SAITAMA – J. League leaders Urawa Reds secured their passage into the last 16 of the Asian Champions League with a game to spare on Wednesday night after a 6-1 drubbing of 2014 champions Western Sydney Wanderers in Group F.
Reds, who hammered Wanderers 4-0 back in February in their opening game in Australia, needed only a draw to be sure of a place in the knockout stage, but first-half goals from Takahiro Sekine, Zlatan Ljubijankic and Tadanari Lee put the home side in control at Saitama Stadium.
Wanderers, who with the defeat were eliminated, replied through Jumpei Kusukami midway through the second half, but substitute Rafael Silva made it 4-1 soon after and grabbed his second of the night before setting up Shinzo Koroki to complete the rout deep into stoppage time.
Reds top the Group F standings with 12 points. Shanghai SIPG (nine) played South Korea’s FC Seoul (three) in a later match in China.
The winners of Group F face the runners-up of Group H in the two-leg round of 16, with the second-placed Group F team to play China’s Jiangsu Suning, who have already secured top spot in Group H.
Urawa faces Seoul away on May 10 in its final group-phase game.
Urawa started with purpose and Sekine hit the side netting on seven minutes before opening the scoring in the 14th with a clinical strike, taking a cut back from Yuki Muto on the left side of the box and planting his shot into the far corner of the net.
Ljubijankic extended the lead moments later, when he ran onto Yoshiaki Komai’s through ball and toe poked the ball past Wanderers keeper Vedran Janjetovic.
Komai breezed past Jack Clisby and nearly made it 3-0 with a shot from a tight angle that hit the crossbar and Brendon Santalab also hit the bar with a header from Scott Neville’s cross in a rare foray forward for the visitors in the 37th minute.
Lee put Reds out of sight in the closing stages of the first half, Komai’s square ball setting up the former Southampton striker for a simple finish.
Wanderers missed a glorious chance to pull one back shortly after the break, Santalab beating the offside trap only to blaze over the bar with just Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa to beat.
The visitors finally got on the scoresheet, when Japanese midfielder Kusukami beat Nishikawa with a sumptuous shot in off the crossbar in the 66th minute.
But Silva, brought on in the 62nd after Ljubijankic suffered an injury and was stretchered off, restored Reds three-goal cushion by driving in Lee’s pass with 19 minutes left.
The Brazilian then took a ball from Yosuke Kashiwagi on his chest and lashed home before putting the sixth on a plate for Koroki with a back heel pass in the 94th minute.
In Group E, Japanese champions Kashima Antlers won 4-0 at South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai thanks to goals from Mu Kanazaki (two), Pedro Junior and Leo Silva.
Kashima improved to nine points and would join Urawa in the next round if Australia’s Brisbane Roar (4) failed to win at Thailand’s Muangthong United (8) in a later kickoff.
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