The Central Coast Mariners were outplayed by Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol, but it mattered little to their AFC Champions League campaign after results elsewhere went their way
|By HAMISH NEAL
On a drama-packed night in Gosford, the Central Coast Mariners have qualified for the knock-out phase of the AFC Champions League even despite their 3-0 loss to J-League side Kashiwa Reysol.
The Mariners were bidding to become the third Australian side after Adelaide United and the Newcastle Jets to qualify for the knockout stage of the ACL.
In second and two points ahead of third-placed Guizhou Renhe, Graham Arnold's men needed a win to make sure of their place in the next round to avoid relying on the Chinese club's home match against the Suwon Bluewings.
With that match - played simultaneously - poised 1-1 at half-time in China, the Korean side hung on despite a late Guizhou goal for a 2-2 final scoreline.
The combination of results was enough to send the A-League champions into a two-leged tie against Chinese heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande in May.
With both sides fielding their strongest sides, the Mariners had their typical bright start at home, with two shots on goal from defender Joshua Rose in the first 15 minutes.
Pedj Bojic and Bernie Ibini were lively early, probing the left side of Kashiwa's defence.
Sitting 11th in the J-League, Kashiwa were content to sit back in attack, with only two chances in the opening 30 minutes.
The best opportunities for Nelsinho Baptista's side came from a corner in the 18th minute, with attempts to Masushima Tatsuya and then Kurisawa Ryoichi both missing their mark.
Despite the chances for the Japanese side, the Mariners remained positive and a 31st-minute cross from from Bojic gave A-League golden boot Daniel McBreen a chance for an opener but he could not connect.
McBreen had the best chance of the match for the Mariners when he had his rifled shot cleared off the line in the 19th minute. It was Kim Chang-Soo who saved the day for the visitors.
Two minutes later, Bojic drove into the penalty area and had a shout for a spot kick waved away.
In the second half, after some fast work by Michael McGlinchey, Joshua Rose found his way into the area and sent a shot straight at Takanori Sugeno, who was forced into a save.
Moments later, Ryoichi - vital all match for the visitors - laid on the pass for Kudo Masato's opener.
In the 79th minute, Cleo was the beneficiary of some slack Mariners defence as the Brazilian doubled the lead of the Group H winners.
Seven minutes later, fellow Brazilian Leandro sent a free kick into the net to secure the 3-0 win, despite Mariners goalkeeper Mat Ryan getting his hands to the ball.
The tense wait late on was worth the wait for the Mariners, whose holidays have again been delayed while their ACL adventures continue.