Kashima, Shanghai stay on course

Victories for Japan's Kashima Antlers, Korea's Ulsan, Shanghai Shenhua and Uzbek heavyweights Pakhtakor kept them on track for the 2009 AFC Champions League knockout rounds.

Kashima, back-to-back J-League winners, trounced Singapore Armed Forces 4-1 while Ulsan ground out a well-deserved 1-0 home win over Beijing Guoan. Pakhtakor travelled to Iran and came away with all three points after a 2-0 triumph over Saba Battery to leave them firmly in control of Group A.

In other games, Nagoya Grampus were held to a 1-1 draw by Australia's Newcastle Jets, although the Japanese outfit go top of Group E after Ulsan claimed their first victory of the campaign over Beijing.

Shanghai needed a late goal from Belarus forward Vyacheslav Hleb, younger brother of Barcelona star Alexander, to beat Korea Republic's Suwon Bluewings 2-1 and move to six points in Group G. They share the lead alongside Suwon and Kashima, with Singapore, who only qualified through February's play-offs, also rans.

Armed Forces were out of their depth as Masahi Motoyama, Atsuto Uchida and Yuya Osako all got on the score sheet for Kashima before a Daniel Bennett own goal completed the home team's miserable night.

In Nagoya, Japanese international Keiji Tamada came off the bench to fire an equaliser and earn Grampus a draw with Newcastle. Tarek Elrich had put the Australians ahead after nine minutes but Tamada's freekick midway through the second half ensured the spoils were shared.

Chinese miss chance
Beijing had a golden opportunity to become outright leaders in their group but failed to break down the Ulsan defence. Instead, Ulsan substitute Oh Jang-Eun struck the decisive blow with 20 minutes left. The Koreans knew they must win after crashing in their first opening two games and they had goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang to thank for preserving the points as he saved a late Huang Bowen penalty.

With Pakhtakor beating Saba Battery, thanks to a Farhod Tadjiyev brace, Saudi champions Al Hilal will be desperate for their first win as they host UAE's Al Ahli in Riyadh. Elsewhere, Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad will try to maintain their 100 percent record when they visit Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar's Umm Salal, second in Group C behind Ittihad, host in-form Esteghlal. Defending champions Gamba Osaka play on Wednesday with the group stages wrapping up on May 20 ahead of the knockout rounds starting later that month.

The final is hosted by Japan in November.