ACL 2019: 5 Great Games
Kuala Lumpur: We're just days away from the Group Stage draw for the 2020 AFC Champions League on December 10. Before then, the-AFC.com looks back at some of the enthralling action the Continent's fans were treated to in this year's competition.
Last-minute winners, extraordinary come-from-behind victories and one-man show stealers, the 2019 AFC Champions League underlined its status as the premier club competition in Asia.
We reflect on five matches that displayed some of the best of the action from the prestigious tournament.
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Gyeongnam FC 2-3 Kashima Antlers
Group E, Matchday Three
Two goals in second-half stoppage time saw defending champions Kashima Antlers earn a dramatic 3-2 win over Korea Republic’s Gyeongnam FC on Matchday Three.
Tomoya Inukai inadvertently gave the hosts the lead after turning into his own net 10 minutes into the second half before Englishman Jordon Mutch doubled the advantage from a corner with 20 minutes remaining.
The visitors pulled one back when Woo Ju-song headed the ball into his own net with 15 minutes remaining, but a second yellow to Inukai on 84 minutes looked to have ended Kashima’s comeback hopes
But the holders showed their fighting spirit by drawing level in dramatic circumstances in the 91st minute when Takeshi Kanamori got on the end of a well worked move to bring it back to 2-2.
Down a man and having drawn level, Kashima could have been forgiven for being content with a point but they continued to attack and in the final minute of stoppage time Serginho fired home to give Go Oiwa and his side a memorable 3-2 win.
It was to be a particularly significant result, as ultimately it was Gyeongnam that Kashima edged out when they finished runners-up in Group E to progress into the knockout stage.
Al Wahda 4-3 Al Rayyan
Group B, Matchday Three
Leonardo was the star of the show, netting all four goals for Al Wahda as they came from behind to defeat Al Rayyan 4-3 in a rollercoaster match on Matchday Four of the 2019 AFC Champions League Group B.
It all began so differently when first Sebastian Soria after 120 seconds and then Gelmin Rivas four minutes later gave the Qatari visitors a quick-fire 2-0 lead.
The UAE hosts replied instantly, however, with Leonardo scoring his first on the eight-minute mark before Rivas again put Al Rayyan's advantage back to two goals with the match still only midway through the first half.
The second half continued in the same vein although the goals were only coming from one way, and one man. Leonardo completed his hat-trick before netting the winner and his fourth of the night in the match's very last minute to complete one of the most impressive one-man showings the AFC Champions League has seen in recent times.
Al Ahli 2-1 Pakhtakor
Group D, Matchday Six
Al Sadd had already booked one ticket to the knockout stage from Group D, leaving Al Ahli and Pakhtakor to battle for the second spot. So it was particularly significant when the pair faced each other in the group's final tie. With eight points to their name, the visitors needed just a draw to advance, while for Al Ahli only a win would do.
In the second half, Omar Al Somah broke the deadlock for the hosts. Abdulfattah Asiri found Djaniny in space down the right, and the Cape Verdean crossed for Al Somah who guided home a towering header to put Al Ahli in the lead with 20 minutes to go.
With just two minutes to the end of the 90, Farrukh Sayfiev intercepted the ball deep in Al Ahli’s half and supplied Dragan Ceran who sent a low ball across the mouth of goal for Igor Sergeev, who was left with a simple tap in at the far post to swing the game in Pakhtakor’s favour.
As the few Uzbek fans at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium prepared to celebrate qualification to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2010, Abdulrahman Ghareeb controlled the ball on the edge of the area after the Pakhtakor defence failed to deal with a cross. The 22-year-old fired into the bottom corner to secure the win and a place in the next stage for Al Ahli.
Shandong Luneng 3-2 Guangzhou Evergrande (5-6 on Penalties)
Round of 16, Second Leg
Two-time winners Guangzhou Evergrande advanced to the AFC Champions League quarter-finals following a Round of 16 second-leg thriller in Jinan after Shandong overcame a 2-1 deficit in the first leg to take the tie into extra-time before Fabio Cannavaro's side prevailed on penalties.
Paulinho's opener looked to have given the visitors the advantage but goals from Zhou Haibin and Marouane Fellaini in the 62nd and 69th minutes respectively brought Shandong back into the tie, forcing extra-time.
The goals kept coming in the additional 30 miutes as Liu Junshuai's strike for the hosts was cancelled out by a stunning Paulinho free-kick from distance.
A penalty shootout was ultimately needed to separate the two sides and after Cui Peng's attempt was saved by Liu Dianzuo, Zhong Yihao was on target to take the southern Chinese heavyweights into the last eight.
Al Hilal 2-4 Al Sadd
Semi-Final, Second Leg
As 4-1 winners in Doha, Al Hilal fans could have been forgiven for thinking the return meeting of the semi-final against Al Sadd was a foregone conclusion. Although they ultimately progressed to the final, it was anything but the smooth ride they may have envisaged.
It all began as the majority of those inside King Saud University Stadium would have planned: Salem Al Dawsari increasing the aggregate lead to 5-1 on 12 minutes. But instead, that was when the victory parade took a detour.
Akram Afif converted a penalty for the visitors just three minutes later and by the 20th minute it was 3-1 on the night to Al Sadd after goals from Nam Tae-hee and Hassan Al Haydos. The aggregate lead had now narrrowed to 5-4.
Bafetimbi Gomis then restored some breathing room with an hour to play after converting from close range but Boualem Khouki's goal in added time ensured it was a frenetic finish as Al Hilal edged, rather than sauntered, into the final as 6-5 winners on aggregate.
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