2019 Final – Key Players: Urawa Red Diamonds
Kualu Lumpur: Urawa Red Diamonds are targeting an unprecedented third AFC Champions League title when they come up against Al Hilal in the 2019 final.
Just as the class of 2007 did 12 years ago and, indeed, many of the current generation repeated in 2017, those that take to the field in the two games will be aiming to add their names to Urawa folklore.
Ahead of Saturday’s first leg at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium, the-AFC.com has selected three players who could be key to their side’s chances of being crowned kings of Asia once more.
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More than ever this year, Urawa have been reliant on attacker Shinzo Koroki. And, once more, when his side have needed him, he has delivered with the 33-year-old enjoying his best ever scoring return in the AFC Champions League.
With eight goals in the 2019 edition, the former Kashima Antlers man is in the running for the tournament’s top scorer accolade as he chases down Al Hilal’s 10-goal Bafetimbi Gomis.
Koroki has easily surpassed his previous best tally in the competition of four, while his goals have continued to arrive at crucial times, particularly in the knockout rounds.
A brace away at Ulsan Hyundai in the last 16 helped Urawa overcome a first-leg deficit before he scored home and away against Shanghai SIPG in the quarter-finals.
The striker then headed home at Guangzhou Evergrande’s Tianhe Stadium to effectively kill off the semi-final and also put himself out in front when it comes to headed goals (4) in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Not just a goalscorer, Koroki has an underrated role as a provider, as he tops the Urawa stats for created chances (15).
Trusted by his coach as the Reds’ main attacker, Koroki will need to once more take up the burden of leading the line for Urawa, with a third AFC Champions League title at stake.
Rafael Silva was the man who impressed with his scintillating goal-scoring record for Urawa in 2017, but two years later it’s another Brazilian, Ewerton, who is boasting the stats that raise the eyebrows.
Amongst all players in this year’s tournament, it’s the industrious midfielder who has won more tackles (23) and more duels (89) than any other.
And it’s not just breaking up the play where the 26-year-old has excelled, as he leads Urawa players in successful passes (516) and successful passes ending in the final third (119), while he also is third in chances created for the club (10).
The Sao Paulo native has started every game for Urawa, with his best performance coming in the 3-0 away win at Ulsan in the second leg of the last 16 when, in addition to a dominant display in the centre of the park, he scored his only goal of the campaign.
3' GOAL! 1-0 @REDSOFFICIAL— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) May 7, 2019
Ewerton plays a fine pass to find Koroki in space and the striker makes no mistake with the finish!
Disastrous start for the home side Buriram!#BRUvURA #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/EXO8jGXMbe
Ewerton also displayed his eye for a killer pass in the must-win group stage win against Buriram United when he threaded an inch-perfect through-ball to Koroki to open the scoring.
A screen for the backline, a foundation for the Urawa attack and a creator in his own right, the triple-threat Ewerton is set to play a vital role in the final.
A charismatic presence in the heart of the defence, Tomoaki Makino stands out as one of Urawa’s leaders on the field and in the locker room.
The ever-present centre-back has played an important part in the Saitama side’s run to the final, relishing the physical challenge of big-name opponents as he has effectively neutralised the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Elkeson and Anderson Talisca.
Makino also boasts impressive numbers as only Ewerton has won more duels than his 86, while he leads his teammates in aerial duels won, with his tally of 48 averaging out at four per game.
The 32-year-old Hiroshima native is a threat at set-pieces, scoring the crucial opener in the quarter-final against Shanghai SIPG, while he also headed home Urawa’s first goal of the campaign, at home to Buriram.
While Koroki wears the armband when the veteran Yuki Abe is not in the starting line-up, it is Makino who is the more dominant vocal force for Urawa, as proved by his stirring on-pitch team talk ahead of the second half against Shanghai.
Of the players likely to start in Urawa’s backline in Riyadh on Saturday, Makino is the only one who appeared in the 2017 final and his experience and knowhow will be crucial, not only in Saudi Arabia, but also if his team are to lift an unprecedented third AFC Champions League title.
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