Australia's Melbourne Victory have wriggled through to the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League after beating South Korea's FC Seoul 2-1 in a high-stakes Group E match at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Thursday.
Melbourne went into the game trailing Seoul by two points and needed a win in order to progress in the tournament for the first time since 2016, while Seoul only had to avoid a loss to advance.
Victory started out fast as Leigh Broxham robbed the ball from Osmar Baba and Callum McManaman found New Zealand international Marco Rojas who made space inside the box and scored the opener after just five minutes.
Osmar was denied by goalkeeper Max Crocombe as Seoul looked to regain control of the game, but Melbourne doubled the lead after McManaman was brought down inside the box by Hwang Hyun-soo and Jake Brimmer converted the penalty in the 23rd minute.
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It was all Seoul after that second goal and Hwang atoned for giving away the spot kick by heading home in the 64th minute to reduce the deficit. Substitute Yun Ju-tae had a couple of chances to equalise for Seoul, but the Melbourne defence and Crocombe managed to keep their lead intact.
Victory's achievement is a shot in the arm for the A-League after a disappointing showing from its other teams in the tournament. Perth Glory finished bottom of their group with five losses from six games and domestic champions Sydney FC, despite a 4-0 thrashing of Shanghai SIPG on Tuesday, were also eliminated.
Beijing Guoan FC, already in the next stage as Group E winners, dropped their first points of ACL 2020 to Chiangrai United who held them to a 1-1 draw in the final group game. The Thai champions went ahead in the 55th minute through Ekanit Panya, but the Chinese Super League club equalised through Alan Carvalho in the 76th minute to maintain their unbeaten run.
FC Tokyo progress as Shanghai Shenhua fall to Ulsan
Ulsan FC ended Shanghai's Asian Champions League campaign by beating Shenhua 4-1 at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha while FC Tokyo booked a place in the knockout stages after a 1-0 win against Perth Glory.
Shanghai Shenhua and FC Tokyo went into their final Group F ties level on seven points. Shenhua, who had to better Tokyo's result from the simultaneous fixture, started poorly as they fell behind to a Park Jung-in stunner in the third minute. Tokyo, meanwhile, took a 1-0 lead against Perth on Adailton's goal in the eighth minute.
Ulsan were in no mood to switch off despite already securing a spot in the last 16 as group winners and Lee Sang-heon put them up 2-0 in the 24th minute leaving Shanghai Shenhua with a mountain to climb in their bid to stay alive.
There was a glimmer of hope for Shanghai in the second half when Bi Jinhao tapped in to reduce the deficit at the hour mark. However, those hopes were dashed a little later when their goalkeeper Li Shaui fouled substitute Kim In-sung inside the box and concede the penalty that was converted by Bjorn Johnsen.
The Norway international completed the rout in the 90th minute scoring his side's fourth and confirming Shenhua's elimination from the continental tournament as Tokyo held on for a narrow 1-0 victory.
Tokyo will now face Group E winners Beijing Guoan in the first Round of 16 fixture of the East Zone on December 6 while Group F winners Ulsan take on Group E runners-up Melbourne Victory in the other knockout tie on the same day.