HIROSHIMA – Reigning J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima reached the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League for the first time on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over 10-man Central Coast Mariners of Australia in their final Group F game.
Cerezo Osaka joined them in the round of 16, on a triumphant night for Japanese clubs, with Uruguay forward Diego Forlan striking the winner in a 2-1 victory away to China’s Shandong Luneng in Group E.
At Edion Stadium, Satoru Yamagishi diverted in Tsukasa Shiotani’s free kick to break the deadlock with around 20 minutes left after Mariners Brent Griffiths had been sent off, and Hiroshima held on to finally progress from the group phase at the third time of asking.
Hiroshima finished second in the group on nine points, two behind FC Seoul, who beat Beijing Guoan 2-1. Seoul will face Group H runners-up Kawasaki Frontale over two legs on May 7 and May 14, while Hiroshima will face Western Sydney Wanderers.
Needing a win to stand any chance of advancing in Asia’s elite club tournament, Hiroshima should have taken the lead on seven minutes, but Toshihiro Aoyama fired over after taking a return pass from Naoki Ishihara.
Ishihara himself should have done better with a free header in the 14th, before Shiotani tried his luck with a long-range free kick that was beaten away by Mariners keeper Liam Reddy just before the interval.
Reddy was again called upon to turn away a free kick from Yojiro Takahagi in the 64th, and Koji Morisaki shot just wide as the home side increased the pressure.
Mariners were reduced to 10 men when Griffiths was sent off for fouling Ishihara from behind on the edge of the box, and Hiroshima made the breakthrough from the resultant free kick, Shiotani’s low shot taking a deflection off Yamagishi on its way into the back of the net.
In China, Cerezo fell behind to Vagner Love’s first-half penalty, but Yoichiro Kakitani leveled with a well-taken strike at the start of the second half before Forlan secured victory two minutes later.
Cerezo placed second in their group on eight points behind South Korea’s Pohang Steelers (12). Pohang drew 0-0 at home to Thailand’s Buriram United.
Ranko Popovic’s men are next up against defending champions and Group G winners Guangzhou Evergrande. Pohang play South Korean rivals Jeonbuk Motors.