Semi-final - 1st Leg: Urawa Red Diamonds 2-0 Guangzhou Evergrande
Saitama: Spectacular strikes from Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine earned Urawa Red Diamonds a 2-0 first leg advantage over Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-finals of the 2019 AFC Champions League on Wednesday as the Japanese side edged towards a third appearance in the final.
Fabricio put Urawa ahead 19 minutes into the game and Sekine doubled his side’s lead in the 75th minute to give Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s team a significant advantage ahead of the second leg at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium on October 23.
Both clubs are looking to secure a record third AFC Champions League title and will face the winners of the meeting between Qatar’s Al Sadd and Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia, with the club from Riyadh holding a 4-1 lead in that tie following their victory on Tuesday.
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While Urawa have a less commanding first leg cushion, the 2007 and 2017 champions proved to be a class above Guangzhou at Saitama Stadium and are now favourites to advance to next month’s final.
With Fabio Cannavaro’s side set up defensively to limit any potential damage ahead of the second leg in three weeks’ time, Urawa happily seized the advantage in the opening 45 minutes and should have taken more than a one-goal lead into the half-time break.
Fabricio had an early, unsuccessful sight of goal before Sekine found Zeng Cheng’s arms after being played in behind the Guangzhou defence as Urawa controlled the opening exchanges, and it came as little surprise when the Japanese side did open the scoring.
Nineteen minutes into the game Fabricio picked up possession 25 yards from goal and the Brazilian showed no hesitation in striking a right foot shot that moved enough in the air to leave Zeng with little hope of stopping the ball from thumping into the top left corner of his goal.
Urawa should have had a second seven minutes later when their slick passing – which had been so prevalent throughout the first half – again cut Guangzhou apart, only for Daiki Hashioka’s under-hit effort to be cleared off the line by a lunging Gao Zhunyi.
Guangzhou had been second best throughout, prompting a frustrated Zheng Zhi to remonstrate with his own bench and, although they improved in the second half, Urawa looked the more likely to score once more.
The J.League side almost struck midway through the half when Yuki Muto – on just seconds earlier as a replacement for Fabricio – forced Zeng into action with a fine volley 10 yards from goal, with Shinzo Koroki’s attempt on the follow-up deflected wide for a corner.
FULL-TIME | @REDSOFFICIAL 🇯🇵 2-0 Guangzhou Evergrande 🇨🇳— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) October 2, 2019
👌 Urawa returned to form when it mattered most as goals from Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine sees them take a 2⃣-goal advantage to Tianhe 🏟 for the 2nd leg in 3⃣ weeks' time 👏#URAvGUA | Semi-Finals | #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/eyRgEmALT5
But with 15 minutes to go their second arrived and it did so in spectacular fashion. Guangzhou’s defence struggled to clear Kazuki Nagasawa’s corner and, when the ball fell at the feet of Sekine the left-back unleashed an unstoppable drive that gave Zeng no chance.
Muto sent his free-kick narrowly wide as Urawa sought to further extend their lead while at the other end Wei Shihao saw what he thought was a late away goal ruled out for an infringement to leave the majority of the 30,068 crowd dreaming of another AFC Champions League final appearance.
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