Muto: We fear nothing at home fortress
Saitama: Urawa Red Diamonds forward Yuki Muto has insisted that the two-time champions form at Saitama Stadium will help secure victory over Ulsan Hyundai in their AFC Champions League Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday.
The J.League giants have tasted just one defeat in the last 14 AFC Champions League fixtures on home soil and it is this impressive record that helped Urawa to the 2017 Continental title.
And Muto knows that a win on Wednesday over Ulsan would be a big step for the club towards making a fourth appearance in the quarter-finals.
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"The AFC Champions League is always a challenge, be it this year or when we won the title in 2017," said the 30-year-old.
"However, our campaign in 2017 was particularly special and we could overcome all obstacles. That means we fear nothing, especially in our home stadium. That is the main advantage for us.
"It was definitely not an easy path to this year’s Round of 16, it was a very tough Group Stage. Thanks to our team unity, though, we were able to make it into the knockout stage.
"That togetherness gave us enough confidence to defeat a very strong Beijing FC side on Matchday Six, and we take that spirit into the Round of 16."
"We now face another very strong side, perhaps one of the strongest in Asia, Ulsan Hyundai. They finished first in Group H and they are playing very well in the K-League right now, too. Korean teams are strong and physical opponents, so we should be careful that we can match them in these qualities.
"I always like to think positively, so of course winning the first leg will put us in a better position mentally for the second leg. If we can win, we put all the pressure on Ulsan in the return meeting."
Having failed to qualify for the 2018 edition after lifting the title in 2017, there were many among the Urawa faithful who perceive this year as the side's "title defence" having never had an opportunity to actively defend their title.
Muto is dimissive of such a notion, but does admit he hungers to become an Asian champion a second time.
"I don’t think this is like a title defence for us. Actually, I think more like the challenger, rather than the champion," he added.
"I’d like to win the AFC Champions League title again so we can celebrate with all our supporters once more.
"I remember clearly all their smiling faces after the 2017 final. We need to keep winning to relive that day."
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