Kashiwa held in first leg of ACL quarterfinal



Kashiwa Reysol kept their unbeaten record in tact, but the Emperor’s Cup holders face a tough trip to Saudi Arabia next month after being held 1-1 by Al Shabab in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Masato Kudo fired Reysol in front midway through the first half in sweltering heat at Hitachi Stadium, but Kashiwa manager Nelsinho’s men had to make do with a share of the spoils as the Saudis leveled on the stroke of halftime through Fernando Menegazzo.

The second leg will take place in Riyadh on Sept. 18.

“We were playing against high quality opponents and as I said yesterday I expected a close game based on the results of both teams in the group phase,” said Nelsinho.

“There were few chances for either team and a draw is probably a fair reflection of the game. We have a difficult task in the away game, but we have seven games between now and then to build on in the J. League and Nabisco Cup. I hope that we play better than we did today.”

Kashiwa came into the match having won just once in their last five J. League games and fired blanks in their last two, both goalless draws with Oita Trinita and Vegalta Sendai.

But after Leandro Domingues had volleyed Wataru Hashimoto’s cross just wide after 12 minutes, Japan striker Kudo ended the drought with his sixth goal of the competition.

Jorge Wagner launched a free kick into the box, but Al Shabab failed to clear their lines properly and Kudo took advantage to smash home the loose ball from the edge of the box.

“Obviously we wanted to win the game,” said Kudo. “It is going to be difficult when we go away now but we didn’t lose and we have to take that as a positive.”

A mistake from Kudo very nearly let the Saudis back in moments later, but Naif Hazazi dragged his shot wide. Al Shabab enjoyed a long spell of pressure and Hassan Muath fired a low free kick straight at Kashiwa keeper Takanori Sugeno.

Sugeno was again on hand to beat away a shot by Brazilian midfielder Rafinha on the half-hour mark and Kashiwa thought they had doubled their lead in the 37th minute, only for Wagner’s effort to be ruled out for offside.

But Al Shabab, who have yet to start their domestic campaign, grabbed a crucial away goal to equalize a minute before the break, Menegazzo rifling in off the cross bar from 12 meters.

The visitors went close to taking the lead 10 minutes into a rain-lashed second half, but home fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after Hazazi shot wide following some skillful approach play.

Sugeno blocked bravely at the feet of Menegazzo as Al Shabab continued to threaten, and Macnelly Torres nearly won it for the Saudis with three minutes left, when he rattled the crossbar.

“This was our first official game (of the season) and I want to praise my players for doing a great job,” said Al Shabab coach Michel Preud’homme.

“We did not start well and conceded, but the players’ response was fantastic. We made lots of chances, even more (than Kashiwa) and in the end I think we could have won it.”

Eliminated in the round of 16 on their ACL debut last season, Kashiwa are the only Japanese team left in the competition and are aiming to become the first J. League club to make the semifinals since Nagoya Grampus in 2009.