Tony Popovic’s men, who lifted the title last year on debut, looked to have extended their Asian fairytale when goals from Mark Bridge and Tomi Juric gave them a 2-0 upset win.
With Kashima Antlers and FC Seoul locked at 2-2 on the final evening of Group H, the Wanderers seemed to have done enough to prise themselves off the bottom and reach the last 16.
And there were broad smiles when the final whistle sounded in rain-sodden southern China — until news filtered through of Mauricio Molina’s late winner for FC Seoul.
That 3-2 win over Kashima puts Seoul through as the second team in Group H, behind Fabio Cannavaro’s Guangzhou who finish top despite their second defeat of the competition.
The Wanderers’ exit completed a chastening evening for Australian fans, whose national side won the Asian Cup in January, after Brisbane Roar went out tamely with a 2-1 loss to Urawa Reds.
Playing their last game of Group G, Brisbane needed a big win to have any chance of advancing, but their hopes slumped when Shinzo Koroki opened the scoring on 24 minutes.
Yuki Muto scored Urawa’s second after half-time and although Brisbane pulled one back through Andrija Kaluderovic, the night ended miserably for the A-League champions.
Beijing Guoan finished top of the group after a 1-1 draw with Suwon Samsung, who also go through to the knock-outs as the second-placed team.
Much of the night’s drama was in Kashima, where the hosts opened the scoring through Shuhei Akasaki after eight minutes only for Lee Woong-Hee to equalise before half-time.
FC Seoul then took the lead six minutes into the second half after Osmar Barba’s header was deflected into the Kashima net off defender Gen Shoji.
Kashima’s Gaku Shibasaki restored parity in the 79th minute but with both teams chasing the winner they needed to go through, Molina was the hero when he struck in the first minute of injury time. – Agence France-Presse