Adelaide United and Suwon Bluewings both earned crucial home advantage for the knockout round of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday as the group phase wound down.
The Australian club clung on to a home tie for their round of 16 match next month despite losing their final group game to China's Shandong Luneng 1-0. They stayed top of their group after Korea Republic's Pohang Steelers, the defending champions, went down 4-3 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan at the same time.
Adelaide, who reached the 2008 final, dominated but fell to a spectacular goal from Li Wei. Shandong launched a blistering counter-attack from inside their own half and Li turned defender Robert Cornthwaite in the box and unleashed a fierce left-foot volley in the 53rd minute.
It means Adelaide now play the runner-up of Group F - either reigning J.League champions Kashima Antlers or K-League champions Jeonbuk Motors, who meet Wednesday. Pohang, as runner-up, will face the group winner after they lost to Sanfrecce, with 19-year-old rookie Junya Osaki giving the Japanese team a flying start with a strike in the first minute.
Pohang drew level soon after through a Kim Jae-Sung header before Lee Tadanari put the home side 2-1 up in the 29th minute and Shinichiro Kuwada made it 3-1 just before the break. Pohang's Kim Jae-Sung pulled one back before Shin Hyung-Min hit a sizzling equalizer to set up an exciting finale. Sanfrecce, who had no chance of qualifying, kept pushing and Tomoaki Makino bagged the decider with nine minutes left.
Suwon also ensured a home tie with a 6-2 drubbing of Singapore Armed Forces, with five of their goals coming in the first half. Jose Roberto Mota and Yeom Ki-Hun scored braces with Lee Hyun-Jin and Kwak Hee-Joo also getting on the scoresheet. They took top spot in Group G after Japan's Gamba Osaka drew 1-1 with China's Henan Jianye.
Takashi Usami gave Gamba the lead on 38 minutes and they looked good for three points, but relaxed as the clock ticked down and Song Tae-Lim sneaked a last gasp equaliser. Suwon's victory set up a meeting with Beijing Guoan at home for a place in the quarter-finals while Gamba must travel to Korea to play Seongnam Ilhwa.
Winner takes all
Up to this stage 10 teams have booked their place in the knockout rounds. These were joined by five-time Saudi champions Al Shabab, who beat eight-time Uzbek champions Pakhtakor 2-1. Pakhtakor had led Group C with nine points, two ahead of Al Shabab, while Iran Pro League leaders Sepahan were second with eight points. Al Shabab had to win to qualify as a draw would at best have brought them level with Sepahan, who had a better head-to-head record.
Sherzod Karimov put the visitors into a 33rd minute lead but Tarik El Taib had Al Shabab level on 67 minutes with Flavio bagging the winner two minutes from time. United Arab Emirates' Al Ain hosted Sepahan, with a win ensuring they stay in the competition and they duly did just that with Jose Sand producing a double in either half to see off the Iranians 2-0.
Meanwhile in Group D Al Sadd were denied a place in the last 16 as Ali Abbas' stoppage-time strike secured a 2-2 draw for Al Ahli at Sheik Jassim bin Hamed Stadium. Brazilian Bare had put Al Ahli ahead in the 13th minute but the hosts responded quickly with Ali Afif levelling two minutes later and then Talal Al Bloushi putting the Qataris ahead in the 20th minute.
They looked to have done enough to secure the three points they needed to leapfrog Iranians Mes Kerman into second place but Abbas pounced on a defensive error to equalise in stoppage time. The draw means Al Sadd finish one point behind Mes, who beat Saudis Al Hilal 3-1 in the group's other game.