The penultimate matchday of the 2009 AFC Champions League proved decisive as nine teams joined Gamba Osaka, Kawasaki Frontale and Pakhtakor in the last 16, leaving only four places up for grabs in the final round.
In west Asia, it was a case of mission accomplished for all four Saudi representatives, who turned in some excellent performances to make it through. Also joining them are Qatari side UMM-Salal, who secured an unassailable place in the section's top two alongside Al Ittihad while Persepolis of Iran also reached the knockout stage following Sharjah's withdrawal and Al Shabab's 1-0 win over Al Gharafa.
Japanese sides continued to dominate the east zone, with both Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers progressing with emphatic wins. Elsewhere, Pohang Steelers become the first South Korean side to advance thanks to a 3-2 win over Central Coast 3-2, while Newcastle Jets raised Aussie spirits by coming from a goal down to beat Beijing Guoan and move into second place.
Game of the day
Newcastle Jets (AUS) 2-1 Beijing Guoan (CHN)
Both sides entered the game with four points each, knowing that only a win would revive their qualifying hopes. The crunch tie ended in 2-1 in Jets' favor, albeit in dramatic style. After a tightly contested first half, Ryan Griffiths struck first to put the visitors ahead after 69 minutes. The home side threw everything forward in search of an equaliser and drew level through Sasho Petrovski with only two minutes remaining. It was then left to Sean Rooney to decide the game in memorable fashion, with the second half substitute firing home the winner deep into the injury time. Rooney's goal ensured that the Jets not only avenged their opening 2-0 loss to Guoan, but also moved into second place ahead of Ulsan Hyundai, who lost 4-1 at Nagoya Grampus.
Surprise of the day
Ettifaq (KSA) 4-0 Bunyodkor (UZB)
Bunyodkor may boast the likes of Brazilian star Rivaldo and reigning AFC Player of the Year Server Djeparov but with the creative duo closely marked by the Ettifaq defense, the pride of Uzbekistan ultimately came up short. Their Saudi hosts established a two-goal lead inside 38 minutes thanks to a brace by Prince Tagoe before Saleh Bashar virtually put the game outcome doubt by making it 3-0 shortly after the interval. Waleed Al Rajaa later rounded off an emphatic win with a fine free-kick. The win sent Ettifaq through, while Bunyodk's fate will be decided in their final match against Al Arabi, who sent Sepahan with a 2-1 win.
The other headliner
Kashima Antlers (JPN) 3-0 Suwon Bluewings (KOR)
Despite beating Kashima Antlers 4-1 in their Champions League opener, Suwon Bluewings have been in inconsistent form of late and took their domestic problems into the continental arena yesterday. Go Oiwa opened the scoring for Antlers after 27 minutes and it took the hosts only five minutes to double the lead courtesy of Marquinhos. The Brazilian striker scored the third with 25 minutes remaining to round off a victory that brought some sweet revenge for the Japanese outfit. The win, coupled with Shanghai Shenhua's 1-1 draw against Armed Forces of Singapore, sealed Antlers' place in the next round, while the Bluewings finish their campaign with a must-win fixture against Armed Forces.
It was a disappointing matchday for the Chinese hopefuls. Beijing Guoan and Tianjin Teda both bowed out, although the latter side were at least able to depart with their heads held high after claiming a 3-1 home win over the already-qualified Kawasaki Frontale. After being held by Armed Forces, meanwhile, Shanghai Shenhua are left needing not only to defeat Antlers, but also require Bluewings to lose to the Singaporean side if they are to qualify.
Shandong Luneng are the only Chinese side with their destiny in their own hands. Despite losing to Gamba, the Group F hopefuls know that an away win against Sriwijaya of Indonesia will see them through.
What they said
"We will definitely win the last group game to qualify. Nothing can stop us from progressing into the knockout stage," Shandong Luneng coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic.
2009 AFC Champions League Matchday 5 results
Group A: Pakhtakor (UZB) 2-0 Al Ahli (UAE); Saba Battery (IRN) 0-1 Al Hilal (KSA)
Group B: Al Shabab (KSA) 1-0 Al Gharafa (QAT); Sharjah (UAE) - Persepolis (IRN) (Match canceled due to Sharjah's recent withdrawal)
Group C: Esteghlal (IRN)1-1 Al Ittihad (KSA); UMM-Salal (QAT)2-2Al Jazira (UAE)
Group D: Al Arabi (UAE) 2-1 Sepahan (IRN); Ettifaq (KSA) 4-0 Bunyodkor (UZB)
Group E: Newcastle Jets (AUS)2-1 Beijing Guoan (CHN); Nagoya Grampus (JPN) 4-1 Ulsan Hyundai (KOR)
Group F: FC Seoul (KOR) 5-1 Sriwijaya (IDN); Shandong Luneng (CHN) 0-1 Gamba Osaka (JPN)
Group G: Kashima Antlers (JPN) 3-0 Suwon Bluewings (KOR); Armed Forces (SIN) 1-1 Shanghai Shenhua (CHN)
Group H: Tianjin Teda (CHN) 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN); Pohang Steelers (KOR) 3-2 Central Coast (AUS)