The recommencement of the AFC Champions League after a four-month hiatus proved a positive experience for two west Asian favourites, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and Iran’s Sepahan, with the pair taking a significant step towards a semi-final berth. Two-time winners Ittihad recording a 3-1 home victory over FC Seoul, while 2007 runners-up Sepahan dispatched visiting Al Sadd with a solitary-goal win.
Korea Republic’s much-hyped representatives fared far worse with none of the remaining trio registering a victory. With FC Seoul outdone at Jeddah, Suwon Bluewings were held to a 1-1 home draw by Zob Ahan, while 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors suffered a stunning 4-3 defeat at Cerezo Osaka. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at the battle for a position amongst the continent’s last four.
Al Ittihad 3-1 FC Seoul
In what had been expected to be an evenly-contested game, Al Ittihad emerged 3-1 victors to go into the return leg with a handy two-goal cushion. The opening half proved to be a relatively lacklustre affair, with only forward Naif Hazazi providing an attacking spark for the home side. Having twice come close to opening the scoring, the Ittihad No9 eventually made the breakthrough when he set up Mohammed Noor for the opener just before the break.
The Korean champions pressed hard for an equaliser after the restart. However, it was the hosts that doubled their lead when Osama Al Harbi latched onto a free-kick to fire home from 30 yards. Substitute Choi Tae-Uk secured an important away goal for the visitors on 82 minutes, but Ittihad restored their two-goal advantage courtesy of Wendel's injury-time strike.
Cerezo Osaka 4-3 Jeonbuk Motors
Tournament debutants Cerezo continued their unexpected run as they thrice came from behind to outstrip the strongly-favoured Jeonbuk in a 4-3 thriller. Japan playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake proved the hosts’ hero, scoring twice including the winner. In what turned out to be a fluctuating contest, the visiting Koreans went ahead after only six minutes courtesy of Lee Dong-Gook, before Cerezo equalised on the hour-mark through Ryuji Bando.
Lee struck his second in first-half injury-time to give Jeonbuk the lead but Cerezo again drew level on 56 minutes when Kiyotake got his head onto Noriyuki Sakemoto's corner. The tempo was upped thereafter with the visitors soon restoring their lead, before Kim Bo-Kyung levelled for the hosts through a penalty on 64 minutes. With so much at stake, Kiyotake rose to the occasion to seal a memorable victory nine minutes from time.
The other attractions
In Esfahan, Sepahan clinched three points against Qatar’s Al Sadd courtesy of Omid Ibrahimi's early strike, despite being reduced to ten men on 58 minutes. The home side took the lead after just nine minutes and continued their dominance, with both Ahmad Jamshidian and Emad Mohammed close to doubling their lead. However, the tide turned when Akbar Imani received his marching orders. Capitalising on the numerical advantage, Al Sadd took the ascendency but having survived a series of scares, the hosts successfully defended their lead.
Elsewhere, Suwon only salvaged a point at home with Park Hyun-Beom striking late to cancel out Mohammad Ghazi's opener for Zob Ahan. The Koreans had the better of the opening half, with Stevica Ristikj twice coming close to breaking the deadlock, before Diego Oliveira forced Shahab Gordan into a diving save. However, they were punished for their profligacy in front of goal when Igor Castro teed up Ghazi to put the visitors ahead on 57 minutes. Park volleyed home nine minutes later to draw the hosts level but after squandering a couple of chances in the closing stages, it was the Iranians that will be more satisfied with their draw on the road.
Having proved the driving force as Al Ittihad conquered Asia in 2004 and 2005, Mohammed Noor again showed his value in continental competition by opening the scoring against FC Seoul.
20 - Despite their defeat, Jeonbuk remain this season’s goal kings having tucked away 20 goals from their eight outings to date.
What they said
"Those who want to see our games should take a check on their heart at hospital first. But our players showed great concentration at a crucial moment and that produced our winning goal. I wanted to deliver a message to our players, stick to our attacking style to the end." Levir Culpi, Cerezo Osaka coach