Japan remains firmly on track to have four teams in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League after decisive victories Wednesday for Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus. The Antlers thrashed Singapore Armed Forces 5-0 at home while Nagoya grabbed a valuable three points with a 1-0 win over Newcastle Jets in Australia.
Defending champions Gamba Osaka and fellow Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale are already through to the knockout rounds - the only two teams qualified so far - as the J-League once again proves its credentials in Asian football.
Kashima now have nine points in Group G, level with Korea Republic giants Suwon Bluewings who won their crucial clash with Chinese heavyweights Shanghai Shenhua 2-1. Two quick goals just before the break from Suwon's Lee Sang-Ho and Bae Ki-Jong cancelled out Yanko Valkanov's 12th minute strike for Shenhua, leaving the Chinese team on six points and facing a must-win trip to Kashima on 5 May.
Nagoya tightened their grip on Group E with a Yoshizumi Ogawa goal, leaving them unbeaten and well placed to advance on eight points, two ahead of Ulsan Hyundai who beat Bejing Guoan 1-0 in the Chinese capital. Oh Jang-Eun's 73th minute goal did the damage, leaving Beijing equal on four points with Newcastle.
Ogawa netted the winner for Nagoya in the 56th minute with a piece of neat finishing after he controlled a cross from winger Keita Sugimoto to drill home past Newcastle goalkeeper Ben Kennedy. The Jets could have forced a draw but substitute striker Sasho Petrovski spurned a penalty attempt 12 minutes from time.
Kashima, meanwhile, adopted an aggressive three-forward system against the defensive Armed Forces, with Brazilian Marquinhos, Shinzo Koroki and Yuya Osako proving a formidable trio. They got their opener on 28 minutes through a Takuya Nozawa header - the club's 1,500th goal since its inception.
Koroki added a second seven minutes before the break and Mitsuo Ogasawara put the game beyond reach with a third early in the second half. Osako bagged the fourth in the 54th minute and Koroki completed his brace with a powerful left-foot drive with 16 minutes left.
In West Asia, Uzbek powerhouse Pakhtakor booked their place in the last 16 with a 2-1 home win over Iran's Saba Battery which gave them 10 points from four Group A games. Mohammad Nori put the visitors ahead in Tashkent after five minutes but the hosts levelled through an Odil Ahmedov penalty before Stanislav Andreev took advantage of poor defending to net the winner just after half-time.
Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal are second in the table and virtually assured of their spot in the knockout round after a 3-1 win over Al Ahli of UAE. Like Pakhtakor, the Saudi side also had to come from a goal down. Ahli grabbed a third-minute lead through Mahmood Qassim but Al Hilal hit back in the 21st minute through Tareq El Taib. Mirel Radoi scored from the penalty spot early in the second-half before Yasser Al Qahtani wrapped up the three points with a fine strike in the 64th minute.
In Group C, newly-crowned Saudi Arabia champions Al Ittihad were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Jazira of the UAE but still stay top with eight points, one ahead of Umm Salal of Qatar who clinched a point in a 1-1 draw against Esteghlal in Tehran.