The first leg of this year's AFC Champions League quarter-finals brought contrasting fortunes for the Japanese trio. Holders Urawa Red Diamonds, who received a bye to the knockout stage, suffered a 3-2 loss at the hands of hosts Al Qadsia, while strongly-favoured Kashima Antlers were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Adelaide United. It was left to Gamba Osaka to restore Japanese pride; Akira Nishino's men came from a goal down to defeat hosts Al Karama 2-1. Elsewhere, ambitious Uzbek side Kuruvchi managed a 2-2 draw away to Iran's Saipa.
AFC Champions League quarterfinals, first leg results:
Wednesday 17 September
Saipa (Iran) 2-2 Kuruvchi (Uzbekistan)
Kashima Antlers (Japan) 1-1 Adelaide United (Australia)
Al Qadsia (Kuwait) 3-2 Urawa Reds (Japan)
Al Karama (Syria) 1-2 Gamba Osaka (Japan)
Game of the day
Al Qadsia 3-2 Urawa Reds
Having won last year's continental title in impressive fashion, Urawa went into their opening game as undisputed favorites. However, it was their unfancied Kuwaiti opponents that stole the show, their set-piece specialist Selim Benachour having a hand in two goals to steer the home side to an opening win.
The Japanese visitors went on the offensive from the outset, and produced a couple of clear chances in the opening stages only to see their Brazilian striker Edmilson miss the target. There were soon punished for their profligacy, as Al Qadsia took the lead against the run of play on 17 minutes, as Benachour's well-taken free-kick was headed home by Al Ebrahim. Edmilson equalized for the away side a quarter of an hour later, but Benachour restored Al Qadsia's lead ten minutes into the second half, scoring directly from a free-kick. Khalaf Al Mutairi converted a penalty kick with nine minutes to go to put the game beyond any doubt, but Urawa pressed on, Edmilson striking his second in added time to enhance their hopes of turning things around in the second leg.
Surprise of the day
Al Karama 1-2 Gamba Osaka
Al Karama do lose games, but rarely on home soil. Throughout their three AFC Champions League campaigns, including the fairytale runners-up finish in 2006, they have only lost one game at their intimidating Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium, to Korea Republic's Seongnam Ilhwa in last year's quarter-finals. However, they were on the receiving end of a second home defeat on Wednesday, courtesy of another East Asian side - Gamba Osaka.
In a predictably intense contest, Al Karama went in front after only seven minutes through Belal Abduldaim, who headed home Fahed Oudah's corner. The Syrian side could have doubled the lead on 29 minutes as Oudah smacked a powerful drive against the crossbar. Gamba pressed forward after the interval, however, and their efforts paid off after 70 minutes when Satoshi Yamaguchi headed the equalizer. Seven minutes later, substitute Masato Yamazaki sealed a famous win for Gamba with low right-footed strike.
Saipa 2-2 Kuruvchi
In a much-anticipated match, Kuruvchi's star import Rivaldo showed glimpses of his genius in his continental debut for the Uzbek side, striking on 19 minutes to restore his team's lead, after Jose Luis Villanueva's opener had been canceled out by Iman Razaghirad's powerful header. Kuruvchi's lead was short-lived, however, as Kianoush Rahmati scored from a free kick before the break to earn a point for the home side.
Kashima Antlers 1-1 Adelaide United
Despite playing at home against Adelaide United, Kashima Antlers' free-scoring form in the competition deserted them. The game's two goals were both scored by the Australian side, including the own goal by Robert Cornthwaite that gifted the Japanese team a point. The visitors took the lead through captain Travis Dodd, who planted a powerful header past Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata after 38 minutes. However, Adelaide were denied a win by their own defender when Cornthwaite nervously deflected an Atsuto Uchida cross into his own net just before the break.
The numbers game
1 - the number of wins secured by the three Japanese teams in the opening leg of the quarter-finals.
What they said
"Kashima are a very classy outfit, so we are really pleased with the result today. But we know there is a lot of work to do next week. What is really important is that collectively, the whole team played to their maximum potential tonight," Adelaide United coach Aurelio Vidmar