Diego Forlan struck a precious winner to take new club Cerezo Osaka into the AFC Champions League knockout phase at the expense of Shandong Luneng. The Uruguay striker, who is expected to figure at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, grabbed the decisive goal shortly after half-time as Cerezo won their final group game 2-1 in China PR.
It was Forlan's most telling contribution since the ex-Manchester United, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Internacional striker arrived in January on reported record wages.
Vagner Love had put Shandong ahead from the penalty spot in the first half, but Cerezo turned the tables with two goals within three minutes of the restart. Yoichiro Kakitani put the Japanese team level before Forlan, receiving a cross from the left, had space on the edge of the box to thump home an emphatic finish and secure their only away win in Group E.
Cerezo's reward is a last-16 date with Marcello Lippi's defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande, who advanced on Tuesday.
Seoul, Sanfrecce edge through
FC Seoul beat Beijing Guoan 2-1 to set up a clash with Kawasaki Frontale, and Sanfrecce Hiroshima edged ten-man Central Coast Mariners 1-0 and will next face Western Sydney Wanderers.
In the South Korean capital, man-of-the-match Kang Seung-Jo put FC Seoul ahead two minutes before the break and Yoon Ju-Tae doubled their advantage on 56 minutes. Beijing's Yu Yang pulled one back after a goalmouth scramble with two minutes remaining, but Seoul held on to finish top of Group F with three wins from six games.
They were joined by Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who reached the knockout phase for the first time after Tsukasa Shiotani's free-kick on 72 minutes gave them a narrow win over Central Coast Mariners. The Australian side had Brent Griffiths sent off for a foul on Naoki Ishihara midway through the second half, before Shiotani's dead-ball kick was deflected into the Mariners' net. FC Seoul and Sanfrecce's wins settled a tight Group F, in which all four teams had been within just two points of each other ahead of the final games.
In Group E, already qualified Pohang Steelers repelled waves of attacks from Buriram United, who failed in their attempt to reach the eliminators for the second year running. And the 2009 champions had the best chances when, in the second half, Yoon Jun-Sung's header was brilliantly tipped on to the bar and Moon Chang-Jin had a goal ruled out for offside.
In West Asia, Qatari side El Jaish crashed out in unfortunate fashion after a last-minute goal by S. Sabir Khodjaev gave Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor a 2-1 victory in Doha. El Jaish needed only a draw to become the second team to qualify from Group B, but Khodjaev's strike off a poor clearance saw the Uzbek side advance as they had scored seven goals against their Qatari rivals' six after both teams were locked on eight points with a zero goal difference.
Earlier, Mohamed Muntari had scored a 52nd minute equaliser for El Jaish after Sergiy Symonenko had put the visitors ahead in the 13th minute.
Iran's Foolad Khouzestan, who had already qualified, thrashed Saudi Arabia's Al Fateh 5-1, thanks to a hat-trick by Luciano Chimba.
In Group A, UAE's Al Jazira took the second spot and made the last 16 despite a 2-1 defeat by Saudi's Al Shabab who had already qualified.