Emperor’s Cup winners Kashiwa became the first J.League side since Nagoya Grampus in 2009 to reach the semi-finals after a 2-2 draw in Riyadh last week saw Nelsinho Baptista’s side edge out Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab on away goals after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate.
And with Guangzhou comprehensively beating Qatar’s Lekhwiya 6-1 on aggregate, Brazilian striker Cleo is set to face the Marcello Lippi-led 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,” said the 28-year-old.
“Coming through that game means we’re the first Japanese club since 2009 to reach the semi-final.
“We’ve giving everything to achieve these excellent results.”
Kashiwa, who are looking to follow in the footsteps of 2007 winners Urawa Reds and 2008 champions Gamba Osaka, have reached the semi-finals in only their second appearance in the AFC Champions League having lost to eventual champions Ulsan Hyundai from Korea Republic in the Round of 16 last year.
“I think we’ve had good results this year because the experience of playing in this competition last year has helped a lot,” added 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 after beating 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.
And having become the first Chinese side to reach the last four since Shenzhen Jianlibao in 2005, Lippi’s side will host the second leg in Guangzhou next week.
Kashiwa or Guangzhou will host the second leg of the final in November, with either Korean champions FC Seoul or Iranian counterparts Esteghlal awaiting on the other side of the draw.
FC Seoul are also appearing in the semi-finals for the first time following quarter-final exists in both 2009 and 2011 after beating 2012 finalists Al Ahli 2-1 on aggregate after recording a 1-0 win at home last week thanks to a last minute strike from Dejan Damjanovic.
And two-time Asian Club Championship winners Esteghlal will make the trip to 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.
Wednesday's AFC Champions League Semi-final Fixtures
Kashiwa Reysol vs Guangzhou Evergrande
FC Seoul vs Esteghlal
Image courtesy of WSG