Kuala Lumpur: With the decisive AFC Champions League Play-offs taking place on Tuesday, when eight teams will fight for a place at the 2020 edition, we look back on five iconic matches from the past that saw Continental dreams come true or end in heartbreak.
Since 2009, Asia's football fans have enjoyed the exciting addition of the qualifying stage to the AFC Champions League experience. Over a decade ago that entire process involved just five teams, a number that has risen to today's total of 28 sides.
There have been some classic encounters over the years involving late winners, penalty shootouts and upset victories. And, in one notable case, the winners of the entire tournament progressing all the way from the play-offs.
Preliminary Stage 2: Port FC (THA) 0-1 Ceres Negros FC (PHI)
Bangkok: Ceres-Negros booked a date with FC Tokyo in the 2020 AFC Champions League Playoff round as a second half error from Port FC goalkeeper Worawut Srisupa handed the Filipino side a 1-0 win at PAT Stadium on Tuesday.
Worawut’s skewed attempt to punch Stephan Schrock’s centre clear six minutes into the second half flew into his own goal and that was enough to take Risto Vidakovic’s side into the next round after holding off an increasingly desperate Port FC attack.
Preliminary Stage 2: Melbourne Victory (AUS) 5-0 Bali United FC (IDN)
Melbourne: Carlos Salvachúa's Melbourne Victory sealed a 5-0 victory over Indonesia's Bali United in their 2020 AFC Champions League Preliminary Stage 2 tie at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Tuesday.
First-half strikes from Migjen Basha and Josh Hope gave the A-League club a 2-0 lead with Robbie Kruse, Ola Toivonen and Elvis Kamsoba completing the win in the second half.
Victory will now face 2018 champions Kashima Antlers of Japan in next week's Playoff with the winners to advance to Group E alongside China PR's Beijing FC, Thailand's Chiangrai United and another side from the qualifying rounds.
Preliminary Stage 2: PFC Lokomotiv (UZB) 0-1 FC Istiklol (TJK)
Tashkent: A second half stunner from Alisher Dzhalilov helped Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol claim a surprise 1-0 away win over PFC Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan in the AFC Champions League Preliminary Round 2 on Tuesday.
Tajikistan’s reigning player of the year, Dzhalilov lived up to his billing with a swerving strike just before the hour mark, taking the 2015 AFC Cup runners-up a step closer to their first ever AFC Champions League group stage appearance in the continent’s top club competition.
The result comes as a severe blow for Lokomotiv, whose defeat sees them miss out on the group stage for the first time since 2014.
Preliminary Stage 2: Buriram United (THA) 2-1 Hochiminh City FC (VIE)
Buriram: Buriram United survived a late fightback to defeat Vietnam's Hochiminh City FC 2-1 in their AFC Champions League Preliminary Stage 2 tie at the Buriram Stadium on Tuesday.
Burriam broke the deadlock in the second half through goals from Bernardo Cuesta and Ricardo Bueno, while Hochiminh scored a late consolation through Pape Diakite.
The Thailand side will now face Shanghai SIPG of China PR in next week's Playoff with the winners to advance to Group H alongside Australia's Sydney FC, Yokohama F. Marinos of Japan and Korea Republic side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Preliminary Stage 2: FC Bunyodkor (UZB) 4-1 Al Zawraa Club (IRQ)
Tashkent: Uzbekistan’s FC Bunyodkor moved a step closer to the 2020 AFC Champions League group stage with a convincing 4-1 win over Al Zawraa Club of Iraq in Preliminary Round 2 on Wednesday.
Murod Khalmukhamedov put the hosts ahead with an early penalty before Humoyun Murtozaev scored a second half brace, with Boburbek Farkhadov also finding the net in a dominant display from Vadim Abramov’s side.
Bunyodkor’s win sets up an away clash with Emirati outfit Al Ain next Tuesday, with the Tashkent club to return to the group stage for the first time since 2017 with another victory.