Urawa stuns SIPG to reach ACL final

AFP
Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa's victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka's triumph a year later.
AFP
AFP

Urawa Red Diamonds' Rafael Silva (fourth left) scores the only goal against Shanghai SIPG during their AFC Champions League semifinal, second leg in Saitama, Japan, on October 18, 2017. Urawa advanced to the final 2-1 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Shanghai in the first leg.

Brazilian Rafael Silva snatched an early winner as Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds beat star-studded Shanghai SIPG 1-0 at home on Wednesday to reach the AFC Champions League final.

The Reds advance to face Saudi giants al-Hilal in next month's two-leg final after holding on for a 2-1 aggregate win that ended Japan's miserable recent run in Asia's premier club competition.

Silva pounced after just 11 minutes in Saitama when he met a Yosuke Kashiwagi corner to power a header past Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling for what proved to be the only goal of a fractious encounter.

Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa's victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka's triumph a year later.

Although Shanghai largely dominated possession, with Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk threatening in spells, the visitors lacked end product, allowing Urawa to complete a relatively untroubled victory.

Hulk, who tops the ACL scoring charts with nine goals, brought a smart save from Reds 'keeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a dipping free kick after 24 minutes. 

But the Reds could have added further goals in the second half as a Tomoaki Makino header clipped the bar and Shinzo Koroki saw a close-range effort brilliantly tipped over by Yan.

Another Hulk rocket 12 minutes from time forced a decent block from Nishikawa, who then reacted quickly to smother Elkeson's follow-up.

But Shanghai's performance had Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas ranting on the touchline a day after the former Chelsea boss turned 40.

"It was a great effort from the whole team to keep a clean sheet," said Urawa captain Yuki Abe after the Reds ended 10 years of hurt in the ACL.

"We knew the first goal would be crucial but we came into the match with no fear and got the result. Hopefully we can do it again in the final."

Al-Hilal completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Iran's Persepolis on Tuesday after scoring four unanswered goals in the first leg.

The two legs of the final will be held on November 18 and 25.

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