Japan's Gamba Osaka and Iranian giants Saipa secured their places in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday, as Adelaide, Kashima Antlers and Beijing Guoan all inched closer.
But it was curtains for South Korean hopes, two-time ACL champions Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia and last year’s finalists Sepahan.
Gamba Osaka needed only a draw to progress, but earned a hard-fought 2-0 win in Bangkok against Chonburi with second-half goals from substitute Masato Yamazaki and Lucas ensuring their berth in the last eight.
Saipa booked their place with a 1-0 win over Kuwait Sports Club which ensured top spot in Group B. Kianoush Rahmati’s long range effort in the 24th minute was enough to claim all three points to put them into the knockout rounds alongside defending champions Urawa Reds, who qualified automatically.
Later Al Wasl beat Al Quwa Al Jawiya 2-1 thanks to second-half goals by Mohamed Salem Al Enazi and Alexandre Oliveira to catapult them from last to second in the group.
A moment of individual brilliance from Brazilian Diego clinched Adelaide a crucial 1-0 win over Pohang Steelers to keep them atop Group E with one match to play and end the South Korean side’s campaign.
Chinese champions Changchun Yatai trail Adelaide by two points after a convincing 5-0 thrashing of Vietnam’s Binh Duong, with the Chinese side hosting the Australians in a do-or-die clash on May 21.
Adelaide are attempting to become Australia’s first team to reach the last eight and Diego was their hero, breaking the deadlock with a 63rd-minute volley.
Changchun asserted their authority early against Binh Duong with Wang Bo heading in after only two minutes and Ivory Coast striker Guillaume Dah Zadi adding a second with a slick finish in the 13th minute. Chen Lei volleyed home to make it 3-0 at the break, before the Chinese side put the game away in the second half with a Yan Feng free-kick and a penalty converted by skipper Samuel Caballero.
Kashima Antlers continued their march with an 8-1 hammering of Krung Thai Bank but Beijing Guoan kept up the pressure with a 3-0 win over Vietnamese side Nam Dinh.
It left both teams on 12 points in Group F, although Kashima have a far superior goal difference.
The Japanese side opened the scoring in the 19th minute when Daiki Iwamasa headed home from a corner and just two minutes later Kashima moved further ahead when Shinzo Koroki headed home a free-kick.
Yuzo Tashiro made it 3-0 on the stroke of halftime and the game was over a minute after the restart when Takuya Nozawa converted a tap in.
Kashima added four more in the second period before a consolation for the hapless Thais.
At Feng Tai Stadium, Guoan completely dominated and were two goals up at the break thanks to a Guo Hui penalty and a scrambled effort by Wang Chengqing. Yang Hao headed home a third with 12 minutes remaining.
Elsewhere, South Korean outfit Chunnam Dragons saw their faint hopes of reaching the quarter-finals extinguished after a 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory, who were already out of contention.
In Group A Uzbek giants Kuruvchi moved to the verge of the knockout rounds with a 2-0 win over former champions Al Ittihad.
Mirdjalal Kasimov’s team secured their ticket when last year’s finalists Sepahan were stunned 2-1 by Syrian side Al Ittihad Allepo.
In Group D top spot was clinched by Al Qadsia after the Kuwait side held Pakhtakor to a 2-2 draw in an ill-tempered affair at the Mohammed Al Hamed Stadium.