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Sasaki, Kashiwa strike late as Sanfrecce beat Gamba in first leg of final

by

Kyodo

Sho Sasaki and Yoshifumi Kashiwa both scored in injury time to earn Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 3-2 win away to defending champions Gamba Osaka in the first leg of the J.League Championship Final on Wednesday night.

Shun Nagasawa capitalized on some shocking defending to put Gamba in front and after Douglas leveled in the 80th minute, Yasuyuki Konno looked to have won it with his second goal of the postseason in the 81st minute.

But Sasaski headed home in the first minute of added time, and Kashiwa sealed the victory when he crashed home the third in the 96th minute to put Hiroshima in control ahead of the second leg at Edion Stadium on Saturday.

“We conceded the opener and fell behind again after equalizing, but we showed the power we have to hit back and on this big stage showed what have been consistently capable of doing this season,” Hiroshima manager Hajime Moriyasu said.

“Coming back to 2-2 and then winning 3-2 in extra time shows how badly the players wanted to win. Even had it been a 2-2 draw, it still would have been a good result with the away goals. But the players looked at the situation of our opponents and decided to do what they needed to do on the pitch. That is what led to the winner.

“But it is not over yet. Only the first leg has finished.”

Hiroshima, champion under the more orthodox single-stage format in 2012 and 2013, qualified directly for the final after finishing with the most points over the two stages.

Gamba snatched third place overall on the last day of the regular season and then reached the final with a 3-1 extra-time win over Urawa Reds in the playoff semifinal on Saturday.

Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa made just one change to the side that beat Urawa, with Nagasawa starting in place of Brazilian striker Patric, who scored his team’s third goal on Saturday, but was dropped to the bench.

Osaka fashioned a couple of half chances in the early stages on a chilly night at Expo Stadium, with Oh Jae-suk seeing a shot deflected just over the crossbar and Hiroyuki Abe firing over a great chance in the ninth minute.

Hisato Sato, joint all-time scorer in the top flight, missed the best opportunity of the first period for Hiroshima, heading Mihael Mikic’s cross wide in front of an unguarded net in the 19th minute.

Osaka striker Takashi Usami looked threatening as the half wore on, firing just wide after making space for himself on the stroke of halftime.

But Gamba broke the deadlock on the hour mark as Hiroshima’s Kazuyuki Morisaki took his eye off a pass from Sasaki, thinking he was covered by Kazuhiko Chiba, and Nagasawa stole in to lash home.

Patric replaced Nagasawa and missed a great chance to make it 2-0, and that proved costly as Douglas did brilliantly to head in a misdirected shot by Kohei Shimizu after Takuma Asano’s shot rebounded.

But Konno, who scored the opener against Urawa, swung the match back in Gamba’s favor moments later when he drilled home from the edge of the box with nine minutes left.

Gamba had Oh harshly dismissed in the late stages for a foul on Shimizu, and Sasaki headed in Toshihiro Aoyama’s cross following a free kick before Kashiwa walloped in after Douglas miskicked his effort and Asano had his shot charged down.

“It was fantastic that we were able to come here and get the three points,” said Sasaki. “It was a great ball in (from Aoyama) and it was just a case of connecting with it.”