Cerezo Osaka are into the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League after topping Group J with an undefeated performance. Cerezo won four matches and drew two to advance to the Round of 16 of Asia’s top continental competition for the first time since 2014.
The entirety of Group J was played behind closed doors in Buriram, Thailand due to the pandemic.
Cerezo started the group with a 2-0 win over Chinese side Guangzhou thanks to goals by Hiroaki Okuno and Tiago Pagnussat. Then, new signing Adam Taggart scored his first Cerezo goal and Tagnussat added another to top Hong Kong side Kitchee.
Cerezo’s perfect start was broken by Thai club Port, who managed a 1-1 draw, but Yusuke Maruhashi, Yoshito Okubo and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto all found the back of the net in the reverse fixture as Cerezo won, 3-0. A hat trick by Mutsuki Kato then led Cerezo to a dominant 5-0 win over Guangzhou.
Headed into the final match of the group stage, Cerezo needed a draw to guarantee that they would finish top of the group. The defense was up to the task, limiting Kitchee to just three shots, none of which were on goal for a scoreless draw to finish first in Group J.
With first place in the group locked up, Cerezo now move onto the Round of 16 where they will face K League side Pohang Steelers in September. The one-legged tie is set to take place in Osaka.