Guangzhou Evergrande will have to be wary of Gamba Osaka until the final minute of Wednesday’s AFC Champions League (ACL) semi-final first leg.
Gamba have become the ACL’s late-show specialists, with the J.League club having reached the final four in Asia’s premier club competition thanks to Koki Yonekura’s 93rd-minute strike in the quarter-finals against Jeonbuk Motors.
Jeonbuk had looked set to advance on away goals in Japan on September 16 after Urko Vera scored in the 88th minute to level the match and the tie at 2-2, but Yonekura dribbled his way through the visitors’ defence soon after before poking the ball into the net to secure a last-gasp victory.
In the ACL group stage, Gamba also scored late goals to defeat Seongnam and Buriram United.
Those points were critical as Gamba finished top of Group F on head-to-head record ahead of Seongnam and Buriram, and striker Takashi Usami hopes that his team’s fighting qualities can make a difference away to Evergrande.
“The team is definitely in a good mood now, and we have continuously had matches where we play hard until the last minute and this has given us a lot of confidence to fight until the end,” Usami said, according to the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) website.
“I was so excited when the pass from Kim Jung-ya reached Yonekura and then he went through on goal to score, but as a footballer, I wanted to be on the pitch myself.
“In the next match, I want to show how I can contribute to the team and help us go to the final.”
Usami missed the quarter-final second leg against Jeonbuk through suspension but has been vital to Gamba’s ACL run – the 23-year-old is their joint-leading scorer alongside Patric with four goals.
Wednesday’s semi-final first leg will see the 2013 ACL champions host the winners from 2008.
Evergrande midfielder Huang Bowen hopes the more recent experience of his club will pay dividends against Gamba.
“The experience of taking part in the 2013 AFC Champions League semi-final and final can give our players a lot more confidence ahead of this game with Gamba, and I hope that such confidence will play an important role in the semi-final,” he said.
Evergrande, the Chinese Super League leaders and four-time reigning champions, reached the semi-finals with a 4-2 aggregate victory over Gamba’s J.League rivals Kashiwa Reysol.