SUITA, Osaka Pref. – Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo stroked home a late penalty to rescue Gamba Osaka a 1-1 draw in the first leg of its Asian Champions League semifinal against bitter J. League rival Urawa Reds on Wednesday.
Defending champion Urawa looked to have gained the upper hand and a measure of revenge for an ugly defeat at home to Gamba in the J. League in the summer through Hajime Hosogai’s well-taken strike after 22 minutes.
But Endo ensured it was honors even when he sent Ryota Tsuzuki the wrong way from the spot nine minutes from time after Takahito Soma had been penalized for pushing over Ryuji Bando in the box.
“I thought overall we did OK but we could have done without conceding an away goal,” said Gamba manager Akira Nishino. “But credit to the players for pressing. We were rewarded for keeping going with the penalty.”
In the other semifinal Australia’s Adelaide United, which disposed of Kashima Antlers in the last eight, took a huge step toward the final with a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor, currently managed by former Japan coach Zico.
Diego and Fabian Barbiero both bagged goals in the second half before a late penalty from Cristiano sealed victory at Hindmarsh Stadium.
At Expo Stadium, Urawa was forced to start without the influential Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who was on the bench nursing an sore ankle, and Gamba looked to capitalize on the defensive linchpin’s absence with a couple of early raids.
Bando saw a deflected shot creep just wide after seven minutes and Takahiro Futagawa wasted a great chance to give the home side the lead when he shot straight at former Gamba keeper Tsuzuki.
Gamba’s post-victory dance on the pitch in Saitama back in May riled the Reds players, so it was no surprise to see Urawa savor the wild celebrations that followed Hosogai’s opener.
Soma cut in from the left flank and saw his shot cannon off a Gamba defender, but the rebound fell kindly for Hosogai, who let fly from the edge of the box before being mobbed by his jubilant teammates as he wheeled away in delight.
Masato Yamazaki twice went close as Gamba piled on the pressure after the break but Urawa looked as though it would ride out the storm to protect its precious away goal.
But Endo leveled and should have had a second goal moments later, blazing off-target following a horrendous blunder by Tsuzuki, who picked up a needless yellow card in injury time and along with Hosogai will miss the return match.
“The way I see it is we have players on the bench that are good enough,” said Urawa manager Gert Engels.
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