Just five spots remain up for grabs following the penultimate matchday in the AFC Champions League. No less than seven clubs this week booked their participation in the last 16 joining the qualified quartet of Seongnam Ilhwa, Jeonbuk Motors, Suwon Bluewings and Kashima Antlers.
Group D’s Al Hilal became the first west Asian team to reach the knockout stage courtesy of their goalless draw with Al Sadd on Tuesday. Joining them were Group A's Esteghlal and Al Gharafa, who ensured their progression with respective wins over Al Ahli and Al Jazira. Group B surprise packages Zob Ahan found themselves on the wrong end of a major upset with a 1-0 defeat to Al Wahda but the Iranians still went through after Al Ittihad and Bunyodkor shared the spoils in the other game.
In the east, defending champions Pohang Steelers and 2008 runners-up Adelaide United settled for a goalless draw to jointly advance from Group H. The team which defeated Adelaide in the final two years ago, Japan’s Gamba Osaka, pulled off a late but spirited 2-1 triumph over Suwon to claim the remaining spot from Group G.
The big game
Pakhtakor 3-2 Al Ain
Goals: Odil Ahmedov 9, 12, 29; Jorge Valdivia 2, Ilhomjon Suyunov 20 (OG)
Languishing at the bottom with four points, 2003 winners Al Ain of Group C faced a must-win in Tashkent while Pakhtakor couldn’t afford to lose. The crunch tie ended 3-2 in favour of the Uzbek hosts with all the goals coming inside the opening 29 minutes. Al Ain took a stunning lead courtesy of Jorge Valdivia after only two minutes but Pakhtakor leveled seven minutes later when Ahmedov nodded home. Inside three minutes Ahmedov completed a brace by latching onto a Komoliddin Tadjiev's pass to put the hosts ahead. Their lead though, lasted just eight minutes with Suyunov diverting Emerson's venomous cross into his own net. The chaotic opening half hour concluded with Ahmedov completing his hat-trick after pouncing onto a loose ball.
The win, coupled with Sepahan’s 1-0 home win over Al Shabab in the other match, left the section as the only group with both spots remaining undecided. A point against Al Shabab in the closing round in a fortnight is enough for Pakhtakor to advance while Sepahan can also progress with a win against Al Ain.
Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 Seongnam Ilhwa
Goals: Hiroyuki Taniguchi 4, Yusuke Tasaka 21, Renatinho 69 (penalty)
Group E’s Kawasaki ended the already-qualified Seongnam’s unblemished record with a resounding 3-0 home win. The hosts couldn't have got off to a better start when their first shot yielded the opening goal, Hiroyuki Taniguchi firing home from Renatinho's perfect pass after only four minutes. Inspired by the goal and roared on by the home crowd, Kawasaki continued to dominate and they soon doubled the lead courtesy of Yusuke Tasaka, whose sublime free-kick flew over the Seongnam wall and into the back of net. Renatinho then put his name on the scoresheet by converting a second-half spot kick.
The win sees Kawasaki maintain pressure on the second-placed Beijing Guoan, who could manage only a goalless draw away to Melbourne Victory, in a result which eliminated the Australians. Beijing needs just a home draw against Kawasaki in their concluding match while their rivals must claim maximum points.
Fallen giants Bunyodkor of Group B ended their losing streak as they held hosts Al Ittihad 1-1 to keep their hopes still alive. Ittihad took the lead on 36 minutes through a spot kick converted by Mohamed Noor but Anvarjon Soliev came to the Uzbeks' rescue by equalising 18 minutes into the second half. An away victory against the already-qualified Zob Ahan in the last round will see the Saudis through while Bunyodkor must count not only a win against Al Wahda, but a slip-up by Ittihad if they are to advance.
Al Ahli from Group D registered their first win with scoring prodigy Ahmed Khalil striking a penalty seven minutes from time to down Mes Kerman 2-1. Despite the loss, the Iranians remain in contention and can qualify if they defeat Al Hilal and second-placed Al Sadd fail to get maximum points against Al Ahli in two weeks' time.
Having finished J.League top scorer in 2005 with Gamba Osaka, Brazilian striker Araujo went on to dominate the Qatari league scoring chart last season with Al Gharafa. The 32-year-old striker looked unstoppable against Al Jazira, completing a brace in the opening half before adding his third after the restart to give his side a 3-0 lead.
3 – Three players, three hat-tricks. Aside from Araujo, Jeonbuk Motors' Sim Woo-Yeon and Pakhtakor's Odil Ahmedov each completed a treble.
What they said
"The result was what we expected as we are aiming to finish top in the group. We have taken a step forward to achieve the goal." Kashima Antlers coach Oswaldo Oliveira
2010 AFC Champions League Matchday 4 fixtures
Group A: Al Gharafa (QAT) 4-2 Al Jazira (UAE); Esteghlal (IRN) 2-1 Al Ahli (KSA)
Group B: Al Ittihad (KSA) 1-1 Bunyodkor (UZB); Al Wahda (UAE) 1-0 Zob Ahan (IRN)
Group C: Sepahan (IRN) 1-0 Al Shabab (KSA); Pakhtakor (UZB) 3-2 Al Ain (UAE)
Group D: Al Ahli (UAE) 2-1 Mes Kerman (Iran); Al Hilal (KSA) 0-0 Al Sadd (QAT)
Group E: Melbourne Victory (AUS) 0-0 Beijing Guoan (CHN); Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) 3-0 Seongnam Ilhwa (KOR)
Group F: Jeonbuk Motors (KOR) 8-0 Persipura Jayapura (IDN); Changchun Yatai (CHN) 0-1 Kashima Antlers (JPN)
Group G: Gamba Osaka (JPN) 2-1 Suwon Bluewings (KOR); Armed Forces (SIN) 2-1 Henan Jianye (CHN)
Group H: Shandong Luneng (CHN) 2-3 Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN); Pohang Steelers (KOR) 0-0 Adelaide United (AUS)