Pohang Steelers became the first east Asian team to reach the AFC Champions League last 16 on Wednesday as an upset and a late own goal elsewhere set up a tense final round of group games. The 2009 winners from South Korea beat Cerezo Osaka 2-0 away to qualify for the knock-out stages, leaving their Group E rivals all locked on five points each.
Defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande missed their chance to reach the knockout round on Tuesday, meaning it will be all to play for in the east Asian zone as the group stage wraps up next week. Australia's Central Coast Mariners were cruelly felled by a stoppage-time own goal as they slid off the top of Group F to lie level with Beijing Guoan and Sanfrecce Hiroshima with six points.
Beijing Guoan scored twice in five second-half minutes against Hiroshima, but then Naoki Ishihara outdid them with a brace in just three minutes to earn a pulsating 2-2 draw in the Chinese capital. And Thailand's Buriram United shocked Shandong Luneng 1-0 to secure their first win of the competition and draw level with the Chinese team and Cerezo on five points in Group E.
Lee Myung-Joo and Kim Seung-Dae scored either side of half-time for Pohang to earn their third win of the competition and establish an unbridgeable six-point gap at the top of the group. In Gosford, the Mariners doggedly repulsed last year's runners-up FC Seoul, but their rearguard action was undone a minute into injury time when skipper John Hutchinson turned a cross into his own net.
Beijing went ahead against Hiroshima in dubious circumstances when Peter Utaka's shot appeared to come off Shao Jiayi's arm and crept over the line in a goal credited to the Chinese international. Shao then turned creator with a glorious no-look flick to set up explosive Ecuadorian Joffre Guerron for Beijing's second, in what appeared enough for victory. But bleach-blond forward Ishihara had other ideas and fired two similar goals, both from poorly defended crosses from the left, within three minutes to earn a vital point for Hiroshima.
Al Rayyan crash out
In Group A, Al Rayyan became the second Qatari side to crash out of the tournament after Lekhwiya when they were beaten by the UAE's Al Jazira 3-2, a 90th minute own goal by Cho Yong-hyung proving the decider in Doha. Abdelaziz Barrada had given Al Jazira the lead in the 45th minute before Yakubu Aiyegbeni scored from the spot three minutes after resumption and Musa Haroon struck in the 53rd to put the Qatari side ahead.
However Ali Ahmed Mabkhout equalised for Al Jazira in the 65th minute before Cho's own goal put paid to Rayyan's hopes and sent the UAE side into the knockouts. Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab also made it from Group A after a 2-1 win over Iran's Esteghlal. Meanwhile, Iranian side Foolad Khouzestan made the round of 16 from Group B with a 3-1 victory over Qatar's El Jaish who now need a draw against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor next week to qualify.
Khouzestan needed only a draw, but after falling behind to Nilmar's opening goal of the match in the tenth minute, Bakhtiar Rahmani's acrobatic strike gave them the equaliser in the 21st before Gholam Rezaei and Luciano Chimba put the Iranians in the knockout stages in only their second Champions League campaign. Earlier, Bunyodkor edged Saudi Arabia's Al Fateh 3-2 to keep their slim hopes alive with Oleg Zoteev, Vokhid Shodiev and Alobobo Rakhmatullaev on target.