Yokohama F Marinos will take a 2-1 lead into the second leg of their Levain Cup semifinal against Kashima Antlers after Hugo Vieira snatched victory in the final moments of a see-sawing contest on Wednesday night.
The Portuguese forward was first to the ball after Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata spilled a thundering free kick from left-back Ryosuke Yamanaka in the fifth minute of injury time, poking home from the six-yard box.
The winner came less than two minutes after Antlers appeared to have secured a draw with Tomoya Inukai scoring from a corner. The 1.82-meter defender rose above the pack and headed home after Ryota Nagaki curled his kick from the left into the goalmouth.
Jun Amano put the visitors ahead in the 77th minute with a free kick from just outside the center of the box, sending his shot over the wall and dipping past Sogahata.
Vieira, who has tallied 13 league goals for Ange Postecoglou's side this season, said they would need to be prepared for an even tougher contest in Sunday's return leg in Yokohama.
"It was a hard game. I'm happy to get the win, but it's only the first leg," Vieira said. "I think it's really important to have scored the two away goals. But Kashima is an excellent team, so we really need to be prepared for the second leg."
Yamanaka's 25-meter blast to set up the winner was his second notable long-range effort of the game. His first free kick almost opened the scoring in the third minute, swerving into the right post from 20 meters out.
With Kashima manager Go Oiwa opting to rest club top scorer Yuma Suzuki, Shoma Doi got the start alongside Serginho at the front of a 4-4-2 formation.
Doi almost gave the home side the lead in the 19th minute when former Japan defender Atsuto Uchida found him inside the box with a superb through ball from the left wing, but the forward hit the post with his first-touch shot.
His unhappy night continued with another miss, this time from the spot, when he slammed a 34th-minute penalty into the crossbar.
(Kashima Antlers after the match)
Atsutaka Nakamura earned the penalty when he was brought down from behind by Thiago Martins after getting through on goal with a one-two pass from Serginho.
After creating space at the edge of the box with a clever first touch, Vieira looked to score with the final kick of the first half but sent his shot directly at Sogahata.
In the other semifinal first leg, Kashiwa Reysol and Shonan Bellmare drew 1-1 at Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium.
Reysol forward Yusuke Segawa opened the scoring after less than a minute, but Bellmare midfielder Shunsuke Kikuchi secured an important away goal with his equalizer eight minutes later.
(Christiano of Kashiaw Reysol shoots in 1st half)