West Asian trio join Seongnam in semis
© AFP

The AFC Champions League trophy has settled in either Korea Republic or Japan for four years running. The chances of an extension to that figure, however, rest exclusively on the shoulders of Seongnam Chunma, who overcame compatriots Suwon Bluewings 4-3 on aggregate to join a West Asian trio in the 2010 semi-finals.

The South Koreans will take on Al Shabab, who eked out an aggregate victory over Jeonbuk Motors, while Al Hilal ensured two Saudi teams will compete in the semi-finals by edging Al Gharafa following a dramatic finish. The Riyadh giants will now face Zob Ahan for a place in the final, after the Iranians eliminated defending champions Pohang Steelers courtesy of Mohammad Reza Khalatbari’s late goal.

The big game
Al Gharafa 4-2 Al Hilal (a.e.t)
Al Zain 2, Mahmood 38 & 102, El Assas 41; Al Qahtani 117, Al Mahyani 119

Despite trailing 3-0 from the first leg, Al Gharafa put in an outstanding performance and were only three minutes from improbably clinching a place in the last four until their visitors struck two late goals. The vociferous home support paid dividends in the first half, with a Mirghani Al Zain finish, Younis Mahmoud’s header and an Othman El Assas free-kick ensuring the Qatari team went in at the interval level on aggregate. An action-packed but goalless second 45 meant the game went to extra time, and when Mahmoud converted Fahid Al Shammari's pass to put Gharafa 4-0 up on the night, there were euphoric scenes on the terraces. However, with 117 minutes on the clock, Yasser Al Qahtani levelled the aggregate scores before a last-gasp Eysa Al Mahyani effort settled a dramatic tie in the Saudis’ favour.

The surprise
Pohang Steelers 1-1 Zob Ahan
Kim Jae-Sung 10; Khalatbari 80

In the 2009 quarter-finals, Pohang reversed a 3-1 first-leg defeat by Bunyodkor en route to glory. It wasn’t a case of history repeated, though, as Zob Ahan followed up a 2-1 success at home with the away point they needed. That draw looked unlikely for much of the game, as the Steelers took an early lead through Kim Jae-Sung and consistently threatened to double their advantage. How they would rue not taking one opportunity, the best of which fell to veteran forward Seol Ki-Hyeon, who blazed over with the goal at his mercy. Form a rare Zob attack, Mohammad Reza Khalatbari collected Ghasem Hadadifar's pass and made it 1-1 on the evening. Mahdi Rajabzadeh’s 87th-minute dismissal gave the Steelers a numerical advantage, but the Iranians held on to advance.

The other headline-grabbers
Jeonbuk Motors did manage a solitary-goal win over Al Shabab, but it was not enough to take them through due to a 2-0 first-leg defeat. Kim Jee-Wong put the visitors ahead with a long-range effort midway through the opening half, but the South Koreans failed to grab a decisive second despite creating numerous chances.

Seongnam will instead carry the flag for Korea Republic on their own. They suffered a 2-0 loss at Suwon, for whom Yeom Ki-Hyun and Lee Sang-Ho were on target, but Shin Tae-Yong’s men survived a late onslaught to edge the tie 4-3 on aggregate.

The player
With Al Hilal on the brink of elimination, Yasser Al Qhatani once again rose to the occasion to score the goal that made it 4-4 on aggregate. With Al Gharafa rattled, the 27-year-old’s team-mate Eysa Al Mahyani was able to seal the deal.

What they said
"We missed a great chance to retain the Asian title and it will effect us psychologically. The luck was not with our side, and I am sorry we disappointed our fans," Park Chang-Hyun, Pohang Steelers coach.

AFC Champions League quarter-final, second-leg results
Al Gharafa 4-2 Al Hilal (a.e.t)
Pohang Steelers 1-1 Zob Ahan
Al Shabab 0-1 Jeonbuk Motors
Suwon Bluewings 2-0 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma