With four places in the knockout stage up for grabs, the last round of this year's AFC Champions League group phase on Wednesday night proved as tense as it was enthralling. Not for the first time in history, home support played an telling role as a quartet of sides reaped the benefits of playing in front of their own supporters to join Al Wahda, Al Hilal and Kawasaki Frontale in the last eight, where the defending champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors have also been waiting courtesy of a bye.
Iranian giants Sepahan secured progress to last eight after defeating Al Shabab 1-0 at home. Needing just a single point to go through, the Iranian Hafzi cup winners dominated the decisive game from outset. However, having failed to convert any of the chances they produced, they had Al Shabab defender Hassan Maaz to thank as he directed a long ball into his own net on 33 minutes to hand them victory.
Sepahan consequently broke ground by progressing beyond the group stage for the first time, having narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout stage in both of their previous forays in the continental competition. The sole representatives of Iran in the ensuing phase, they have set their goal at no less than delivering the coveted trophy to the club's cabinet.
Kawasaki Frontale had already ensured that Japan would be represented in the last eight, and after holding Sydney FC to a goalless draw, Japanese league and cup winners Urawa Reds joined their domestic rivals. The Australian champions, alike their compatriots Adelaide United, failed to progress beyond the group stage in their first ever AFC Champions League appearance. However, they earned respect from their opponents and the neutrals for their lively performances, and only lost out to Urawa Reds by a single point.
Al Karama unbeaten at home
Once again, Al Karama proved unbeatable on their own turf, running out 2-0 winners over Neftchi of Uzbekistan to extend their stay in the competition. Al Karama midfielder Iyad Mando scored in either half to send his side through.
The Homs-based side, who had turned their Khaled bin Walid Stadium into an imposing fortress during their fairy-tale run to last year's final, managed to continue this impressive form by losing none of their home games to stretch their undefeated home record to nine matches. As well as being able to count upon their inspiriting support, Al Karama's never-say-die approach and the tactical nous of coach Mohammed Kwid were factors behind their progression.
Shandong fall at the final hurdle
Seongnam Chunma completed a round of home successes to secure passage to the last eight, brushing aside Shandong Luneng to the delight of their followers in Korea Republic. The Chinese visitors had kept a perfect winning until their previous outing, where they were held to a 2-2 by Adelaide United, a result that cost them a place in the next phase and set up a crunch tie with the Korean power.
Nevertheless, the pressure was on the Korean side as they required all three point to advance, while a draw would have been good enough for Shandong. Both sides created a series of chances throughout an intriguing duel, but cheered on by the vociferous home crowd, Chunma took the upper hand with Kim Dong-hun and Son Dae-ho on target in the space of four minutes before the break. Mota put the icing the cake after 71 minutes to seal a famous victory for the Koreans.
Matchday 6 results:
Al Arabi (KUW) 3-2 Al Wahda (UAE)
Al Rayyan (QAT) 1-3 Al Zawra'a (IRQ)
Pakhtakor (UZB) 2-1 Al Kuwait (KUW)
Al Karama (SYR) 2-0 Neftchi (UZB)
Al Najaf (IRQ) 1-0 Al Sadd (QAT)
Al Ain (UAE) 1-1 Al Ittihad (SYR)
Sepahan (IRN) 1-0 Al Shabab (KSA)
Urawa Reds (JPN) 0-0 Sydney FC (AUS)
Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) 6-0 Persik Kediri (IDN)
Arema Malang (IDN) 0-1 Chunnam Dragons (KOR)
Bangkok University (THA) 1-2 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
Adelaide United (AUS) 3-0 Dong Tam Long An (VIE)
Seongnam Chunma (KOR) 3-0 Shandong Luneng (CHN)