Australia’s Central Coast Mariners reached the AFC Champions League knock-out phase for the first time in their history on Tuesday despite being thrashed 3-0 by Kashiwa Reysol.
Second-half goals from Masato Kudo, Cleo, and Leandro Domingues left the Mariners with their hearts in their mouths but Suwon Bluewings did the Australian side a favour by hanging on for a 2-2 draw with Guizhou Renhe.
China’s Guizhou equalised in the 87th minute but they could not find the all-important winner that would have taken them through at the Mariners’ expense behind Kashiwa, who were already qualified as winners of Group H.
“That softens the blow a little bit, but Kashiwa are a quality side,” said Mariners coach Graham Arnold.
“I thought we played very well up until the first goal and we had a chance with one getting cleared off the line but Kashiwa played very well. We’re through to the last 16 that’s the main thing”
Mariners coach Graham Arnold
“I thought we played very well up until the first goal and we had a chance with one getting cleared off the line but Kashiwa played very well. We’re through to the last 16 that’s the main thing.
“We’re thankful to Suwon for helping us tonight.”
In Group G, Beijing Guoan and Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor also sealed their places in next month’s round of 16 as the final week of group games got into full swing.
Beijing ground out a 0-0 scoreline against Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who were already eliminated, while Bunyodkor’s game with Pohang Steelers finished 1-1.
The results mean Bunyodkor finish top of Group G with 10 points, ahead of Beijing in second spot. With Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande already qualified, China has more than one team in the last 16 for the first time since 2005.
Pohang scored a 93rd-minute equaliser through Park Sung-Ho but it was far from enough as they needed to beat Bunyodkor by two goals to progress.
Among Tuesday’s later games, Al Hilal and Al Ain are both capable of qualifying along with Iran’s Esteghlal in Group D, while Group C is already decided with Al Ahli top and Al Gharafa second.
Sixteen clubs were still in the running for the knock-out stages heading into this week’s final group games.
Group E is so close that Buriram United and Vegalta Sendai may have to be separated by a tally of yellow and red cards or even a special lottery, depending on their results on Wednesday.