Reds stun Kawasaki to reach ACL semis

Urawa Reds forward Toshiyuki Takagi (2nd R) celebrates his goal with teammates during the AFC Champions League quarterfinal match against Kawasaki Frontale in Saitama Wednesday. — AFP

SAITAMA, Japan — Urawa Reds scored three goals in a 15-minute blitz to floor Japanese rival Kawasaki Frontale 4-1 in a fiery encounter Wednesday and reach the Asian Champions League semifinals.

Slovenian Zlatan Ljubijankic, Brazilian Rafael Silva and Toshiyuki Takagi all scored late goals against 10-man Kawasaki as the home side overturned a two-goal deficit to win 5-4 on aggregate.

The Reds, who won Asia’s premier club competition in 2007, will face China’s Shanghai SIPG in the last four after a see-saw struggle.

Brazilian Elsinho put Kawasaki in front after 19 minutes, flicking the ball home after a comic error from goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa to stretch its lead to three goals after winning the first leg 3-1.

But Shinzo Koroki pulled one back for Urawa in the 35th minute before the tie took a dramatic twist moments later when Frontale defender Shintaro Kurumaya was sent off for a high boot that caught Koroki in the face.

At times it appeared that both teams were more interested in fisticuffs and rolling on the ground in mock agony than playing football, while several shots were more of a threat to low-flying aircraft than the goalkeepers.

But when substitute Ljubijankic headed Urawa’s second of the night to make it 4-3 on aggregate, Kawasaki began to look frayed and a Rafael Silva bullet leveled the tie on 83 minutes.

As Kawasaki wilted in the humid conditions, Takagi’s shin connected with an attempted left-foot volley two minutes later and the ball looped over goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong for a dramatic winner.

Urawa, currently eighth in the J-League table, face Andre Villas-Boas’s Shanghai side away on Sept. 27 in the first leg of their semifinal.

The return fixture will be played on Oct. 18.

Japanese sides have struggled in the Asian Champions League since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later, and Shanghai SIPG will go into the semifinal as firm favorite. — AFP