Hong Kong (AFP) – Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou Evergrande cruised into the last 16 of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday after completing an unbeaten group campaign with a 3-1 win against Cerezo Osaka.
The Chinese Super League champions will be joined in the knockout phase by Thailand’s surprise package Buriram United, who secured second place in Group G with a 1-0 win at Jeju United in South Korea.
The Italian World Cup-winning captain Cannavaro saw the two-times Asian Champions open the scoring after just six minutes through Huang Bowen.
It took Cerezo Osaka just four minutes to equalise when Takaki Fukumitsu sprung the offside trap and rounded goalkeeper Zeng Cheng to slot home.
But the Chinese giants always looked in control at their Tianhe Stadium and sealed qualification after half-time with two close-range strikes from Brazilian marksman Alan in the 57th and 86th minutes.
In Seogwipo, Buriram United’s Korrakot Wiriya-Udomsiri stabbed home the 57th-minute winner against Jeju United that sparked wild celebrations for the Southeast Asian minnows.
The Thai champions are into the knockout phase for only the second time in their history. They lost in the quarter-finals in 2013 to Esteghlal of Iran.
In Group H, Dejan Damjanovic’s first-half goal put Suwon Samsung Bluewings through with a 1-0 win at Kashima Antlers, who had already qualified.
The win meant the South Korean side won the group, with the Japanese club in second. But Sydney FC miss out in third place after they could only draw 0-0 with bottom side Shanghai Shenhua.
Suwon silenced the home fans in the 30th minute when prolific marksman Damjanovic stuck out his right boot at a Waguininho free-kick and deflected it past a stranded ‘keeper Kwoun Sun-tae into the Kashima goal.
Sydney, who kicked off at the same time, needed to win at home against the already eliminated Chinese Super League side Shenhua and hope that Kashima could beat Suwon.
But despite piling on the pressure, they exited after failing to break down an under-strength Shenhua, who had travelled without star strikers Nigerian Obafemi Martins and Colombian Fredy Guarin.
“Frustrating, yeah. Twenty-two shots on goal to nil but that’s the way it goes,” said Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold, who is due to take charge of the Australia national team after this year’s World Cup.
The runaway A-League leaders have won only one of their last 10 games in the AFC Champions League, managing just two clean sheets, and have not managed to win any of their last five home matches in the competition.
“It makes it hard for yourself when you don’t win your home games but it’s been a great learning experience for this club,” added Arnold.