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S-final, 2nd Leg: Urawa book Al Hilal date

Guangzhou: Shinzo Koroki silenced the Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday with a header that sent Urawa Red Diamonds into the final of the 2019 AFC Champions League as the J.League side secured a 1-0 win over Guangzhou Evergrande to book their place in next month’s decider. 

Koroki’s 50th minute goal earned Urawa a 3-0 aggregate win over the Chinese Super League leaders and ensured the final will be a repeat of the 2017 clash, when Urawa defeated Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia over two legs to claim their second AFC Champions League crown.

The pair will face off again after Al Hilal's win over Al Sadd from Qatar on Tuesday evening and Urawa will now have the chance to become the first club to win the trophy on three occasions, having seen off a Guangzhou side attempting to overcome a two-goal first leg deficit to keep their own hopes of a third AFC Champions League title alive.

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Needing to score to haul themselves back into the tie, Guangzhou coach Fabio Cannavaro opted for a strong attacking line-up, selecting Wei Shihao and Yang Liyu on the wings with Elkeson at the point of the attack and Anderson Talisca supporting from behind.

Talisca, in particular, was a constant thorn in Urawa’s defence, the Brazilian regularly finding space in the tightest of areas to test Shusaku Nishikawa. The Urawa goalkeeper was up to the task, however, denying the former Benfica forward in the 16th minute after Takahiro Sekine’s slip allowed Yang into position to find Talisca with space to shoot.

Three minutes later the Brazilian’s header flew across the face of the Urawa goal as the home side cranked up the pressure, with relief coming when Fabricio and Yuki Abe forced Zeng Cheng into fine saves at the other end in quick succession.

Guangzhou continued to push for the opener, Talisca firing off from distance and Elkeson heading straight at Nishikawa before, eight minutes from the break, Evergrande’s irrepressible blond finally beat the Urawa goalkeeper, only for his left-foot shot to crash back off the post.

The hosts were not having it all their own way, however. Koroki managed to shoot over the bar from eight yards out just seconds later in a frantic first half that somehow ended scoreless.

With a two-goal lead to protect, Urawa had set up more defensively than in the first leg, with Abe making a rare start alongside Ewerton at the base of the midfield and the 2007 and 2017 champions were restricted to occasional excursions into the final third of the Evergrande.

It was via one of those, five minutes into the second half and with Guangzhou looking threatening, that Urawa sealed their place in the final. Daiki Hashioka broke down the right and his centre found Koroki unmarked, the veteran striker making no mistake with his perfectly placed header.

The goal – Koroki’s eighth in the competition so far this season - killed the buzz of expectation in the Tianhe Stadium and, even though Talisca and Paulinho had further opportunities to strike, Urawa held firm to claim the win and a third AFC Champions League final appearance.

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