Analysis: Urawa claim deserved first-leg advantage
Saitama: Stunning long-range strikes from Fabricio and Takahiro Sekine saw Urawa Red Diamonds secure a 2-0 victory over Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League semi-finals at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday.
In the battle of the two-time champions, the hosts’ victory was no more than they deserved and Tsuyoshi Otsuki’s team will travel to Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium in three weeks’ time in a strong position.
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Fabio Cannavaro opted to switch from the four-man backline used in the 1-1 draw away at Kashima Antlers that eliminated the defending champions two weeks ago to a five-man set-up, with Zhang Linpeng returning on the left side.
While the intention may have been to limit Urawa’s threat going forward, the change in formation failed to have the desired effect as the hosts were able to push forward with considerable success and could, and perhaps should, have ended up with more than the two they did score.
Guangzhou spent large spells on the back foot as Urawa racked up 15 shots to the Chinese side’s five and six on target to just one in return. Daiki Hashioka, in particular, should have found the back of the net but saw his close-range effort cleared off the line by Gao Zhunyi, while Yuki Muto also drew a good save from Zeng Cheng.
The possession figures may have been even, but there was only one side who were regularly an attacking force as Hashioka on the right and Sekine on the left were able to peg back their opposite numbers Deng Hanwen and Zhang, and limit any danger they may have posed going in the other direction.
Sekine delivers the goods
After returning to Urawa ahead of the quarter-final victory over Shanghai SIPG following a two-year spell in Europe, Sekine produced his best display back in the Reds shirt, with his goal the icing on the cake of an all-round strong performance.
The 24-year-old found space in the box for an early sight on goal that was pushed away by Zeng, before his slick, short pass to Fabricio paved the way for the Brazilian to open the scoring with an unstoppable effort from fully 25 yards.
75' GOLAZO! 2-0 @REDSOFFICIAL— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) October 2, 2019
Anything Fabricio can do, Sekine can do it too!
The midfielder pounces on a poor clearance and blasts an absolute rocket from 30 yards to double Urawa's lead!#URAvGUA #ACL2019 pic.twitter.com/tlX0aCihCt
Over the 90 minutes, Takahiro created two chances for his teammates, had four shots on goal and posted a passing accuracy just shy of 78 percent. The midfielder could not have struck the ball more sweetly when it fell to him with 15 minutes to play as he added a goal that gave Guangzhou a mountain to climb.
Sekine departed Urawa just over two years ago, thus missing their title success despite playing a part in the earlier rounds. Should he continue in the same vein of form, then he may just get the chance to make up for being absent from the victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in 2017.
Elkeson yet to hit the heights
A legend in Guangzhou having scored decisive goals in the 2013 and 2015 AFC Champions League finals, Elkeson has yet to find his feet on the Continent since his return from Shanghai SIPG. Spearheading his side’s attack on Wednesday, he had little opportunity to make inroads on the match.
Of the 22 players who started the game, Elkeson, who was withdrawn after 87 minutes, had fewer touches (23) and passes (18, graph below) than any other as he cut, at times, a peripheral figure at the other end of the pitch to where the majority of the action took place.
While he has been on the scoresheet for Guangzhou domestically and for China PR on his international debut, Elkeson has yet to rediscover his goalscoring form in a competition in which he traditionally excels. In three matches since returning to Guangdong, the 30-year-old has had just two attempts on goal and one on target.
Tianhe Stadium has been the venue where his goals have helped Guangzhou lift two AFC Champions League titles. Fabio Cannavaro will hope that in three weeks’ time, the forward can produce the goods in front of home support once more and help his side overhaul a two-goal deficit.
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