SUITA, Osaka Pref. — Kawasaki Frontale staged a memorable comeback to knock holders Gamba Osaka out of the Asian Champions League and advance to the quarterfinals with a thrilling 3-2 win on Wednesday.
Nagoya Grampus also advanced to the last eight after Keiji Tamada’s 67th-minute goal earned a 2-1 win at home to South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings, but reigning J. League champions Kashima Antlers crashed out 5-4 on penalties to FC Seoul after a 2-2 draw at Kashima Stadium.
Brazilian striker Leandro looked to have put Gamba on the way to victory with two goals on his return from injury but an exquisite finish from Renatinho leveled the tie before substitute Masaru Kurotsu struck five minutes from time to snatch Kawasaki’s first ever victory at Expo Stadium.
“I am very happy to have beaten defending champions Gamba and all credit to my players, who never stopped trying until the end,” said Kawasaki manager Takashi Sekizuka.
“Renatinho and Kurotsu got the job done and this is a massive result for us. As a Japanese representative we want to keep doing our best.”
Gamba have been beset by injuries in recent weeks with Leandro, influential midfielder Yasuhito Endo and Tomokazu Myojin all suffering from problems.
Gamba’s form dipped in their absence but all three returned to the lineup while Kengo Nakamura and North Korean striker Chong Tese returned for Frontale after being rested for Saturday’s 2-0 win at home to struggling Oita Trinita.
Endo saw plenty of the ball in the first half and his pinpoint free kick ought to have been converted by captain Satoshi Yamaguchi, who had his free header saved by Eiji Kawashima on 19 minutes.
Endo was guilty of spurning an even better chance on 26 minutes, blasting wide after Hideo Hashimoto had sent the Japan international clean through, but Leandro broke the deadlock when he cut inside Hiroki Ito and fired a low drive under Kawashima.
With Chong looking out of sorts, Kawasaki created very little going forward but Nakamura struck against the run of play to put the visitors on level terms with a crisp finish on 33 minutes.
However, the visitors’ joy proved short-lived and they only had themselves to blame as Leandro grabbed his second of the night six minutes before the break.
Akira Kaji was given far too much time and space to swing his cross in from the right wing and Leandro arrived completely unmarked at the back post to head past a helpless Kawashima.
Once again, though, Kawasaki came back when it looked as though a Gamba victory was on the cards. Renatinho curled a sweet strike in off the crossbar and Kurotsu smashed home at the near post to complete a dramatic turnaround.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Gamba manager Akira Nishino. “I thought with the return of key players we were able to play something like Gamba’s brand of soccer and the players did their best.”
“But we had plenty of chances to score a third goal. We didn’t take them and that has cost us the game. We now have to try and turn ourselves around.”
The draw for the two-leg quarterfinals will take place on Monday.
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