exceptional aerial ability and pace, the 28-year-old could earn a regular place in Alain Perrin's China PR team if he maintains his goal-scoring rate.
8 - Eight teams suffered early exits with 2007 winners Urawa Red, two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor and Al Shabab the most notable.
What they said
"When the draw was made I was a little worried as we had to meet strong teams like Seoul, Western Sydney and Kashima. But I prefer playing these strong teams as we enter the knockout stage in good condition. If we had played weak teams, it could have affected us mentally," Guangzhou Evergrande coach Fabio Cannavaro
Matchday 5 results
April 21 & 22
Group A: Lekhwiya 3-0 Persepolis, Bunyodkor 0-1 Al Nassr
Group B: Al Shabab 0-1 Al Ain, Naft Tehran 1-1 Pakhtakor
Group C: Lokomotiv Tashkent 1-2 Al Hilal, Al Sadd 1-0 Foolad
Group D: Tractor Sazi 1-2 Nasaf, Al Ahli 2-1 Al Ahli
Group E: Shandong Luneng 3-1 Binh Duong, Kashiwa Reysol 3-2 Jeonbuk Motors
Group F: Seongnam FC 2-1 Buriram United, Guangzhou R&F 0-5 Gamba Osaka
Group G: Urawa Red 1-2 Suwon Bluewings, Beijing Guoan 0-1 Brisbane Roar
Group H: Western Sydney Wanderers 1-2 Kashima Antler, FC Seoul 0-0 Guangzhou Evergrande