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Cannavaro comments inspired us to victory, says Koroki

Guangzhou: Shinzo Koroki has revealed that Fabio Cannavaro’s confidence that Guangzhou Evergrande would lift the 2019 AFC Champions League was the motivation Urawa Red Diamonds needed to overcome their fellow two-time winners and progress to the final. 

Urawa’s 2-0 first-leg win over the Chinese side three weeks ago gave them the upper hand going into the return meeting at the Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday and, after withstanding first-half pressure, Koroki’s 50th-minute goal all but killed the tie off as the 2007 and 2017 champions secured a 3-0 aggregate victory.

Urawa have been struggling domestically as they hover dangerously near the J.League relegation zone but have been superb on the Continent and the striker, who notched his eighth goal of the campaign, revealed that his teammates were spurred by comments made by Guangzhou’s Italian coach.

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“After Guangzhou defeated Kashima Antlers in the quarter-finals, Cannavaro said that he believed they could go on and win the tournament,” said Koroki.

“All of our players heard about this and it gave us even more motivation to win this game; I believe his words helped us get the victory.

“The AFC Champions League is all we have left to fight for this year; of course we still have some relegation trouble in the J.League but this title is something that we really want.”

Next up for Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s side is a return meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in November’s final in a repeat of the 2017 match-up that Urawa won 2-1 on aggregate.

But although the semi-final scoreline suggests a comfortable passage to the showpiece event, the Saitama club were on the back foot for much of the opening 45 minutes as their defence held firm in the face of a Guangzhou onslaught.

Prior to the match, Koroki had alluded to the fact that Urawa would have to focus on defence at Tianhe Stadium, and Anderson Talisca, in particular, proved a huge threat in the first half. The Brazilian called goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa into action early on, headed just wide soon after and then rattled the crossbar as half-time approached.

Semi-final - 2nd Leg: Guangzhou Evergrande vs Urawa Red Diamonds

“We knew that after ending the first half without conceding a goal that the second half would be more open,” added Koroki, who has now scored in his past five away games on the Continent.

“We spoke about that and even though there weren’t many chances, we could take one of those so it’s really positive.”

While Koroki again took the headlines, Nishikawa was one of a number of Urawa heroes in southern China PR, with the goalkeeper making eight saves across the 90 minutes.

The 33-year-old was under considerable pressure in the early stages, but answered every question asked of him to claim his second successive shutout.

Urawa’s victory meant they became the first Japanese side to ever eliminate Guangzhou from the AFC Champions League and, in doing so, also ended the Chinese team’s 21-game unbeaten home record in the competition.

“As they had a lot of shots in the first half, I had to try my best to stay focused and I think I stood up well to the challenge,” said Nishikawa.

“I thought I played well for the whole game and I enjoyed playing in front of such an incredible atmosphere.

“Guangzhou have not lost an AFC Champions League game at home for a long time, but I think we have improved a lot away from home, and we have been winning games rather than drawing them.”

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