Semi final-time in the ACL

It’s drawing ever nearer to the AFC Champions League final as the East Asian section semi-final between Shanghai SIPG and Urawa Red Diamonds kick-off tonight in the major Chinese port city. The home-side are still in the CFA Cup and were surprisingly invited back into the race for the domestic league title by Guangzhou Evergrande, who dropped 2 points during the weekend to let SIPG within 4 points at the top of the table. Great for the excitement during the last 4 rounds of the CSL but, perhaps, a distraction in tonight’s match as SIPG would surely prefer breaking Evergrandes massive dominance at home to becoming continental champions this year.
For the visitors, the situation is more straightforward. Eliminated from both domestic cups and on a insipid 7th place in the J-League, this is the Reds last chance for glory in 2017.
The way each club qualified for the semis were essentially different as well, SIPG seemed to have their quarter-final nicely wrapped up after a solid 4-0-win in the first leg at home to Evergrande. The Guangzhou-side, however, fought back hard and won by the same result in the reverse fixture, leaving SIPG to crawl through on penalties. For Urawa, it took an impressive turnaround, coming from 3-1 down to win the home-leg 4-1 against Kawaski Frontale. I still hold the home-side as favourites tonight since the Red Diamonds are a very different team away from their Red Wall back home in Urawa, but neither side puts defending first and I also expect it to be an entertaining and high scoring affair. 4-2 rather than 2-0 so to speak. Hulk and Shinzo Koroki getting at least one for their respective side would feel like a pretty safe bet.

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