Club Profile: Urawa Red Diamonds
Abu Dhabi: Ten years after becoming the first Asian side to finish third at the FIFA Club World Cup, Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds will make a return to the inter-continental competition later this week when they play in the quarter-finals of the 2017 edition.
Urawa's participation at this year's event was confirmed after they were crowned Asian champions, following a 2-1 aggregate win over Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal in the final of the 2017 AFC Champions League.
Founded as the company team of Shin-Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1950, Urawa were one of Japan's most successful sides before they took the current name prior to the launch of the inaugural J-League season in 1992.
In 67 years of existence, the club has won numerous titles including four first division championships, six Emperor's Cups and two AFC Champions League trophies.
While a number of international stars have appeared for Urawa ever since they became professional in 1992, German legend Guido Buchwald is perhaps the most fondly remembered among the fans of the club.
Buchwald spent four seasons at Urawa as a player before returning to become manager in 2004; he went on to win the league title and two Emperor Cups in his three years in charge.
More recently, Brazilian midfielder Robson Ponte carved himself a legendary status at the club during a six-year stay from 2005 to 2010, and was one of the prominent stars of the successful 2007 AFC Champions League campaign.
Among the Japanese players, former AFC Player of the Year Shinji Ono and Japan captain Makoto Hasebe have both enjoyed a similar career trajectory, joining Urawa straight after high school before making a move to Europe.
Last but not least, current Urawa skipper Yuki Abe_ (pictured above)_ is a longtime servant of the club, having made over 300 appearances and played in both of their AFC Champions League triumphs.
Brazilian striker Rafael Silva has made his presence felt in his first season at Urawa, scoring 21 goals in all competitions, including nine strikes in the AFC Champions League.
The most significant of those goals came in the final, when he scored a goal apiece in each leg to give Urawa the title.
While Silva delivered the goals, midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi has been busy running the show from the centre of the park.
Capable of splitting open defences with his precise passing, the 29-year old earned the Most Valuable Player award in the AFC Champions League after a string of impressive displays.
At the back, Urawa have a safe pair of hands in Shusaku Nishikawa, who was a colossal figure in goal during the first leg of the AFC Champions League final, while defender Tomoaki Makino has also shown his quality throughout the campaign.
Despite impressing in Asia, Urawa have suffered an erratic run of form in domestic competitions this season. Takafumi Hori's men ended the J-League season in seventh place, after losing the last three games.
Urawa were also knocked out of the Emperor's Cup in the fourth round, which means that they will not be able to defend their Asian title next season.
Going into the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final, Hori will hope that his players leave their domestic form behind and step up when it matters, if they are to emulate or better their third place finish from 2007.