Korea Republic's FC Seoul and Australia's Newcastle Jets clinched the last spots in the AFC Champions League knockout rounds in dramatic fashion today, as defending champions Gamba Osaka suffered a shock loss.
The Korea Republic team's chances of qualifying from Group F looked slim but they kept themselves in the picture by upsetting Gamba in Japan, with a 90th minute goal from Kim Han-Yoon handing the visitors a surprise 2-1 win.
The berth would have gone to China's Shandong Luneng, who only needed to beat Indonesian minnows Sriwijaya, a team that had conceded 22 goals and failed to pick up a point in their five previous games. Shandong looked to be cruising after goals from Han Peng and Gao Di in quick succession just before half-time left them 2-0 in front.
But in an extraordinary second half Sriwijaya battled back to take the game 4-2 and crush Chinese hopes in a hugely embarrassing defeat for Shandong. Kayamba, also known as Keith Gumbs, got Sriwijaya back in the match with a 53rd-minute strike before a brace from Zah Rahan Kranger put them in front. Muhammad Nasuha hammered the final nail in Shandong's coffin with three minutes to go.
It meant Seoul secured second-place behind Japan's Gamba, who had already qualified despite losing. The South Korean team's exploits also put an end to the J-League giants' 16-game unbeaten run in the competition. Takashi Usmai gave Gamba the lead in the 62nd minute before Dejan Damjanovic pounced to level the game 11 minutes later. It looked headed for a draw before Kim silenced the home crowd with his last-minute strike.
Newcastle booked their place in the knockout round with a 1-0 win over Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai. A first-half glancing header from midfielder Jason Hoffman and a brilliant defensive display were enough to keep them in Asia's top club tournament. The victory ensured they became only the second Australian side ever, behind Adelaide United, to progress to the business end of the competition.
Newcastle will now return to the same country to face Group H winners Pohang Steelers with a quarter-final place at stake. In the group's other match, Nagoya Grampus drew 1-1 with Beijing Guoan and now play Korea Republic's Suwon Bluewings in the next round.
In all, four teams from Japan and four from Saudi Arabia have made the grade, along with three from Korea Republic, two from Uzbekistan and one apiece from Iran, Qatar, and Australia.
In the west-zone matches, Al Hilal, the 2007-08 Saudi champions, beat Uzbek heavyweights Pakhtakor 2-0 in Riyadh to claim Group A's top team, earning a home tie against Group C runner-up Umm-Salal of Qatar. Pakhtakor now face a trip to Dammam to face Group D winners Ettifaq of Saudi Arabia. In the other Group A match Iran's Saba Battery defeated UAE's Al Ahli 5-3 to finish third.
In Group B, Iran's Piroozi beat Al Shabab 1-0 in Tehran with the victory securing them top spot due to a better head-to-head record against the Saudi side. That clash was the only remaining Group B contest following the earlier withdrawal from the tournament of Sharjah. The West zone round of 16 games will be played on 27 May, with the remaining fixtures to be played in late June.