By Michael Church
(Reuters) - Hong Kong's Kitchee face a nervous wait to see if they will advance to the knockout rounds of the Asian Champions League after a 0-0 draw with Japan's Cerezo Osaka in Buriram on Friday saw them fall short of automatic qualification.
Alex Chu's side needed to win against the J-League side to move into top spot in Group J and guarantee themselves a first-ever appearance in the last 16 of the continental championship.
After weathering sustained pressure during the first half, the Hong Kong champions fought back in the second half but were unable to find a way past Kim Jin-hyeon to pull off a surprise victory.
With only the winners of the five groups being played in east Asia certain to advance, Kitchee must now hope their 11-point tally is enough to take one of the three runners-up spots.
Thailand's BG Pathum United are now certain to claim one of those berths with their 12 points in Group F surpassing the total acquired by Kitchee and Pohang Steelers in Group G.
The 2021 edition of the Asian Champions League has been expanded to 40 teams with the group matches for clubs from east Asia being played in centralised biosecure hubs in Thailand and Uzbekistan due to the ongoing pandemic.
Group phase matches in the west of the continent were completed in April and the Round of 16 is scheduled to be played from September 14 to 16.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals will also be played centrally in October with the final slated to be held on November 23.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)