TOKYO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Urawa Red Diamonds have to set aside their woeful domestic form to keep alive hopes of a record third Asian Champions League title on Wednesday, when they host Chinese Super League leaders Guangzhou Evergrande in first leg of this year’s semi-finals.
Both clubs are seeking to become the first to win the continental title for a third time since the competition’s launch in 2002, with Urawa aiming for a second success in three years having last secured the trophy in 2017.
But the run to the last four has masked a poor season for Urawa, a club that boast the biggest attendances in football in Japan and who first won the Asian title back in 2007.
Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s side are currently 13th in the J-League following a 3-3 draw with fellow struggler Sagan Tosu while their hopes of defending the Emperor’s Cup title they won last season were ended earlier by amateur side Honda FC.
Those struggles carry echoes of Urawa’s 2017 season, when they overcame poor form domestically to defeat Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the final despite finishing seventh in the J-League.
Urawa’s form in the Asian Champions League remains encouraging, however, with Otsuki’s side seeing off reigning CSL champions Shanghai SIPG in the previous round having fought back from a first leg loss at home to defeat South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai in the round of 16.
Guangzhou are not without their own issues, however, having advanced to the last four for the first time since their most recent win in the competition in 2015.
Fabio Cannavaro’s side ousted defending champions Kashima Antlers in the last round on the away goals rule, when a scoreless draw in Guangzhou was followed by a 1-1 draw at Kashima Soccer Stadium.
Those draws are part of a sequence of results that has seen Guangzhou not win in five games in all competitions and has seen their lead at the top of the CSL - which once stood at seven points - trimmed to a solitary point.
Guangzhou, who won their first Asian title in 2013 under Marcello Lippi, have only kept one clean sheet in their last six games and have yet to win away from home in the continental competition this season.
“I have more belief after tonight that we can be the champions in the Asian Champions League,” Cannavaro said after his side ousted Kashima.
“We are in the semi-finals and let’s see, for sure we are going to try our best.”
The second leg will take place at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on Oct. 23, with the winners facing off against either Qatar’s Al Sadd or Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia in the final in November over two legs.
Al Sadd, coached by former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez, were the last club from west Asia to win the title when they claimed the trophy in 2011.
Al Hilal are looking to reach the final for the third time in five years, having lost to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and Urawa in 2017. (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)