JEONJU, SOUTH KOREA – Japanese treble winners Gamba Osaka stayed in the hunt for a second Asian Champions League crown after grinding out a 0-0 draw away to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors in the first leg of the their quarterfinal on Wednesday night.
Jeonbuk, the 2006 champions, enjoyed the lion’s share of the opportunities in a full-blooded encounter at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, but Gamba defended resolutely to keep a clean sheet ahead of the second leg at Expo Stadium on Sept. 16.
“Zero-zero is not a great result but it is not a bad one either,” said veteran Gamba midfielder Yasuhito Endo. “We have delivered a performance that gives us something to build on in the next game.”
In the last eight for the first time since winning the ACL title in 2008, Gamba got a scare after just three minutes but goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi was able to gather after Park Won-jae scuffed his shot from close range.
Jeonbuk continued to dominate the early stages, and Han Kyo-won headed a free kick over the crossbar on 25 minutes before Higashiguchi caught a vicious shot from Lee Dong-gook that deflected off the shoulder of Keisuke Iwashita.
Gamba failed to manage a single attempt on goal in a first half littered with fouls, and when the first effort came two minutes after the break, Daiki Niwa was way off the mark.
Second-half substitute Shu Kurata tried his luck to no avail before Lee squandered a golden chance to break the deadlock, sliding wide in the 66th minute after Park had touched on a pass from Luiz Henrique.
Higashiguchi pulled off a key stop to deny Leonardo with 11 minutes left as Jeonbuk pushed for a winner but Gamba withstood late pressure to keep the home side at bay.
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