Tianjin Quanjian coach Paulo Sousa was left lamenting the absence of Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste as his side suffered a 2-0 defeat in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarterfinal against Japan's Kashima Antlers on Tuesday.
Goals form Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho secured Kashima a significant advantage in front of their own fans.
Witsel left Tianjin this month to join Borussia Dortmund while Modeste is reported to be engaged in a contract dispute and was not selected for Tianjin's first appearance in the last eight of the continental championship.
"Witsel and Modeste were absent from this game and they are very important for us, not only in the game but also tactically," Sousa said. "Their absence affected us. Some of our players were not in their usual positions but they did well.
"The Japanese players were very good at home. They were very good at controlling the ball and were very quick. I hope we can get a good result at home."
Leo Silva smashed home the opener on the hour mark from inside the area to give Kashima a deserved lead before new signing Serginho doubled his side's advantage with a low drive from long range that gave Tianjin goalkeeper Zhang Lu little chance.
The teams meet in the return leg in Tianjin on Sept. 18.
"OK, we lost but we tried to do our best," Tianjin striker Alexandre Pato said. "But we have another game in the hand and we can do better than today. At 2-0 it's not over."
Qatar's Al Sadd moved a step closer to a berth in the semi-finals with a 3-1 win over Esteghlal at Tehran's imposing Azadi Stadium. The Iranian side took the lead after 12 minutes when Al Sadd goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham mis-controlled Abdelkarim Hassan's defensive header, allowing the ball to roll under his foot before crossing the line.
But three goals in 13 second half minutes handed the initiative back to the 2011 champions ahead of the second leg in Doha on Sept. 17. Akram Afif equalised in the 61st minute when he clipped a right foot shot from close range beyond Mehdi Rahmati.
Algerian Baghdad Bounedjah scored his first of the game to put Al Sadd in front and he picked himself up off the deck to convert from the spot and claim his 11th goal of the continental campaign.