広州恒大 (Guangzhou Evergrande) 1 FC東京 (FC Tokyo) 0

FC Tokyo’s 1-0 loss to Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande ended all J.League interest in the 2012 AFC Champions League, making it three tournaments in four in which Japanese teams have failed to progress beyond the Round of 16 since it was introduced in 2009.

Despite dominating possession, the Gas had fewer opportunities of note, Muriqui proving especially wasteful for the Southern China Tigers, and it wasn’t until the belated introduction of Hiroki Kawano that they were able to convert sustained possession into an attacking threat, his first touch a cross for Lucas which was headed against the woodwork. The transformation was almost instantaneous, and manager Ranko Popovic may reflect on how his side might have performed had he been allowed more than the 10 minutes in total he spent on the pitch.

The potent attacking line of Cleo, Miriqui and Gao Lin, with the Argentine midfielder Dario Conca assisting between the lines and new manager Marcello Lippi at the helm, will provide difficult opposition for most sides, particularly at the Tianhe Stadium, but the AFC must surely now revisit the Round of 16 and extend it to a standard two-leg stage, rather than the single elimination contest as it currently stands. The 2012 competition saw six of the eight group winners and subsequent home sides advancing to the quarter-finals, with just Bunyodkor winning away without the need for a penalty shootout, and making this 19 of 24 teams since 2010 who have won at home.

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울산 현대 (Ulsan Hyundai) 3 柏レイソル (Kashiwa Reysol) 2

Kashiwa Reysol became the second J.League club in as many days to exit the AFC Champions League at the hands of a South Korean outfit, and continued the abymsal record of Japanese sides taking on K-League teams in the Round of 16, which now reads seven contests and six losses.

A disappointingly small crowd at the Big Crown was treated to an enthralling tie, a first-half surprisingly ending goalless but showing many signs of the drama that would unfold in the second period. The opening forty-five minutes were notable mainly for Ulsan’s almost total domination, the Sun Kings having no answer to the aerial threat posed by Kim Shin-Wook who won headers at will, while Juan Velez, combative in midfield, broke up Reysol attacks with ease, providing a platform for the livewire Lee Keun-Ho to attack in the channels. Jorge Wagner was guilty of cheaply giving away possession of the ball, and provided little support for Daisuke Nasu as he was all too frequently drawn into the centre of midfield. Fortunately for Reysol, Ulsan could not make their superiority tell, Lee and Kim Seung-Yong in particular unable to find the finishes that their side deserved.

It came as little surprise that the Tigers opened the score, but it owed much to shabby defending from Reysol, arriving shortly after Go Seul-Ki had rattled the crossbar. Nasu, in possession 35 yards from goal, attempted to play a crossfield pass to teammate Hidekazu Otani, but merely succeeded in presenting the ball to the feet of Lee Keun-Ho, inviting the South Korean international to advance and to subsequently square into the penalty area. Kim Shin-Wook’s header found the bottom left corner, but his goalscoring duties were made considerably easier by neither Tatsuya Masushima or Naoya Kondo taking responsibility for challenging the striker as he rose to nod home from just six yards.

The goal, however, roused Reysol to action for the first time since the opening moments of the match, and they spent much of the remaining 35 minutes dictating possession and territory. After Naoya Kondo had first gone close with a swerving shot which evaded the right upright by inches, and then Junya Tanaka had turned superbly inside the Ulsan 18-yard box and seen his low cross drift past the outstretched boot of Leandro Domingues, Tanaka himself had a superb opportunity to bring his side level. Played onside by Kim Young-Sam, the pass from Leandro Domingues carved the defence open and left the striker with only Kim Seung-Gyu to beat. This he did with aplomb, but then his attempted finish was hit straight at Lee Jae-Seong on the goalline, when a shot placed either side of the right-back would have resulted in an equaliser.

Fortunately for Tanaka, Reysol would be level two minutes later, and it was a goal defined by its simplicity. Taking a throw on the right ten yards from the Ulsan goalline, Tatsuya Masukawa launched the ball into the penalty area, Leandro Domingues heading first time beyond Kim Seung-Gyu.

Having made their pressure tell, the visitors would suffer a body blow, conceding a goal in controversial circumstances on 70 minutes. Substitute Maranhao split the Reysol back line with a pass to Lee Ho, and Kondo’s attempt to put the the midfielder’s pull back for a corner snuck inside Sugeno’s left post. Referee Mohamed Al Zarooni awarded the goal in the face of furious protests from several Reysol players who were convinced that the ball had not fully crossed the line, and they were duly waved away.

