A valiant defensive effort by the Central Coast Mariners was not enough against Sanfrecce Hiroshima overnight as a second half strike credited to Yamagishi Satoru saw off the reigning A-League winners on Matchday 6 of the Asian Champions League.
The 72nd minute free kick, which took a heavy deflection on its way into Liam Reddy's net, helped the J-League giants to leapfrog the Mariners in Group F into the second qualifying spot after FC Seoul had confirmed they would progress from the group stage in first place with a 2-1 win against Beijing Guoan.
A straight red card to substitute Brent Griffiths gave Hiroshima the opportunity from just outside the 18-yard box on a night, much like nights before it, where the performance of Liam Reddy alone between the sticks was enough to deserve the draw the Gosford side so desired to qualify for the Round of 16 for the second consecutive year.
The Mariners, resplendent in their fluro pink away kit, showed from the outset that they were going to build from the back third - employing a 'defend with 11' mentality before attacking on the break with too few numbers to ever really trouble Hiroshima's goal. The game took the entire first 45 minutes to really spark into an exciting encounter, but that didnt stop the home side dominating the possession and territory statistics in front of a 9,778 strong crowd at the Big Arch Stadium - a former World Cup arena in Hiroshima.
Sanfrecce came out a revitalised team in the second stanza, attacking with more purpose and threat which left the most passionate Mariners fan fearing how long the defensive structure, whilst broken only once in the sides last three games, could hold out against the Japanese club who had domestic competition games under its belt since the two clubs met on Matchday 2 in Gosford. Two defensive subs by Phil Moss introducing Josh Rose and Griffiths for Storm Roux and Eddy Bosnar respectively showed the Coast gaffer still had one eye on their A-League semi-final on Saturday, whilst also revitalising a tiring back four, however just after the 70th minute it all went pear shaped for the Central Coast.
As Naoki Ishihara charged towards Liam Reddy's goal, Brent Griffiths came in late with a clumsy challenge - reminiscent of his penalty foul against Beijing on Matchday 4 - leaving the referee no choice but to show the red card after the Japanese player had played himself into a clear goal scoring opportunity. The foul was correctly adjudged to have been just outside the box despite Ishihara falling acrobatically into the box, however it proved irrelevant from Hiroshima's point of view as a powerful Tsukasa Shiotani dead ball effort deflected dramatically off Satoru to leave both Liam Reddy and John Hutchinson, who found himself on the far post, unable to keep the ball out.
The win means Sanfrecce now face the only Australian qualifying team, the Western Sydney Wanderers, in a two-leg playoff starting just three days after the A-League Grand Final, whilst the Mariners can have their heads held high after recording their most wins in an ACL campaign - 2, and the club will now look forward to next year in the premier Asian knock-out competition, where they have a qualifying match as a result of finishing third on the A-League table.