SAITAMA – Albirex Niigata reached the semifinals of the Nabisco Cup for the first time on Sunday, despite a 3-0 defeat to J. League first-stage winners Urawa Reds in the second leg of the quarterfinals.
Second-half goals from Tadanari Lee and Yuki Abe (two) fueled hopes of a Reds comeback, but Niigata advanced 5-3 on aggregate after Wednesday’s huge first-leg win at Big Swan.
Niigata will meet the winner of a later kick-off between holder Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus in the two-leg semis on Oct. 7 and 11. The final will be held at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Oct. 31.
J. League second-stage leaders Kashima Antlers also made the last four, Mu Kanazaki scoring twice in a 3-0 win at home to FC Tokyo and sending Antlers through 5-2 on aggregate. Antlers will face Vissel Kobe, who lost 3-2 at home to Kashiwa Reysol but went through 4-3 overall.
“The players were composed in the 5-0 win in the first leg and they kept that composure tonight and did not get rattled even when we went 2-0 down,” said Niigata coach Masaaki Yanagishita.
“Our aim was to make the next round and I am pleased we were able to achieve that.”
Niigata twice went close to breaking the deadlock in the early stages in rain-swept Saitama, Naoki Kawaguchi forcing a good save from Koki Otani before Masaru Kato’s long-range effort rattled the crossbar in the 15th minute.
Tsukasa Umesaki gave Niigata goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita his first test with a low drive at the far post moments later but Niigata striker Ryohei Yamazaki squandered the best chance of the first period when he blazed over with the goal at his mercy in the 33rd minute.
Reds took the lead 10 minutes into the second half, with Abe connecting with Yoshiyuki Takagi’s corner to score with an exquisite flick, and halftime substitute Lee steered in Tomoya Ugajin’s leftwing cross three minutes later to double the lead.
Abe then won and converted a penalty after being brought down by Sho Naruoka to make it 3-0 and Niigata breathed a collective sigh of relief as Yuki Muto went close to extending Reds’ advantage when he scooped over from close range.
“We knew if we conceded just one goal then it really would be all over but the players upped the tempo in the second half and scored three goals,” said Reds coach Mihailo Petrovic.
“If Muto had scored that chance then it would have put even more pressure on Niigata and I believe if that had happened we could have got another. We have been knocked out but I have to give credit to my players for the way they performed.”