This year’s East Asian Champion was to be crowned and Al Hilal’s opponent in the continental final to be chosen when Shanghai SIPG visited Urawa Red Diamonds early on Wednesday evening. It was more or less a make or break situation for both participants as Urawa are stuck in the middle of nowhere in the J-League and SIPG drawing against bottom side Liaoning Kaixin during the weekend to fall 6 points shy of the top spot of the CSL with only 3 rounds left to be played. Albeit, SIPG are still in the running for the CFA Cup as a last resort to fulfill André Villas-Boas’ promise to bring home some silverware during his first season in charge.
Following the 1-1 draw in the first leg of this semi-final, the Japanese hosts would have been very confident to rely on their solid record in front of their infamous “Red wall” to carry them through to the final, while SIPG have been struggling far more away from home than at the Shanghai Stadium. Add to that the Reds 1-0 win in the group phase home game against tonight’s opponents and they had to be considered favorites coming in.
It only took just over 10 minutes for the home-side to break the deadlock when Yosuke Kashiwagi swung in a perfect corner to find Rafael Silva who put near Oliver Bierhoff-like power behind the header and rendered Yan Junling’s two handed attempt to steer the ball clear of his goal futile. Bringing the Brazilian’s ACL record to an impressive 7 goals in 10 matches. Urawa had already looked the better side and the goal threw them into next gear and a furious chase to quickly get another one. A few lost balls going forward, followed by dangerous breaks from SIPG’s impressive offensive arsenal, took some of the edge off the host’s enthusiasm and the match grew more balanced in play after roughly twenty minutes. The sides re-grouped and the breathtaking pace was replaced by a bit more sideways passes for the second part of the first half and into the break. Largely because Urawa fell back and SIPG had trouble finding a way through the lower defensive line.
Coming back for the second half, the visitors had adapted to the host’s more defensive style and raised the tempo of their passing. Making themselves more of a threat but also more vulnerable to counter attacks. The match opened up once more. Tomoaki Makino came close to doubling the lead ten minutes after the break but his header, from yet another well-taken Kashiwagi-corner went over off the crossbar. After 70 minutes played, top-scorer Shinzo Koroki forced Yan to a top quality save to keep the visitors in the running. Despite all their individual talent, SIPG looked less threatening as time went by and the Reds grew more comfortable in their lead as a result. The visitors didn’t even manage any real final push for an equalizer towards the end and Urawa secured a thoroughly, and quite comfortably, deserved ticket to the 2017 AFC Champions League-final and a chance to repeat their 2007-success of becoming Asian champions.