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Japan, Saudis rule roost as China flops

21 May 2009 07:35

SINGAPORE (AFP) - Japanese and Saudi Arabian clubs reinforced their credentials as four teams from each country reached the AFC Champions League round of 16, but Chinese sides failed miserably.

The group stages of Asia's top club competition wrapped up Wednesday evening with the shock of the day being Shandong Luneng's embarrassing capitulation to minnows Sriwijaya.

The Indonesians had conceded 22 goals and failed to pick up a point in their five previous games and looked headed for another heavy defeat when they went 2-0 down to the Chinese Super League outfit at half-time.

But in an amazing turnaround they battled back to take the game 4-2.

With Beijing Guoan and Tianjin Teda already out of the running Shandong needed to beat Sriwijaya to keep Chinese hopes alive, but instead of heading home triumphant they instead return humiliated.

Shandong coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic was stunned afterwards.

"We are out of this competition and it is hard to believe that as we were 2-0 up in the first half," he said.

"But that's the reality and we must look now to build a stronger team for the future."

Their failure to qualify opened the door to FC Seoul, who upset defending champions Gamba Osaka in Japan, with a 90th-minute goal from Kim Han-Yoon handing the visitors a surprise 2-1 win.

It earned them a crack at J-League stalwarts Kashima Antlers for a place in the quarter-finals.

In all, four teams from Japan and four from Saudi Arabia made the grade, along with three from South Korea, two from Uzbekistan and one apiece from Iran, Qatar, and Australia.

Gamba will confront fellow J-League side Kawasaki Frontale in a potentially explosive last-16 clash.

Their coach, Akira Nishino, said he had hoped the Japanese sides would avoid each other until the quarter-finals.

"I was hoping to see all the J-League teams win their group and advance to meet each other in the quarter-finals," he said.

"But one of the two can advance to the following stage, and I hope that will be Gamba."

In another key round of 16 showdown, Saudi giants and former two-time Champions League winners Al Ittihad host countrymen Al Shabab, who recently beat them in the Saudi King?s Cup.

In the only west Asian tie not featuring a Saudi team, Iran's Piroozi are at home to Group D runners-up Bunyodkor, the Uzbek champions.

Elsewhere, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia play Qatar's Umm-Salal while the fourth Saudi team to qualify, Al Ettifaq, are at home to Pakhtakor, from Uzbekistan.

Australian hopes, meanwhile, remain alive after Newcastle Jets clinched a 1-0 win over Ulsan Hyundai in Korea, thanks to a first-half glancing header from midfielder Jason Hoffman.

It earned them another trip to Korea to play Pohang Steelers and coach Gary van Egmond was delighted.

"There was nothing more that I could have asked from my team," he said.

"We knew it was going to be difficult but we came and achieved our goal. I am very proud of our players."

In the other east zone match, Japan's Nagoya Grampus, who won Group E, will host South Korean powerhouse Suwon Bluewings.

West zone matches will be played on May 27, in a one-match knockout format, while east zone games are played on June 24.

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