Big names inspire Nishikawa to greater heights
Shanghai: Lining up against Shanghai SIPG's formidable forward line of Oscar, Hulk and Marko Arnautovic might fill some goalkeepers with dread, but Urawa Red Diamonds' custodian Shusaku Nishikawa is motivated by the challenge ahead of the first leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday.
A Continental champion with the J.League side in 2017, 33-year-old Nishikawa and teammates are set to face familiar foes in the AFC Champions League knockout stages after they played the Chinese club four times in the competition two years ago.
In that campaign, Nishikawa kept cleansheets in two of those meetings against Shanghai SIPG, with the most crucial coming in the second leg of the semi-final that enabled Urawa to progress to the final 2-1 on aggregate.
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A similar display would see the Saitama club return to the final four for the fourth time.
"Two years ago we had some great matches against them," recalls the Oita native, who has been at Urawa since 2014.
"At the Shanghai Stadium, I felt a really special atmosphere and passion from the crowd.
"Although we lost there in the Group Stage that year, we were able to recover for the semi-final meeting and get the result we needed."
In the 2019 edition, the two sides have had similar campaigns to reach the quarter-finals. Both endured mixed Group Stage results before ultimately recording convincing Matchday Six wins – 5-0 for Shanghai SIPG against Ulsan Hyundai, 3-0 for Urawa against Beijing FC – to secure their places in the Knockout Stage.
In the Round of 16, the pair were drawn against Korean opposition with Shanghai SIPG needing penalties to get past Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, while Urawa pulled off an impressive 3-0 win away at Ulsan in the second leg to secure a 4-2 aggregate win.
And so, Nishikawa will once again face off against one of the most star-studded attacking units on the Continent.
"Shanghai SIPG have players like Hulk, Oscar, their new number seven [Arnautovic] and other talented players. I've watched their videos and their style of playing," he said.
"While I need to be careful of them, these players give me a high motivation to raise my game. In the AFC Champions League, I can have a great experience facing this level that I can't in the league. So I really appreciate my time on the pitch.
"Against these strong players, we always need to have a good performance from the goalkeeper - so that's my responsibility."
"We know what it's like to play at Shanghai Stadium, as Shanghai SIPG, too, know what it's like to play in front of our supporters.
"You can't approach an away match like a home tie. If it's possible, I would be happy if we can keep a cleansheet and get an away goal to take back to Saitama.
"We know our supporters will cheers us on which is a big encouragement for the players."
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