Adelaide United took a giant stride towards their first AFC Champions League final on Wednesday, but there was stalemate in Japan where Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds played out a 1-1 draw.
The Australians scored three second-half goals to defeat Bunyodkor 3-0 in their semi-final first leg, ensuring a comfortable margin when they travel to Tashkent for the return leg on 22 October. They stifled their big-spending opponents with Brazil's former FIFA World Player of the Year Rivaldo largely anonymous, giving Bunyodkor's new coach Zico, who steered Japan to the 2004 Asian Cup title, plenty to ponder.
In Osaka, Gamba had to wait until nine minutes before the whistle for the equaliser with Japanese international Yasuhito Endo converting a penalty after Hajime Hosogai gave defending champions Urawa the lead on 22 minutes.
Three in 33 minutes
In front of a sold-out Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide turned the match in the 57th minute with a goal made in Brazil when Cassio's cross from the left was chested down by Diego who beat Bunyodkor keeper Pavel Bugalo. The goal fired up the home team and midfielder Fabian Barbiero scored his first Champions League goal in the 76th minute after more superb lead-up work from Diego and Cassio.
Diego cheekily back-heeled to give compatriot Cassio the space and time to lob in another cross for Travis Dodd to set up Barbiero's header past Bugalo. Adelaide got a crucial third when Cassio was brought down by Timur Kapadze in the 89th minute for a penalty which Adelaide's third Brazilian import, Cristano, converted.
"We struggled in the first half and looked a bit tired," Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar said. " After Diego's opening goal we settled down a lot."
It was disappointing from the Uzbeks who were keen to exploit Adelaide's hectic schedule, with the team being forced to play five games in 14 days, including three A-League fixtures on top of their Champions League matches.
All to play for in Japan
While the odds of a final appearance are now stacked in Adelaide's favour, Gamba Osaka and Urawa still have everything to play for.
Gamba had the first sight of goal with six minutes gone when Urawa conceded a soft free-kick. After the ball was floated in it fell to Ryuji Bando in the six-yard box but the striker scooped the ball wide. The home team had another chance 12 minutes later when Takahiro Futagawa was sent clear down the right and raced into the box but tried to beat Ryota Tsuzuki at his near post and the Reds keeper dropped down smartly. The miss would prove costly as Urawa took the lead soon after.
Takahito Soma cleverly worked himself space down the left and, although his cross-cum-shot was blocked, the ball fell to Hosogai on the edge of the box and he drove a low shot through a crowd of players into the back of the net. Gamba piled on the pressure after the interval and they got the equaliser when Soma was adjudged to have brought down Bando in the box. Endo made no mistake from the spot, although Urawa have the handy away goal for the return leg.
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