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Giants stumble as strugglers bounce back

Saudi Al-Shabab's players celebrate after scoring a goal against Tractorsazi Tabriz during their AFC Champ

Saudi Arabia emerged the matchday’s biggest winners, with Al Ahli and Al Shabab becoming the first teams to seal their place in the Round of 16. In the process, the former maintained their perfect record with a 4-1 home defeat of Sepahan to progress, while the latter came away with a solitary-goal win at Tractor Sazi.

There were, though, surprises in Asia’s east zone, with Guizhou Renhe, Vegalta Sendai and Buriram United each registering their first win to keep their hopes alive. Join as we detail the action across the continent.

The match
*Al Ahli 4-1 Sepahan
*Hosts Al Ahli of Group C defeated Sepahan in style in what was their sixth Asian meeting in two years. 19-year-old Mustafa Al Bassas was the hero for the Saudis, striking in each half to give last year's runners-up a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second half.

Bruno Cesar put the game beyond doubt on 68 minutes, and although Radomir Dalovic pulled one back for the visitors with eight minutes left, Bader Al Khames rounded off the victory with a stoppage-time strike. The other game saw Al Gharafa win comfortably 3-1 at home against Al Nasr, establishing a six-point gap ahead of Sepahan in the race for the section's second qualifying spot.

The surprise *Al Rayyan 2-1 Al Ain
*Struggling Al Rayyan put last week's 2-1 defeat at Al Ain behind them as they edged the 2003 champions at home by an identical scoreline. Brazilian Nilmar rounded the goalkeeper to put the hosts ahead on the hour mark, but substitute Yousef Ahmed popped up to draw the visitors level on 78 minutes. Al Ain then missed a gilt-edged chance with Alex Brosque hitting the crossbar, with Jaralla Al Marri scoring the match-winner four minutes from time.

In the section's other match, Al Hilal avenged their first-leg 2-1 home loss to Esteghlal, with Nawaf Al Abid netting the only goal. After the matchday, all Group D's four teams remain in the hunt, but the Iranians enjoy a solitary-point cushion at the top.

The other attractions
In a fiercely-contested re-match largely dominated by hosts Tractor Sazi, Al Shabab had the last laugh with Sebastian Tagliabue scoring the only goal six minutes from time in Group A. The result, coupled with Al Jazira's 1-1 draw against El Jaish at home, saw the Saudi visitors become the first team to seal a place in the knockout stage.

Lekhwiya scored three times, including Dame Traore putting into his own net, as they drew 2-2 at Pakhtakor in Group B'stop-of-the-standing clash. Despite the stalemate, the Qataris maintain their solitary-point lead above the Uzbek hosts. Bottom side Al Ettifaq, meanwhile, clawed back into contention with a 4-1 home defeat of Al Shabab Al Arabi, with Saleh Bashir twice on target.

There were upsets in Group E, with the top two sides on the losing end in their respective matches. Notably, leaders FC Seoul saw their undefeated run ended with a 1-0 loss at Vegalta Sendai, while Jiangsu Sainty conceded two unanswered goals against Thai hosts Buriram United. The two winning teams, level on five points, cut the gap on the K League champions to two points, with Jiangsu slipping to bottom.

Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande came within touching distance of booking a place in the last 16, thrashing hosts Muang Thong United 4-1 to extend their lead to four points in Group F. In the other match, Seo Sangmin struck a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser as Jeonbuk Motors came from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw against Urawa Red Diamonds, a result which maintains their hold on second.

Group G's Bunyodkor returned top with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Beijing Guoan, while Pohang Steelers moved second after drawing 1-1 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The loss pushed the Chinese hosts to third, and brought their seven-match unbeaten home record this season in both Asian and home competitions to an abrupt end.

Two late strikes within the space of two minutes from Zlatan Muslimovic and Qu Bo saw hosts Guizhou Renhe of Group H battle from behind to down Central Coast Mariners 2-1 for their first victory. In the other game, runaway leaders Kashiwa Reysol were forced to settle for a goalless home draw against Suwon Bluewings to delay their progression.

*The player *In-form Guangzhou Evergrande attacker Muriqui has managed to be on target in each game this year, including completing a brace inside three minutes against Muang Thong to top the tournament's scoring chart with five goals.

The stat 8 – Central Coast Mariners were seven minutes away from recording their maiden away win in the AFC Champions League, only for a quickfire double from Guizhou Renhe to extend the A-League’s winless streak on the road to eight matches.

What they said *"We were looking for a point, because my players had never played in such a dangerous atmosphere. Even a draw would have satisfied us, but of course I'm a lot happier with the win which gives us a good lead in the table," *Al Shabab coach Michel Preud’homme

2013 AFC Champions League matchday 4 results
9 & 10 April
Group A: Al Jazira 1-1 El Jaish, Tractor Sazi 0-1 Al Shabab
Group B: Al Ettifaq 4-1 Al Shabab Al Arabi, Pakhtakor 2-2 Lekhwiya
Group C: Al Ahli 4-1 Sepahan, Al Gharafa 3-1 Al Nasr
Group D: Esteghlal 0-1 Al Hilal, Al Rayyan 2-1 Al Ain
Group E: Vegalta Sendai 1-0 FC Seoul, Buriram United 2-0 Jiangsu Sainty
Group F: Muang Thong United 1-4 Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors 2-2 Urawa Red Diamonds
Group G: Pohang Steelers 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Beijing Guoan 0-1 Bunyodkor
Group H: Guizhou Renhe 2-1 Central Coast Mariners, Kashiwa Reysol 0-0 Suwon Bluewings

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