Half of the places in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League have now been taken after matchday 5 ended with six sides advancing to join the already-qualified Al Ahli and Al Shabab. El Jaish, Esteghlal and FC Seoul went through with victories, while draws were enough for Al Gharafa and Kashiwa Reysol, and Guangzhou Evergrande were even able to progress with a defeat at Urawa Red Diamonds.
It proved, though, to be a midweek for a series of established sides. Two-time runners-up Sepahan and Suwon Bluewings both suffered early exits, while former winners Al Ain and Pohang Steelers lost away to leave themselves in danger of elimination. FIFA.com reviews the action.
Al Hilal 2-0 Al Ain
Heading into their Group D rematch level on six points, hosts Al Hilal avenged their 3-1 first-leg loss by downing a star-studded Al Ain side. Despite their impressive attacking line-up in Asamoah Gyan and Alex Brosque, the visitors failed to make the most of enjoying the lion’s share of possession. The home side, by contrast, were nothing if not efficient, and midway through the first half were already two goals up.
In-form Salem Al Dossari opened the scoring for Al Hilal inside four minutes, before Yasser Al Qahtani set up Brazilian Wesley to score the second. Al Ain pressed after the interval, but the anticipated goal never came, with the hosts hanging onto their lead for a precious victory.
The win lifted Al Hilal three points clear of the inaugural winners, leaving them second to Esteghlal, who sealed qualification with a 3-0 win over Al Rayyan at home. The Saudi giants are well-positioned to claim the section's second qualifying spot; a point against the eliminated Qataris in the closing matchday will be sufficient to send them through.
Beijing Guoan 2-0 Pohang Steelers
Group G's Beijing Guoan entered the home game with a poor record against K League sides, having lost ten and drawn one in a total of 11 meetings in all competitions. Spurred on by the home crowd, though, the Chinese capital side brought the 16-year phobia to an end by defeating Pohang Steelers 2-0.
The visitors enjoyed the better of the opening half but the home side went ahead shortly after the restart when Joffre Guerron, pouncing on to a clearance, broke the deadlock with a low shot. Although Frederic Kanoute missed a penalty, Shao Jiayi sealed the hosts’ win by scoring from an acute angle three minutes from time.
The spirited triumph moved Beijing into second, two points adrift of Bunyodkor, who missed the chance to seal early progression after being held goalless by visiting Sanfrecce Hiroshima - their third draw at home.
The other attractions
Wagner Rebeiro completed a treble as El Jaish earned the three points they needed by routing the already-qualified Al Shabab 3-0 in Group A to book a lace in the knockout stage.
Group B has proved to be the most open, with all four teams remaining in the hunt of a qualifying spot. Lekwiya lost 3-1 at Al Shabab Al Arabi, but still maintain their place at the summit. They are a point clear of Al Ettifaq and Pakhtakor, both of whom are level on seven points, though the Saudis lead on goal difference courtesy of their 2-0 victory at Tashkent.
Brazilian midfielder Alex was on target while Djibril Cisse converted a penalty in Group C as Al Gharafa drew 2-2 against Al Ahli to progress. The outcome confirmed Al Ahli's place as group winners with a game to spare, and condemned Sepahan to elimination despite their 2-1 win at Al Nasr.
Group E's FC Seoul became the first K League side to seal progression, winning 2-0 at Jiangsu Sainty to establish an insurmountable lead. The section’s other game ended with honours even, as hosts Buriram United drew 1-1 Vegalta Sendai, keeping both sides level on six points, two clear of Jiangsu.
Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande qualified from Group F despite losing 3-2 at Urawa Red Diamonds. The Japanese hosts were gifted two penalties, including one which was saved one in first half, as they edged their Chinese visitors to maintain their hopes of qualifying. In the group’s other match, Jeonbuk Motors won 2-0 at Muang Thong United to move into second place.
In Group H, a 1-1 draw with Guizhou Renhe at home now only secured Kashiwa Reysol progression but also top spot. The other game saw Central Coast Mariners eliminate hosts Suwon Bluewings with a 1-0 win clinched by substitute Michael McGlinchey’s decisive goal.
Arash Borhani scored his fourth goal of the campaign in stoppage time as Esteghlal defeated Al Rayyan to advance. The Iranian international is also his side top-scorer on home front, having racked up ten goals for the Tehran giants, who lead the title race with two matches remaining.
7 - Brazilian marksman Wagner Ribeiro scored the tournament's only hat-trick on this matchday to edge ahead of compatriot Muriqui by a solitary goal at the top of the tournament’s scoring chart.
What they said
"Today our strategy was to play without strategy. In previous games I might have put emphasis on the tactics, but today I told them to show our responsibility and obligations to the fans," Beijing Guoan coach Aleksandar Stanojevic.
2013 AFC Champions League matchday 5 results
23 & 24 April
Group A: Al Jazira 2-0 Tractor Sazi, El Jaish 3-0 Al Shabab
Group B: Al Ettifaq 2-0 Pakhtakor, Al Shabab Al Arabi 3-1 Lekhwiya
Group C: Al Nasr 1-2 Sepahan, Al Gharafa 2-2 Al Ahli
Group D: Esteghlal 3-0 Al Rayyan, Al Hilal 2-0 Al Ain
Group E: Jiangsu Sainty 0-2 FC Seoul, Buriram United 1-1 Vegalta Sendai
Group F: Urawa Red Diamonds 3-2 Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors 2-0 Muang Thong United
Group G: Bunyodkor 0-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Beijing Guoan 2-0 Pohang Steelers
Group H: Suwon Bluewings 0-1 Central Coast Mariners, Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Guizhou Renhe