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Sydney FC's hopes of progressing to the Asian Champions League knock-out stages have been handed a potentially terminal blow with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Kevin Muscat-coached Yokohama F. Marinos in Vietnam.
The Sky Blues were undone by an 80th minute goal from the Japanese side's substitute Ryotaro Tsunoda on a stifling Friday night in Ho Chi Minh City - a defeat which has now left the A-League Men's side floundering in Group H.
Needing to win the group to guarantee qualification for the last-16, Steve Corica's side are lying a distant third at the halfway stage of the preliminaries on just two points, four behind Yokohama and five adrift of Korean leaders Jeonbuk Motors.
By the end of a draining night's work, Sydney, who had created the best chances in the first half, looked to be physically drained in the humid conditions after visibly running out of steam in the final quarter.
Muscat got one over his long-time friend and former Socceroos colleague Corica as Yokohama put out a side with nine changes and then came on strong thanks to the Aussie's judicious second-half substitutions.
The Japanese side found their hero in Tsunoda, who missed one golden chance soon after his 62nd minute introduction but then volleyed home through a crowded box past an unsighted Andrew Redmayne 10 minutes from time as Sydney wilted.
It proved a killer blow for the Sky Blues, who desperately needed the win after beginning their campaign with two draws.
They will look back ruefully on two golden missed chances for their English striker Adam le Fondre, who passed up the opportunity to mark his 100th game for the club by giving his side what would have been a deserved first-half lead.
In the 14th minute, he was put through on goal by Max Burgess but was thwarted, one on one, by the alert Yokohama keeper Yohei Takaoka.
Then, eight minutes before the break, Le Fondre had an even better chance but dallied fatally on the left side of the box before hitting a feeble toe-poke, leaving Corica raging on the touchline.
Sydney did nearly strike back with the last action of the game in stoppage time but Burgess's point-blank header from a corner was snaffled safely on the line by Takaoka.
Corica's men must now regroup quickly for a rematch with Muscat's side on Monday in a game they now simply have to win.
Earlier in the same stadium, second-half substitute Moon Seon-min struck three minutes into injury time to earn Jeonbuk Motors their 1-0 win over Vietnam's Hoang Anh Gia Lai that puts them in control of the group.