Aussie hardman Kevin Muscat resurrected Melbourne Victory's AFC Champions League hopes on Wednesday with a crucial penalty which handed China's Tianjin Teda a shock first defeat.
The ex-Premier League defender, who will retire after the competition, atoned for a howler which led to Tianjin's opener by slotting his spot-kick on the stroke of half-time, before the home side held on for a 2-1 win. Elsewhere, 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors beat Cerezo Osaka 1-0 to take an iron grip on Group G, while Shandong Luneng hammered Arema Indonesia 5-0 to rise to second spot.
Melbourne skipper Muscat, 37, gifted visitors Tianjin a 1-0 lead on 37 minutes when he had his pocket picked by striker Chen Tao, who finished with aplomb. But Carlos Hernandez equalised with a 30-yard free-kick before half-time and Robbie Kruse was fouled in the box a minute later, giving Muscat the chance to make amends.
Melbourne held on for the win despite losing defender Surat Sukha for a second yellow card eight minutes from time. The result puts Victory on four points from four games and back in the hunt for the knock-out stages.
Gamba maintain tight group
However, Gamba Osaka's 3-1 win over Jeju United kept Melbourne bottom of an increasingly tight Group E, where Tianjin's lead is now cut to just one point. Brazilian forward Adriano scored in the first period and shortly after half-time to put Gamba in control, before Jeju pulled one back through Shin Young-Rok. But midfielder Takuya Takei settled the match with two minutes left.
In Jinan, Shandong were rampant against Arema, after being held to a disappointing draw by the Indonesians last time around. Deng Zhuoxiang and Brazilian forward Obina were on target in the first-half before the floodgates opened after the break, when Han Peng, Mozhapa Murehemaitijiang and Wang Yongpo all found the mark.
The emphatic result lifts the Chinese outfit into second place in Group G, behind South Korea's Jeonbuk, who have nine points from four games. "From now on, we should focus on how to deal with our Japanese and Korean rivals," said Shandong coach Branko Ivankovic, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website. "My side have just found their form. I think our journey in the AFC Champions League and the domestic league has just started."
Al Ittihad advance
Former champions Al Ittihad became the first side to book their place in the last 16 after a 0-0 draw with Al Wahda in Group C. The result kept the Saudis at the top with ten points, five ahead of Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor who won 3-1 against Piroozi in Tehran.
After a goalless first half, Bunyodkor, who will look to take the second qualifying spot, were 2-0 ahead thanks to Anvar Rajabov and a Hayrulla Karimov penalty. Shpejtim Arifi pulled one back for ten-man Piroozi before Victor Karpenko restored his team's two-goal advantage.
In Group A, Al Gharafa's Amara Diane scored a first-half goal, ending Sepahan's perfect record in a 1-0 win for the Qatari side. Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal rallied from a two-goal deficit to pull off a 3-2 victory over hosts Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi. Al Jazira stunned the Saudi giants with two quick goals towards the end of the first-half but Al Hilal regained their composure and pulled off a fine win to move a step closer to a second-round place with nine points from four games, the same as Sepahan.