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Analysis: Urawa get game plan spot on against goal-shy Guangzhou

Kuala Lumpur: Urawa Red Diamonds got their tactics right to secure a place in the 2019 AFC Champions League final after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Guangzhou Evergrande in the second leg of the semi-final saw the J.League side progress 3-0 on aggregate. 

A 2-0 first-leg win meant Urawa took a strong advantage into the return meeting at Tianhe Stadium, although Guangzhou had gone 21 home games unbeaten on the Continent and had never been eliminated by a Japanese side in the knockout stage.

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Talisca’s Misfortune

Guangzhou came out the blocks on the front foot as they sought an early goal that would have got them right back into the tie, and Anderson Talisca had several chances to break the deadlock.

In the opening 45 minutes, the Brazilian had seven attempts at goal (shown below) and three of those were genuine scoring opportunities which, had they gone in, would have meant game on.

After forcing goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa to save well in the 15th minute, Talisca headed narrowly wide soon after before rattling the bar after a fine turn as half-time approached.

The 25-year-old managed just one effort on goal after the interval as Guangzhou faded, but on another night the lively Brazilian could have had a hat-trick and can count himself unlucky not to have got on the scoresheet.

Koroki Called It

Urawa captain Shinzo Koroki said prior to the game that his side needed to focus on defence and prevent Guangzhou from scoring an early goal, and the two-time champions carried out those tactics to perfection.

Spurred on by a full Tianhe Stadium, an early goal for the hosts could have led to a difficult night for Urawa, but centre-backs Tomoaki Makino and Daisuke Suzuki were tough in the challenge and goalkeeper Nishikawa answered every question asked of him.

The goalkeeper’s eight saves is the highest number recorded in the 2019 AFC Champions League knockout rounds but, Talisca’s contribution aside, Guangzhou will have been disappointed that only eight of their 19 attempts on goal were on target.

Koroki insisted that should Urawa keep the game goalless, their hosts could become nervous and chances would fall Urawa’s way. Five minutes after the interval, that’s exactly what happed as the skipper headed home his eighth of the campaign to all but end Guangzhou’s challenge.

Goal-shy Guangzhou

Fabio Cannavaro boasts a side with an array of attacking talent, yet they have struggled in front of goal in the latter rounds of the 2019 competition, scoring just once over the quarter- and semi-finals.

Talisca’s goal away at Kashima Antlers in the last eight was their only attempt on target but enough to see the Chinese side scrape past the defending champions on away goals after they had drawn a blank in the first leg at Tianhe Stadium.

The Chinese heavyweights, AFC Champions League winners in 2013 and 2015, again managed just one effort on target in the first leg against Urawa before the scoreless draw on home soil meant for the first time ever in the competition, Guangzhou failed to find the back of the net over two legs.

Since the first leg of the quarter-finals, the Guangdong club have chalked up 41 efforts on goal, yet just 16 have been on target. Eight of those were from Talisca, while club legend Elkeson has rarely threatened on the Continent since returning from Shanghai SIPG.

Not only did Guangzhou's hopes of becoming the first-ever three-time champions fall by the wayside on Wednesday, but with it went their 21-game undefeated run at home and a proud record of having never been ousted by Japanese opposition.

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