The miracle Melbourne City had been praying for to keep their Asian Champions League hopes alive has failed to materialise as Australia’s sole representatives had their group-stage exit sealed.
But at least one Australian was left satisfied on Wednesday as Kevin Muscat ensured he would bow out as Yokohama F Marinos boss on a high as his Japanese side made it into the last-16.
After the agony of conceding a 99th minute equaliser against Chinese outfit Zhejiang in a 1-1 draw at Princes Park on Tuesday which meant they couldn’t win their pool and automatically book a place in the knockout stages, Melbourne City were left clinging to the hope of advancing as one of the best three runners-up.
8️⃣ sides from the East complete the #ACL Round of 16 cast!
Find out who will play who at the draw on Dec 28, 2023! pic.twitter.com/dM0gxr9DEd
— #ACL (@TheAFCCL) December 13, 2023
But that pipedream was shattered on Wednesday night when South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai came from behind to beat already-qualified Bangkok United 3-2 and confirm their progress with a superior runner’s-up record.
It meant Aurelio Vidmar’s City, who had been hoping to reach the continental tournament’s knockout stages for the first time, missed out despite having lost only one of their six matches in group H.
City had needed the already-qualified Bangkok to beat Jeonbuk in their group F clash but the Koreans, despite going behind to an early Wanchai Jarunongkran goal, responded with a Moon Seon-min equaliser a minute before the break before two goals in two minutes from Lee Dong-jin sealed the deal for Dan Petrescu’s side.
Muscat, who announced last week he was leaving after two-and-a-half years at the club, had a tall order in trying to qualify for the knockout stage as his side started the night in third place in group G, needing a win to progress.
They did just that by beating Shandong Taishan 3-0 with goals from Elber, Anderson Lopes and Yan Matheus. The defeated Chinese side Shandong, though, joined them in the last 16 by claiming one of the precious best runners-up slots.
Kevin Muscat’s last match as manager of Yokohama F. Marinos and the fans stayed almost 45-50 mins past the final whistle to say goodbye!! What a moment!! #yokohamafmarinos #yokohama #muscat #ACL #football pic.twitter.com/SuaqwFYjFG
— Stephen King (@SupeingoSK) December 13, 2023
Yokohama won the group with a better head-to-head goal difference over Shandong and Incheon, with all three teams having finished on 12 points.
Yokohama, Shandong, South Korean side Ulsan and Jeonbuk will feature in a last-16 line-up that also features Japan’s Ventforet Kofu and Kawasaki Frontale as well as Bangkok and Pohang Steelers in the eastern half of the draw.
Saudi Pro League quartet Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and Al-Fayha have qualified in the west alongside Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and Navbahor as well as Al-Ain, of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran’s Sepahan.