Victory was a triumph over adversity, says Fellaini
Jinan: Belgian star midfielder Marouane Fellaini was the hero on the night for Shandong Luneng with his late goal on Wednesday sealing the side's progression to the Round of 16 after a 2-1 win over Gyeongnam FC.
Ahead of Matchday Five, Italian striker Graziano Pelle had scored in every one of Shandong Luneng's 2019 AFC Champions League fixtures, and the loss of this year's second highest scorer in the competition would have been keenly felt ahead of the visit of their opponents from Korea Republic.
And, indeed, it proved a struggle from the outset with Shandong forced to opt for a different setup, with three midfielders behind a lone frontman as oppose to their usual 4-4-2 formation.
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"It was a difficult game for us against Gyeongnam FC because Graziano [Pelle] was injured," said former Manchester United star Fellaini.
"As a result, we had to make many changes in the attack in terms of strategy and personnel. We also had some other absences from the team and so needed to rely on different players.
"This made it really not an easy match for us today."
"However, despite all these problems, at the end we won the match, which is the most important thing.
"And, most significantly, we therefore qualified for the AFC Champions League's Round of 16.
"This is, of course, so important for the club and the team."
Shandong's Wednesday win at Jinan Olympic Sports Center saw them extend their unbeaten run in this year's Continental club competition to five games without defeat, matching Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai and Zobahan of Islamic Republic of Iran.
And yet the streak had looked in jeopardy at one stage when Gyeongnam's Kim Seung-jun had given the visitors the lead just before the half-time break.
However, parity was restored after captain Hao Junmin nailed a stunning free-kick on 64 minutes, before Fellaini netted a last-gasp header with three minutes remaining to give Shandong all three points.
"To be honest, I believe it was a good team goal, a fantastic goal," he said. "I think box-to-box midfielder is my best position and it allows me to add my presence to the attack when needed.
"So it was definitely a good action to attack the penalty area during this team move. I got into the box and was able to take the opportunity.
"But regardless of my goal, I have to say that the main thing to today was to qualify for the Round of 16 and that's what we did."
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