ACL last 16 begins to take shape

ACL last 16 begins to take shape

Two-time winner Al Ittihad, fellow Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli, Iran’s Sepahan, former finalists Adelaide United as well as FC Tokyo and Ulsan Hyundai advanced to the last 16 of the AFC Champions League this week leaving nine places available in the knockout stage of the continental competition heading into the final round of group fixtures later this month.

Kazuma Watanabe scored twice as FC Tokyo beat Brisbane Roar 4-2

With UAE Pro League side Al Jazira already through to the Round of 16, Mohammed Abusabaan headed in a dramatic winner deep into stoppage time as last year’s semi-finalists Al Ittihad sealed top spot in Group B with a 2-1 victory over 10-man Pakhtakor.

Tournament debutants Baniyas of the United Arab Emirates moved up to second place and within sight of a place in the knockout stage after posting a comprehensive 4-0 away win at bottom side Al Arabi thanks to goals from Fawzi Bashir, Francisco Yeste, Nawaf Mubarak and Andred Sengho.

And with 2011 UAE Pro League runners-up Baniyas entertaining Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor in a fortnight’s time, Gabriel Calderon’s side only need a point on Matchday Six to advance alongside 2004 and 2005 champions Al Ittihad.

“Our target now is to go as far as we can and maybe we can even win this tournament,” said Al Ittihad’s Spanish coach Raul Caneda.

“Being the coach of Al Ittihad is not easy because the team have a good history in this competition and you have a responsibility because your team must win and play well.”

Saudi League runners-up Al Ahli, meanwhile, advanced from Group C alongside Iran Pro League leaders Sepahan with a 3-0 victory over Qatar champions Lekhwiya.

Abdulraheem Jezawi, Victor Simoes and Taisir Al Jassim were on the scoresheet as Al Ahli advanced to the last 16 for the first time since 2005, with Karel Jarolim’s side now needing just a draw in Iran on Matchday Six to secure top spot in Group C after Sepahan beat 10-man Al Nasr 3-0 in Dubai.

In Group E, 2008 finalists Adelaide qualified for the Round of 16 for a third time in five years after sharing a goalless draw with Uzbekistan champions Bunyodkor.

With Kim Jin-ryong and Derek Asamoah scoring as Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers beat Japan’s Gamba Osaka to eliminate the 2008 champions, Bunyodkor now must beat Pohang at home in two weeks’ time to advance at the expense of the K-League side.

In Group F, Emperor’s Cup winners FC Tokyo beat Brisbane Roar 4-2 and Ulsan also maintained their unbeaten record with a 3-2 win over Beijing Guoan, with the sides set to meet in Korea on Matchday Six to decide who will top the group and earn home advantage in the one-off Round of 16 tie.

Elsewhere, last year’s beaten finalists Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors moved two points clear at the top of Group H after Lee Dong-gook scored twice in the closing stages to secure a 3-1 comeback win over Guangzhou Evergrande in China.

Despite Jeonbuk playing the final 25 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of captain Cho Sung-hwan, Lee’s double handed the 2006 champions a third consecutive win in the competition.

With Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol beating Thailand’s Buriram United 1-0, all four teams are still in the hunt for a place in the last 16 although Jeonbuk need just a point at home to Kashiwa on Matchday Six.

Both Thai treble winners Buriram and Chinese champions Guangzhou will be looking for three points when the sides meet in Thailand, with Buriram a point adrift of both Guangzhou and Kashiwa.

In Group G, Australia’s Central Coast Mariners boosted their qualification hopes as the A-League side posted their first ever win in the AFC Champions League as two first half goals from Daniel McBreen laid the foundations for a 5-1 win over China’s Tianjin Teda.

The Mariners now need to beat Nagoya Grampus, who shared a 1-1 draw with Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, in Japan, while Seongnam entertain already-eliminated Tianjin with Central Coast a point adrift of the unbeaten table-topping duo.

With Al Jazira securing top spot in Group A with a 4-1 win over Uzbekistan’s Nasaf thanks to a first half hat-trick from Ricardo Oliveira, Iran’s Esteghlal moved within a point of a place in the last 16 as two goals from Arash Borhani secured a 3-0 win over Qatar’s Al Rayyan.

Finally, Moroccan striker Youssef El Arabi fired home a second half winner as Al Hilal leapfrogged Piroozi at the top of Group D with a 1-0 away win over the Iranian side.

Al Hilal now simply need to avoid defeat at home to Al Gharafa in two weeks’ time to advance, although the Qatari side need to win after keeping their qualification hopes alive as late goals from Aruna Dindane and Otman El Assas secured a 2-1 win over Al Shabab Al Arabi.

World Sport Group

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