- Urawa Red Diamonds reprise famous 2007 AFC Champions League win
- *Takafumi Hori assumed the coaching reins mid-season *
- The J.League club will represent Asia in their second FIFA Club World Cup
The 2017 AFC Champions League saw traditional powerhouses sit atop the pyramid come the competition’s finale. In the end it was 2007 winners Urawa Red Diamonds and Al Hilal - the tournament's most experienced side with six appearances in the final – who featured in the decider.
Despite being held to a 1-1 draw away in the first leg, Urawa demonstrated their trademark resilience and spirit in the return by triumphing 1-0 at home to end their decade-long Champions League drought. The victory also sealed the Japanese side's return to the FIFA Club World Cup, with the 2017 edition commencing next week in the United Arab Emirates.
The Reds, under Mihailo Petrovic, completed their group campaign in style by progressing to the knockout stage as section winners. The only major challenge they had came from Shanghai SIPG, against whom Urawa lost 3-2 but they avenged that with a 1-0 victory at home in the return.
The Serbian coach may have left mid-season, but his contribution in building the team cannot be underestimated, a fact that new boss Takafumi Hori cited after their title-winning campaign saying Petrovic “laid the foundation of the team”.
Under Hori, Urawa made consistent progress in the knockout stage, powering all the way to the final. Perhaps most notable was their semi-final re-meeting with ambitious Chinese club Shanghai, where they grabbed a 1-1 draw away before winning 1-0 at home to see off their title rivals.
Their opponents in the final were none other than Al Hilal, a campaign-hardened Saudi side who boasted a proud home record. The west Asians did cause some problems for Urawa in both legs and particularly, they came so close to claiming a match and tournament winning goal in the return game. Urawa, however, kept their cool to hold off the visitors for their second continental title.
*Highlights *•Urawa kept an unblemished home record by winning all seven matches at Saitama Stadium.
•Brazilian forward Rafael Silva not only netted the tournament-winning strike, he also finished as second best scorer in the competition with nine goals. Al Hilal’s Syrian striker Omar Kharbin finished as tournament’s top scorer (ten goals).
•Urawa become the first Japanese side, and just the fourth overall, to lift Asia’s premier club trophy for a second time.
The stat 2 - The number of players who figured for Urawa in their last Club World Cup appearance a decade ago. Having played at Japan 2007, captain Yuki Abe and midfielder Tadaaki Hirakawa will look to bring experience to the Urawa side featuring at UAE 2017.
*Did you know? *In their last Club World Cup ten years ago, Urawa left their mark by finishing third as tournament debutants. Needless to say, the ambitious Japanese are aiming to make a breakthrough at UAE 2017.
*What they said *"The players had a special motivation for this tournament as did the supporters, so I think this is why we were able to do so well. I would also like to thank the supporters, who gave their best, but also [former coach Mihailo] Petrovic who built the foundations of the team, and I learned from him."
*Urawa head coach Takafumi Hori *
"A lot of our success is due to the way we came together as a team. The communication under [coach Takafumi] Hori has been very good and we learnt a lot in this tournament, playing a lot of very good teams."
*Urawa midfielder and tournament’s Most Valuable Player Yosuke Kashiwagi *