Former winners Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Gamba Osaka and Al Hilal along with Qatar’s Lekhwiya, Emirati club Al Ahli, Kashiwa Reysol of Japan and Iranian debutants Naft Tehran all secured qualification for the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League this week.
Chinese champions Guangzhou recorded a 3-2 aggregate victory over Korea Republic’s Seongnam FC after winning Wednesday’s second leg 2-0 at home, while Jeonbuk, Al Hilal and Gamba also recorded victories this week to win their respective ties and advance to the last eight.
And former semi-finalists Kashiwa and 2013 quarter-finalists Lekhwiya, as well as Al Ahli and newcomers Naft, completed the line-up ahead of the June 18 draw in Kuala Lumpur.
“Two years ago we were the Asian champions and we have rich experiences from then. Despite the personnel change since then, what made us really strong is still there, the spirit of the team,” said Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro after a brace from Brazilian forward Ricardo Goulart secured Guangzhou’s fourth consecutive appearance in the quarter-final stage despite losing 2-1 in Seongnam last week.
“So, in difficult times, we can all upon that spirit and unity and still be the best team in China.”
On Tuesday, 2006 winners Jeonbuk earned a return to the quarter-finals for the first since 2011 after beating Beijing Guoan 1-0 to seal a 2-1 win on aggregate.
Brazilian substitute Edu’s strike with 18 minutes remaining at Workers’ Stadium proved enough for the K-League Classic champions after a 1-1 draw last week at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.  
Iran’s Naft, meanwhile, achieved a historic first appearance in the last eight after Leandro Padovani’s goal at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah was enough to see the Iranians through on away goals despite losing 2-1 against Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Padovani’s all-important opener left Al Ahli needing a minimum of three goals to progress, and despite Omar Al Soma’s double, it was not enough for the home side.
“I want to congratulate my players for the great achievement as we defeated a strong team who didn’t lose any matches in the group stage and their first defeat in the competition was against us in the first leg,” said Naft coach Alireza Mansourian.
“We came to Saudi Arabia with great ambition as we wanted to qualify for the next round. We planned to score an early goal which would affect our opponents and we successfully scored an important goal.”
Elsewhere, substitute Ismail Mohamad came off the bench to score seven minutes from time as 10-man Lekhwiya secured a 2-2 draw with Qatari rivals Al Sadd on Tuesday that was enough to secure a second quarter-final appearance after sealing a 4-3 aggregate win for the Qatar Stars League champions.
And 2014 finalists Al Hilal cruised into the last eight after a comprehensive 3-0 win over Iran’s Persepolis thanks to goals from Yousef Al Salem, Mohammed Shalhoub and Abdulaziz Al Dawsari saw the Saudi Arabian side advance 3-1 on aggregate.
Japanese treble winners Gamba, meanwhile, secured a return to the quarter-finals for the first since winning the continental title in 2008 after Wednesday’s 3-2 second leg win over 2013 finalists FC Seoul of Korea secured a convincing 6-3 victory on aggregate.
And finally, 2013 semi-finalists Kashiwa claimed their place in the last eight thanks to Yusuke Kobayashi’s crucial second half strike which secured an away goals success over Korea’s Suwon Samsung despite losing Tuesday’s second leg 2-1 at home.
CAPTION – Ricardo Goulart scored twice as former champions in Guangzhou Evergrande secured a place in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League after recording 2-0 win over Korea Republic’s Seongnam FC on Wednesday.
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