Cerezo Osaka moved level on points with Jeonbuk Motors at the top of Group G thanks to a 1-0 defeat of the Korea Republic club, while Arema retained slim hope of reaching the AFC Champions League’s knockout phase after a last-gasp penalty snatched them a 1-1 draw at home to Shandong Luneng.
Takashi Inui's 53rd-minute strike secured Cerezo victory in Osaka. The game was tinged with emotion after a moment's silence for victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami disaster, which has forced the suspension of the J.League.
Cerezo struggled for cohesion early on. However, shortly into the second half, Rodrigo Pimpao's sublime pass picked out Inui, who dribbled past a defender and drilled home his shot from 15 yards.
"We played a technical game, while Jeonbuk played a physical game," said Cerezo coach Levir Culpi. "It wasn't a beautiful game, there were a lot of fouls, but we won in the end.
"It was important to win today's game, because our next game is away in South Korea. It will be physically difficult. It is a very close competition in our group. I want to improve our performances to succeed."
Goal hero Inui was happy Cerezo were able to overcome their enforced rest because of the J.League's suspension, which lasts until mid-April. "Finally we were able to play," he reflected.
"I was able to hit the shot calmly as I received a nice pass. We still have three more games. It will not be easy, but I want to do my best as a representative of Japan."
Fakhrudin throws Arema a lifeline
Meanwhile Muhammad Fakhrudin converted a late penalty to hand Arema a surprise 1-1 draw with China PR's Shandong Luneng in Malang.
Brazilian striker Obina had opened the scoring early at Kanjuruhan Stadium, and Shandong looked en route to victory until the Indonesian champions' late fightback.
The result moved Shandong on to four points, two behind Cerezo and Jeonbuk, and Arema on to one.