Posted on Apr 18
A last-gasp winner lifted Adelaide United to the top of their group and spared Australian blushes in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday.
Bruce Djite's 90th-minute header handed the 2008 runners-up a 1-0 win over South Korea's Pohang Steelers and made up for the 5-0 mauling handed out to Australia's Central Coast Mariners by Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
A-League champions Brisbane Roar had also seen their Asian campaign all but ended on Tuesday. But in Adelaide, goalkeeper-captain Eugene Galekovic led by example as the Reds pulled off a vital win.
Galekovic, who had spoken of his determination to make up for his howler away against Pohang, when he was at fault for a game-deciding own goal credited to Djite, pulled off a spectacular one-handed save early in the match.
And the intervention was to prove critical when Djite rose in the dying seconds to head Brazilian midfielder Cassio's cross into the corner of the net, snatching all three points for the hosts.
"It's an uplifting performance," said Adelaide's acting coach Luciano Trani. "This sets us up in a very good position to qualify."
With two games to play, Adelaide now lead Group E by three points from Pohang and Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor, who beat 2008 winners Gamba Osaka 3-2 in Tashkent.
The teams swapped early goals before Lutfulla Turaev's looping header gave Bunyodkor the lead on 41 minutes. Anvarjon Soliev slid home their third on 81 minutes before Hiroyuki Abe reduced the arrears deep into injury-time.
Pohang are edging Bunyodkor for second solely on goal-difference, but coach Hwang Sun-Hong was optimistic his team would make the round-of-16 knock-out stage, featuring the top two from each group, which will be played next month.
"Of course it feels very sad," said Hwang. "But we must make sure we play with a purpose in this group stage."
In Group G, Seongnam went top on goal difference from Nagoya Grampus thanks to their 5-0 demolition of Australia's Central Coast. Lee Chang-Hoon opened the scoring on 39 minutes and Brazilian Everton Santos struck in each half.
J-League side Nagoya missed the chance to stay top when they drew 0-0 with China's Tianjin Teda. Japanese international striker Keiji Tamada fluffed a penalty in a match that left coach Dragan Stojkovic fuming.
"No good, no good. No good play, no good performance," he said. "I'm angry, because my players didn't play seriously, so they have to understand that every game they have to give 100 percent. Today we didn't play 100 percent."
Tamada fired his penalty wide after substitute midfielder Yuki Maki was brought down in the box 13 minutes into the second half. The home side were weakened by suspensions, and a back injury to Australia striker Josh Kennedy.
Al Jazira of the UAE became the first team to confirm their place in the last 16 when they battled back from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Esteghlal in Group A.
Arash Borhani put the Iranian side ahead midway through the first half but Brazilian forward Ricardo Oliveira levelled for the hosts in the 63rd minute to give them the point that they needed to secure their passage into the knockout stage for the first time.
They also became the first United Arab Emirates club to qualify for the knockout stage since Al Wahda in 2007.