Melbourne Victory squeaked to a shock 2-1 win over FC Seoul on Thursday, ensuring Australian representation in the round-of-16 phase of the Asian Champions League after Perth Glory were derailed by FC Tokyo.
With Beijing Guoan sealing their spot as comfortable leaders with two matches to spare, all the three other teams in Group E were banking on Thursday’s results to grab the second qualifying spot.
But Thailand’s Chiangrai United only flattered to deceive as they allowed Beijing Guoan to snatch a late 1-1 draw while Melbourne Victory’s second win in six matches saw them progress with just seven points, nine behind the Beijingers.
Melbourne’s assistant coach Steve Kean was a hugely relieved man after early first-half goals from Marco Rojas and Jake Brimmer ensured victory for his team who will now meet Group F winners Ulsan Hyundai in the next round.
"We are proud of the players' efforts. We have been sitting here after games saying we are achieving small steps towards match fitness," said Kean.
"Considering our situation the effort and determination of the players to stay in the game is brilliant."
Chiangrai United coach Alongkorn Thongaum regretted conceding a late goal to Beijing Guoan but was also pleased with his team’s show considering the 5-0 thrashing they suffered at the hands of Seoul in their previous match.
"We should not have drawn this match. We did well to score, but then, unfortunately, we conceded a goal," said Alongkorn.
"But overall the result is fair."
- Adailton sinks Perth -
Brazilian midfielder Adailton scored a brilliant solo goal in the first half as FC Tokyo edged past Perth Glory 1-0 to seal the second round-of-16 spot from Group F.
South Korean giants Ulsan Hyundai had already made the cut as guaranteed group winners, leaving FC Tokyo and Shanghai Shenhua scrapping for second place with both teams on seven points from five matches.
But Shanghai Shenhua fell to a crushing 4-1 defeat by Ulsan to go out while FC Tokyo's narrow win over Perth Glory helped them maintain their record of qualifying for the knockout phase every year since their continental debut in 2012.
Adailton was in the thick of the action in the very first minute at the Education City Stadium when he went for a spectacular bicycle kick off a cross from Takuya Uchida only to see the ball sail over the goalpost.
But he compensated for that miss in style seven minutes later with a brilliant 30-yard burst down the left flank, scoring with a curling shot past Perth goalkeeper Liam Reddy.
Two minutes later, Adailton found himself in a great position to strike again but his powerful effort from outside the penalty area saw Reddy producing a fine save.
Perth Glory controlled the second half but could not score and like Sydney FC, who play their final game in Group H on Friday, they fail to progress to the last 16. Perth finished bottom of their group with just one point from six matches.
FC Tokyo coach Kente Hasegawa said he always had confidence in his team's abilities.
"Today we are very happy about qualifying for the next round. Some players who didn't play much before played today and Adailton scored a very good goal," said Hasegawa.
- Shanghai crash out -
Shanghai Shenhua’s defeat by Ulsan Hyundai meant they failed to make the last 16 for the first time since 2006.
Having booked their knockout berth earlier, Ulsan made several changes to their line-up but Park Jeong-in and Lee Sang-heon put them 2-0 ahead at the break.
Bjorn Johnsen then added a second-half brace as the Koreans recorded their fifth straight win.
"After we qualified for the round of 16, I expected a few players might lose concentration but all the players concentrated and played well," said Ulsan coach Kim Do-hoon.
"We had a lot of young players and they did their job. I asked them to play aggressively with combination play and high press, and they did it all very well."