South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings and Seongnam Ilhwa powered into the last 16 of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday as Japan’s Gamba Osaka took a giant step towards joining them.
Suwon made the grade by beating China’s Henan Jianye 2-0, with a first-half strike by Brazilian Jose Mota and a second in the dying minutes from Kim Dae-Eui enough to secure their passage from Group G.
Seongnam maintained their unbeaten record in Group E with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Beijing Guoan in the Chinese capital, with Colombian Mauricio Molina getting the decisive goal with 16 minutes remaining.
It gives Korea three teams in the knockout rounds after Jeonbuk Motors qualified on Tuesday alongside Japan’s Kashima Antlers.
The fourth Korean club, defending champions Pohang Steelers, are well placed to make it four-out-of-four.
J-League stalwarts Gamba, the 2008 Asian champions, inched closer to progressing after a convincing 3-0 win over Singapore Armed Forces, whose campaign ended with just one point from four games.
It was a one-sided match with Gamba firing 20 shots on target in the first half alone.
They opened their account in the 28th minute when Takahiro Futagawa sent a short corner to defender Michihiro Yasuda, who dribbled into the area and fired home an angled shot.
Shoki Hirai, who scored a hat-trick in the first leg a week ago, made it 2-0 with a sweet strike in the 55th minute and Brazilian substitute Ze Carlos wrapped it up in injury time.
Melbourne Victory kept their slim hopes alive with their first win of the tournament, beating Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 in the other Group E game.
Skipper Kevin Muscat, who missed his spot-kick in the Victory’s A-League grand final penalty shootout loss to Sydney FC earlier this month, made amends by converting a 60th-minute penalty on Wednesday.
The match turned on the decision by the Iranian referee to award a soft-looking penalty to Melbourne after striker Robbie Kruse was brought down.
It leaves Kawasaki with three points, three adrift of Beijing in the fight for the second qualifying berth.
In Group A, Esteghlal travel to Doha to take on Al Gharafa in a top-of-the-table clash that will see the Qatari side eager to avenge their 3-0 defeat in Tehran last week.
Victory for Al Gharafa or a draw would throw the group open once again, with Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia hoping for a repeat of last week’s 5-1 win over Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi.
Sepahan, beaten finalists in the 2007 AFC Champions League, host Uzbekistan Cup winners Pakhtakor in the Iranian city of Esfahan knowing they need a win to boost their hopes of taking one of the top two positions in Group C.
Pakhtakor lead the group with six points, with Sepahan bottom of the table, but the Iranian club are only four points behind the two-time semi-finalists. Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab and Al Ain, winners of the inaugural AFC Champions League, are sandwiched in between, both level on four points.