Soccer

Reds take big step toward Asian Champions League final

Kyodo

Superb goals from Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine lifted J. League side Urawa Reds to a 2-0 semifinal first-leg win over China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday.

In a game more one-sided than the score thanks to tenacious and disciplined defending by Daisuke Suzuki and Tomoaki Makino, Reds wasted numerous chances to score due to poor crosses or missed shots.

Fabricio struck first in the 19th minute, hammering the ball home just under the bar from over 20 meters, and Reds came within inches of a second in the 26th when midfielder Daiki Hashioka dribbled past ‘keeper Zhang Linpeng and rolled the ball toward goal. It appeared to cross the line before being cleared by a defender, but the assistant referee was right on the spot to call it.

Urawa ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa, who was underemployed for most of the 90 minutes, prevented a 36th-minute equalizer when he challenged Brazilian striker Anderson Talisca and dispossessed him.

The warm and humid evening at Saitama Stadium took its toll as players’ legs began to look heavy at about the hour mark. Yuki Muto, brought on for Fabricio in the 67th minute, gave Reds a second wind and drew an acrobatic save from Zhang with a volley from his first touch.

In the 73rd minute Muto won possession from tired Evergrande defenders, and a clearance from a resulting corner went straight to Sekine, who drove low from 24 meters to put the game beyond reach.

The visitors appeared to have scored a crucial away goal in the 84th minute through Wei Shihao, but he was ruled offside.

“It was an extremely difficult game,” Evergrande head coach Fabio Cannavaro said. “We couldn’t imagine conceding twice, although both goals were amazing.”

Reds have reached the ACL final in 2007 and 2017 and won both times.

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