Jiangsu Sainty can start to dream of a place in the knockout phase of the AFC Champions League after delivering the ideal birthday present for head coach Dragan Okuka with a 2-0 win over Thailand's Buriram United last night.
The victory was Jiangsu's first in their debut season in the continental club championship and hauls them back into contention for a place in next month's round of 16 after a slow start to the competition by the Chinese Super League runners-up.
"This is a sweet night, as we finally have our first AFC Champions League win," said the Serbian coach, who saw his side lose 5-1 to FC Seoul on their debut appearance in the competition, before drawing 0-0 with Vegalta Sendai three weeks ago.
"But it's not only about the good result, we also enjoyed a good process. It is the best birthday gift to me," added Okuka, who turned 59 yesterday.
"Many thanks to the fans who greeted me from the stands. I am happy that our hard work has been appreciated by them. I can still recall my last birthday when we beat Dalian 5-0 last year."
Lu Bofei and Sun Xe scored within a minute of one another late in the first half to earn Jiangsu a win that takes them up to second in group E on four points, two ahead of Buriram and Sendai, but three adrift of FC Seoul.
"In this group, Seoul are better than the other three," said Okuka. "So qualification will depend on game performance. If we can maintain this status, we might have a good chance to qualify."
Beijing Guoan, who Jiangsu face in the Chinese Super League at the weekend, maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign with a 0-0 draw against Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan.
The draw, combined with Pohang Steelers' win over J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima, means three clubs - Beijing, Bunyodkor and Pohang - sit level on five points from three games in group G. Only the top two teams advance to the knockout phase of the competition.
"I am satisfied with my team and I think we deserved a draw," said Beijing coach Aleksandar Stanojevic. "We tried to control the ball rather than attack, as the players need to conserve energy for the upcoming games.
"The second match with Bunyodkor will be difficult as they have a lot of experience in the competition, but we will be playing at home," Stanojevic added. "We also hope Frederic Kanoute will be available as he did not play in this game and he is an important part of our team."
Guangzhou Evergrande will take an unbeaten record in group F into their meeting at Tianhe Stadium tonight with Muangthong United, also of Thailand, with coach Marcello Lippi keen to ensure that his players do not underestimate their opponents.
"It is a crucial game if we want to qualify from the group," said the Italian World Cup winner. "Muangthong won the Thai championship last year and they are a strong opponent. We have to be careful.
"I trust my players. If they want to become great football players and if they have ambitions, they will never underestimate their opponents. They have to concentrate and dedicate 100 per cent of themselves to the game," Lippi added.
China's other representatives, Guizhou Renhe, are also in action, travelling to Australia to meet Central Coast Mariners in group H. Gong Lei's side are looking for their first win in the competition after losing their opener against Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, before drawing 0-0 against Suwon Bluewings of South Korea.