September 27, 2008: A perfect result.
That's how Urawa Reds' German manager, Gert Engels, described his team's 2-0 victory over Al Qadsia on Wednesday night, giving them a 4-3 win on aggregate and a place in the AFC Champions League semi-finals.
It was also celebration time in Suita City, as Gamba Osaka beat Al Karamah of Syria 2-0 for a 4-1 aggregate success, but the Ogasawara-less Kashima Antlers fell 1-0 in Adelaide to go out 2-1. Antlers had their chances, didn't they, but neither Koroki nor Marquinhos could find the net in the first half, before Robert Cornthwaite had the last laugh by heading the only goal of the game to make amends for his calamitous own goal at Kashima.
Still, two out of four teams in the semi-finals is a good effort by Japan, and one of them will be in the final as the J.League rivals meet in the semi-finals. With Gamba also to entertain Reds in J1, this makes for a late-season three-match series with big prizes at stake.
Leading figures from the Asian Football Confederation and from their marketing partners were out in force at Saitama Stadium, bristling with pride at the spectacle before them.
With over 41,000 fans in the ground, and two great goals settling a hard-fought match, the AFC feel their premier club competition has finally arrived.
"Urawa Reds have taken it to the next level," an AFC official said.
"With their success last year they have proved that Asia has the pedigree at club level. It has set the bar for everyone else."
He went on to add that the expanded FIFA Club World Cup, guaranteeing the Asian champions a place alongside the glamour teams from Europe and South America, had sparked the Japanese clubs into life at the Asian level, and they were finally showing their true ability.
"I think they have realised that they can't just turn up and win," he said. "The level is higher than that, and they must play well to get through."
It's true that the profile of the AFC Champions League is increasing year by year, assisted also by the involvement of Australian clubs. Adelaide United's achievement in reaching the last four was headline news on CNN's excellent World Sport programme, and Yamazaki's goal for Gamba was selected as the Play of the Day on the same show.
And didn't the scenes from Saitama match up to anything else they show from the world of football -- more so, in fact, because of the number of Reds fans compared to the thousands of empty seats you often see in Europe.
Soma's goal was a cracker, smashing home a left-foot volley from 25 metres, and so was Tulio's. Again it highlighted his allround quality, as he dropped off his marker at the back post and controlled Ponte's free kick on his chest before lashing a half-volley into the net with the outside of his right foot. Superb technique from the big man, whose ability on the ground once drew comparisons with the great German defender Andreas Brehme from former Reds manager Holger Osieck.
But what on earth were Reds doing getting two players booked in injury time? Leading 2-0, the game as good as over, Soma received a yellow card for delaying a throw-in, and Tsuzuki for joining in a melee. Both of them are now just one yellow card away from missing the second leg of the semi-final, or perhaps part of the final.
"Unnecessary," lamented Engels.
More like ridiculous.