Seven teams progressed on the closing matchday of the 2016 AFC Champions League group campaign, with Lokomotiv Tashkent, Al Nasr, Al Hilal, Al Ain, Jeonbuk Motors, FC Tokyo and Melbourne Victory joining the already-qualified sides to complete the last-16 line-up.
Jeonbuk Motors 2-2 Jiangsu Suning
With Group E's top-three sides separated by just a point, the trio entered the closing round each harbouring their own ambitions. And it was the top-of-the-table clash between hosts Jeonbuk Motors and Jiangsu Suning that drew the most attention. Needing a point to advance, Choi Kanghee's home side went ahead on 19 minutes courtesy of Leonardo's spot-kick. Knowing that only a victory would ensure their progression, Dan Petrescu's Jiangsu hit back and drew level within five minutes as Alex Teixeira fired into the roof of the net.
The visitors heaped pressure on Jeonbuk after the restart and took the lead through a penalty with Brazilian forward Jo sending Kwoun Suntae the wrong way. Teixeira missed a golden chance to enhance their advantage but with Jiangsu looking on course to seal their maiden progression, Jeonbuk pulled level. A corner was flicked across the goalmouth and found the unmarked Lim Jongeun, who volleyed home the all-important equaliser to seal Jeonbuk's passage to the knockout stage for a fourth consecutive time. FC Tokyo, meanwhile, won 2-1 at Becamex Binh Duong and booked the second place at the expense of Jiangsu.
Sepahan 0–2 Al Ittihad
Two-time winners Al Ittihad may have struggled throughout the group campaign, but still the two-time winners' elimination came as a surprise for many fans across Asia. In a sense, Al Ittihad had been doomed even before this match. With just three points from the opening four games, the two-time winners were all but out of contention for Group A's top two. Despite bouncing back to record two successive victories as they finished level with Al Nasr on points, the Saudis went out due to their 1-2 home loss to the United Arab Emirates side.
Al Ittihad entered the concluder hoping not only to win, but also that other results would go their way. Indeed, they did whatever they could as they won 2-0 at Sepahan with Lucian Sanmartean and Ahmed Al Nadhri scoring in each half. However, Al Nasr clinched the precious point after holding hosts and leaders Lokomotiv Tashkent to a goalless draw, which means that they progressed together with the Uzbeks at the expense of Ittihad.
The other attractions
Al Ain emerged winners in Group D's two-way battle for the runners-up place behind El Jaish after defeating Nasaf Qarshi at home. The result, coupled with Al Ahli's 2-0 home victory against El Jaish, saw the inaugural winners progress a point clear.
In Group C, Brazilian striker Ailton scored the match-winner as Al Hilal won 2-1 at section winners Tractor Sazi. The three points proved all-important for the Riyadh giants, who advanced at the expense of Pakhtakor who beat bottom side Al Jazira 3-0 at home.
A 2-1 win against Gamba Osaka at home proved enough for Melbourne Victory to seal Group G's remaining qualifying spot. The result saw them remain level with Suwon Bluewings on points after the K League giants registered a 3-0 home win against section winners Shanghai SIPG. However, it was Melbourne that went through courtesy of the away goal they scored in their 1-1 draw against Suwon.
In Group H, with little but pride to play for, eliminated holders Guangzhou Evergrande rounded off their campaign with a 1-0 home win against Sydney FC with Gao Lin netting the only goal inside two minutes. Despite the away loss, though, it was the Australian visitors that finished as the group winners, a point clear of Urawa Red Diamonds who were held to a 1-1 draw by bottom side Pohang Steelers at home.
With three goals from as many matches, Ailton's scoring-tally may appear relatively modest compared with that of his countryman Adriano, the tournament's top-marksman who has scored nine times for FC Seoul. However, Ailton's strikes proved crucial in Al Hilal's progression. After opening his account in a 1-1 draw with Al Jazira, the 31-year-old went on to score a pair of match winners, including the all-important goal against Tractor Sazi which sealed his side’s progress.
6 - This year's group competition proved disappointing for a series of heavyweights with six former FIFA Club World Cup participants all crashing out – holders Guangzhou Evergrande, Gamba Osaka, Al Ittihad, Pohang Steelers, Sepahan and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
What they said
"It is a big achievement (progressing to the Round of 16) considering we’ve had five attempts. On our fifth one we were successful and that joy right now overrides trying to analyse the performance," Melbourne Victory coach Kevin Muscat.
Group A: Sepahan 0-2 Al Ittihad, Lokomotiv Tashkent 0-0 Al Nasr
Group B: Al Nassr 0-3 Zob Ahan, Lekhwiya 0-0 Bunyodkor
Group C: Pakhtakor 3-0 Al Jazira, Tractor Sazi 1-2 Al Hilal
Group D: Al Ain 2-0 Nasaf Qarshi, Al Ahli 2-0 El Jaish
Group E: Jeonbuk Motors 2-2 Jiangsu Suning, Becamex Binh Duong 1-2 FC Tokyo
Group F: Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 FC Seoul, Buriram United 0-0 Shandong Luneng
Group G: Melbourne Victory 2-1 Gamba Osaka, Suwon Bluewings 3-0 Shanghai SIPG
Group H: Guangzhou Evergrande 1-0 Sydney FC, Urawa Red Diamonds 1-1 Pohang Steelers
Round of 16 fixtures
(1st leg, 17 & 18 May; 2nd leg, 24 & 25 May)
Al Hilal-Lokomotiv Tashkent
Al Nasr-Tractor Sazi
Al Ain-Zob Ahan
Melbourne Victory-Jeonbuk Motors
FC Tokyo-Shanghai SIPG
Urawa Red Diamonds-FC Seoul
Shandong Luneng-Sydney FC