Yasuhito Endo's 23rd minute goal proved to be the difference between Gamba Osaka and Adelaide United at the Toyota Stadium in Toyota City on Sunday evening, handing the Japanese side a dream fixture against Manchester United in Yokohama on Thursday.
Although Gamba had beaten their Australian rivals 5-0 over two legs in the AFC Champions League final in November, this encounter was as close as the scoreline suggests, with Adelaide going close on a number of occasions.
Possibly due to their game against Waitakere on Thursday evening, Adelaide United looked the sharper of the two sides in the early stages and created the game's first real chance in the 15th minute when skipper Travis Dodd broke clear of the Gamba defence and fired a shot just wide of the post.
That seemed to spur the Japanese side into action and prompted by the brilliance of Yasuhito Endo, they look the lead midway through the first half. The No7 started and finished a move which saw him feed Takahiro Futugawa, who in turn played a high ball to Ryuji Bando, who flicked it into the path of Endo, who clipped the ball through the legs of the onrushing Eugene Galekovic.
At 1-0 down, Adelaide were not out of it and Dodd's volley to the far post seemed almost certain to be headed home by Cassio, until Akira Kaji made a timely intervention. Three minutes before half-time, Scott Jamieson's wonderful ball inside the box was met by the head of Dodd, who saw the crossbar rattle rather than the net ripple.
Although it was the Australians who needed a goal, in the second half it looked as though Gamba were more likely to score. After a turgid opening to the second half, the game came to life again in the 72nd minute when Lucas's defensive header from an Adelaide corner saw the Japanese break quickly. The ball broke wto Bando who fired a goalbound effort, but it took a crucial deflection of Robert Cornthwaite and went out for a corner.
The defender went from hero to villain three minutes later when he passed straight to Endo, who found Lucas surging forward. The Brazilian carried the ball to the edge of the box and fired straight at the legs of Galekovic. Lucas went close twice in the latter stages, but was again denied by the goalkeeper and then saw a close-range shot go off target.
Aurelio Vidmar switched to a 4-4-2 formation in a bid to find an equaliser and cut a frustrated figure in injury time as substitute Robert Younis's shot went narrowly wide, and then a Dodd header flashed agonisingly across the face of goal. It proved to be the last chance of the game.
But the win came at a price for Gamba who saw wide-man Hayato Sasaki stretchered off in the first half, Takahiro Futugawa in the second and substitute Bando taken off after 81 minutes after only managing 61 minutes on the pitch.
Those worries will be at the back of coach's Akira Nishino's mind at present as he and his players look forward to a semi-final clash with Manchester United. And on the evidence of this game, even if the aforementioned trio fail to recover in time, with players of the calibre of Endo, Lucas and wide man Michihiro Yasuda, they have the ability to cause the other United a fair few problems.