Gamba Osaka are on the verge of winning their first continental title after they pulled off a stunning 3-0 win over Australian side Adelaide United in the AFC Champions League final first leg on Wednesday.
Brazilian striker Lucas put the home team in front after 37 minutes, and Yasuhito Endo doubled the lead only six minutes later. Michihiro Yasuda put the game beyond doubt 22 minutes from time, volleying home Gamba's third to seal a memorable victory.
Coach Akira Nishino had urged his players to retain the continental trophy for Japan after their J-League arch-rivals Urawa Reds won it last year. The comfortable home win, understandably, has the 53-year-old in upbeat mood heading into the return leg at Hindmarsh Stadium on 12 November.
"I hope that we can continue to play in a similar style in the second leg," said Nishino, knowing that he will become the first Japanese coach to get his hand on the Asian trophy should they go through.
Despite Gamba's success with their attacking approach throughout the Asian campaign, Nishino chose to employ a conservative 4-2-3-1 formation, leaving Lukas as the lone forward with Endo providing the attacking thrust from midfield.
The strategy proved effective, as the home side were two goals up by half-time. Lucas broke into the area to open the scoring with a deflected shot, before the Brazilian set up Endo for the second. And Gamba continued to dictate the game after the interval, with Yasuda volleying home Endo's inch-perfect pass.
"Adelaide defended very well, but we breached their rearguard with our quick passing and movement," said an ecstatic Nishino. He singled out Japanese international Endo, who had a hand in two goals, for praise. "Endo was the key man within our strategy and he played well throughout."
Like Gamba, coach Aurelio Vidmar's Adelaide were also undefeated going into the first leg, having conceded only four goals in all ten of theirmatches. But Wednesday's first leg changed all that. "Gamba played quick, passing football," reflected Vidmar. "Their players interchanged quickly and well, which made things extremely hard for us. It became really difficult to match them."
The Reds boss admitted that his team were "timid", and as a result, their Japanese hosts were able to create holes in what appeared to be the tournament's tightest defence.
The result has left Adelaide with, in Vidmar's words, "a mount Fuji" to climb when they play host in a week. But after dispatching the strongly favored Bunyodkor in the semifinals, Vidmar has reason to remain hopeful. "It is difficult for us, but stranger things have happened."
The pressure, in fact, will be on Nishino and his side, who have to win the tournament to qualify for this December's FIFA Club World Cup, while Adelaide have secured a place at the global showpiece regardless of the result. "The second leg will be tough, and Adelaide might emerge a different side in Australia," warned Nishino.