Gamba gets one hand on Asia title

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo News

SUITA, Osaka Pref. — Gamba Osaka took a giant step toward being crowned kings of Asia for the first time with a 3-0 win over Australia’s Adelaide United in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Wednesday.

First-half goals from Brazilian striker Lucas and Japan international Yasuhito Endo put Gamba in control before a thundering strike from Michihiro Yasuda further bolstered Gamba’s bid to keep the tournament silverware in Japan.

“We have gained the upper hand and now we have to make sure we capitalize on it,” said Gamba manager Akira Nishino. “We want to become champions playing Gamba’s brand of attacking soccer.

“I wish the tie were over today but we have to fight in one more game in Adelaide. It will be a difficult match but we will just try and prepare well for the away trip.”

Fresh from a weekend off, Gamba made just one change to the side that beat J. League rival and defending Asian champion Urawa Reds 3-1 in the second leg of the semifinals, with Hayato Sasaki starting at the expense of Brazilian striker Roni.

Adelaide manager Aurelio Vidmar was forced to start Lucas Pantelis in place of midfielder Paul Reid while Kristian Sarkies came in for Fabian Barbiero, who also took a knock in their last ACL game against Bunyodkor.

Looking to make the most of its home advantage, Gamba laid siege to the Australians’ goal from the outset and Yasuda fired an early warning with a cross-cum-shot before Tomokazu Myojin brought a smart save out of Eugen Galekovic from distance after nine minutes.

Nishino’s men were repeatedly frustrated by defensive Adelaide, but their perseverance finally paid dividends when Lucas collected a Takahiro Futagawa pass and beat Galekovic with a shot that took a deflection off Angelo Costanzo to break the deadlock on 37 minutes.

There was more joy for Gamba just six minutes later when Endo, Gamba’s hero in the semifinals, caught Adelaide ball-watching and doubled the lead with an angled drive.

Adelaide pushed for an all-important away goal after the break and almost snatched one on 62 minutes. Travis Dodd sent a low ball into the box but Robert Cornthwaite failed to make clean contact and his shot ended up over the crossbar.

The lively Yasuda made the Reds pay for that miss on 68 minutes when he volleyed home Endo’s corner from the edge of the box, and substitute Masato Yamazaki almost put the tie out of Adelaide’s reach when his shot was brilliantly tipped over by Galekovic in the dying stages.

Endo had the ball in the net again deep into injury time but the goal was ruled out after Singaporean referee Abdul Malik Bashir spotted an infringement.

“We have a very big mountain to climb, Mount Fuji probably,” Adelaide boss Vidmar said when asked his thoughts on the second leg.

“But we will go out there and give it everything we can. That’s all we can ask for. I’m pretty happy with the way the players went out there in the second half and put a lot more pressure on them.

“If we had had a little bit more luck in front of goal we could have pinched a goal that would make things interesting. But you can’t fault the way the players rolled their sleeves up.”

The Australians have already secured a place in the lucrative Club World Cup in Japan next month against continental champions including Manchester United, but are aiming to become the first Australian team to win the ACL.