Tianjin Quanjian boss hopes for AFC Champions League boost to league form
Paulo Sousa is hoping his Tianjin Quanjian players can carry their AFC Champions League form into the Chinese Super League after a 3-2 win over Japan's Kashiwa Reysol confirmed their place in the round of 16.
Tianjin face Guangzhou Evergrande in an all-Chinese clash next month after finishing second in Group E behind two-time champions Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea, who beat Hong Kong's Kitchee 3-0 to seal top spot and set up a meeting with Thailand's Buriram United.
"This is our debut season in the Asian Champions League so it's perfect that we finish the group in style," Sousa said. "We haven't just gained 13 points, but also the players' attitudes and abilities are starting to meet the challenge.
"We are fighting in three different competitions and I need all my players to get ready.
"I hope to bring what we gained in the Asian Champions League back into our domestic games so we can have a good run in the Chinese Super League and in the Chinese GA Cup games.
"The players have shown great potential, and some of them will have the chance to get in the starting lineup in the CSL."
Tianjin took a two-goal lead inside the first 30 minutes as captain Zhao Xuri struck twice.
Kei Koizumi reduced the deficit before half-time but former China international striker Yang Xu netted a third for Tianjin in the 64th minute before Yusuke Segawa gave Kashiwa hope once more.
Tianjin finish the group phase with only one defeat, at the hands of Jeonbuk, amid a run of form that contrasts with their struggles in the league, in which they are 10th -- 11 points adrift of leaders Shanghai SIPG.
SIPG have won all six of their Chinese Super League games but suffered their first loss of the year on Wednesday when they were beaten 2-1 by Melbourne Victory.
Vitor Pereira sent out a weakened side, leaving Oscar, Wu Lei and Odil Ahmedov out of the squad after SIPG secured first place in Group F two weeks ago, and they face Kashima Antlers in the next round.
"I'm always quite confident, no matter who we are due to play next," Pereira said. "We are always confident.
"I'm satisfied with our young players. They are able to grow through matches like this, and it is normal sometimes to lose."
Ulsan Hyundai confirmed runners-up spot with a 2-2 draw with already-eliminated Kawasaki Frontale and now face Suwon Bluewings in an all-Korean encounter in the next phase.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch