Football Tribe SEA Editor
Urawa Red Diamonds ended their grueling week-long 3-match J.League 1 gauntlet by losing at home to defending J1 champions Kawasaki Frontale 2-0. The defeat meant that Urawa had gained only 1 point out of a possible 9 from their gauntlet, which was played due to the Saitama-based side’s qualification to the 2019 AFC Champions League final. Despite that, going into the ACL final Urawa are still relatively in mid-table, 11th on the standings with 36 points from 32 matches, though their position could come under threat once the other J1 clubs had played their Matchweek 31 and 32 games in the coming weeks.
Playing their Matchweek 32 game at the Saitama Stadium 2002 against the defending champions, Urawa went with a mixture of the big guns and the fringe players, with the likes of Shinzo Koroki, Tomoaki Makino, Kenyu Sugimoto, Yuki Abe, and Takahiro Sekine on the bench while main goalie Shusaku Nishikawa, Ryota Moriwaki, and Yosuke Kashiwagi started the game. Urawa’s chop-and-change squad actually performed decently against Kawasaki who went out full force, managing to keep the game nice and tight for the visitors. However, as expected Kawasaki drew first blood in the 35th minute, thanks to a smart low shot from Yasuto Wakizaka, before Kawasaki captain Yu Kobayashi pretty much killed off the game in the 78th minute to ensure that the three points would be crossing over the Tama River back to Kawasaki.
An interesting and heartwarming moment occurred during the match from the Kawasaki fans when they unfurled a gigantic tifo shaped as a Kawasaki jersey with the number 14 emblazoned on it. The player who wore that number, Kawasaki’s very own living legend Kengo Nakamura, was confirmed to be out for 6-8 months thanks to a serious knee injury, and the Kawasaki fans used the Urawa match as the perfect moment to pay tribute to one of their club’s most faithful servants.
Licking their wounds from the Kawasaki defeat, Urawa mustn’t dwell on sadness and disappointment for too long, for they must now travel to Saudi Arabia for the first leg of the 2019 ACL final. They will play Saudi giants Al-Hilal at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, and on social media, Urawa are getting the support and backing of not only their own fans but an unexpected set of people as well – fans of Al-Hilal’s city rivals Al-Nassr have been quite vocal on social media for their support of Urawa, as they would love to see the Saitama side inflicting a painful defeat to Al-Nassr’s sworn rivals in the continental stage. Urawa are hoping that their excellent continental form will be on their side in Riyadh, as they knew Al-Hilal will be a very tough side to face off against. They might’ve struggled in their preparations for the match in the domestic front, but upsetting the odds in the Asian stage is something that Urawa is very familiar with this season.