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Minnows Buriram make history for Thailand
Unheralded Buriram United made history as the first Thai team to reach the AFC Champions League last 16 after a thrilling night's action on Wednesday.
The club from provincial Thailand missed a first-half penalty but then twice came back from a goal down -- within two minutes each time -- to snatch a 2-2 draw with Korean champions FC Seoul.
The result was enough to take Buriram through behind Group E winners Seoul after Japan's Vegalta Sendai, their main rivals for the second qualifying spot, went down 2-1 to Jiangsu Sainty.
Buriram and Sendai went into their final group games with identical records, meaning another matching result on Wednesday could have seen their fates decided by a tally of yellow and red cards or even a special lottery.
At the World Cup Stadium in Seoul, Carmelo Gonzalez should have put Buriram in front from the penalty spot before half-time, but goalkeeper Yu Sang-Hun dived low and to his right to turn the shot around the post.
Nine minutes after the break, the hosts carved open Buriram for the opener with a move that criss-crossed the pitch and was finished sweetly by Jung Seung-Yong, arriving late in the box.
But the lead was short-lived. In less than two minutes, a shot from Gonzalez was laid off by Kai Hirano for Ekkachai Samre, who revived Buriram's hopes by putting them level.
Another quickfire exchange of goals, in the 74th and 75th minutes, made it 2-2. Kim Hyun-Sung's header from a set-piece was followed by a raking free-kick from Buriram's Theerathon Bunmathan which crept in untouched.
In Sendai, Naoki Sugai's opener for the hosts was cancelled out by Liu Jianye in the first half, but Hamdi Salihi popped up on 62 minutes to give Jiangsu a 2-1 lead.
However, Jiangsu needed to beat Vegalta by six goals to qualify, a result which never seemed likely. With no further scores both teams missed the cut -- news which was greeted with wild celebrations by Buriram's fans in Seoul.
Meanwhile in Group F, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors edged fellow former champions Urawa Red Diamonds for a place in the the knock-outs when they drew 0-0 with China's Guangzhou Evergrande.
The scoreless draw in Guangzhou was enough to put the 2006 champions through on goal difference, despite Urawa's 1-0 win over Thailand's Muangthong United. Guangzhou, coached by Italy's Marcello Lippi, finished top.
The final round of 16 spots will be decided later on Wednesday with Al Shabab and El Jaish already through from Group A, and needing only to decide which team qualifies top.
But in a nail biting Group B, all four clubs -- Lekhwiya, Pakhtakor, Al Ettifaq and Al Shabab Al Arabi -- are separated by just two points, meaning both qualifying spots are open.
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