SINGAPORE: Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol grabbed their place in the AFC Champions League last 16 yesterday, as Michael McGlinchey lifted Australian hopes with a late winner for Central Coast Mariners against Suwon Bluewings.
A 1-1 draw with China’s Guizhou Renhe was enough for Group H table-toppers Kashiwa, who sealed their progression with a solitary point after Tatsuya Masushima’s second half strike was canceled out by Li Kai.
The Emperor’s Cup-holders become just the third team to reach next month’s knock-out phase in what is a frantic finish to the group stage with 27 clubs still in the running in the penultimate week.
Behind them Australia’s Mariners, the newly crowned A-League champions, climbed to second in Group H and dashed Suwon’s hopes after their 1-0 away win which was sealed in the 80th minute and against the run of play. Substitute McGlinchey ran onto a ball over the top of the defense and bounced in his shot off goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong, as Suwon were left to rue their inability to capitalize on large amounts of possession.
The hosts had gone close through Stevica Ristikj, whose close-range half-volley was saved in the first half, and North Korean striker Jong Tae-Se, who grazed a stanchion with a sizzling effort after the break.
In Kashiwa, proceedings got off to a somber start with a minute’s silence for the victims of this week’s deadly earthquake in Sichuan, which neighbors Guizhou province.
After play got under way, Masushima’s shot from a rebounding free kick put the hosts ahead on 50 minutes. But Guizhou defender Li equalized with five minutes left to put his team third, two points behind the Mariners, with one game left.
“It was tough in the first half, because we made many mistakes,” said Kashiwa’s Brazilian coach, Nelsinho. “God gave us today’s result. We also received a gift that we got past the group round.” Elsewhere Beijing Guoan kept their hopes alive in Group G with a 2-0 win over Pohang Steelers, courtesy of second-half goals from Colombian striker Joffre Guerron and former Bundesliga star Shao Jiayi.
In the same group, top team Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan failed to take their place in next month’s knock-outs when they were held to a drab 0-0 draw by already eliminated Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Among Tuesday’s West Asian games, Al Gharafa can lose to Al Ahli and still advance, as long as Sepahan fail to beat Al Nasr.
And in Group D, Esteghlal, Al Ain and Al Hilal are all capable of sealing progression before next week’s final games.
The top two teams from eight groups of four reach next month’s knock-out round, played over two legs from May 14.