FC Seoul and Nagoya Grampus qualified for the AFC Champions League knockout rounds today, underlining the strength of the two powerhouse nations in the continental competition.
FC Seoul cruised to a 3-0 win over Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in their Group F match to join Nagoya Grampus in the last 16 after the Japanese side beat China's Hangzhou Greentown 1-0. Both Seoul and Nagoya have ten points and join already qualified K-League sides Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors and Kashima Antlers of the J-League.
An early opener from Go Yo-Han set the stage for Seoul's easy home win. Dejan Damjanovic doubled the lead shortly before the break with a powerful header and extinguished Al Ain's hopes with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.
In their match earlier, Nagoya had a goal ruled out for offside and also hit the post, but their efforts finally paid off in the second half when forward Hikaru Kuba was pulled down by Hangzhou goalkeeper Jiang Bo for a penalty. Jiang received a yellow card and Jungo Fujimoto scored from the spot after 77 minutes.
"Before the game we faced a lot of problems (injuries), but today I think we achieved our goal. It was to make a good game to win and to qualify for the next round," Nagoya's coach Dragan Stojkovic said.
Victory bounce back
In Group E, Chinese outfit Tianjin Teda defeated South Korea's Jeju United 3-0 to secure qualification with ten points. Gamba Osaka drew 1-1 away to Melbourne Victory, meaning the second qualification spot is still up for grabs.
Melbourne went ahead early through an Adrian Leijer header, but Sota Nakazawa levelled before half-time. Gamba Osaka manager Akira Nishino admitted his players had been surprised by the intensity of Melbourne's approach after the Australian side lost the reverse fixture 5-1.
"They were very strong, especially late in the game. Given what happened in the first game, I think my players were surprised," Nishino said.
In West Asia, the top two in Group A ended all square as Iran's Sepahan and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia fought to a 1-1 draw. Both sides have ten points with one match remaining, but third-placed Qatari side Al Gharafa could still take one of the two places in the knockout stages as they are three points adrift after thrashing Al Jazira 5-2.
Al Gharafa, for whom Younus Mahmood scored a hat-trick, will have to produce a mighty performance in their final match, however, as they travel to Saudi Arabia to play Al Hilal. In Group B, Saudi side Al Nassr inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Uzbekistan outfit Pakhtakor to leave them needing a draw away at Iranian side Esteghlal to progress to the last 16. The defeat ended Pakhtakor's hopes of reaching the knockout stages.