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Juninho came to the rescue with an injury time equalizer and spared goalkeeper Takashi Aizawa’s blushes as Kawasaki Frontale drew 2-2 with holder JEF United Chiba in their Nabisco Cup semifinal first-leg tie on Sunday.

News photo Kawasaki Frontale defender Hideki Sahara (far left) clashes with JEF United Chiba players minutes
before the whistle during a Nabisco Cup semifinal first-leg tie on Sunday in Kawasaki.
KYODO PHOTO

Chiba looked to be on course for victory at Todoroki Stadium but Juninho bundled home his second of the night in a frantic finale that saw Kawasaki defender Hideki Sahara spark a mass brawl and get sent off after clashing with Ilian Stoyanov.

Chiba will feel it has the slight edge for the return leg at Fukuda Denshi Arena on Sept. 20 thanks to two away goals that came courtesy of a dreadful blunder by Aizawa and a well-taken strike by Koki Mizuno.

The winner will meet either Kashima Antlers or Yokohama F. Marinos in the Nov. 3 final at Tokyo’s National Stadium. Kashima beat Yokohama 1-0 at home in the first leg on Saturday.

Frontale wasted no time in seeking to inflict a second defeat in quick succession on Chiba and Satoshi Hida stung Tomonori Tateishi’s palms after four minutes before the visitors scrambled the ball to safety.

But the opener was not long in coming as Kawasaki’s leading scorer Juninho pounced on a loose ball inside the box and rounded Tateishi to slot home from close range after 12 minutes.

Missing three key players on national team duty in the Middle East, JEF looked bereft of ideas.

Satoru Yamagishi hit the post as JEF moved up a gear and it finally made the breakthrough 14 minutes from time when Aizawa inexplicably allowed an innocuous shot from Masataka Sakamoto to slip through his hands and into the back of the net.

Mizuno looked like he had won it for Chiba four minutes later by beating Aizawa at his near post from an acute angle but Juninho came up with the equalizer at the death.

Tateishi could only parry Hida’s header following a corner from the left and Juninho’s initial effort came back off the post before the Brazilian striker snapped up the rebound to keep Kawasaki’s hopes of a first trophy alive.

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