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Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008

Reds cruise past Al Qadsia to set up ACL semifinal date with Gamba


Staff writer

SAITAMA — Defending champion Urawa Reds set up an all-Japanese Asian Champions League semifinal clash against Gamba Osaka with a comfortable 2-0 win over Kuwait's Al Qadsia on Wednesday night.

Trailing 3-2 from last week's quarterfinal first leg in the Middle East, Urawa took the lead in the 31st minute through a 25-meter Takahito Soma piledriver, and Marcus Tulio Tanaka added another in the second half to make the game safe at Saitama Stadium.

Gamba saw off the challenge of Syria's Al Karama with late goals from Masato Yamazaki and Roni in a 2-0 win at Osaka's Expo Stadium, adding to last week's 2-1 first-leg victory and earning a high-stakes final-four grudge match against bitter rival Urawa.

But Adelaide United ended Japan's hopes of a semifinal hat-trick with a 1-0 win over Kashima Antlers in Australia, Robert Cornthwaite scoring the only goal of the game to gain revenge for his freak own-goal in last week's first leg.

Urawa manager Gert Engels savored his side's progress to the semifinals, but a sloppy end to the match left a bitter taste in his mouth nevertheless.

"We had to win today and all the players knew that," he said. "Of course we had to keep things tight at the back but we had to put pressure on them from the start as well.

"Sometimes we went too fast and I had to tell the players to calm down at halftime. At 2-0 down it wasn't over, but unfortunately the players thought it was and we got complacent.

"But I am happy to reach the final four in Asia, and the atmosphere tonight was fantastic. It was a real Asian Champions League quarterfinal atmosphere."

Al Qadsia manager Mohammed Hajeieh went even further in his praise of Engels' team.

"Reds are a perfect team," he said. "This is the first time we have ever played a team like them. I am very satisfied that we were able to get this far, and I am extremely satisfied that Reds showed the strength of genuine Asian champions today."

Edmilson almost gave Urawa a dream start when he shot against the underside of the bar with just eight minutes gone, but strike partner Naohiro Takahara made a mess of the rebound when it fell to him inside the box.

Selim Benachour was proving to be a clever operator for the Kuwaitis, however, and the striker slipped a pass through to Bader Al Motawaa that required quick reactions from Reds goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki in the 17th minute.

Takahara was unlucky not to make better contact as he launched himself into an acrobatic volley soon after, and the former Eintracht Frankfurt man was at the heart of the action as he attacked everything that moved in the penalty area.

But just after the half-hour mark, Urawa's hard work paid off. Brahima Keita headed a corner as far as Soma waiting outside the box, and the left-back lashed a fierce swerving volley that gave Al Qadsia 'keeper Nawaf Alkhaldi no chance.

Benachour and Al Motawaa picked up the slack as the Kuwaitis began to enjoy some possession with the first half drawing to close, and the Reds defense looked ill at ease with the pair running at them with the ball at their feet.

But Tulio as good as ended Al Qadsia's hopes of a comeback in the 54th minute, chesting down a Robson Ponte free-kick before rifling the ball past Alkhaldi for the second goal of the night.

Takahara strived constantly to score the goal his tireless performance merited, but the striker could only turn the ball into the side-netting after controlling another Ponte free-kick in the 70th minute.

Al Motawaa caused Urawa hearts to flutter as he poked a shot narrowly wide with the match moving toward fulltime, but by then Reds had done more than enough to get its title defense off to a winning start, and a red card for Hussain Ali deep into injury time merely compounded Al Qadsia's misery.

Antlers knocked out

ADELAIDE , Australia (AP) Robert Cornthwaite's 73rd-minute goal gave Adelaide United a 1-0 win over Kashima Antlers on Wednesday and a berth in the Asian Champions League semifinals.

Cornthwaite charged into the area and headed a cross from the left by Cassio. The Kashima goalkeeper got his hands on the ball but was unable to prevent it from finding the net.

Last Wednesday, Adelaide and Kashima drew 1-1 in Japan, and it was an own-goal by Cornthwaite in first-half stoppage time that gave the home side its equalizer.

Adelaide, which advanced 2-1 on aggregate, is the first Australian team to progress to the knockout round. In the semifinals, it will play Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan.



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