Tokyo: Japan`s hopes of a third successive Asian Champions League title were left hanging by a thread after Nagoya Grampus were thumped 6-2 by Saudi side Al Ittihad.
Ittihad`s home win over 10-man Nagoya in Wednesday`s semi-final first leg in Jeddah leaves Nagoya with a mountain to climb in the return next Wednesday.
"It`s a huge blow," Nagoya manager Dragan Stojkovic was quoted as saying by the Japanese media. "It would have been a different scoreline if we`d had 11 men."
The Serbian, who has just received a touchline ban after booting the ball into the goal from the technical area during a J-League game, kicked water bottles in anger after Nagoya defender Akira Takeuchi was sent off in the sixth-minute.
Nagoya`s dismissal initially gave Nagoya a wake-up call and Australia striker Josh Kennedy headed the visitors ahead after a quarter of an hour.
But after Ahmed Hadid had restored parity, Ittihad took control with captain Mohammed Noor grabbing a hat-trick as the humidity began to sap the energy of the 10-man Nagoya side.
Ittihad, Asian Champions League winners in 2004 and 2005, will be overwhelming favourites to advance to next month`s final.
South Korea`s Pohang Steelers won the home leg of their semi-final 2-0 against Umm Salal of Qatar on Wednesday.
Gamba Osaka won last year`s Asian Champions League with J-league rivals Urawa Reds winning in 2008.
The Asian champions qualify for FIFA`s lucrative Club World Cup in December.