Al Ittihad became the first and only team to storm into the round of 16 with two matches to spare, courtesy of a goalless draw against Al Wahda at Jeddah. Matchday 4 also brought the first eliminated sides, with winless Al Jizira and Arema Indonesia both exiting the competition.
Al Hilal, Zob Ahan and Jeounbuk Motors moved with touching distance of progression with wins, while despite dropping points away from home, Sepahan and Al Sadd held on to pole position in their respective sections. Both need just a point from their next fixtures to make it through.
Elsewhere, a host of strugglers recorded much-needed first wins to thrust themselves back into the reckoning. The most noteworthy were Al Gharafa, who saw off Sepahan 1-0 to keep their hopes alive. Also salvaging a lifeline were the Australian duo, with Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory emerging victors over Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Teda respectively, while Uzbekistan's Pakhtakor and Bunyodkor reignited their hopes with triumphs over Esteghlal and Persepolis. Join FIFA.com as we review the enthralling matchday.
The big game
Persepolis 1-3 Bunyodkor
Arifi 87; Rajabov 60, Karimov 71 (pen), Karpenko 90+5
With Al Ittihad the runaway leaders in Group C, Persepolis and Bunyodkor entered the round level on two points, knowing that a win would certainly boost their hopes of the second place. Having played out a goalless draw away in the previous meeting, the Iranian hosts sought to make their home advantage count but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock on the hour-mark, forward Anvar Rajabov latching onto a Milos Trifunovic cross to fire home.
Hayrulla Karimov doubled the lead shortly afterwards from the spot and although Shpejtim Arifi pulled one back for the hosts, Victor Karpenko sealed the win for the visitors in the added time. With Al Ittihad already through, Bunyodkor lead the race for the remaining qualifying spot with two and three points separating them from Perseplis and Al Wahda respectively.
Emirates 2-1 Al Shabab
Bougueche 25, 41; Saran 45
Al Ain and Al Wahda are considered the strongest of UAE’s four contenders, but with both struggling, it was first-timers Emirates who stole the show by stunning Saudi giants Al Shabab. Hadj Bougueche struck twice to give the hosts a 2-0 lead before Abdulaziz Saran pulled one back for the visitors on stroke of half-time.
Al Shabab emerged as the dominant side after restart but Emirates did just well to hold on for three precious points. The triumph left them second in Group D behind Zob Ahan, who scraped past Al Rayyan 1-0. With the Iranian leaders on verge of progression, Emirates and Al Shabab are likely to vie for the second spot, while Al Rayyan face elimination.
Al Sadd missed out on the chance to strengthen their grip at the top of Group B as they drew 1-1 at Al Nassr. That result, coupled with Pakhtakor’s 2-1 home triumph over Esteghlal, saw Al Sadd remain at the summit, three points clear of second-placed Al Nassr. Esteghlal and Paktakor share third with four points each.
Two goals in a space of three minutes before the break were enough to see Group E's Melborne past Tianjin with a 2-1 home win. Although the Chinese side lead the section with seven points, the Australians succeeded in breathing new life into their campaign. Furthermore, the group was made all the more open by Gamba Osaka's 3-1 defeat of Jeju United, with both sides now within a point of Tianjin.
Group H’s Sydney twice came from behind to defeat hosts Shanghai 3-2, while Kashima Antlers and Suwon Bluewings shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Level on seven points at the top, Suwon remain ahead of Kashima on goal difference, with Sydney two points behind. Shanghai, with two draws from four outings, see their hopes hanging by a thread.
Group F’s clash of champions between hosts FC Seoul and Nagoya Grampus ended in the latter's favour, with goals from Mu Kanazaki and Kensuke Nagai earning the Japanese outfit three valuable points. In the section’s other match, Omar Abdulrahman struck the only goal as Al Ain saw off Hangzhou Greentown. FC Seoul and Grampus share top spot with seven points but both Hangzhou and Al Ain, with four points apiece, are still in contention.
With all their three of their compatriots suffering defeats, Group G's Shandong Luneng salvaged some pride for the Chinese contingent by firing five unanswered goals past Arema, whose elimination was later confirmed on by Jeonbuk's 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka. Topping the section with nine points, Jeonbuk need just a draw to secure a place in the top two, with Shandong and Cerezo left to battle for the second qualifying spot.
What they said
"It was a tough game because Sepahan are a strong team by Asian standards. I am happy with our players; as a young team, they gave their best and their performance offered us hope for the future." Al Gharafa coach Bruno Metsu
2011 AFC Champions League Matchday 4 results
Tuesday 19 & Wednesday 20 April
Group A: Al Gharafa 1-0 Sepahan, Al Jazira 2-3 Al Hilal
Group B: Pakhtakor 2-1 Esteghlal, Al Nassr 1-1 Al Sadd
Group C: Persepolis 1-3 Bunyodkor, Al Ittihad 0-0 Al Wahda
Group D: Zob Ahan 1-0 Al Rayyan, Emirates 2-1 Al Shabab
Group E: Gamba Osaka 3-1 Jeju United, Melbourne Victory 2-1 Tianjin Teda
Group F: Al Ain 1-0 Hangzhou Greentown, FC Seoul 0-2 Nagoya Grampus
Group G: Jeonbuk Motors 1-0 Cerezo Osaka, Shandong Luneng 5-0 Arema Indonesia
Group H: Kashima Antlers 1-1 Suwon Bluewings, Shanghai Shenhua 2-3 Sydney FC