Soccer-Chinese sides close in on Asian Champions League knockout phase

SYDNEY, March 15 (Reuters) - Chinese Super League sides Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning maintained their perfect start to the Asian Champions League on Wednesday, moving a step closer to guaranteeing their places in the knockout phase of the continental club championship.

Andre Villas-Boas' SIPG overcame a late lapse in concentration to inflict a 3-2 defeat on former champions Urawa Red Diamonds to pick up their third win in a row in the group stages of the competition, while Jiangsu had former Chelsea star Ramires to thank for a 1-0 victory over Gamba Osaka in Japan.

"We are very upbeat and very happy," said the former Chelsea and Porto head coach.

"Our opponent was strong, so we prepared carefully for this game. We scored three times and although we couldn't score more and we let them score twice, we won in the end.

"It is a very pleasing result. The next game against Urawa will be more difficult, so we will have to prepare with greater effort," Ramires added.

Shi Ke gave SIPG the lead against Urawa before goals from Elkeson and Hulk looked to have put the result beyond doubt, only for a penalty from Rafael da Silva and a close range effort by Wataru Endo to cause Shanghai to panic in the final five minutes. Shinzoh Koroki's sending off, however, ensured SIPG took all three points.

Shanghai lead Group F by three points from Urawa, with Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers in third place after their 3-2 win over FC Seoul.

Jiangsu, meanwhile, top Group H with nine points, five more than Jeju United from South Korea and a further point ahead of Gamba Osaka after Jeju were held to a 3-3 draw by Australia's Adelaide United.

China's third representative, two-time champion Guangzhou Evergrande, were held to a 1-1 draw by Kawasaki Frontale of Japan on Tuesday evening, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's team still lead Group G by goal difference from South Korea's Suwon Bluewings, who defeated Eastern from Hong Kong 1-0.

"We didn't take full control of our own opportunities," said Scolari after his side's second draw in three games in the competition.

"Usually we won't miss chances like this. We didn't nail down early qualification from the group even though the chances we created were double the number of theirs. It is truly a pity," he said.

Japanese champions Kashima Antlers stand atop Group E with six points following their 3-0 win over Australia's Brisbane Roar thanks to goals from Yuma Suzuki, Naomichi Ueda and Yasushi Endo, with Muangthong United from Thailand in second, a point behind after their 0-0 draw with Ulsan Hyundai.

Meanwhile, Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia and Iran's Esteghlal Khouzestan retain their unbeaten records in the west of the continent as they stand at the summit of Groups B and C respectively, with Al Ahli sharing the points with last year's finalists Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates in an entertaining 2-2 draw in Jeddah to remain in first place.

Esteghlal Khouzestan, surprise winners of the Iranian title last season, were held to a 1-1 draw by Lekhwiya to remain two points clear of the Qatari side at the top of their group, with Saudi Arabia's Al Fateh in third following their victory over Al Jazira of the UAE.

Tehran's Esteghlal moved into first place in Group A after their win over Lokomotiv Tashkent, leapfrogging Al Ahli from UAE, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Saudi Arabia's Al Taawoun, while Al Rayyan of Qatar lead the way in Group D.

Michael Laudrup's side moved onto six points thanks to an impressive 3-1 win over Iranian league leaders Persepolis, giving the side from Doha one point more than two-time Asian champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, who were held to a 2-2 draw by UAE's Al Wahda. (Reporting by Michael Church in Sydney; Editing by Gareth Jones) )