TOYOTA, Aichi Pref. – Urawa Reds will play Italian giant AC Milan in the semifinals of the Club World Cup after a morale-boosting 3-1 win over Iran’s Sepahan on Monday evening.
Goals from Yuichiro Nagai, Washington and an own goal from Hadi Aghily did the damage in a quarterfinal that was a rerun of last month’s Asian Champions League final.
“I have watched Milan on television and have always thought I would like to play them someday so I am looking forward to the semifinal,” said Nagai.
Urawa had not won in any competition since beating Sepahan in the ACL final on Nov. 14 and came into the match still smarting from a stunning late collapse that saw the Reds hand their J. League crown to Kashima Antlers on the final day of the season.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, it looked like it might be another night of frustration for the Reds after Makoto Hasebe blazed over with the goal at his mercy on the half hour mark at Toyota Stadium.
But Nagai finally ended a Reds’ goal drought stretching back to that memorable ACL triumph in Saitama when he converted Takahito Soma’s left-wing cross from close range moments later.
Sepahan nearly leveled three minutes after the interval when Abdul Abolheil hit the crossbar but Washington put the Reds in total control with an exquisite finish in the 54th minute.
The burly former Brazil international collected Yuki Abe’s pass and cut inside before rounding ‘keeper Mohammad Savari and slotting home from the tightest of angles.
The game was all but over as a contest with 20 minutes remaining when Nagai rose to meet Soma’s cross and Aghily’s attempted clearance ended up in the back of his own net.
Substitute Mahmoud Karimi grabbed a late consolation for Sepahan, capitalizing on a slip by Marcus Tulio Tanaka to poke the ball past Ryota Tsuzuki 10 minutes from time.
“We performed well and showed a lot of spirit in what was a replay of the Asian Champions League final,” said Urawa coach Holger Oseick.
“We are looking forward to our next match and will do our best and see what the outcome will be,” added the German.
Said Nagai: “We couldn’t win the league but we were able to come into tonight’s match rested and refreshed and we moved the ball around well.”
Sepahan coach Luka Bonacic, whose team beat Kiwi parttimer Waitakere United in the opening game of the tournament on Friday, admitted Urawa had been far the better side.
“We saw a different team from Sepahan. The usual Sepahan was sick tonight. If the team had been in a healthy state it would have been a different game,” said Bonacic.
“Urawa were a much better team. They performed much better so it is normal that they won and not us,” said the Croat.
Etoile Sahel of Tunisia plays Libertadores Cup winners Boca Juniors in Tokyo in the first semifinal on Wednesday.
The final will be played at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Sunday.
Milan is aiming to become the first European winner of the revamped tournament after Brazilian clubs won the first two.
Sao Paulo beat Liverpool 1-0 in 2005 and Internacional stunned Barcelona by the same scoreline last year.
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