Heavyweights proved their credentials in midweek as four former Asian champions won through to the AFC Champions League semi-finals.
Despite losing 1-0 at FC Seoul, two-time winners Al Ittihad progressed 3-2 on aggregate at the expense of the K-League champions. The victory sets up a mouth-watering semi-final showdown with 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors, who crushed Cerezo Osaka 6-1 to claim a remarkable 9-5 aggregate win.
Elsewhere, a 2-1 triumph at Zob Ahan saw 2001 and 2002 Asian Club Championship winners Suwon Bluewings through 3-2 on aggregate. Their reward is an eye-catching meeting with 1989 champions Al Sadd, who eliminated Sepahan 4-2 on aggregate despite losing 2-1 at home. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at some enthralling action across Asia.
Zob Ahan 1-2 Suwon Bluewings
The only contest of the four to go to extra time was decided by Mato Neretljak's penalty scored in the opening period of the additional time, which sealed progression for the Korea Republic representatives. Knowing that a goalless draw would be enough to send them through, hosts Zob Ahan did well in keeping the visitors at bay throughout the opening half. And last year's runners-up looked well on course to go through when Mohammad Ghazi put them ahead five minutes after the restart.
The goal sparked Suwon into life and they found the equaliser with 13 minutes remaining, Yang Sang-Min getting his head onto a Yeom Ki-Hun pass. The Korean visitors went on to dominate the remainder of the match with Oh Beom-Sok going close to settling the contest seven minutes from time. The match-winner finally came when Neretljak made no mistake from the spot to end the Iranians' dream of reprising last year's run.
Jeonbuk Motors 6-1 Cerezo Osaka
In what had been expected to be an evenly contested match, Lee Dong-Gook smashed four goals past Cerezo as Jeonbuk won 6-1 at home to progress in style. Facing an uphill task following a 4-3 first-leg away defeat, the Koreans got off to a good start when Eninho gave them the much-wanted lead 14 minutes from the break.
Then came a virtuoso display from the prolific Lee. First he headed home off a corner to make it 2-0 shortly following the break, and, after catching Cerezo keeper Kim Jin-Hyeon out with a low shot on 55 minutes, the striking ace completed a quickfire hat-trick on the hour-mark with a volley. Rui Komatsu pulled one back for the visitors but the hosts quickly restored their margin through Kim Dong-Chan. Lee extended the visitors agony when he latched onto a clearance during injury time.
The other attractions
Needing an emphatic win to reverse their 3-1 first-leg loss, FC Seoul were the first to attack and kept pressing forward thereafter. Having weathered the early storm from the hosts, however, it was the visiting Al Ittihad that looked dangerous, particularly on the break. The Koreans heaped pressure on the Saudis but the defensive line led by goalkeeper Mabrouk Zaid proved solid. FC Seoul’s Mauricio Molina broke the deadlock with six minutes to go, but his strike proved not enough as his side crashed out.
Elsewhere, Sepahan had a mountain to climb in Doha after being stripped of their 1-0 first-leg win over Al Sadd for fielding an ineligible player, with the Qataris thus awarded a 3-0 scoreline. Despite this, the Iranian visitors entered the game in determined fashion when Emad Mohammed and Hassan Jafari struck in the opening half to put the contest on a knife's edge. Their hopes of an amazing comeback, however, were shattered when Mamadou Niang was on target four minutes from time to send the hosts through.
Lee's four goals have now lifted his season tally to nine to top the scoring chart, and also provides the 32-year-old with a chance to overtake the tournament's all-time top-scorer Leandro, who netted ten times as Gamba Osaka reached this year’s Round of 16.
5 – The number of goals Suwon have conceded so far across nine games with the K-League giants credited with having the competition’s meanest defence.
What they said
"Congratulations to my players, they played their hearts out. It was like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope. We almost made it. I think my team gave an excellent performance today," Sepahan coach Luka Bonacic
2011 AFC Champions League quarter-finals second-leg results
27 & 28 September
Jeonbuk Motors 6-1 (9-5 on aggregate) Cerezo Osaka
FC Seoul 1-0 (2-3) Al Ittihad
Al Sadd 1-2 (4-2) Sepahan
Zob Ahan 1-2 (2-3) Suwon Bluewings