Defending J1 League champions Gamba Osaka have pulled off what just a month ago seemed nearly impossible, progressing from the AFC Champions League’s Group F after a 2-1 win over South Korea’s Seongnam FC.
The western Japan side trailed just 15 minutes in after Hwang Eui-jo’s goal, but equalised via 23rd birthday boy Takashi Usami, after the hour mark, and took the lead through Lins’ effort with eight minutes on the clock.
The result concludes a remarkable comeback after manager Kenta Hasegawa’s men began group play without a win in their first three matches, losing to Guangzhou R&F and Seongnam before drawing with Thailand’s Buriram United.
But road wins at the Thai and Chinese clubs, plus Wednesday’s victory, saw the Japanese outfit finish with 10 points in the group, as did Buriram and Seongnam in a first-ever three way finish for the continental competition.
Yet despite an emphatic 5-0 win against R&F that saw Buriram finish with a group-best 12 goals scored and plus-5 goal difference, the Southeast Asian representatives will not progress to the Round of 16 after coming up short amongst the three deadlocked teams on the head-to-head tiebreaker:
Group F Standings (with fixtures against Guangzhou R&F excluded)
- Gamba Osaka 2-1-1 (7pts)
- Seongnam FC 2-0-2 (6pts)
- Buriram United 1-1-1 (4pts)
Gamba are the second Japanese team to progress on top of their group after Kashiwa Reysol captured Group E, while Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds bowed out of the competition.
2014 Korean FA Cup winners Seongnam can still take solace in the runners-up finish, as few pegged the citizen club likely to advance to the Round of 16. They will join all three other K-League clubs – Jeonbuk Motors, Suwon Bluewings, and FC Seoul – while China will be represented by Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande for an all-East Asian affair.
ACL ROUND OF 16 – EAST ZONE
Suwon Bluewings vs. Kashiwa Reysol
Jeonbuk Motors vs. Beijing Guoan
FC Seoul vs. Gamba Osaka
Seongnam FC vs. Guangzhou Evergrande