HONG KONG (Reuters) - Ulsan Hyundai coach Kim Do-hoon credited divine intervention for his side’s progress to the Asian Champions League knockouts after striker Mix Diskerud, known as Jesus in South Korea, scored a backheel to secure a 1-0 win over Sydney FC on Tuesday.
The South Korean side booked their spot in the last 16 of the continental competition after sealing top spot in Group H with one round of matches remaining.
United States international Diskerud, who gained his nickname in South Korea due to his long hair and beard, scored the game’s only goal with an improvised finish to see off a spirited Sydney side.
“At that moment every spectator and player was shocked for a few seconds when they realised he had scored that goal,” said Kim.
“I was really pleased with this fantastic goal today. I think Jesus Christ saved our team today. It was a fantastic night and a fantastic game for Ulsan.”
Ulsan’s win means Sydney are eliminated while Kim’s team are guaranteed to finish above Shanghai SIPG and Kawasaki Frontale after they drew 2-2 draw in Japan.
Hulk scored twice for SIPG, sprinting more than half the length of the pitch before netting his first, and the result means both sides can still secure second place behind Ulsan.
Ulsan were one of two clubs from South Korea to seal their passage into the last 16 after twice champions Jeonbuk Motors also advanced with a 1-0 win over Beijing Guoan.
Jose Morais’ side claimed first place in Group G thanks to Kim Shin-wook’s 17th-minute header in Beijing.
Beijing remain in contention for a place in the last 16 ahead of their final game of the group phase against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in two weeks’ time.
Urawa kept their qualification hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over Buriram United in Thailand with goals from Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto, eliminating the Thai side.
In the west of the continent, last year’s runners-up Persepolis from Iran were knocked out as a 1-0 loss in Tashkent at the hands of Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor means they cannot advance to the last 16.
Igor Sergeev hit the only goal of the game with four minutes remaining to leave Branko Ivankovic’s side rooted to the bottom of Group D with no hope of climbing into the top two positions with only one match left.
Pakhtakor are in second place in the standings, two points behind Al Sadd, who sealed their spot in the next round with a 2-1 win over Al Ahli from Saudi Arabia.
In Group C, goals from Hattan Bahebri and Mohammed Shalhoub earned Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal a 2-0 victory over former champions Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates that guarantees the club from Riyadh first place in the standings with one round remaining.
Al Hilal will be joined in the last 16 by Qatar’s Al Duhail, who secured second place with a 1-1 draw with Iran’s Esteghlal.
Editing by Toby Davis