KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. - Playmaker Takahiro Kunimoto scored the winner in the second half as South Korea’s Gyeongnam FC beat Kashima Antlers 1-0 in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday.
Former Japan under-20 Kunimoto gave ACL newcomer Gyeongnam its first win in the competition against the reigning champion with a header in the 63rd minute of the Group E clash at Kashima Stadium.
The win was a well-deserved result for Kim Jong-boo’s side, which came in with an attacking game plan following a heartbreaking 3-2 loss at home to a 10-man Antlers on April 9.
The 2017 ACL champion Urawa Reds, meanwhile, lost 2-1 away against two-time winner Jeonbuk Motors in Group G.
Ricardo Lopes opened the scoring in the 12th minute at Jeonju World Cup Stadium before Kim Shin-wook doubled the advantage for the K-League leaders three minutes into the second half.
Shinzo Koroki pulled a goal back for the Reds in the 58th minute, scoring from close range with an assist from Ryota Moriwaki.
Kashima manager Go Oiwa made six changes to the side that beat Vegalta Sendai 1-0 in the J. League over the weekend. Among the new inclusions was 18-year-old center-back Ikuma Sekigawa, making his professional debut.
But it was Kunimoto, a 21-year-old former Urawa youth product, who put Japanese national selectors back on notice with his man-of-the-match performance.
The attacking midfielder made the move to the K-League last year after being without a club following his departure from J2 side Avispa Fukuoka in 2017.
With Gyeongnam counterattacking down the right wing, former Cardiff City midfielder Jordon Mutch sent a cross that sailed over Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae and found Kunimoto, who nodded home from the back post.
Gyeongnam had earlier forced Kwoun into action midway through the first half when Ko Kyung-min won a free kick on the right wing. Kwoun, a two-time ACL winner with Jeonbuk, was up to the task, punching away the subsequent cross from Kunimoto.
The glove-man faced a sterner test moments before the halftime whistle when he dived to his left to stop a shot from Kunimoto on the breakaway.
The hosts had just one shot on target in the first half, but their best chance came close to halftime when Yasushi Endo fired over the bar from the center of the box on a counterattack.
Kashima ramped up the pressure in the final third late in the contest, but was unable to reproduce its comeback heroics from the previous match day.
Kashima — which scored twice in stoppage time in its comeback victory over Gyeongnam — was looking to extend its home winning streak in the tournament to six games.
The loss was the first of the competition for the group leaders, who came into the match with two wins and a draw.