Japan’s chances of success in this season’s Champions League have suffered a setback
By Michael Church
While there will definitely be one Japanese club in the semi-finals of this year’s Asian Champions League, the chances of a home side taking in part in November’s showpiece Final in Tokyo have been whittled down significantly.
J.League duo Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus meet in the quarter-finals for a place in the last four, but they are the last Japanese teams left in the competition.
Frontale reached the quarter-finals – and therefore matched their previous best performance in the tournament – by eliminating defending champions Gamba Osaka.
Masaru Kurotsu scored five minutes from time to give Frontale a 3-2 win over the holders as Gamba allowed a half-time lead to slip in their one-off clash.
“It’s a great shame to have this result,” said Gamba coach Akira Nishino. “Our regular players who returned for this game gave a better performance than I expected.
“I thought we were playing well and showed our brand of football to some degree. But I felt that we started losing our movement and rhythm in the second half and gave up the goals. That was wasteful.
“Our players worked really hard, but I made mistakes tactically and took too long before making substitutions.”
Frontale will now take on a Grampus side that eliminated two-time continental champions Suwon Bluewings, beating Cha Bum-kun’s side 2-1.
“It was a tough game as I had expected,” said Grampus coach Dragan Stojkovic. “But the important thing is that we got a victory. With this win, we have advanced to the last eight in Asia and that will give us very good confidence.
“Winning the game to reach the next round was our objective and our players played hard to achieve that goal.”
There was better news for the South Korean contingent elsewhere, however, as FC Seoul accounted for J.League champions Kashima Antlers – winning 5-4 on penalties – while Pohang Steelers hammered Australia’s Newcastle Jets 6-0.
FC Seoul will now take on Umm Salal after the Qatari side shocked Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal to reach the last eight.
Pohang will take on Uzbek side Bunyodkor who are now coached by former Brazil and Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, who joined the Tashkent-based club in July as the replacement for compatriot Zico.
However, it was interim coach Amet Memet who oversaw Bunyodkor’s 1-0 win over Iran’s Persepolis – whose coach Nelo Vingada stood down after the loss – in the second round in Tehran, which came by virtue of a penalty from World Cup-winning Brazil star Rivaldo.
Pakhtakor, Uzbekistan’s other participant in the competition, will also feature in the quarter-finals after they saw off Saudi Arabia’s Al Ettifaq to set up a clash with two-time Asian Champions League winners Al Ittihad.
Saudi side Ittihad, who handed Argentinian coach Gabriel Calderon a new contract after the victory, sealed their spot in the quarter-finals by fighting back from going a goal behind to win 2-1 over compatriots Al Shabab.
“Even after Al Shabab scored the first goal, I had a feeling that we would win the game,” said Calderon. “The players were seeking to beat Al Shabab and we won thanks to their efforts during the entire match.”
The first legs of the quarter-finals will be played on September 23/24, with the return fixtures one week later.