Gamba Osaka have proven they won't crack under pressure on the road after beating defending champion Urawa Red Diamonds to gain their first-ever apperance in the AFC Champions League final.
"I never thought we would come this far," Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino said after a 3-1 comeback win over the fellow J-League side on Wednesday for a 4-2 aggregate that put his side into the final against Australia's Adelaide United.
Gamba have won all five of their away matches, coming from behind in many of them. They beat Syria's Al Karama in their two-leg quarter-final with a 2-0 victory in Homs. "We have never lost away, and it is not something that can be easily achieved by any team," said Nishino, whose club are struggling with Urawa for fifth spot on the J-League table topped by Kashima Antlers.
Adelaide conceded just one goal in a narrow defeat to Uzbek club Bunyodkor in Tashkent with a 3-0 first leg cushion. Former Eintracht Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara scored in the 36th minute for Urawa to wow 53,000 spectators at Saitama Stadium, home to the best supported J-League club.
But Yasuhito Endo, who shares set pieces with Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura for Japan, set up two goals on his corners after the break, and scored Gamba Osaka's third goal himself. "Urawa seemed to have gone down badly after yielding an away goal to us. We seized it as a turning point and pulled though," the coach said.
"At first, we felt that the pressure of the atmosphere was blocking us, rather than the pressure of the Reds," he said, adding that Gamba's first goal helped them restore composure.
Endo said: "I was confident that we could come back after giving up a goal. We were not panicked and it helped us a lot. We will play the first leg of the final at home. So we want to chalk up a solid win there, and face the away leg," said the 28-year-old midfielder.
The first leg will be played at Osaka on 5 November and the second a week later in Adelaide. "I'm very disappointed," said Urawa manager Gert Engels. "It is good for Japanese football that a Japanese team is in the final. But I regret it won't be us who will be there."
"It is most regrettable to give up goals on set plays," he added. "It has not been an easy season, and it won't be easy hereafter. But we played fine football (against Gamba)."