Gamba lead the way

Gamba Osaka have beaten Indonesian outfit Sriwijaya 3-0 to become the first team into the AFC Champions League round of 16, with fellow Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale set to join them.

Goals from Leandro, Hayato Sasaki and Cho Jae-Jin handed the defending champions a comfortable win in Pelambang city to keep intact their 100 per cent record in Group F of Asia's top club competition. Chinese champions Shandong Luneng are well placed to be the other team from the group to make the knockout rounds after a hard-fought 1-1 draw against FC Seoul moved them to seven points ahead of the Koreans on four. They have two games to play.

The impressive Gamba are the only team in the competition to win all their games, in contrast to tournament debutants Sriwijaya, who have yet to get off the mark. Winning last year's title has not dulled coach Akira Nishino's desire for further success.

"The road to defending our title is still long but we know how to repeat our success," he said. "This is a long competition and one can only prevail if consistency is maintained and that is, in my opinion, the key to a success in this competition."

In Seoul, Alejandro Cichero scored a late equaliser to salvage a draw for Shandong. A first-half header from Park Yong-Ho put the hosts ahead and they went close to adding to their lead on several occasions. However, they couldn't find the decisive second goal and were left ruing their chances when Shandong levelled the game with 10 minutes to go, Cichero heading home from close range.

In Kawasaki, Central Coast Mariners manager Lawrie McKinna was desperate to salvage some pride against Frontale, who humiliated the Australians 5-0 at home this month. They went some way to doing that in a 2-1 defeat, but still need a huge slice of luck to stay in the competition.

It appeared the Mariners were heading for a crucial point after Matt Simon's second-half equaliser had cancelled out Brazilian midfielder Juninho's opener. However, an 80th minute strike by substitute Renatinho virtually assured progression to the knockout stages for Frontale.

The Mariners remain on two points and must win their final matches - away to Korea's Pohang Steelers and at home to Chinese side Tianjin Teda. In the other Group H game, Tianjin played out a goalless draw with Pohang Steelers.

In west Asia there were goals aplenty. Saudi side Ettifaq stayed top of Group D as they walloped Al Shabab Al Arabi 4-1 in Dubai with a hat-trick by in-form Ghanaian striker Prince Tagoe, which saw them come from behind to claim the three points.

Uzbek champions Bunyodkor, last year's semi-finalists, had earlier beaten Iran's Sepahan 1-0 with the goal coming from Timur Kopadze in the 19th minute. Bunyodkor now have seven points, two behind Ettifaq.

In Group B, Iranian giants Piroozi suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of Qatari side Al Gharafa in Doha with a hat-trick by Araujo Soares the feature of the match and avenged a 3-1 reverse at the hands of the same opponents last month.

However, Saudi side Al Shabab stayed three clear of Piroozi after they too went goal crazy beating UAE's Sharjah 5-0 with Nassir Al Shamrani grabbing a hat-trick and Abdulaziz Saran a brace to edge tantalisingly close to the knockout stages.