SAITAMA – Japan striker Seiichiro Maki dented Urawa Reds’ hopes of reaching their fourth consecutive Nabisco Cup final with a first-half double to put JEF United Chiba on the way to a 3-1 away win in Wednesday’s semifinal first leg.
Gabriel Popescu added a third with a clinical finish to give Chiba a healthy advantage to take home for the second leg Oct. 5 while Gamba Osaka edged defending J. League champions Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 in the other semifinal.
At Komaba stadium, Maki silenced home fans when he headed home a free kick from Yuki Abe to give Chiba the lead after just two minutes and doubled the visitors’ advantage in the 18th with a superb header from Masataka Sakamoto’s left-wing cross.
Robson Ponte reduced the deficit when he pulled one back for Urawa with a header in first-half stoppage time and Alessandro Santos went desperately close to equalizing with a free kick that rattled Tomonori Tateishi’s cross bar early in the second period.
Popescu, however, put Chiba back in control in the 56th minute when he collected a pass from Yuto Sato and swept home to keep Ivica Osim’s men on course for their first appearance in the final since 1998.
“It was a tough game but we showed strong spirit and believed we could win,” two-goal hero Maki said. “We will have home advantage in the second leg and hopefully we can play even better then we did tonight.”
Beaten by FC Tokyo on penalties in last year’s final, Urawa won the 2003 Nabisco Cup while finishing runnerup in 2002.
Gamba beat Yokohama 3-2 with a last-ditch header from Mitsuteru Watanabe on Saturday to close the gap on league leaders Kashima Antlers to one point and they took a slender advantage into the second leg thanks to another late winner from Araujo.
The J. League leading scorer finished a one-two with fellow Brazilian Fernandinho with an unstoppable shot to snatch victory for Gamba in the 83rd minute.
“It was a difficult match but I was able to make the most of that chance and the goal puts us in good stead for the next leg,” said Araujo, who has hit the target 20 times in the league this season.
The Nabisco final is scheduled for Nov. 5 at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
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