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Otsuki hails Urawa players, fans 


Guangzhou: Head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki paid tribute to his players and the travelling band of fans who backed his side at Tianhe Stadium on Wednesday as Urawa Red Diamonds advanced to the final of the 2019 AFC Champions League.

Shinzo Koroki’s 50th minute header sealed Urawa’s place in the final, where they will meet Al Hilal SFC from Saudi Arabia in a rematch of the 2017 decider, as the J.League side completed a 3-0 aggregate win over Chinese Super League leaders Guangzhou Evergrande.

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“I’m so happy to advance to the final,” said Otsuki, who took over at the helm of the team in May from Oswaldo Oliveira. “I want to thank our fans for travelling so far, for coming here to encourage us and I thank them.

“I’m proud of our players. They put on a good performance and we will try our best to do even better in the final.”

Urawa’s progress to the final comes despite their disappointing domestic form, which has seen the club slump in the standings in a manner that carries distinct echoes to the 2017 campaign, when Reds put aside a poor showing in the J.League to win the AFC Champions League.

The disciplined and determined performance of Otsuki’s side on Wednesday belied those issues as Urawa saw off a Guangzhou side desperate to haul their way back into the game following the two-goal loss in the first leg in Japan earlier in the month.

“Sometimes we play very well in the J.League and sometimes not so well in the AFC Champions League, and sometimes it’s to the contrary,” said Otsuki. “We always make the effort to perform well in both competitions, but it’s not easy to do that.

“We can’t say which match is more important because in every game we are very serious and focused and we try to do our best. In our next game we’re back to the J.League and we’ll try our best in that too.”

Koroki’s goal was his eighth in the AFC Champions League this year and the 33-year-old’s scoring ability once again proved decisive for his team, as it has done throughout this year’s campaign.

He scored key goals in the wins over Buriram United and Beijing FC in the group phase while his brace in the second leg victory over Ulsan Hyundai in the Round of 16 rescued his team after a disappointing performance in the first leg at Saitama Stadium. Koroki also scored twice in the quarter-final win over Shanghai SIPG.

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

“This is the third time I’ve come to Tianhe Stadium and it’s the first time to claim a win and I'm so happy about that,” he said, after a draw and a loss in his previous visits to Guangzhou with Urawa. “The fans came here to encourage us and I have to say a big thank you to them, today’s victory is great gift for them.

“In the first match we took a two goal lead and we knew it would be a very difficult game today, and it was. But our defence played well and I was able to score, despite only having a few chances. Now we need to prepare for the J.League games because there are many games still to be played.”

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