Now pressing for a second equaliser, Reysol always risked being caught on the counter-attack, and Lee Keun-Ho was given the run of the Reysol half as Ulsan broke quickly from defending a corner. With a third goal almost certain to put the tie beyond the reach of Nelsinho’s side, he took the ball into the penalty area, but Sugeno saved at the forward’s feet to ensure that only a single goal still separated the sides.

With five minutes of normal time to go, Masakatsu Sawa, on for Hideakzu Otani, was given the chance to score his side’s second, but saw his shot blocked, Leandro Domingues’s initial effort pushed out by Kim Seung-Gyu and just beyond Masato Kudo following up.

Lee Keun-Ho killed the game off shortly after. Go Seul-Ki drove a pass to the feet of Kim Shin-Wook, and his delightful flick was volleyed first time into the bottom left corner. A thumping Junya Tanaka strike to reduce the margin to one goal in stoppage time came too late to serve as anything other than consolation.

Reysol, having suffered the same fate as Nagoya Grampus yesterday, also face the same challenges as their J.League counterparts in domestic competition, with manager Nelsinho needing to coax consistent performances from his team to ensure they rise up the table. A further headache for the Brazilian may present itself when his players return from the international break, as star right-back Hiroki Sakai has been heavily linked with a move to Bundesliga club Hannover 96 and any transfer involving the attack-minded 22-year old would inevitably have negative consequences on the prospects of Champions League football in 2013.

Ulsan Hyundai Kashiwa Reysol
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Kim Shin-Wook 54 Leandro Domingues 67
Naoya Kondo (O.G.) 71 Junya Tanaka 90+1
Lee Keun-Ho 88
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Kim Seung-Yong
Maranhao
67 Hidekazu Otani
Masakatsu Sawa
77
Lee Ho
Kang Jin-Ouk
86 Masato Kudo
Ryohei Hayashi
86
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Kim Shin-Wook 58 Hiroki Sakai 21
Leandro Domingues 60

Ulsan Hyundai: 4-3-3/4-5-1 (Blue); Kashiwa Reysol: 4-4-2 (Yellow)

アデレード・ユナイテッド (Adelaide United) 1 名古屋グランパス (Nagoya Grampus) 0

Dragan Stojković and his Nagoya Grampus team were left to reflect on what might have been had they taken one of many chances and not faced an opposition goalkeeper in Eugene Galekovic who was in excellent form and who produced one of the saves of the tournament so far. Instead, one of the three Japanese sides through to the knockout stage bade farewell to the 2012 AFC Champions League, losing to a 42nd minute goal from Adelaide United defender Jon McKain, who scored in slightly fortuitious circumstances.

After Grampus goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki had been forced to push behind a teasing cross from the effervescent left-midfielder Iain Ramsay, Dario Vidosic’s corner was headed goalwards by Nigel Boogard, the defender another Reds player who acquitted himself well during this match. Taking a deflection off Daniel, McKain somehow managed to insert himself in between Shohei Abe at the back post and Narazaki, to find the touch needed to send the ball into the net and out of reach of Josh Kennedy’s desperate goalline lunge.

Beyond Fabian Barbiero passing up a glorious opportunity of wrapping up victory seven minutes from the end of play, picking up a loose ball on the edge of the Grampus eighteen-yard box and haring past Takahiro Masukawa before blazing over Narizaki’s crossbar, and a thunderous twenty yard strike from substitute and Adelaide favourite Sergio Van Dijk which didn’t dip enough and cannoned back off the woodwork, control of the tie, most particularly in the second period, was largely that of the visitors.

Eight minutes of the first period remained when Jungo Fujimoto and Josh Kennedy linked well on the left, the Australian striker unselfishly pulling the ball back for Keiji Tamada when he could have taken the option to shoot, but his fellow forward lashed his shot over the crossbar under little pressure and when he should certainly have found the target.

On 63 minutes Fujimoto, whose set piece delivery would trouble United regularly during the course of the contest, bent a free-kick beyond the penalty spot, Masukawa meeting the ball but directing it too close to Galekovic from eight yards. While the keeper did well to scoop the ball behind for a corner, the defender failed to place the ball in the yawning gap to Galekovic’s left, and surely would have scored with a more precise finish.

Masukawa nearly made amends fifteen minutes from time, as he intercepted to the right of the Adelaide eighteen yard area and whipped a delivery that substitute Mu Kanazaki, who surprisingly replaced Keiji Tamada at half-time, attempted to steer into the net with a falling header, but again Galekovic pushed it away from goal.

