Surprise and drama highlighted Matchday 4, with favourites stumbling in unexpected fashion and strugglers bouncing back in style. Several former champions, along with holders Guangzhou Evergrande, dropped points. Under-performers like Esteghlal and Al Hilal, meanwhile, revived their fortunes by earning their first wins in the competiton. FIFA.com reviews these thrillers and the rest of the AFC Champions League in detail.
Group D's top-versus-bottom clash ended in unexpected fashion, with hosts Al Hilal firing five unanswered goals past Al Sadd for the matchday's biggest win. The result, comined with a goalless draw between Al Ahli and Sepahan, saw the Saudis share second place with Al Sadd and trail group leaders Al Ahli by a mere point.
The two sides' fifth AFC Champions League meeting provided a perfect setting for Nassir Al Shamrani to shine. After seeing his side take a 2-0 lead courtesy of Yasser Al Qahtani's early spot-kick and a strike by Sultan Al Duayyi, the Al Hilal striking-ace headed home on 34 minutes to give his side a solid 3-0 first-half lead.
With Al Sadd pressing hard after the restart, Shamrani netted his second to crush the visitors' hopes of a fightback. The Saudi hot-shot went on to complete this campaign's first hat-trick four minutes later, with the match-winner leaving him atop the scoring chart alongside Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan.
Chen Zijie struck a brace as Group H's Guizhou Renhe came from behind to dispatch Ulsan 3-1 at home for their first triumph in this edition of the competition. Although the Chinese side remain rooted at the bottom, Kawasaki Frontale's 2-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers means Guizhou are still able to advance.
Ulsan entered the rematch seeking revenge, having been held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg. The 2012 winners got off to the start they were looking for when Yoo Junsoo broke the deadlock just past the half-hour mark. However, the hosts responded quickly with Chen drawing level just four minutes later. After Chen’s side took the lead through veteran striker Qu Bo, the lively midfielder rounded off the comeback victory with a spectacular low drive.
The other attractions
Group A's Al Shabab moved within touching distance of a place in the Round of 16 with a 2-0 win at Al Rayyan, courtesy of Eysa Al Mahyani's early opener and Hassan Muath's stoppage-time strike. Striker Mohammad Ghazi scored the only goal in the group’s other contest as Esteghlal recorded their first victory at Al Jazira to stave off certain elimination.
In Group B, both El Jaish and Foolad moved on the verge of progression with respective home victories. The former needed two second-half strikes to down winless Al Fateh while the latter edged Bunyodkor 1-0. The Uzbek visitors, surprisingly, see their hopes in real danger for the first time in the competition’s history.
Al Ain maintained their place at the top of Group C despite a 2-2 draw at Tractor Sazi. Al Ittihad, meanwhile, bounced back to move into second place with a 3-1 victory against visiting Lekhwiya, Abdulfattah Asiri netting a double for the hosts.
2009 winners Pohang Steelers established a three-point gap in Group E after defeating hosts Shandong Luneng in a 4-2 goal-thriller. With the match all but over when the visitors were 4-0 up seven minutes from time, Du Wei's late header and Han Peng's stoppage-time strike were nothing more than consolations for Shandong. Cerezo Osaka, meanwhile, recovered from a first-half two-goal deficit to draw against Buriram United, moving level with Shandong on five points.
A 1-0 home win against Beijing Guoan lifted Central Coast Mariners to the top of Group F. Marcel Seip scored the only goal after Zhang Xizhe saw his spot-kick saved as the Australian hosts registered an unlikely win. Elsewhere, last year's runners-up FC Seoul required a stoppage-time penalty to secure a point against Sanfrecce Hiroshima at home in a 2-2 stalemates.
Leonardo beat the offside-trap to score a second-half goal as Jeonbuk Motors beat high-flying Guangzhou Evergrande 1-0 at home. Yokohama F. Marinos, for their part, defeated Melbourne Victory 3-2 at home to put their campaign back on track.
While four-time Saudi league top-scorer Nassir Al Shamrani dazzled spectators with his goals, his consistent performance throughout the 90 minutes impressed everyone in the stadium. The striker has continued to maintain his phenomenal goal-scoring form on both home and Asian fronts, though, topping the scoring-charts in the domestic competition and the Champions League.
4-Only four teams remain undefeated after Matchday 4, while a different four sides managed to maintain their places at the top their respective groups despite dropping points.
What they said
"Our performance wasn’t particularly bad, but we made some mistakes and I take responsibility for those. Once the Jeonbuk player was sent off, I told Kim Younggwon to move into midfield and that weakened our defence," Guangzhou Evergrande coach Marcello Lippi.
Matchday 4 results
1 & 2 April
Group A: Al Jazira 0-1 Esteghlal, Al Rayyan 0-2 Al Shabab
Group B: El Jaish 2-0 Al Fateh, Foolad 1-0 Bunyodkor
Group C: Tractor Sazi 2-2 Al-Ain, Al Ittihad 3-1 Lekhwiya
Group D: Al Hilal 5-0 Al Sadd, Al-Ahli 0-0 Sepaha
Group E: Shandong Luneng 2-4 Pohang Steelers, Buriram United 2-2 Cerezo Osaka
Group F: FC Seoul 2-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Central Coast Mariners 1-0 Beijing Guoan
Group G: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 1-0 Guangzhou Evergrande, Yokohama F. Marinos 3-2 Melbourne Victory
Group H: Guizhou Renhe 3-1 Ulsan Hyundai, Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers