A dramatic late goal gave Al Jazira a 3-2 victory at Al Rayyan of Qatar in the Asian Champions League (ACL) on Wednesday night and it was just enough to push Walter Zenga’s side into the knockout stages.
Abdelaziz Barrada struck for Jazira on the stroke of half time, but the game turned in favour of the hosts on resumption with Yakubu Aiyegbeni then Musa Haroon pulling them in front.
The visitors hit back on the hour mark when Ali Mabkhout equalised.
With the prospect of dropping points against the last-place team in Group A facing them, Jazira conjured a decisive final push as Barrada set up Felipe Caicedo, the former Manchester City striker, for the decisive blow, although the winner was declared an own goal by Rayyan’s Cho Yong-hyung.
Jazira is second in the group with 10 points from five ACL matches, while Rayyan stayed bottom with three points.
Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia reclaimed first place in the group when they beat Iran’s Esteghlal 2-1 in the other group match on Wednesday night.
Wednesday’s match was a timely boost for Jazira as they prepare for their Arabian Gulf Cup final against Al Ahli, the Arabian Gulf League champions, on Saturday.
Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium will host the final, which kicks off at 7.30pm.
Ahli drew 0-0 at home with Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, giving them their fourth draw in five ACL matches. They are second in Group D on seven points, trailing Sepahan of Iran on goal difference, with Hilal third on six points and Qatar's Al Sadd last on five.
Al Ain grabbed a place in the last 16 on Tuesday with a 5-0 victory at Qatari side Lekhwiya. Al Ain top Group C with 10 points and can only be caught by Saudi side Al Ittihad, who are second with nine points.
Meanwhile, Pohang Steelers became the first East Asian team to reach the last 16.
The 2009 winners from South Korea beat Uruguay star Diego Forlan's Cerezo Osaka 2-0 away to clamber into the knockout stages, leaving their Group E rivals all locked on five points each.
Defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande missed their chance to reach the knockout round on Tuesday by losing 2-0 at Melbourne Victory, which leaves them all to play for in the East Asian zone as the group stage wraps up next week.
Australia’s Central Coast Mariners were cruelly felled by a stoppage-time own goal as they slid off the top of Group F to lie level with Beijing Guoan and Sanfrecce Hiroshima with six points.
Beijing Guoan scored twice in five minutes in the second-half against Hiroshima, but then Naoki Ishihara outdid them with two in just three minutes to earn a pulsating 2-2 draw in the Chinese capital.
Thailand’s Buriram United shocked Shandong Luneng 1-0 to score their first win of the competition and draw level with the Chinese team and Cerezo on five points in Group E.
Lee Myung-joo and Kim Seung-dae scored either side of half-time for Pohang to earn their third win of the competition and establish an unbridgeable six-point gap at the top of the group.
In Gosford, Australia, the Mariners doggedly repulsed last year’s runners-up FC Seoul, but their rearguard action was undone a minute into injury time when skipper John Hutchinson turned a cross into his own net.
“The first thing we’ll do when we walk into the dressing room is put our arms around ‘Hutch’ and pick him up,” Mariners coach Phil Moss said after the 1-0 defeat. “He’s a fantastic Mariner on and off the field and he doesn’t deserve that.”
Beijing went ahead against Hiroshima in dubious circumstances when Peter Utaka’s shot appeared to come off Shao Jiayi’s arm and crept over the line in a goal credited to the Chinese international.
Shao then turned creator with a glorious no-look flick to set up Ecuadorean Joffre Guerron for Beijing’s second, in what appeared enough for victory.
But bleach-blond forward Ishihara had other ideas and fired two similar goals, both from poorly defended crosses from the left, within three minutes to earn a vital point for Hiroshima.
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