They were playing to top their Asian Champions League group with a match to spare, but Sydney FC couldn't quite get the job done on Wednesday night against Urawa Red Diamonds.
Sydney played out a scoreless draw with the Japanese giants at a torn-up Allianz Stadium, safe in the knowledge they were already through to the knockout stage thanks to Guangzhou Evergrande's win over Pohang Steelers 24 hours earlier.
Graham Arnold's Group H leaders remain two points clear of the Reds, but whether they progress in first place and secure a favourable round-of-16 match-up will come down to the final fixtures in a fortnight.
Sydney's final group match is a tough away trip to China to face Guangzhou Evergrande, although the cashed-up defending champions are no chance of advancing.
Finish top and they'll likely avoid FC Seoul, and could instead play Chinese outfit Shandong Luneng FC.
In a match offering little excitement, goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic stole the show by saving the hosts from conceding late.
The Reds fashioned the best chance of both teams 10 minutes from time when Yosuke Kashiwagi capitalised on a quick break with a brilliant backheel to Shinzo Koroki.
Koroki struck low at point blank, but Janjetovic crouched lower and the forward could not make good on his second shot.
That was the highlight, but Sydney were under pressure from the start.
Within the first 10 minutes, Tadanari Lee's well-timed shot sailed just wide, and Janjetovic pounced on a Tsukasa Umesaki cross a split second before Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankic arrived for tap-in duty.
Tomoaki Makino, who produced the sublime long ball for Umesaki, ran the defence but Sydney still managed to concoct their own attacking forays with teenage striker George Blackwood making a couple of impressive solo runs and Chris Naumoff shaving the near post just before the break.
They just couldn't find a large enough opening, and Arnold finally introduced benched playmaker Milos Ninkovic for added spark.
Both Sydney's camp and the 8803 crowd appealed for a late penalty when Blackwood appeared to be hauled down in the box, but their screams went unanswered.