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Nanjing: Jiangsu FC became the first side to progress to the AFC Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday night, securing top spot in Group H with a 3-0 win over Gamba Osaka.

That victory, delivered courtesy of first-half goals from Alex Teixeira, Ramires, and Hong Jeong-ho, extended Jiangsu’s 100% record in this year’s competition to four games and leaves them home free with two matches to spare.

Jiangsu had never previously made it beyond the AFC Champions League group stages, but this year’s squad has demonstrated resilience and ruthlessness in equal measure.

Possession not everything

It may well be nine-tenths of the law, but Jiangsu proved here that possession is not vital in order to win football matches.

The home side had just 27.2% of the ball over the course of the 90 minutes at Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre, but despite Gamba toiling away with the remaining 72.8% it was Jiangsu who emerged as comfortable 3-0 victors.

Rather than concerning themselves with countless short passes, as the visitors spent long periods of the game doing, Jiangsu instead looked to pack a punch when they did have the ball, and three snappily converted goals gave them plenty of reward for that approach.

Defensive solidity lays foundations for effective counters

For a team to be confident enough to surrender the bulk of possession to their opponent they need to have faith in their ability to stand firm defensively.

Jiangsu came into this game on good footing in that respect, having conceded just once in their first three AFC Champions League games – and even that was a 93rd minute Eli Babalj consolation in the 2-1 win over Adelaide United on Matchday Two.

Choi Yong-soo’s players remained disciplined throughout here too, never giving Gamba any hint that they had a way back into the game, and as well as picking up a third clean sheet of the campaign the side has now won 81% of the tackles they’ve contested over their four games.

Ramires sucker punches set Jiangsu apart

Of course it’s all very well keeping clean sheets, but if you don’t score goals then games won’t be won.

Thankfully for Jiangsu, in Ramires they have a player of exceptional pedigree who is able to add something special at the other end of the pitch too.

The Brazilian has now taken nine shots in this year’s AFC Champions League and scored with a third of them.

That includes the winners in the 1-0 victories away to Jeju United and Gamba on Matchdays One and Three, respectively, and he also got his name on the score-sheet with the second goal here, giving Jiangsu an extra cushion which they made the most of to ensure cosy passage through to the last 16.

Photos: Lagardère Sports