Moments later Masukawa was again involved, this time to Grampus’s deficit, a Fujimoto corner from the right finding Kennedy’s head on the edge of the six yard box. It was on the way to goal when it was diverted away from danger by the defender’s shoulder, and Tulio was unable to apply the necessary contact amid complaints that he had been pulled down by Bruce Djite, a potential offence being one of many missed by official Abdul Malik who proved maddeningly inconsistent over the 90 minutes.

Fujimoto came within inches of levelling for his side in the dying moments of the match. Evan Kostopoulos, who had only been on the pitch for ten minutes, gave away a free-kick 25 yards from goal in stoppage time. With Malik failing to add additional time on to the three already specified while ensuring the United defensive wall had retreated to the required distance, it became Grampus’s last chance of the match. His set piece cleared the wall, but while Galekovic was beaten on this occasiion, the ball clipped the wrong side of the right upright.

The goalkeeper’s best moment was reserved for the first half, however, and it came seven minutes before McKain had bundled home. A wicked delivery from Shohei Abe was headed downwards by Kennedy, who would have been convinced that he was going to score. Galekovic confounded his expectations with an extraordinary reaction save, flinging out a strong palm to turn the ball high behind for a corner and drawing admiring comparisons to Gordon Banks’s famous stop from Pele in the 1970 World Cup, and he then immediately followed up with two punches to clear dangerous crosses from either side of the penalty area.

It was fitting that the final action of the match would see the ball in man of the match Galekovic’s hands, before he cleared long downfield and started his team’s celebrations. In his most-match comments Stojković paid tribute to United’s stopper, saying “[He] was absolutely fantastic today, the most valuable player and hero of the game – his saves were incredible.” Grampus now face the challenge of attempting to qualify for the 2013 incarnation of the competition, the most immediate task being to break out of the number of teams around the relegation places, and only then building a series of results which could see them challenge for the top four when J.League Division One resumes on 16 June.

Adelaide United Nagoya Grampus
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Jon McKain 42
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Zenon Caravella
Sergio Van Dijk
68 Keiji Tamada
Mu Kanazaki
46
Dario Vidosic
Evan Kostopoulos
82 Taishi Taguchi
Hayuma Tanaka
68
Bruce Djite
Teeboy Kamara
88 Kensuke Nagai
Teruki Tanaka
72
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Zenon Caravella 54 Daniel 74

Adelaide United: 4-1-4-1 (Red); Nagoya Grampus: 4-3-3 (Grey)

AFC Champions League: Group F Matchday Six Round-up and Results

(The only blemish on FC Tokyo’s otherwise unbeaten qualification record for the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League may prove to be the most costly, as Ulsan Hyundai capitalised on one of their very few chances to beat the Gas 1-0 top Group F, and with it ensure the J.League side will travel to China to play Guangzhou Evergrande on 30 May. The Horangi will welcome Kashiwa Reysol to the Big Crown on the same date, where the Sun Kings will be looking to book a berth in the Autumn’s quarter-finals)

FC Tokyo were made to rue their profligacy at the Big Crown Stadium, as Ulsan Hyundai scored the only goal of a game which decided the victors of Group F, and leaves the Gas with an uncomfortable trip to the Tianhe Stadium on 30 May to face Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande in the Round of 16.

Ranko Popovic’s side were dominant throughout and created a number of excellence opportunities, but it is the Horangi who earned the right to meet reigning J.League champions Kashiwa Reysol at home via a 37th minute Kang Min-Soo goal which came entirely against the run of play.

Group F

Ulsan Hyundai
Kang Min-Soo 37′
1 FC Tokyo Small FC Tokyo 0
Brisbane Roar
Berisha 15′
1 Beijing Guoan
Hanbo 34′
1
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Ulsan Hyundai 6 4 2 0 11 7 +4 14
2 FC Tokyo 6 3 2 1 12 6 +6 11
3 Brisbane Roar 6 0 3 3 6 11 -5 3
4 Beijing Guoan 6 0 3 3 6 11 -5 3

AFC Champions League: Group E Matchday Six Round-up and Results

(Highlights of the 2-0 victory versus Gamba Osaka which gave Adelaide United a home berth in the Round of 16. United will meet Group G runners-up Nagoya Grampus on 29 May in the one-off elimination match)

Having seen their interest in the 2012 AFC Champions League end following their 2-0 defeat at the Pohang Steel Yard on Matchday Five, Gamba Osaka entertained Adelaide United at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium with little more than their pride to play for.

Manager Masanobu Matsunami chose to field a young, experimental side in front of a crowd numbering little more than 7,000. Unfortunately for Gamba the changes failed to enliven a team which has suffered across all competitions in 2012, and they crashed to their fifth defeat in six group matches, conceding twice in the second half including an Akihiro Sato own goal while failing to score any in reply.

