Shanghai SIPG edge Urawa in ACL, Jiangsu Suning beat Gamba Osaka
Shanghai SIPG continued their perfect start to the Asian Champions League on Wednesday as Andre Villas-Boas completed a successful evening for Chinese Super League clubs by steering his side to a 3-2 win over former champions Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.
Victory came on the same evening as Jiangsu Suning defeated another former winner of the continental title, 2008 champions Gamba Osaka, as both clubs took huge strides towards securing their places in the knockout rounds of the competition as the group stage reached the halfway stage.
Jiangsu had former Chelsea man Ramires to thank for their 1-0 win in Osaka, the Brazilian wrapping his foot around a shot from outside the area to score the only goal of the game in the 39th minute.
SIPG, meanwhile, saw first-half goals from Shi Ke and Elkeson put them in command before Hulk's third in three games secured the points, as Rafael da Silva's penalty and a late effort by Wataru Endo gave Urawa hope before Shinzoh Koroki was sent off in the dying seconds.
Jiangsu now lead Group H by five points from second-placed Jeju United of South Korea while third-placed Gamba Osaka are a further point adrift, and victory over the Japanese side in the return fixture next month would seal a place in the round of 16 for Choi Yong-Soo's side.
The same applies for SIPG, who have a perfect record and sit three points ahead of Urawa after victory over the Japanese club, who had also made a winning start to the group stage.
It took just 10 minutes for SIPG to take the lead as fortune favoured Villas-Boas' side following Hulk's free kick as Yuki Abe's attempted clearance found Shi Ke, and his reactionary header looped above the Urawa defence and over the goal line.
Shanghai had been in command throughout the opening exchanges, with Hulk at the heart of everything positive from the Chinese side as he has been throughout the early stages of the season.
The Brazilian's explosiveness from a standing start has been hurting opponents since he finally began to make an impact following his injury-hit early days with the club he joined last June.
Now in full flow, the former Porto man is consistently showing his class, taking much of the limelight away from his teammate Oscar, the expensively acquired signing from Chelsea, as he continues to find his feet.
It was the club's other Brazilian, however, who claimed the second as Elkeson, a winner of this competition with Guangzhou Evergrande in 2013 and 2015, steadied himself to take advantage of a moment of rashness from Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
The 30-year-old's attempt to steer a clearance to safety in first-half injury time failed with disastrous consequences as the ball fell to Elkeson, who then slotted home ahead of the rapidly retreating Nishikawa.
Eight minutes into the second half, Hulk claimed what turned out to be a much-needed third when he brushed off three Urawa players as he charged into the box and slipped the ball between Nishikawa's legs to score with embarrassing ease.
Rafael's penalty reduced the deficit for Urawa 17 minutes from time before Endo bundled the ball home five minutes from time to give SIPG a nervous end to the game, but in the end they picked up their sixth win in all competitions to continue their impressive start to 2017.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch