Guanghzou Evergrande beat Daegu 1-0 to usurp the South Korean side in AFC Champions League Group F and book a place in the knockout phase.
The Chinese Super League club looked set for a shock group-stage exit, but Paulinho's effort went in off Jeong Tae-wook to move Guangzhou a point ahead of their visitors.
Defending champions Kashima Antlers also ran things a little close as they had to come from behind to secure a 2-1 home win against Shandon Luneng.
Marouane Fellaini gave Shandong an early lead and for a while that looked like it would be enough to prevail in the Group E clash.
But Sho Ito struck twice in quick succession in the second half, the winner coming in the 70th minute, meaning Antlers finished two points ahead of Gyeongnam.
They too were victorious on the day as Dutch striker Luc Castaignos helped Kim Jong-boo's side to a 2-0 victory over Johor Darul Ta'zim, with Takahiro Kunimoto also on target.
The day's other game saw Sanfrecce Hiroshima – already assured of top spot in Group F – dispatch Melbourne Victory comfortably, winning 3-1 in Australia, leaving the A-League side bottom with just one point.
Antlers will be Hiroshima's opponents in the round of 16, while Shandong face Guangzhou.