Gamba Osaka’s hopes of advancing into the round of 16 of this year’s AFC Champions League were ended in dramatic fashion after an 88th minute Modou Barrow winner condemned the J.League 1 side to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at the Bunyodkor Stadium in Tashkent on Saturday. Earlier on the day, Singha Chiangrai United wrapped up their continental campaign on a high note after an impressive second half performance earned the Beetles a 3-0 win over Tampines Rovers at the Lokomotiv Stadium.
Tampines Rovers (Singapore) 0-3 Singha Chiangrai United (Thailand)
Group H’s ASEAN sides, both already eliminated from the ACL, faced-off at the Lokomotiv as they seek to mark a positive end to their continental campaign. Favorites Chiangrai went on the front foot early in the game as captain Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul missed the target with his half-volley in the 2nd minute.
Both Sivakorn Tiatrakul and Ekanit Panya then threatened Zulfairuuz Rudy in the Tampines goal afterwards, however the 27-year old Singaporean shot-stopper was relieved to see that the duo were unable to find any accuracy with their ranged efforts.
The Stags of Eastern Singapore got their first chance of the game in the 25th minute, after Boris Kopitovic had managed to beat his defenders before shooting with his left foot from outside the area, however Saranon Anuin in the Chiangrai goal managed to read the situation well and deny the Montenegrin striker his goal.
Veteran defender Baihakki Khaizan then conceded a penalty for Tampines in the first minute of stoppage-time, with the former Persija Jakarta and Persib Bandung man inadvertently handling the ball within the area. Bill was tasked in taking the penalty, however Rudy managed to deny the big Brazilian as he dived into the right direction and parried the incoming ball away.
Stand-in Tampines goalkeeper Rudy continued his impressive performance in the second half, denying Phitiwat after the Chiangrai captain had been sent through on goal by a Bill through pass.
However, despite Rudy’s heroics, Chiangrai’s persistence paid off in the 75th minute as the Beetles finally found a way past the former Hougang United man. A Bill effort was blocked by the Tampines defense however the ball wasn’t cleared far enough, with substitute Felipe Amorim lapping up the rebound and blasting a cannonball that found its way beyond Rudy’s reaches and into the back of the net.
In the 82nd minute Bill finally got the goal that he deserved, heading in a Sanukran Thinjom cross to double Chiangrai’s lead.
Rounding off an excellent 15 minutes for Chiangrai was Phitiwat, who slotted home from range to seal the win for the Beetles in the 90th minute.
The 3-0 win ensured that Chiangrai, despite going home early, would better their achievements from their last ACL outing with their eight points from six games, having previously won five points from their six group stage games in 2020. Tampines, on the other hand, end their ACL debut with no wins to their name whatsoever, however the Singaporeans would be delighted that they were able to share the same stage with some of Asia’s biggest names.
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea) 2-1 Gamba Osaka (Japan)
Needing a win to keep their round of 16 chances alive, Gamba had a less-than-ideal start to their match against Jeonbuk at the Bunyodkor Stadium, conceding a penalty after just 6 minutes after Kim Young-gwon had fouled Park Jin-seong within the area.
Jeonbuk’s in-form Brazilian striker Gustavo went face-to-face against Gamba’s veteran goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi and the former made no mistakes whatsoever from the spot, easily beating the latter with a low and well-taken shot.
Being a goal down after barely 10 minutes in stung Gamba into action and the men from Suita signaled their retaliation in the 11th minute, with Patric lashing a low effort wide off target. Realizing the dangers that an angry Gamba might pose at them, Jeonbuk’s defenses immediately shut up shop after Patric’s attempt, with the South Koreans managing to restrict the men in blue-and-black to that one and only chance on goal throughout the first half.
Gamba emerged out of the changing rooms with guns all blazing in the second half, with Patric repeatedly banging on Jeonbuk’s defenses throughout the second stanza. The Brazilian huffed and puffed before finally getting his breakthrough in the 53rd minute, beating Lee Bum-yong in the Jeonbuk goal with an expertly-taken volley from a tight angle.
Despite the Japanese side’s best efforts in chasing the game, substitute Barrow managed to utilize his fresh legs in outrunning a stretched and tired Gamba defense, before the former Reading FC man confidently slots home past Higashiguchi to confirm all three points for Jeonbuk.
The win meant that Jeonbuk are through to the round of 16 as Group H winners with sixteen points to their name, while Gamba’s defeat meant that they finish their campaign as group runners-up with nine points. Despite finishing as Group H runners-up, Gamba’s three draws – two against Chiangrai and one against Jeonbuk – as well as Saturday night’s defeat meant that the Suita-based side’s nine points were not enough to guarantee a ticket to the round of 16, as the runners-up of East Asia’s three other groups have more than 10 points to their name while Daegu FC, who are currently runners-up of Group I with nine points to their name, have yet to play their sixth and final match, ensuring Gamba’s elimination from the ACL.
Gamba’s failure to win their final match, coupled with Kitchee SC’s goalless draw with Cerezo Osaka on Friday, ensured that two more teams will be joining the likes of Jeonbuk, Cerezo, Nagoya Grampus, Kawasaki Frontale and defending ACL champions Ulsan Hyundai in the round of 16 – BG Pathum United and Pohang Steelers. 3-time ACL winners Pohang will accompany Nagoya to the knockouts as Group G runners-up, while Ulsan and BGPU will fight it out for top spot of Group F on July 11th, with the two teams’ current points tally being good enough to qualify as one of the three best runners-up.