Gamba Osaka and Adelaide United charged into the AFC Champions League final today, with gritty performances ensuring the trophy will have a new name written on it this year.
The Japanese side shattered the hopes of defending champions and compatriots Urawa Red Diamonds courtesy of a pulsating 3-1 victory in Saitama. The result secured Gamba a 4-2 aggregate win.
It was a stunning come-from-behind triumph for Akira Nishino's side, who were down 1-0 at half-time before goals from Satoshi Yamaguchi, Tomokazu Myojin and Yasuhito Endo put them into the final of Asia's top club competition for the first time.
Awaiting them in the two-legged showpiece next month will be Adelaide United, who travelled to Tashkent with a 3-0 first-leg cushion and produced a solid defensive display to conceed just once in a narrow defeat. Substitute Bahodir Pardaev gave the Rivaldo-led Bunyodkor a slither of hope 12 minutes from time when he volleyed home, but it was too little, too late for Zico's men.
It marks the first time a club from Australia has made the final, with the enticing prospect of a place in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 at stake for the winner against quality opposition including Manchester United.
Gamba's achievement was all the more remarkable given they were playing in front of a vocal 60,000-strong crowd on Urawa's home turf at the imposing Saitama Stadium, after the first leg ended 1-1. "," said coach Akira Nishino.
"We now have J.League matches coming up so we are just going to play one game at a time. But we are the representatives of Japan in the Champions League final and we must defend Urawa's cup."
Former Eintracht Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara put Urawa one up in the 36th minute, pouncing on a rebound, and they went close again just before the break when he hit the bar. But Gamba came out firing in the second half, with Endo lofting in a ball from the right to set up Yamaguchi, who met it perfectly with his head to put them level on 51 minutes.
The goal spurred them into life and Endo was again involved in their second, with Tomokazu Myojin credited with what may have been an own goal. Endo put the game beyond doubt by adding the third 14 minutes before the final whistle. "We went a goal behind so we had to come back by scoring at least two goals, but I always believed we could do it," said the delighted Endo.
Cornthwaite earns his crust
Adelaide, who lost their unbeaten record in this year's Champions League, played deep in defence for much of their match, but they had few problems dealing with Bunyodkor's attempts at reducing their three-goal deficit. Despite home advantage, the hosts were strangely muted for much of the opening half, with their expensive Brazilian import Rivaldo largely anonymous.
The Uzbekistan side's main avenue of attack was Jasur Hasanov on the left, but he was expertly thwarted by Adelaide's Robert Cornthwaite. They came out for the second half with more purpose and midfielder Timur Kapadze forced goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic into a hurried save in the 54th minute.
Adelaide absorbed immense pressure late in the game, but they held their composure with just the one defensive lapse to win through to the biggest football occasion in their history.
Gamba will have home advantage in the first leg of the final on 5 November. The second leg will take place in Adelaide one week later.