Football Tribe SEA Editor
That’s the only word that could describe Urawa Red Diamonds after they duly dispatched Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao 1-0 (3-0 on aggregate) last night in the 2019 AFC Champions League semifinal 2nd leg, booking themselves a spot in the final in the process. Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s men went into the lion’s den that is the Tianhe Stadium, facing off against the reigning leaders of the Chinese Super League. The South China Tigers had recovered well from that shock 1st leg defeat at Saitama by beating Shenzhen FC 2-3 in the Chinese Super League last Friday, ensuring that they will stay on top of the league for at least another week. Urawa, in contrast, while they had followed up the 1st leg win with another win against Shimizu S-Pulse on October 6th, slumped to another home defeat in the league last Friday, at the hands of Oita Trinita.
Urawa’s domestic form has been shocking, as the Oita defeat meant that they now sit 12th on the table, 4 points off the relegation play-off zone. Their domestic form also saw them eliminated from the Emperor’s Cup in the round of 16 by 4th tier Honda FC at home, so naturally, people saw Urawa’s 1st leg victory over Guangzhou as a one-off fluke, refusing to write off the Chinese giants despite the two-goal deficit.
That’s where they were wrong.
In continental competitions, Urawa are a different beast altogether, a fearsome side ready to frustrate opponents and punish them when they least expected. And that’s exactly what they did at the Tianhe – Guangzhou dominated proceedings, however, Urawa remained pragmatic. Anderson Talisca fired a shot that rattled off the crossbar during the first half, Guangzhou’s best chance in reducing the deficit. Urawa remained stoic though, taking punishment after punishment before the referee blows for half-time.
The second half saw more of the same, but as Guangzhou’s stamina waned, Urawa saw their chance. In the 50th minute, the ever-reliable Shinzo Koroki struck. The Guangzhou public at the Tianhe were left stunned as instead of mounting a valiant comeback against Urawa, they instead fell behind once again. 1-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate, Guangzhou knew that they have a mountain to climb. Unfortunately for the South China Tigers, Urawa shut up shop afterward, defending well throughout the remainder of the match to seal the win and with it, a ticket to the ACL final.
Coincidentally, by eliminating Guangzhou, Urawa have recorded an interesting stat for the ACL record books – out of the four Chinese Super League representatives in the 2019 ACL, three of them have fallen to the might of the Saitama-based side. Beijing Sinobo Guoan were eliminated by Urawa in the group stages, while the quarterfinals saw Urawa dispatch Shanghai SIPG before Guangzhou fell to Urawa’s might in the semis. China’s other representative, Shandong Luneng, were eliminated by Guangzhou in the round of 16. And by shutting up shop and not conceding in both legs of the semifinals, Urawa had notched 6 clean sheets in this year’s ACL – as many as they had in the J.League 1 this season.
Awaiting Urawa in the ACL final are Saudi Arabian giants Al-Hilal. The two-legged affair will be a repeat of the 2017 ACL final – which Urawa won – and Al-Hilal are surely looking for revenge this time out. With two fronts to contend with – battling the threat of relegation in the domestic front and gunning for glory in the continental front – Urawa fans will be hoping that Tsuyoshi would craft up strategies so that their beloved team would get the best results from both fronts. Will Urawa once again make a mockery of their stuttering domestic form by winning the ACL? That question will be answered next month as Urawa first travel to Riyadh on the 9th of November, before entertaining Al-Hilal at the Saitama Stadium 2002 on the 24th of November.