Tianjin guarantee Champions League knockouts with win; SIPG secure top spot in Group F
Anthony Modeste's late header guaranteed Tianjin Quanjian would advance to the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League on Wednesday night as the Frenchman's goal saw off Hong Kong's Kitchee and secured a place in the last 16 for the Chinese Super League side.
Modeste headed home from close range with just over a minute left in regulation time as tournament debutants Tianjin joined compatriots Shanghai SIPG in qualifying for the next round of the competition.
A draw would have been enough for Tianjin to qualify for the round of 16 after Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors defeated Kashiwa Reysol 2-0 in the other Group E match earlier in the day, but the win put the outcome beyond doubt.
"I have to congratulate my players because we passed this group phase," said Tianjin coach Paulo Sousa. "It's a huge achievement. My players have done a fantastic job and for them this is special.
"We started really well the game, we were controlling, dictating and we had a good number of chances to score and better control the game. But my team started to not play the way they started and our opponent started to get more involved in the game and they started to believe.
"We need to keep working and look to improve our concentration in the game and the understanding of the game because that is a key point. I'm looking to work and to help my players grow.
"We created but we didn't score and we lost concentration and we stopped being ourselves and that's something we need to work on so we have more regularity in our performance."
Chinese clubs have had a mixed season in the Asian Champions League so far, with Shanghai Shenhua exiting the competition on Tuesday evening while Guangzhou Evergrande missed out on the opportunity to seal their place in the last 16 when they conceded a late equaliser against Buriram United.
But Shanghai SIPG have been in imperious form during the group phase and they guaranteed themselves top spot in Group F on Wednesday evening when Vitor Pereira's side drew 1-1 with Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale.
Hulk missed a penalty but Elkeson scored with a side-footed effort 10 yards out to give SIPG the lead after 68 minutes. That advantage only lasted six minutes, however, as Frontale levelled through Kei Chinen.
But with Ulsan Hyundai thrashing Melbourne Victory 6-2 in South Korea, the draw was enough to ensure SIPG cannot finish lower than first despite one round of group matches remaining.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch