SHANGHAI: Former Chelsea star Oscar hit a hat trick, including a wonderful curling effort from outside the box, to fire Shanghai SIPG into the AFC Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.
The Chinese champions’ 5-0 home demolition of a depleted, but already qualified, Ulsan Hyundai dumped Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale out of Asia’s premier club competition.
On Monday night, goals from Omar Al-Somah and Abdulrahman Ghareeb helped Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli beat Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor 2-1 to finish second behind Al-Sadd in Group D.
Ahli needed to beat Pakhtakor to finish second behind Al Sadd and they did exactly that to make the next phase with nine points, one behind the Qataris. In Group C, Al-Hilal and Qatar’s Al Duhail played out a 2-2 draw. Both teams had already qualified for the last 16, with the Saudis assured of the top spot even before kick-off.
Kawasaki thrashed a weakened Sydney FC 4-0 away but SIPG squeezed through by a point in Group H over last year’s J-League winners. Ulsan still finished top of the group despite the thrashing and will meet Urawa Red Diamonds in the last 16 after their supersub Kazuki Nagasawa scored the opening goal and created another in a 3-0 win over Chinese Super League leaders Beijing Guoan in Saitama.
Vitor Pereira’s SIPG finished runners-up and will play Group G winners Jeonbuk, another Korean side, next month in the knockout rounds while high-flying Beijing failed to get past the group stage.
Oscar, who joined SIPG for an Asian-record €60 million from Chelsea in January 2017, said: “The (second) goal I scored was very beautiful and my favorite.”
Asked by AFP if the exquisite strike was a reminder to European football of his enduring qualities, the 27-year-old Brazilian said: “For players who come to Asia and China, their level is not going down. We keep working hard to improve our level step by step.”
SIPG made light of the absence of injured captain Hulk and were ahead after just seven minutes when Oscar played a clever one-two with fellow Brazilian Elkeson before firing first time past stand-in goalkeeper Moon Jung-in.
K-League leaders Ulsan made wholesale changes from the team that won 3-1 at Suwon Bluewings on Saturday allowing Pereira’s side to dominate at a half-empty Shanghai Stadium. Oscar’s neat first settled any nerves in the must-win game and the former international made it 2-0 on 42 minutes with his world-class strike into the top-left corner from the edge of the penalty area. Man of the match Oscar completed his hat trick on 76 minutes after striker Li Shenglong had made it 3-0 and substitute Hu Jinghang made it a five-star night. Over in Japan, Urawa had an early scare when captain Yosuke Kashiwagi was stretchered off in the 11th minute to be replaced by Nagasawa.
But they need not have worried as it was the substitute who broke the deadlock in the 34th minute as he shrugged off weak Beijing challenges at the edge of the box to fire past goalkeeper Zou Dehai.
Beijing needed at least a score draw to go through to the last 16 but their task became harder when Nagasawa turned provider seven minutes later, sliding in Yuki Muto to score. Urawa remained in control and in the 81st minute sealed their place in the knockout phase when Muto played in Shinzo Koroki to ram home.
Group winners Jeonbuk drew 0-0 with Thailand’s Buriram United in the other Group G match.