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Kuala Lumpur: With Islamic Republic of Iran’s Azadi Stadium and the Rajamangala Stadium of Bangkok profiled so far in our series on Asia’s great grounds, the-AFC.com turns to East Asia and Japan’s iconic Saitama Stadium 2002.

Both Urawa Red Diamonds and the Japan national team respectively have already seen some crucial ties in the 2017 AFC Champions League and FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian Qualifiers played out at Saitama this year, and Tuesday’s clash with Thailand in Group B of the World Cup finals qualifiers is sure to be no different.

Overview

The imposing 63,700-capacity Saitama Stadium 2002 was built to serve as a venue for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was co-hosted by both Japan and Korea Republic. Located around 25 kilometres north of central Tokyo, Saitama Stadium hosted four games during the 2002 tournament including Japan’s first game against Belgium as well as the semi-final between Brazil and Turkey.

Saitama Stadium remains a regular venue for the Japan national team, while it is the home ground for J.League-side Urawa Reds. Urawa are the best-supported club in Japan and regularly attract crowds of over 40,000 for J.League matches

History

Plans for the new stadium were first made in the early 1990s and construction eventually started in 1998 before hosting its first game in October 2001 as Urawa entertained Yokohama F. Marinos in the J.League.  With the stadium located just a 15 minutes walk from the nearby Urawa Misono Station, Japan’s final round qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup have been attended by crowds of nearly 60,000 passionate fans.

On the continental club scene, a near capacity crowd saw Urawa win the 2007 AFC Champions League title after beating Iran’s Sepahan FC 2-0 in the second leg of the final at Saitama Stadium.

A Match to Remember

While there have been many memorable matches played out at Saitama Stadium, the second leg of the 2007 AFC Champions League final remains dear in the heart of Urawa fans as their side became the first Japanese club to lift the AFC Champions League title in the fifth edition of the revamped tournament.

Having drawn 1-1 in Isfahan with Iranian side Sepahan, Urawa returned to Japan for the competition’s climax on 14 November 2007 and, in front of a sea of vibrant colour and passion in the stands at Saitama, were able to come out on top after goals from Yuichiro Nagai and Yuki Abe secured the 3-1 victory on aggregate and the title of Asian club kings.

Upcoming fixture
Japan v Thailand
Venue: Saitama Stadium 2002
Kick-off: 1935hrs

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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