KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Kashiwa Reysol qualified for the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League for the second straight year despite a 1-1 draw at home to China’s Guizhou Renhe on Tuesday.
Shortly after halftime, Tatsuya Masushima scored his first career ACL goal for Emperor’s Cup holders Reysol, but Guizhou equalized late as the two sides shared the points in the Group H affair.
Kashiwa, having locked up first place with 11 points from five games, remain unbeaten with one game left in the first round on April 30, away to newly crowned A-League champions Central Coast Mariners.
Last season, Kashiwa lost at Ulsan Hyundai 3-2 in the then one-off round of 16, which will be played from this season over two legs on May 14-15 and 21-22.
As Group H winner, Reysol will face the runnerup from Group F, including Urawa Reds, who host Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday.
Masushima said Kashiwa is determined to get past the first hurdle of the knockout round.
“We’re realistic enough to know that there are no easy games in ACL,” Masushima said. “It would have been nice to win today, but we’re still happy we made it to the round of 16.”
“Last year was a painful experience for us and we’ve been working hard to get back to this stage. And this time, we want to make sure we get through.”
Kashiwa boss Nelsinho said his team learned a lot from last year, and that the new format for the last 16 should work to its advantage.
“I’m very much aware of the rule change, which I believe will help us out,” Nelsinho said. “Last year in the one-off, we lost 3-2 away. This year, we will play the second-place team at their home first and that puts us in a better position.”
Reysol only needed a draw to move on but could have been down at the break had it not been for poor marksmanship from Guizhou, who had the slightly better opening half.
With Jorge Wagner coming off the bench for the second half, Kashiwa broke the deadlock in the 51st minute from a free kick by the Brazilian winger himself.
From the inside right channel, Wagner curled into the Guizhou wall, but Masushima was in the right place at the right time to pounce on the rebound, hitting the back of the net.
Yet Guizhou, who still have a shot of reaching the second round, leveled five minutes from time. Substitute Li Kai found the net after Zlatan Muslimovic headed down a long ball, and Guizhou were pleased with the result that left them third in the group after Central Coast edged Suwon Bluewings 1-0 away.
“I think this is a good result for us,” assistant coach Li Chunman said. “We just have to win our next game in South Korea.”
Kashiwa will have little time to savor its qualification as it hosts record-unbeaten juggernauts Omiya Ardija in the J.League on Friday.