Title-holders Pohang Steelers slumped to a 2-1 quarter-final first leg defeat against Iranian side Zobahan on Wednesday to leave the defence of their AFC Champions League crown in the balance.
Mahdi Rajabzadeh’s 75th-minute penalty, awarded after Jung Hong-youn had fouled Igor Castro in the area, proved the difference between the two sides.
Castro had given the Iranian league leaders the lead after 18 minutes when a Rajabzadeh corner was headed into his path by Mohammad Ghazi. The Brazilian turned neatly and shot past goalkeeper Shin Hwa-yung.
His compatriot Mota equalised in the 55th minute when a right-wing cross from Kim Jae-sung was not cleared properly by Farshid Talebi.
His header fell to Mota, who shot into the bottom corner.
Earlier, Seongnam Ilhwa continued their impressive recent form to crush fellow South Koreans Suwon Bluewings 4-1 in the first leg of their quarter-final.
But while Seongnam made the most of home advantage, another K-League team, Jeonbuk Motors, failed to fire and now have a huge mountain to climb after losing 2-0 to Saudi giants Al Shabab.
Seongnam’s Macedonian target man Dzenan Radoncic opened the scoring in the eighth minute before Yeom Ki-Hun equalised for the visitors, who saw their nine-match unbeaten streak ended over the weekend in the domestic league.
Seven-time Korean champions Seongnam have a formidable front line and former Colombia international Mauricio Molina made it 2-1 just past the half-hour mark.
With former player Shin Tae-Yong now coaching the team and directing operations from the touchline, they increased their advantage in the second half with Radoncic finding the net again in the 67th minute.
Song Ho-Young grabbed a fourth six minutes from time to leave Suwon with a mountain to climb in the return leg next week.
Jeonbuk Motors, the 2006 champions, also have their work cut out after Al Shabab got the better of them with second-half strikes from Fahad Hamad and recently-arrived Uruguay forward Juan Manuel Olivera.
It was an unexpected result for Al Shabab, who have made a poor start in the Saudi League and lie a lowly ninth after managing only one win from their opening four games.
Al Hilal made it a night to remember for Saudi football when they defeated Al Gharafa from neighbouring Qatar 3-0 with goals from Mohammed Al-Shalhoub, Ahmed Al-Fraidi and substitute Waleed Algizani.
Reports this week suggested that Sven Goran Eriksson could become their new boss when Eric Gerets leaves to coach Morocco’s national side.
Gerets is set to depart the Saudi powerhouse once their Champions League campaign ends.
The second legs are played on September 22, with the final at Tokyo’s National Stadium on November 13.
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