GOSFORD, Australia - A-League champion Central Coast Mariners advanced to the second round of the Asian Champions League despite a 3-0 loss to Kashiwa Reysol on Tuesday night.
The Mariners conceded second-half goals to Kudo Masato and Brazilian pair Cleo and Leandro Domingues but scraped into the round of 16 when last-place Suwon Bluewings held Guizhou Renhe to a 2-2 draw in Group H.
Unbeaten Kashiwa topped Group H with 14 points, seven clear of the Mariners and eight ahead of Guizhou, which needed a win at Suwon to have any chance of progressing.
Suwon led twice but China's Guizhou scored an 87th-minute equalizer to ensure the standings weren't decided until the last minute of play in the group.
Uzbekistan club Bunyodkor finished atop Group G with 10 points following a 1-1 away draw at Pohang Steelers, with Beijing Guoan securing second spot with a 0-0 draw against winless Hiroshima Sanfrecce.
The Mariners, who won the Australian title 10 days ago, advanced past the group stage for the first time in three campaigns in the Asian club championship.
Central Coast coach Graham Arnold said advancing "softens the blow a bit" for the Mariners.
"We're the smallest club in the (A-League). To get to the last 16 is a wonderful achievement."
Captain Daniel McBreen said the Mariners were tired and emotional after playing two Asian Champions League matches since winning the A-League grand final.
"Suwon has done us a favour," McBreen said, adding that the loss to Kashiwa didn't mean much in the scheme of the season. "Not really, we're through. So who cares?"
The Mariners face the winner of Group F, which will be determined when leaders Guangzhou Evergrande of China play second-place Jeonbuk Motor on Wednesday.
In Group D, Al Hilal joined Iranian side Esteghlal in the round of 16 with a 2-0 win over Al Rayyan of Qatar.
In a match with few chances, Al Hilal opened the scoring 12 minutes from time courtesy of an own goal by Mohamed al-Aaeldin and put the match out of reach a minute later through a diving header from Saad al-Harthi.
"I'm satisfied with the performance and result as we achieved our target which is to qualify to the knockout stage," Al Hilal coach Zlatko Dalic said. "We put a lot of pressure on the Al Rayyan goal and tried our best to score a goal to make our job easier. However, we faced a strong team who were organized and also created many chances on our goal."
Esteghalal assured it would finish top of Group D with a 1-0 win over Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates. Needing a victory to give itself any chance of advancing, the Emirati side was on the attack from the start and peppered the Iranian net for much of the first half. But with the match heading for a scoreless draw, the Iranian team broke the deadlock when Javad Nekonam converted a penalty 12 minutes from time.
"I congratulate the players for their strong performance. The match was good and Al Ain had a strong performance and could have scored on several occasions but we knew how to win the match and get the three points," Esteghlal coach Amir Ghalenoei said. "We played with a faster pace than Al Ain and we luckily qualified from such strong group."
In Group C, Sepahan of Iran ended its campaign with a 3-1 victory over Al Gharafa of Qatar. The victory still left the Iranian side a point behind second place Al Gharafa. Al Alhi of Saudi Arabia, assured of topping the group, faces winless Al Nasr of the United Arab Emirates in the late match.
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