• Kyodo


Yu Kobayashi scored twice as Kawasaki Frontale took a significant step towards the last four of the Asian Champions League with a 3-1 home win over J. League rival Urawa Reds in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie on Wednesday night.

Kobayashi, the two-goal hero in Kawasaki’s 4-1 hammering of Reds in the league here last month, opened the scoring in the 33rd minute with a well-taken strike and Elsinho grabbed their second early in the second half.

Substitute Yuki Muto pulled one back 14 minutes from time for Reds, but Kobayashi completed his brace with a back-post header to put Frontale in control ahead of the return leg in Saitama on Sept. 13.

“The players worked hard from the back to the front and did a fantastic job in going to get the third goal after Reds had pulled it back to 2-1,” said Kawasaki manager Toru Oniki.

“But the tie is not over yet and we are only at half time. We have to keep our focus going into the second leg.”

Neither team was able to carve out any clear openings in the early stages of a cagey first half played in punishing heat at Todoroki Stadium, but Kobayashi made space for himself and went close with a shot that was deflected wide by Tomoaki Makino in the 23rd minute.

Makino again got a crucial block on another Kobayashi effort moments later before Yuki Abe shot straight at Jung Sung-ryong at the other end.

But Kobayashi got it right at the third time of asking, drilling into the bottom right-hand corner after great work from Kengo Nakamura to cut back from the byline.

Kawasaki nearly doubled its lead four minutes into the second half, Hiroyuki Abe collecting a free kick from Nakamura before drawing a stunning save from Shusaku Nishikawa.

But the home side went 2-0 up when Elsinho clipped in a loose ball after Nishikawa could only parry a shot from Kobayashi into the Brazilian’s path.

Urawa clawed its way back into the game though, and Muto sprung the offside trap to slot home after latching onto a long ball from Takuya Aoki.

But Kobayashi had the last word, rising to head home a pinpoint left-wing cross from Akihiro Ienaga.

“It’s not like I have any special feelings when I play against Reds, but they have fantastic fans and their vocal support is amazing even before the game starts,” Kobayashi said. “But that gives Reds’ opponents more motivation and I think that is what motivated me.”

Reds manager Takafumi Hori was forced to throw Aoki into the starting lineup after Yosuke Kashiwagi was injured while warming up and he admitted that affected the performance.

“Frontale are a team that can keep possession of the ball and we knew we would have to be patient. They did have a lot of time on the ball and at the end defensively we could not handle them,” said Hori.

“Kashiwagi is a key player for us and the change we had to make had a bit of an effect on us. Aoki basically fills the same role (as Kashiwagi) but he has a different character. Aoki can defend and get forward but his delivery is not the same.”

Makino, meanwhile, warned against writing off Urawa’s chances, pointing out the team erased a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of its round-of-16 game against South Korea’s Jeju United and won 3-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight.

“We could have done without conceding the third goal but we got an away goal and have a chance of turning it around in the next leg at home. There is no need for our heads to drop,” he said.

“We had to score three goals when we played Jeju at home. We are two goals down again but we have a little bit of confidence and still have hope.”

The winner over the two legs will face Shanghai SIPG or two-time champion Guangzhou Evergrande in the semifinals. Shanghai hammered Guangzhou 4-0 in the first leg of their all-Chinese quarterfinal on Tuesday.

The semis involving either Reds or Frontale, who have never gone beyond the quarterfinal stage, will be played on Sept. 27 and Oct. 18.

Gamba was the last Japanese team to reach the last four before losing to eventual champion Guangzhou 2-1 on aggregate in 2015. No Japanese team has won the ACL title since Gamba in 2008.

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