Central Coast Mariners have been eliminated from the Asian Champions League following a 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Japan.
The Mariners needed a draw to progress to the knockout stage of the competition for the second successive year but a lone deflected goal in the second half instead earned the Japanese champions the second and final qualifying berth in the group.
Shiotani Tsukasa’s poorly hit free-kick brushed teammate Satoru Yamagishi and into the back of the net to finally crack the visitors’ defence with 17 minutes remaining at the Big Arch Stadium in Hiroshima.
Central Coast’s conservative approach barely produced a shot on target during the match but Sanfrecce were largely contained until their goal, with Mariners defender Brent Griffiths dismissed for the foul that lead to the pivotal moment of the contest.
The Mariners’ narrow failure combined with an unlucky goal-difference elimination for Melbourne Victory on Tuesday leaves the Western Sydney Wanderers as the A-League’s lone representative in next month’s knockout stage.
A tepid first half produced only a few chances, all of which were created by the home side with the best spurned by captain Aoyama Toshihiro.
Mariners goalkeeper Liam Reddy produced a crucial save to keep out a sizzling free-kick from playmaker Yojiro Takahagi just past the hour mark, while Morisaki Koji pushed an effort centimetres wide minutes later as the intensity increased.
It looked as if Sanfrecce, who surprisingly omitted one of the J League’s all-time top goalscorers in Hisato Sato, were going to pay for their toothless display in attack until Tsukasa’s fortunate breakthrough.
Sanfrecce progressed alongside Ulsan Hyundai, who topped the group with a 2-1 home win over Beijing Guoan.