Four of the seven places alongside defending champions Urawa Red Diamonds in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League 2008 were claimed in the penultimate round on Wednesday. Japanese giants Gamba Osaka, Iranian champions Saipa and Uzbekistani outsiders Kuruvchi all won to advance, while a 2-2 draw with Pakhtakor proved enough to seal Al Qadsia's progression.
The biggest headlines belonged to tournament debutants Kuruvchi, who beat two-time Asian champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-0 at home. Anvajon Soliev put his side in front on ten minutes, before Server Djeparov sealed victory three minutes into the second half. In Group A's other game, Al Ittihad of Syria edged visiting Sepahan 2-1; a result which ended the Iranians' hopes and confirmed Kuruvchi's presence in the last eight.
"I am delighted we defeated our strongly-favoured opponents and it was our players' joint efforts that paid off," said an emotional Kuruvchi coach, Mirdjalal Kasimov. " ."
Fellow Uzbekistanis Pakhtakor failed to achieve the necessary result, however, coming from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Al Qadsia in a game they simply had to win.
Duo break ground
A large home crowd witnessed Saipa reach the quarter-finals for the first time courtesy of a 1-0 reverse of Kuwait SC, midfielder Kiamoush Rahmati the lone scorer. Saipa coach Ali Daei, who was handed the Iran national team reins in March, vowed he will not leave the club until they finish their campaign.
"I promised to be with Saipa until after our last game in the Champions League," he said. "We must now think of the next games and improve our weakness to go further."
Gamba Osaka also completed a maiden voyage into the last eight, a 2-0 win over Chonburi in Thailand giving them an unassailable lead at the Group G summit. " ," commented Gamba coach Akira Nishino. "We will take things one match at a time for the next stage."
Another Japanese representative, reigning J-League champions Kashima Antlers, left themselves on the cusp of a place in the knockout phase thanks to an 8-1 defeat of Krung Thai Bank. Beijing Guoan, 3-0 winners at Nam Dinh, stayed level on points with the Group F leaders but their vastly inferior goal difference means they need Kashima to drop points in their final outing against the Vietnamese underdogs to have any realistic chance of remaining in the competition.
China PR's best chance of representation in the quarter-finals is with Changchun Yatai, whose 5-0 win over Binh Duong of Vietnam kept them two points behind Adelaide United going into the final matchday. The Australians stayed in control by seeing off Pohang Steelers 1-0, and they must now avoid defeat in Changchun in two weeks' time to book their place in the next stage.
Elsewhere, 2006 runners-up Al Karama missed the chance to
guarantee themselves a first-place finish in Group C by losing at
Al Wahda, who kept their chances alive when Ismail Matar set up
substitute Mohammed Al Shehhi for the only goal in the final
Now just two points ahead of Al Wahda, Al Karama coach Mohamed Kwid nonetheless remains confident his side can beat Al Ahly to advance. "I just feel we can still qualify because we are very strong at home and Al Ahly are already out of the competition," he said.
Group C: Al Wahda (UAE) 1-0 Al Karama (Syria); Al Ahly (Saudi Arabia) 2-2 Al Sadd (Qatar)
Group E: Adelaide United (Australia) 1-0 Pohang Steelers (Korea Rpublic); Binh Duong (Vietnam) 0-5 Changchun Yatai (China)
Group F: Beijing Guoan (China) 3-0 Nam Dinh (Vietnam); Kashima Antlers(Japan) 8-1 Krung Thai Bank(Thailand)
Group G: Chonburi (Thailand) 0-2 Gamba Osaka(Japan); Chunnam Dragons (Korea Republic) 1-1 Melbourne Victory (Australia)