Added time in the last 16 second legs in the Asian Champions League produced enough stuff of heroes. For the Chinese clubs Shandong Luneng and Shanghai SIPG and FC Seoul from South Korea, the tables turned dramatically in their favour in injury time but to the sorrow of the clubs from Australia and Japan. Two of the continent’s leading nations now have no clubs left in the competition.
In Sydney, the former Schalke player Hao Junmin was the star of the evening and was promptly engulfed by his teammates in the 91st minute. Playing for his club, Shandong Luneng against FC Sydney, Hao levelled the scores at 2-2 – also the final result – with a long-range shot. The Chinese international player had previously sat on the bench for 79 minutes. Hao’s strike put his club in the competition’s quarterfinals again for the first time since 2005. “We knew it was going to be a tense affair. I’m incredibly happy for my players,” said coach Mano Menezes, who was in charge of the Brazilian national team up until 2012.
His colleague Graham Arnold from FC Sydney was, despite failing to progress, proud of his team and reminded people of the star line-up at the financially potent Eastern Chinese club. “It’s easy to see the difference in top class players like Diego Tardelli and Walter Montillo. Every time they get the ball, you’re in trouble,” said Arnold. Tardelli, who however failed to convert a penalty in the 77thminute, is a current Brazilian international and Montillo has been capped six times for Argentina. After going 1-0 down early on, he equalised in the 12th minute.
An Argentine/Brazilian axis is also a part of the recipe for success at Shanghai SIPG who are coached by the former manager of the English national team, Sven-Göran Eriksson. Though midfielder Dario Conca and striker Elkeson both failed to score, when talking after the 1-0 win against FC Tokyo that put them in the next round, Eriksson remarked, “All-in-all we were obviously the better team so we deserve to go through to the next round.” However it needed, like in Sydney, a goal in added time. Wu Lei netted the rebound after his striking partner Elkeson’s shot was saved.
For the Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan, the drama in Seoul unfolded in the 121st minute when Go Yo-han scored with a slightly deflected shot to give the Koreans a 3-2 win and renewed hope in a penalty shoot-out. In the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), away goals only count in the first 90 minutes. In Europe, Seoul would have needed a fourth goal to advance to the quarterfinals. It saved the hosts. The Japanese missed three penalties and were knocked-out.
In the Central Asia region, the Qatar club Lekhwiya SC came mighty close to causing a major upset. In the city derby in Qatar’s capital Doha at El Jaish SC, Lekhwiya, who were down to 10 men, led 4-1 and only needed to hit the back of the net one more time to reverse the first leg home disaster when they lost 4-0. A goal was in the air but it fell to the opposition to enable El Jaish to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time in the club’s history. Disappointing above all was the size of the crowd. 5,300 spectators watched the match in the country of the 2022 World Cup hosts.
Full stadiums were however served up by Iran. However over 65,000 fans hoped in vain for a vital fourth goal for league championship runners-up Tractorsazi Tabriz against Al-Nasr from the Emirates. After the 4-1 win in the first leg, the guests withstood the onslaught by the Persians in the last 20 minutes of the second leg and defended the 1-3 scoreline to reach the quarterfinals for the first time. In the second Iran against Emirates duel, the Arabs retained the upper hand. Iran’s cup winners Zob Ahan Esfahan FC, Champions League finalists back in 2010, failed to make the most of an excellent first leg away draw against Al Ain when losing 2-0 in front of their own fans.
The line-up for September’s quarterfinal matches is completed by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who, after a 1-1 draw at Melbourne Victory last week, got the result they needed by beating the Australian club 2-1, and Lokomotiv Tashkent BK. The Uzbeks overcame Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia (0-0, 2-1).
Title-holders Guangzhou Evergrande from China fell in the preliminary round whilst last year’s runners-up Al Ahli FC from Dubai missed out on qualifying once again for the Champions League.