|By Khalis Rifhan
Thailand’s Buriram United fended off the challenge from Australia’s Brisbane Roar to qualify for the 2013 AFC Champions league group stage on Wednesday night at the New I-Mobile Stadium in Buriram.
The match ended goalless and with no sight of goal in extra time, the tie was settled in a penalty shoot-out, where Buriram’s goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen emerged as hero after making three consecutive saves to ensure victory.
Siwarak guessed correctly to deny Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha and James Meyer while the home side celebrated victory with stand-in captain Osmar Barba, Charyl Chappuis and Jirawat Makarom finding the back of the net.
With the win, Attaphol Puspakom's side secured a place in Group E alongside K-League champions FC Seoul, J-League runners-up Vegalta Sendai and Chinese Super League runners-up Jiangsu Sainty.
Two other play-off matches took place earlier in the week as UAE club Al-Nasr claimed the scalp of Uzbekistan outfit Lokomotiv Tashkent and Iran’s Saba Qom failed to capitalise on home advantage as they were defeated by UAE’s Al-Shabab Al-Arabi.
Backed by a strong 6,000 odd fanatical crowd at the Yadegar-e Emam Stadium in Qom, the home side took the lead in the sixth minute through 34-year-old striker Iman Razaghirad.
But a late equaliser by Esam bin Salmin seconds before the end of regulation time dampened the home crowd. With neither side able to find the elusive winner in extra-time, the game went to the dreaded penalty shoot-out and the visitors claimed a spot in the group stage as they upset the home side with a 5-3 victory.
Al-Shabab Al-Arabi will now face the challenges of Qatar's Lekhwiya, Al Ettifaq of Saudi Arabia and Uzbek champions Pakhtakor in Group B.
There was last minute drama over at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai as Al-Nasr ensured a fourth UAE representative in the Champions League proper when the home side was awarded a match-winning penalty in the 89th minute.
Japanese Takayuki Morimoto had opened the scoring 15 minutes before the break but Victor Karpenko evened things out for the visitor in the 71st minute.
Lokomotiv must have thought that a victory was on the card after Tajikistan international Akmal Kholmatov had given them a 2-1 lead five minutes after Karpenko's equaliser , but Habib Al Fardan came up with a reply 12 minutes from time.
With the clock ticking down to the end of regulation time, the hosts were awarded a lifeline and Brazilian Leonardo Lima made no mistake from the spot as Al-Nasr clinched a 3-2 victory over the spirited Uzbek side.
Al-Nasr have an uphill task in Group C as they will have to overcome Iranian outfit Sepahan, Al-Ahli of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s Al-Gharafa, should they dreamt of progression to the knock-out stages.