Old acquaintances were renewed on Wednesday as 24 Asian teams resumed hostilities in the second instalment of back-to-back 2007 AFC Champions League group matches.
It proved to be a good night for three group leaders, Chinese league and cup double winners Shandong Luneng, Japanese giants Kawasaki Frontale and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, all of whom picked up wins to move within touching distance of a place in the knockout stage. Seven spots are up for grabs in all, with the eighth already occupied by defending champions Jeonbuk Motors of Korea Republic, who have been given a bye.
With only two matches remaining, Shandong Luneng remain the only side to have maintained an unblemished record , this after a 3-2 away victory over Vietnamese side Dong Tam Long An. Having lost 4-0 in the previous match, Dong Tam Long An battled bravely and twice took the lead in the opening half. Indeed, the visitors had striker Li Jinyu to thank for claiming the points as the Chinese international headed an equaliser just after the break before sealing all three points with a last-ditch strike.
With five points separating them from second placed Seongnam Chunma, the Chinese outfit need only two points from their remaining matches to be sure of a place in the last eight. They will also be fancied to qualify with a game to spare when they face up to the already-eliminated Australians Adelaide United , visitors to the intimidating Shandong Sports Centre Stadium of Jinan in a fortnight's time.
A tale of two Brazilians
Kawasaki Frontale are equally well placed after a 3-0 home win over Chunnam Dragons of Korea Republic.
An opening goal from Brazilian striker Carlos Juninho and a late brace from Jong Tae-Se, who netted twice in a space of six minutes in the closing stages, made it an easy win for the Japenese side, who now hold a six-point advantage at the top of Group F. That leaves Kawasaki on the cusp of writing their name into the history books as the first-ever Japanese team to reach the knockout stage, something which they will be hoping to make sure of when they entertain Indonesian side Arema Malang in their next match.
Another Brazilian forward, Rodrigo, also played a key role in yesterday's matches, scoring twice as Al Hilal cruised to a 2-0 home victory over Uzbekistan champions Pakhtakor. The 29-year-old's brace, including a last-minute penalty kick, left him top of the tournament scoring charts with four goals. As for his team, the Riyadh giants now need only a point from their visit to Kuwait City in two weeks' time to seal their spot in the last eight.
Sydney revive Aussie hopes
Things did not go so smoothly for Al Wahda of United Arab Emirates, who watched their hopes of early qualification evaporate with a 1-1 home draw with Iraq's Al Zawra'a. The Abu Dhabi-based team entered the match five points clear of the Iraqi outfit, their nearest challengers, knowing that a victory would see them build up an unassailable eight-point lead.
However, although Abdulraheem Jumaa put Al Wahda in front in the 57th minute, the visiting side secured a share of the spoils through Haider Sabar's spectacular 30-yard free-kick on 75 minutes. Yet, despite their disappointment, Al Wahda's need just one point from their next match against Qatari side Al Rayyan to book their passage.
Elsewhere, Neftchi of Uzbekistan defeated Al Sadd 2-1 to maintain a two-point lead in Group C above Al Karama, who climbed to second place following an impressive 4-2 away win over Iraq's Al Najaf. In Group E, Sydney FC claimed a resounding 3-0 home win over Indonesians Persik Kediri to reduce to a single point the gap between themselves and group leaders Urawa Reds , who were held to a goalless draw away at doomed Shanghai Shenhua .
The battle for supremacy in Group D, meanwhile, remains wide open, with Sepahan and Al Shabab level on seven points at the top and Al Ain just two further back. Yesterday provided another reminder of how little there is to choose between this section's evenly-matched teams, with two 1-1 draws fought out between Sepahan and Al Ain, and Al Ittihad and Al Shabab.
Matchday 4 results:
Al Wahda (UAE) 1-1 Al Zawra'a (IRQ)
Al Rayyan (QAT) 1-3 Al Arabi (KUW)
Al Hilal (KSA) 2-0 Pakhtakor (UZB)
Neftchi (UZB) 2-1 Al Sadd (QAT)
Al Najaf (IRQ) 2-4 Al Karama (SYR)
Sepahan (IRN) 1-1 Al Ain (UAE)
Al Ittihad (SYR) 1-1 Al Shabab (KSA)
Sydney FC (AUS) 3-0 Persik Kediri(IDN)
Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) 0-0 Urawa Reds (JPN)
Arema Malang (IDN) 1-0 Bangkok University (THA)
Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) 3-0 Chunnam Dragons (KOR)
Dong Tam Long An (VIE) 2-3 Shandong Luneng (CHN)
Seongnam Chunma (KOR) 1-0 Adelaide United (AUS)