High-flying Kitchee enjoyed another night of success in the AFC Cup, cruising to a 4-0 victory over visiting Tampines Rovers of Singapore at Mong Kok Stadium on Tuesday to top group H.
That was in sharp contrast to the fortunes of the other Hong Kong representative in the regional cup - South China were held to a 1-1 draw by home side Vissai Ninh Binh of Vietnam in group G, which saw them eliminated from the tournament with just four points from five games.
Marksman Juan Belencoso scored a hat-trick for Kitchee, taking his tally to eight in the competition and remain the group's top scorer, while fellow striker Jorge Tarres was also on target after hitting the post twice.
The newly crowned Hong Kong champions, who only needed one point to finish top of the group, now have the luxury of a home tie in the round of 16.
Despite having one final group match to play - away against Pune FC of India in two weeks - their 13 points from five games have put them well out of reach as group winners.
Acting head coach Chu Chi-kwong, who asked his charges to hold off on their celebrations when they lifted the league championship following a 2-0 win over Sunray Cave Sun Hei at the weekend, was relieved.
"Our target was to win the league title and finish top in the AFC Cup group stage. We have made it now," he said. "We missed a lot of chances in the first half and in fact the final score should have been achieved in the first 45 minutes.
"We improved our finishing after the break and went all the way till the finish, even though we could do better in some areas such as how to defend well after losing the ball during attack."
Belencoso thanked his teammates for helping him to his hat-trick and paid little heed to beating the record of Tarres, who scored 10 goals in six group matches last year.
"It doesn't matter how many goals I am scoring as long as we can keep winning," said the Spaniard. "We are doing very well in the campaign and will fight till the end to reach the AFC Cup final. Nothing is impossible."
Rovers coach Salim Moin paid tribute to his opponents, saying Kitchee were the better side.
"Their technical ability is much better than ours. Kitchee are a wonderful side and have given us some lessons," he said.
Rovers can still qualify as the second-placed team in the group if they beat Nay Pyi Taw of Myanmar in their last match.