Home advantage proved a telling factor in the AFC Champions League Round of 16, with seven host teams advancing to the last eight. The only exception came in the Osaka derby, where tournament first-timers Cerezo emerged unlikely 1-0 victors over J.League giants Gamba.
Korea Republic continued their continental dominance of recent years with FC Seoul, Suwon Bluewings and Jeonbuk Motors all progressing at the expense of Kashima Antlers, Nagoya Grampus and Tianjin Teda. In west Asia, Iran were the biggest winners with Sepahan and Zob Ahan progressing with comfortable wins over Bunyodkor and Al Nassr respectively.
Al Ittihad were the only Saudi side that survived the one-off knockout round, courtesy of their impressive 3-1 home defeat of Al Hilal. The final berth was taken by Qatar representatives Al Sadd who scored a solitary-goal triumph over Al Shabab. FIFA.com reviews an enthralling round which left just eight teams vying for continental glory.
The big game
Al Ittihad 3–1 Al Hilal
Goals: Nuno Assis 15, 59, Abdelmalik Ziaya 17; Abdulaziz Aldawsari 82
Al Ittihad's new coach Dimitri Davidovic couldn't have wished for a better return to the club as his team outstripped arch-rivals Al Hilal 3-1. Portuguese midfielder Nuno Assis proved the hero with a two-goal salvo, but providing the assists was the talismanic Mohammed Noor, who was pivotal in the club’s march to Asian glory in 2004 and 2005.
Cheered on by their home supporters, Al Ittihad came out like a house on the fire and they took the lead on the quarter-hour mark; Assis latching onto Noor’s clever pass to slot home. Only two minutes later the hosts doubled their lead when Ziaya headed home off Paulo Jorge's inch-perfect cross. Assis put the game beyond doubt when he struck his second approaching the hour-mark, leaving Aldawsari’s late goal little more than a consolation. The result was all the more remarkable given Hilal were undefeated over the course of the 26-match Saudi season, finishing 13 points clear of Ittihad.
Gamba Osaka 0–1 Cerezo Osaka
Goal: Daisuke Takahashi 88
Cerezo provided the round’s biggest surprise as they stunned 2008 winners Gamba. Determined to catch the strongly-favoured hosts out through their resolute play, Cerezo began aggressively but having soaked up some early pressure, Gamba gradually came into the contest taking control in the latter stages of the opening half.
The home side nearly broke the deadlock shortly after the restart with midfielder Takashi Usami denied by Cerezo goalkeeper Kim Jin-Hyeon. The near-miss, however, seemingly sparked the visitors into attack, with Rodrigo Pimpao, Daisuke Takahashi and Rui Komatsu all close to opening the scoring. Cerezo's offensive efforts paid off in the closing minutes, when defender Takahashi struck a famous winner off a Kim Bo-Kyung pass.
Eninho struck a brace and also had a hand in another goal as Jeonbuk eased past Tianjin 3-0 on Tuesday. The dynamic Brazilian striker opened the scoring on the half-hour mark and his dangerous cross led to their second, with midfielder Lee Sung-Hyun firing home the rebound. Eninho went on to seal the victory six minutes from time.
Inspired by Jeonbuk, compatriots Suwon dispatched Japanese champions Nagoya 2-0 with Yeom Ki-Hun and Lee Sang-Ho on target in each half. Compatriots FC Seoul ran riot against J.League aristocrats Kashima with goals from Bang Sung-Hwan, Dejan Damjanovic and Koh Myung-Jin helping them to a resounding 3-0 win.
2007 runners-up Sepahan proved unstoppable against Bunyodkor, with the Iranian hosts taking a comfortable 2-0 opening-half lead courtesy of goals from Fabio Januario and Ibrahima Toure. Although Slavoljub Djordjevic pulled one back for the Uzbeks shortly after the interval, their hopes of a comeback were crushed when Hadi Aghily put the seal on Sepahan's victory with a penalty.
It was fellow Iranians Zob Ahan that produced the round's biggest scoreline by putting Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr to the sword. Mohammad Ghazi and Igor Castro scored in the opening five minutes to give the home side a 2-0 lead, before the latter completed a brace on the hour-mark to make it 3-0. Kuwait star Bader Al Mutwa may have reduced the deficit for the visitors, but Shaahin Kheiri put the nail in Al Nassr's coffin sixteen minutes from time.
Despite finishing the Qatari league season in sixth, Al Sadd atoned for their domestic disappointment by reaching the quarter-finals on the continental stage. Skipper Abdulla Koni put the hosts ahead on twelve minutes and, although Al Shabab were the better side throughout the remaining time, they were unable to turn their dominance into goals.
What they said
"These days Asian teams tend to play aggressive games and this means that the chances for us to score are greater. We played a good game and I am happy the players demonstrated their levels of concentration and fighting spirit," Suwon Samsung Bluewings coach Yoon Sung-Hyo
2011 AFC Champions League Round of 16 results:
Tuesday 24 & Wednesday 25 May
Sepahan 3–1 Bunyodkor
Al Ittihad 3–1 Al Hilal
Al Sadd 1-0 Al Shabab
Zob Ahan 4–1 Al Nassr
Gamba Osaka 0–1 Cerezo Osaka
Jeonbuk Motors 3–0 Tianjin Teda
FC Seoul 3–0 Kashima Antlers
Suwon Samsung Bluewings 2–0 Nagoya Grampus