- Urawa progress to AFC Champions League final
- Rafael Silva header in second-leg proves the difference
- J-League side to meet Al Hilal in Asian final for a Club World Cup berth
Urawa Red Diamonds advanced to the AFC Champions League final after a 1-0 victory over Shanghai SIPG at the Saitama Stadium on Wednesday.
Brazilian forward Rafael Silva bagged the only goal of the encounter on 11 minutes, much to the delight of the red-clad home crowd, sealing a 2-1 aggregate win for the J.League side.
Having earned an away draw and goal in the first leg, hosts Urawa entered the return game knowing they would progress with a scoreless draw. Instead of sitting back, however, Takafumi Hori's side opted to take the game to the visitors, pressing hard from the outset. Their game plan paid dividends, with Silva putting the home side ahead early on with a glancing header.
The opener sparked the home team into attacking waves as the first half progressed, with Yosuke Kashiwagi's dangerous corner kick causing havoc in the area before Yuki Muto saw his header go narrowly wide.
Shanghai's best opportunity in the opening period came five minutes before the break when Hulk smartly crossed for an unmarked Odil Ahmedov, only to see his effort go straight at goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Knowing they needed two goals to progress, the visitors upped the tempo after the restart. But it was 2007 Champions League winners Urawa who came close to finding the net after the break when defender Tomoaki Makino rattled the crossbar with a thumping header.
Shanghai searched for an equaliser and nearly restored parity when Hulk's low shot was parried away, before Elkeson's close-range effort was blocked. But, in the end, it was Urawa who held on to keep their lead intact.
Urawa will now face Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League final after the Saudi Arabian side recorded a 6-2 aggregate victory over Iranian outfit Persepolis on Tuesday. The final will be played over two legs with the first taking place on 18 November. The winner of the AFC Champions League will book their place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017.