HONG KONG (Reuters) - Shanghai SIPG coach Vitor Pereira was upbeat about their chances ahead of a blockbuster clash with Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League despite watching his side lose for the first time this year on Wednesday.
A weakened SIPG went down 2-1 to Melbourne Victory in their final Group F game but the result was academic since the Chinese Super League leaders had already secured top spot to set up a last-16 meeting with the eight-time J-League champions.
The defeat was the club’s first of 2018 after six straight league wins plus three wins and two draws in the Asian Champions League and it failed to diminish Pereira’s belief in his team.
“I’m always quite confident no matter who we are due to play next,” said the Portuguese, who took over from Andre Villas Boas at the end of last season. “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.”
SIPG, who left key players Oscar, Odil Ahmedov and Wu Lei out of the squad for the game in Australia while Hulk started on the bench, meet Kashima in the Round of 16 over two legs, with the first game on May 9 and the return a week later in China.
The Shanghai club have been joined in the next phase by Tianjin Quanjian, who confirmed they would finish second in Group E with a 3-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol that sets up an all-China clash with twice champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
Jeonbuk Motors from South Korea topped Group E thanks to their 3-0 win over Hong Kong’s Kitchee, which saw Kim Shin-wook score his fourth goal of the campaign, and the 2016 champions will now meet Thailand’s Buriram United.
Jeonbuk will be among three Korean teams in the knockout rounds after Ulsan Hyundai confirmed they would face compatriots Suwon Bluewings when they came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with already-eliminated Kawasaki Frontale.
In the west of the continent, Al Duhail advanced with a perfect record when Abdulrahman Mostafa secured a 1-0 victory over Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates to maintain the Qatari side’s winning streak and set up a tie with ex-champions Al Ain.
Al Duhail were joined in the next phase by Iran’s Zob Ahan, who pipped Lokomotiv Tashkent to second place in Group B by holding the Uzbek club to a 1-1 draw and will now face compatriots Esteghlal.
Al Ahli handed Al Jazira of the UAE a 3-1 home defeat in Group A but both teams progressed, with the club from Saudi Arabia due to take on Qatar’s Al Sadd while Al Jazira play last year’s semi-finalists Persepolis of Iran.
The first legs of the last 16 matches will be played in May from 7-9 with the return games from 14-16.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ken Ferris