With the Suita side’s J.League campaign floundering it seems likely that Gamba will not appear in the 2013 tournament, and Matsunami now must endure what is likely to be a very difficult Matchday Twelve fixture against a revitalised Yokohama F-Marinos at the Nissan Stadium.

Adelaide United, who needed to take all three points to be assured of topping Group E, will host Nagoya Grampus at the Hindmarch Stadium on 29 May for a place in the quarter-finals.

Group E

Gamba Osaka Small Gamba Osaka 0 Adelaide United
Van Dijk 65′
Sato 87′ (O.G.)
2
FC Bunyodkor
Gafurov 48′
1 Pohang Steelers 0
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Adelaide United 6 4 1 1 7 2 +5 13
2 Bunyodkor 6 3 1 2 8 7 +1 10
3 Pohang Steelers 6 3 0 3 6 4 +2 9
4 Gamba Osaka 6 1 0 5 5 13 -8 3

AFC Champions League: Group G Matchday Six Round-up and Results

(All the goals from the Mizuho Athletics Stadium as Nagoya Grampus eased to a 3-0 victory over Australia’s Central Coast Mariners in the final round of Group G matches)

Nagoya Grampus will travel to either Australia or South Korea in the Round of 16 to play one of Adelaide United and Pohang Steelers respectively, as they successfully ended their Group G campaign by downing Central Coast Mariners 3-0 at the Mizuho Athletics Stadium.

A free-kick from Keiji Tamada and a delicate Jungo Fujimoto lob in the first period were added to by Tulio Tanaka’s header late on, but the margin of victory was not quite sufficient to finish at the top of the table. Winners Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma matched the Grampus scoreline in defeating Tianjin Teda in China, and subsequently took Group G by way of a superior goal difference.

Group G

Nagoya Grampus Small Nagoya Grampus
Tamada 19′
Fujimoto 36′
Tanaka 87′
3 Central Coast Mariners 0
Tianjin Teda 0 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
Bit Garam 33′
Jovancic 48′, 68′ (pen.)
3
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 6 4 2 0 13 5 +8 10
2 Nagoya Grampus 6 4 2 0 10 4 +6 10
3 Central Coast Mariners 6 1 3 2 7 11 -4 6
4 Tianjin Teda 6 0 3 3 2 12 -10 3

AFC Champions League: Group H Matchday Six Round-up and Results

(Highlights of Kashiwa Reysol’s Group H Matchday Six victory which sent them into the Round of 16. The Sun Kings will now meet either fellow J.League Division 1 side FC Tokyo or South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai on 30 May for a place in the quarter-final)

Kashiwa Reysol travelled to the Jeonju World Cup Stadium knowing only a victory would suffice against K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to progress to the Round of 16. The Sun Kings ran out surprisingly comfortable winners, a 2-0 triumph coming courtesy of second-half goals from Leandro Domingues and Junya Tanaka. Lee Dong-Gook failed to convert a late penalty for the South Korean side, but they otherwise found chances difficult to come by, Naoya Kondo and Tatsuya Masushima excellent in defence for the visitors.

The result sent Reysol to the top of Group H temporarily, and until the 90th minute of the remaining tie they looked set for a home fixture in the Round of 16. Also requiring all three points to enter the knockout stages, Guangzhou Evergrande were being held at the Thunder Castle by Buriram United, a 49th minute goal from Gao Lin being cancelled out ten minutes later by Suriya Domtaisong, but a last gasp penalty from Dario Conca gave the Southern Chinese Tigers first place in the group and in so doing put last year’s finalists Jeonbuk out of the competition.

Second place in Group H means Reysol will play their Round of 16 elimination match against either FC Tokyo or Ulsan Hyundai away from home on 30 May. The Gas and the Horangi play at the Big Crown on 16 May, with the J.League side only requiring a point to maintain their pre-eminence in Group F.

(Kashiwa Reysol’s victory in South Korea against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors meant both Guangzhou Evergrande and Buriram United needed to win to advance to the latter stages of the tournament. The two sides missed a number of excellent chances to win the game, until Dario Conca converted a 90th minute spot-kick for the Chinese team)

Group H

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 0 Kashiwa Reysol Small Kashiwa Reysol
Domingues 49′
Tanaka 63′
2
Buriram United
Domtaisong 57′
1 Guangzhou Evergrande
Gao Lin 49′
Conca 90′ (pen.)
2
Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Guangzhou Evergrande 6 3 1 2 12 8 +4 10
2 Kashiwa Reysol 6 3 1 2 11 7 +4 10
3 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 6 3 0 3 10 15 -5 9
4 Buriram United 6 2 0 4 8 11 -3 6