By Michael and Church
HONG KONG - Chinese Super League strugglers Jiangsu Suning became the first to qualify for the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League as compatriots Shanghai SIPG fell to their first defeat.
Jiangsu, runners-up in the Chinese Super League last year but currently bottom of the domestic standings, notched their fourth win in a row in the competition with a 3-0 dismissal of former champions Gamba Osaka from Japan on Tuesday.
The victory sealed the top spot in Group H and secured a place in the last 16. Adelaide United moved into second after their surprise 3-1 win over South Korea's Jeju United, with Gamba rooted to the bottom of the group. "Our team has shown a lot of strength," said coach Choi Yong-soo, who had goals from Alex Teixeira, Ramires and Hong Jeong-ho to thank for the win.
"Our opponent was more impatient than us and our counter-attacking worked. We won at home and it has erased the depression we have had from the domestic league games and made our fans happy," he said. "We have had a tough time in the CSL, but along with the return of some of our core players I believe we will get back on track very soon and come back with good results." Two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande were replaced at the summit of Group C after Luiz Felipe Scolari's team were held to a 0-0 draw by Kawasaki Frontale.
Suwon Bluewings took sole possession of top spot with a 5-0 victory over Eastern from Hong Kong. And Japanese champions Kashima Antlers suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat at the hands of Brisbane Roar to allow Thailand's Muangthong United to move into first place in Group E with a 1-0 win over former champions Ulsan Hyundai. SIPG, meanwhile, slipped to their first loss in the competition against Urawa Red Diamonds as Rafael Silva scored the only goal. Ex-Chelsea star Oscar twice missed from the spot for SIPG, leaving the two teams level on nine points in Group F ahead of FC Seoul and Western Sydney Wanderers. "We have failed to qualify early and it is a pity," said Shanghai coach Andre Villas-Boas.
"We had a better second half and controlled the situation. Our opponent had a better first half though. Both sides hit the woodwork but they had more possession and caused us problems."
In the west of the continent, Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal moved to the top of Group D with a 1-0 win over Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates, courtesy of Carlos Eduardo's first half penalty. Qatar's Al Rayyan secured the second spot after their 0-0 draw with Persepolis from Iran. Al Jazira, the UAE league leaders, have been eliminated despite their 0-0 draw with Al Fateh from Saudi Arabia in Group B, which is led by Lekhwiya following their 2-1 victory over Esteghlal Khouzestan. Jeddah-based Al Ahli retained top spot in Group C despite drawing 2-2 with last year's finalists Al Ain from the UAE.
Al Ain slipped to third in the group behind Iran's Zob Ahan with Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor eliminated, while another Iranian club, Esteghlal, and Al Ahli of the UAE share pole position in Group A ahead of Al Taawoun and Lokomotiv Tashkent.
(Reporting by Michael Church; editing by Mark Heinrich)