Shanghai SIPG were defeated 3-1 by Kashima Antlers in the first leg of their Asian Champions League round-of-16 clash on Wednesday, leaving them with a mountain to climb in front of their own fans next week.
Elkeson scored 14 minutes from time for the Chinese Super League leaders to give them some hope of advancing to the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year after the former Japanese champions exploited SIPG's defensive frailties.
Yuma Suzuki put Kashima in front two minutes before half-time when SIPG failed to clear a corner and, three minutes after the restart, a similar inability to show authority at the back resulted in Daigo Nishi adding a second.
Yu Hai's own goal, when his headed attempt to steer Koki Anzai's cross away from Suzuki only succeeded in beating goalkeeper Yan Junling, gave Kashima a three-goal lead before Elkeson gave his side hope in the 76th minute.
"It's difficult to accept this result. I'm very disappointed," SIPG coach Vitor Pereira said after the game. "We let them score too easily, but when we are back at home, I'm sure we can score twice and win the game.
"We had a good second half but we only scored once. We have to make sure we don't repeat the mistakes we made today so we can perform better and qualify."
Pereira said conceding the two goals was the result of playing to their opponents.
"I thought we were better in the second half because we played our own tactics at both ends," he said. "When we're back in Shanghai, we will need to be more tactically aware in attack and avoid mistakes in defence."
The two teams will meet again at Shanghai Stadium on Wednesday with Kashima knowing even a one-goal defeat will be good enough to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in a decade.
Kashima have never won a knockout game in the Asian Champions League over two legs, with the club falling in the round of 16 on four occasions since it was introduced in 2009. They were eliminated last year on away goals by another Chinese side as Guangzhou Evergrande progressed.
Ulsan Hyundai, meanwhile, edged South Korean rivals Suwon Bluewings 1-0 after Kim In-Sung scored the only goal with 23 minutes remaining when he latched on to Mislav Orsic's through ball before clipping it home.