FUKUROI, Shizuoka Pref. – Brazilian striker Franca and Tadanari Lee scored second-half goals Monday to help Kashiwa Reysol reach the Emperor’s Cup final with a 2-1 victory over FC Tokyo.
The substitutes’ goals in the final 22 minutes gave Kashiwa a spot in the New Year’s Day final with Gamba Osaka, the Asian club champions who ran out 1-0 winners after extra time over Yokohama F. Marinos in the other semifinal.
At Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, FC Tokyo took the lead just after the half-hour mark through Tatsuya Suzuki but was left to rue missed gilt-edged chances to double its advantage with strike duo Cabore and Shingo Akamine the main culprits up front.
Kashiwa boss Nobuhiro Ishizaki, who will step down after the Emperor’s Cup to become manager of second-division Consadole Sapporo, saw his substitutions pay dividends.
Franca came off the bench at the start of the second half and slotted home the equalizer in the 68th minute when he was fed by Yasuyuki Konno and slipped the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Hitoshi Shiota.
As the game appeared headed into extra time, Lee, brought on seven minutes before Franca’s goal, netted the winner two minutes from the final whistle with a powerful left-foot shot from just outside the penalty area that found the net off the post.
“There are days when you fire in many shots but find it hard to hit the target, but you also get a goal quite easily sometimes. It was one of those days and I’m pleased that I did it on a big occasion like this,” said Lee, a member of Japan’s squad at the Beijing Olympics.
Kashiwa reached the final for the first time. Its amateur-based forerunner, Hitachi, achieved the feat in the 1975-1976 season.
At National Stadium in Tokyo, Gamba kept alive its hopes of defending the Asian Champions League title after a hard-fought win over F. Marinos, who played with 10 men in the second period of extra time.
Substitute forward Norihisa Shimizu was sent off for a second bookable offense in the 102nd minute, before Masato Yamazaki broke the deadlock with four minutes left to play following a remarkable solo run by midfielder Shinichi Terada.
Gamba had earlier come close to scoring through Ryuji Bando and Hideo Hashimoto, who both saw their shots crash against the woodwork.
“We had a numerical advantage and our players continued to move the ball with poise, and the goal came just when I thought we would have chances to score if we created some opportunities to shoot at goal,” Gamba manager Akira Nishino said.
Gamba, beaten Emperor’s Cup finalist two seasons ago, continues its busy campaign after capturing the coveted Asian club title but missing out on a spot in next year’s ACL with a disappointing eighth-place finish in the J. League.
Gamba has to win the Emperor’s Cup to join the continent’s premier club competition in 2009.
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