Reds and Sepahan reach Japan

Urawa Red Diamonds today lifted the AFC Champions League trophy after a 2-0 home win over Sepahan in the second leg on Wednesday. The Reds took the lead through Yuichiro Nagai in the first half, before Yuki Abe's second half header made it 3-1 on aggregate.

The result put the newly crowned Asian champions through to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan next month, while the runners-up, Sepahan will face off against Oceanian champions Waitakere United. The winners of that play-off on 7 December will then face Urawa in the competition's quarter-finals three days later.

Today, with the visitors visibly intimidated by the 59,000-strong crowd at Saitama Stadium, Urawa moved quickly to take advantage ofsome sloppy defending in the opening stages. Marcus Tulio Tanaka rose highest in the area to meet Robson Ponte's free kick in the seventh minute, with the centre-half's header only kept out by an acrobatic save from Abbas Mohammadi.

The Iranian international keeper could not, however, keep the Reds at bay alone, and he was helpless to prevent them seizing the lead with 22 first half minutes gone. A through ball from Ponte was deflected towards the Sepahan goal, and after Jaba Mujiri failed to clear his lines, Nagai picked up the loose ball before firing a ferocious shot into the top of the net.

Audacious lob
Things went from bad to worse to Sepahan on the half-hour mark when coach Luka Bonacic was forced to make a change up front on the half-hour mark, bringing on Mahmoud Karimi for the injured Emad Mohammed. But while Karimi battled in vain to change the flow of the match, it was the home side who went closest to scoring next, Brazilian forward Washington trying his luck from the halfway line with an audacious lob that skimmed the crossbar.

The Iranians briefly threatened a comeback after the interval and, in the 50th minute, Karimi released Moharram Navidkia on the edge of the area with a beautiful back-heel. However, the Sepahan captain's shot flashed just wide of the right-hand post and the initiative was soon lost.

Within two minutes, in fact, Washington could have ended the contest but delayed pulling the trigger too long and was soon surrounded by three defenders. He then missed another glorious chance on the hour mark, although credit must go to Mohammadi for brilliantly parrying away the Brazilian's volley from close range.

But Sepahan's luck was by this stage running out. With 71 minutes played, Washington nodded a left wing cross down to Nagai, whose right-footed drive was blocked by Mohammadi. On hand to head home the rebound was Abe, and from that moment onwards the hosts sat back to successfully defend their two-goal cushion, holding on for a win that secures Japan's first-ever Champions League title.