Central Coast Mariners have qualified for the knock-out phase of the AFC Champions League despite a 3-0 loss to J.League side Kashiwa Reysol.
On a drama-packed night in Gosford, the Central Coast Mariners have qualified for the knock-out phase of the AFC Champions League despite a 3-0 loss to J.League side Kashiwa Reysol.
The Mariners were bidding to become the third Australian side after Adelaide United and Newcastle to qualify for the knockout stage of the ACL.
Graham Arnold's men knew prior to kick-off that if they failed to win, they were relying on Guizhou Renhe failing to beat the Suwon Bluewings in their simultaneous kick-off to advance to the last-16.
And Suwon did the Mariners a huge favour, holding Guizhou to a 2-2 draw in China - although the hosts equalised with minutes to spare to cause a few nervous moments for the Central Coast fans.
The A-League champions may now face a two-leg tie against Chinese heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande in May.
With both sides playing their strongest starting sides, the Mariners had a typically bright start at home with two shots on goal from defender Joshua Rose in the first 15 minutes.
Pedj Bojic and Bernie Ibini were lively early, probing the left side of Kashiwa's defence.
The 11th-placed J.League side were content to sit back in attack with only two chances in the opening half-hour.
The best chances for Nelson Baptista's side came from a corner in the 18th minute with attempts to Tatsuya Masushima and then Ryoichi Kurisawa both missing their mark.
Despite the chances for the Japanese, the Mariners remained positive and a 31st-minute effort from Bojic gave A-League golden boot winner Daniel McBreen a chance for an opener but he couldn't connect.
McBreen had the best chance of the match for the Mariners when he had a rifled shot cleared off the line. Kim Chang-soo saved the day for the Japanese.
Bojic then drove into the penalty area and had a penalty appeal waved away.
The first 10 minutes of the second-half went goalless before it was Rose again charging at the J.League club's back four.
After some fast work by Michael McGlinchey, Rose found his way into the area and sent a shot straight at Kashiwa custodian Takanori Sugeno who was forced into a save.
Moments later Kurisawa, who was vital for the visitors, laid on the pass for Masato Kudo's opener.
In the 79th minute, Cleo was the beneficiary of some slack Mariners defence as the Brazilian doubled the lead of the Group H leaders.
Seven minutes later Brazilian Leandro Domingues sent a free kick into the net to secure the three points, despite Mariners keeper Mat Ryan getting two hands on his failed save attempt.
The tense wait post the final whistle was well worth it for the Mariners faithful, who extend their Championship-winning season.
Central Coast Mariners 0 Kashiwa Reysol 3 (Kudo 59, Cleo 79, Domingues 86) Crowd: 7,623 @ Bluetongue Stadium