Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds is looking to “harness the power” of its boisterous fans when it hosts Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in Saturday’s Asian Champions League final second leg.
The two sides drew 1-1 in last week’s first leg in Riyadh, with defending champion Al Hilal taking a 13th-minute lead through Salem Al Dawsari before Shinzo Koroki levelled for Urawa early in the second half.
Away goals still count as a tie-breaker in Asia’s premier club competition, and close to 60,000 fans will be at Saitama Stadium, north of Tokyo, for the return leg.
Goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa was part of the Urawa team that beat Al Hilal to lift the title in 2017 and he believes the club’s fans can spur them on to glory again.
“Make no mistake, the atmosphere at home will be fantastic and it will allow us to play more than we did in the first leg,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s not just the players on the pitch -- the players coming off the bench and those not playing are also doing a great job.
“We want to harness the power of playing at home,” the 36-year-old added.
Al Hilal will be without Al Dawsari after the star winger picked up a late red card for kicking out at midfielder Ken Iwao in the first leg.
The two teams are meeting in the final for the third time in six years -- Urawa came out on top in 2017 but Al Hilal got revenge two years later.
The winter World Cup in Qatar and travel complications arising from the pandemic mean the final is taking place almost nine months after Urawa won through from its semifinal.
Nishikawa said he had “goosebumps” thinking about the atmosphere that awaits Saturday’s game but warned his team-mates not to get carried away by the occasion.
“Rather than thinking about anything special, the challenge is to prepare for the game as normal,” he said.
Al Hilal will pose Urawa a threat even without Al Dawsari, with former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo set to play up front alongside ex-Porto man Moussa Marega.
Ighalo scored four goals in Al Hilal’s 7-0 semi-final thrashing of Qatar’s Al Duhail, and Urawa midfielder Atsuki Ito knows the Nigerian is capable of pouncing again in the final.
“If we prepare for the game thinking we’re going to do it because we got a 1-1 draw and we get too far ahead of ourselves, we’ll get burnt,” he said.
“Al Hilal are a strong team, so we need to be careful and make sure we don’t allow that kind of atmosphere.”
Ito was born in Urawa’s home city of Saitama and remembers the club’s previous two Champions League triumphs, in 2007 and 2017.
He said the competition is “special” for a club known for having the biggest support in Japan.
“I’ve been watching it since I was a little kid and there’s a special atmosphere for Champions League games,” said the 24-year-old.
“I want to win the title and celebrate with all the fans.”
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