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Football: Kashiwa striker Cleo gunning for Guangzhou reunion in ACL semis

Kashiwa Reysol striker Cleo will face former club Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League semi-finals. Photo: WSG.

Kashiwa Reysol striker Cleo will face former club Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League semi-finals. Photo: WSG.

September 23, 2013: Brazilian striker Cleo is eyeing continued success with Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol ahead of Wednesday’s AFC Champions League semi-final first leg against former club Guangzhou Evergrande.

 

Emperor’s Cup winners Kashiwa are the first J.League side to reach the semi-finals since Nagoya Grampus in 2009. A 2-2 draw in Riyadh last Wednesday enabled Nelsinho Baptista’s side to edge out Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab on away goals after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.

 

With Guangzhou crushing Qatar’s Lekhwiya 6-1 on aggregate, Cleo is set to face Marcello Lippi’s side in the first leg at Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium, having scored four goals in seven games for the Chinese champions in last year’s competition.

 

“The high point so far was the quarter-final because we fought hard against Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia, and coming through that game meant we were the first Japanese club since 2009 to reach the semi-finals,” the 28-year-old said. “We’ve given everything to achieve these excellent results.”

 

Looking to follow in the footsteps of 2007 winners Urawa Reds and 2008 champions Gamba Osaka, Kashiwa have reached the semi-finals in only their second appearance in the AFC Champions League. Last year, the Japanese side lost to eventual champions Ulsan Hyundai from Korea Republic in the Round of 16.

 

“I think we’ve had good results this year because the experience of playing in this competition last year has helped a lot,” said Cleo, who joined Kashiwa on a 12-month loan deal at the start of the season having been left out of Guangzhou’s squad for the knockout stage last year.

 

“For example, this time we arrived in Saudi Arabia four days before the game to allow us to get used to the time difference and the climate. Everything the club does is geared towards these games.”

 

Guangzhou are also appearing in the semi-finals for the first time in just their second AFC Champions League appearance. Lippi’s men beat Lekhwiya 4-1 in Doha last week, having lost to two-time champions Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia at the quarter-final stage last year.

 

Having become the first Chinese side to reach the last four since Shenzhen Jianlibao in 2005, Guangzhou will host the second leg at the Tianhe Sport Center next week.

 

Kashiwa or Guangzhou will host the second leg of the final in November and will face either Korean champions FC Seoul or Iranian counterparts Esteghlal.

 

FC Seoul are also appearing in the semi-finals for the first time, following quarter-final exits in both 2009 and 2011. The K-League club beat last year’s finalists Al Ahli 2-1 on aggregate after recording a 1-0 win at home last week following a last-minute strike from Dejan Damjanovic.

 

Esteghlal, who won the former Asian Club Championship in 1970 and 1991, will face the Korean club at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Wednesday after posting a 2-1 win over Buriram United in Thailand last week to seal a 3-1 aggregate triumph.

 

AFC Champions League Semi-finals, Leg 1 (September 25)

Kashiwa Reysol (JPN) v Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN), Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium, Kashiwa, Japan (19:00 local)

FC Seoul (KOR) v Esteghlal (IRN), Seoul World Cup Stadium, Korea (19:30 local)

 

AFC Champions League Semi-finals, Leg 2 (October 2)

Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN) v Kashiwa Reysol (JPN), Tianhe Sport Center, Guangzhou, China (20:00 local)

Esteghlal (IRN) v FC Seoul (KOR), Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran (19:00 local)

 

For more information on this year’s AFC Champions League, visit:

www.the-afc.com/en/tournaments/clubs/afc-champions-league

www.the-afc.com/en/acl-2013-fixtures

 

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