Korean clubs dominate

Korea Republic's Suwon Bluewings and Seongnam Ilhwa powered into the last 16 of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday as Japan's Gamba Osaka took a giant step towards joining them.

Suwon made the grade by beating China's Henan Jianye 2-0, with a first-half strike by Brazilian Jose Mota and a second in the dying minutes from Kim Dae-Eui enough to secure their passage from Group G. Seongnam maintained their unbeaten record in Group E with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Beijing Guoan in the Chinese capital, with Colombian Mauricio Molina getting the decisive goal with 16 minutes remaining.

It gives South Korea three teams in the knockout rounds after Jeonbuk Motors qualified on Tuesday alongside Japan's Kashima Antlers. The fourth Korean club, defending champions Pohang Steelers, are well placed to make it four-out-of-four.

J.League stalwarts Gamba, the 2008 Asian champions, inched closer to progressing after a convincing 3-0 win over Singapore Armed Forces, whose campaign ended with just one point from four games. It was a one-sided match with Gamba firing 20 shots on target in the first half alone.

They opened their account in the 28th minute when Takahiro Futagawa sent a short corner to defender Michihiro Yasuda, who dribbled into the area and fired home an angled shot. Shoki Hirai, who scored a hat-trick in the first leg a week ago, made it 2-0 with a sweet strike in the 55th minute and Brazilian substitute Ze Carlos wrapped it up in injury time.

Melbourne Victory kept their slim hopes alive with their first win of the tournament, beating Japan's Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 in the other Group E game. Skipper Kevin Muscat, who missed his spot-kick in the Victory's A-League grand final penalty shootout loss to Sydney FC earlier this month, made amends by converting a 60th-minute penalty.

The match turned on the decision by the referee to award a penalty to Melbourne after striker Robbie Kruse was brought down. Melbourne's young goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak pulled off several stunning second-half saves as the Japanese pushed hard for an equaliser. The result leaves Kawasaki with three points, three adrift of Beijing in the fight for the second qualifying berth.

Tight battle in west
In Group A, Iranian side Esteghlal came away with a superb 1-1 draw in Doha against Al Gharafa which sees the visitors retain their one point advantage over them. However, Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia are breathing down their necks after doing the double over United Arab Emirates side Al Jazira as a brace by Victor de Oliveira saw them move onto six points, just two adrift of the leaders.

On a good day for Iranian sides Sepahan, beaten finalists in the 2007 AFC Champions League, defeated Uzbekistan Cup winners Pakhtakor 2-0 in the Iranian city of Esfahan, which saw them reduce the gap between the two sides to just a point. Sepahan won the match with two goals in two minutes of the second-half as Senegalese striker Ibrahima Toure opened the scoring in the 74th minute and Iranian international defender Bengar Mohsen added the second a minute later.

The last match of the day's entertainment saw Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab go top by a point from Pakhtakor after they prevailed 3-2 at home to the winners of the inaugural AFC Champions League Al Ain. Amado Da Silva scored twice - once to give the hosts a 1-0 lead after 12 minutes and then to bring them level at 2-2 in the second-half - before midfielder Marcel Camacho grabbed all three points with seven minutes remaining.