Abu Dhabi: Al Ain secured their berth in the knockout round of 16 of the AFC Champions League (ACL) irrespective of the result of the final day of qualification of Group C after trouncing Lekhwiya of Qatar 5-0 away late on Tuesday.
Al Ain, the AFC Champions in 2003, have collected 10 points from five matches and will play their final match in the first round on April 22 against Al Ittihad to decide the final shape of the group as the Saudi club, winner of the ACL in 2004 and 2005, also won promotion to the second round after beating Tractorsazi of Iran 2-0 on the same night to collect nine points.
Al Ain dominated the match completely and pressed for a goal with their top striker Asamoah Gyan turning provider as he created the first three goals of the match before scoring the fourth and fifth himself.
Gyan’s fierce shot was blocked by Lekhwiya’s custodian Amine Lecomte to find Ebrahim Diyaki who placed home the rebound in the 25th minute. Gyan sent Alex Brosque inside the box in the 43rd minute to see the Australian adding his team’s second goal to end the first half leading 2-0.
Gyan started the second half from where he left the first and a penetrating pass to Mohammad Abdul Rahman saw the third goal of Al Ain in the 56th minute then Gyan himself added the last two goals — in the 70th minute following a pass from Diaki that broke the one-line-defence and in the second minute of injury time after Omar Abdul Rahman sent him free.
“We played a good match,” Omar Abdul Rahman said after the end of the encounter. “All the players did their best and I do believe that if we continue to play in such a way, we will go further in the competition this year. We were determined to win promotion from this match and not wait for the last mach at home...”
Asked about his own game, Omar said “I am not happy with my form but Al Ain is not a one man team. If Omar is not [at] his best, there are other players who can win matches and it is the team that we all play for.”
In other ACL matches on Tuesday, Melbourne Victory stunned Guangzhou Evergrande 2-0 to halt the title-holders’ progress to the knock-out round, leaving all four teams in their group level on points with one game left.
Marcello Lippi’s side had beaten Victory 4-2 in their earlier meeting, but goals in the opening and closing minutes ensured a shock win in Melbourne and blew Group G wide open.
Elsewhere, Manabu Saito scored twice in two minutes as Yokohama F. Marinos upset former champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 2-1 to put all four contenders on seven points ahead of next week’s final group fixtures.
In Group H, Western Sydney Wanders beat Ulsan Hyundai 2-0 to give a massive boost to their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages on their debut in the Asian club competition.
In a dramatic night of action, Australian international Mark Milligan scored in the second minute and James Troisi struck in stoppage time in Melbourne to pull off the biggest surprise of the tournament so far.
It was Victory’s best win in four Champions League campaigns, and means they will reach the knock-out round if they beat 2006 winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in South Korea next week.
Victory were ahead inside the opening 90 seconds, when Milligan won the ball in Guangzhou’s half and passed to Jesse Makarounas before continuing his run and finishing smartly.
The Australian side had several chances to extend their lead in the first half, but Guangzhou came alive after the break and goalkeeper Nathan Coe saved from both Muriqui and Feng Renliang in the game’s final quarter.
Another great save from Coe thwarted a swift Guangzhou counter-attack before substitute Andrew Nabbout and Kosta Barbarouses combined to set up Troisi’s goal in the first minute of stoppage time.
“The most important thing for us was to win and we did that and it’s going to make the last round very interesting,” Coe said.
Lippi’s expensive team came to Melbourne without their tournament top-scorer Alessandro Diamanti, and they badly missed the injured Italian international’s goals and creativity.
The Chinese champions now head into their final group game, at home to Yokohama next Tuesday, knowing they need a win to keeping their title defence hopes alive.
In Ulsan, Western Sydney kept the shocks rolling as second-half goals from Mark Bridge and Brendon Santalab downed the 2012 champions and put the Australian side provisionally top of Group H and eyeing the last 16.
In West Asia, Iran’s Foolad Sepahan handed 2011 champions Al Sadd a 4-0 thrashing in Group D — the Qataris having suffered a 5-0 rout by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal earlier this month.
After a goalless first half, the Iranians hit a purple patch with Mehdi Sharifi scoring twice early on resumption and substitute Xhevahir Sukaj adding a third. An own goal by Al Sadd defender Ebrahim Majed in stoppage time sealed an emphatic win for Sepahan and kept their hopes alive of a spot in the last 16.
Al Sadd though can still qualify if they win their next match, but Qatar Stars league champions Lekhwiya crashed out after a humiliating 5-0 defeat at home to inaugural AFC champions Al Ain of the UAE in Group C.
Saudi side Al Ittihad also made it to the last 16, goals on either side of the break by Abdul Fattah Asiri and Mukhtar Fallatah giving them a 2-0 win over Tractorsazi of Iran, who crashed out after the defeat.