TOKYO: Japan’s Urawa Reds will look to defy recent history and complete a shock victory over star-studded Shanghai SIPG in the Asian Champions League semifinals on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Persepolis has a mountain to climb on Tuesday as they try to overturn a 4-0 first-leg thrashing away to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
After holding Andre Villas-Boas’s side to a 1-1 draw in China last month, the Reds are hoping to become the first Japanese team to reach the final of Asia’s premier club competition since 2008.
To do so they will have to tame Brazil striker Hulk, who scored a cracker in the first leg and leads this season’s Champions League scoring charts with nine goals.
“Of course there’s pressure on us not to concede an away goal,” said Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
“They have a lot of top players but we’ve won every home game in the ACL this year so we’ll be ready.”
Japanese clubs have struggled in the competition since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later, while Guangzhou Evergrande lifted the trophy in 2013 and 2015.
The Reds will need to bring the same sort of resilience they displayed in overturning a two-goal deficit to eliminate Japanese rivals Kawasaki Frontale in the quarterfinals when Slovenian Zlatan Ljubijankic, Brazilian Rafael Silva and Toshiyuki Takagi all scored late goals.
SIPG arguably still start as slight favorites given the strength of their squad as they chase a first Asian title, but the Reds will be boosted by the fact that SIPG have been poor away from home.
They have won only three times on the road in their last 10 games in all competitions, drawing 3-3 against lowly Liaoning at the weekend to effective end their hopes of catching defending champions Evergrande at the top of the Chinese Super League.
“There is the advantage of the away goal (for Urawa),” admitted Villas-Boas, who welcomes back China goalkeeper Yan Junling after suspension.
“But we are a team that has scored so many goals and I hope that we are able to score in Japan and cancel out the away goal. We have everything to play for.”
Villas-Boas will also be hoping record signing Oscar can rediscover some form after struggling since his return from an eight-game ban for his part in a brawl in June, in what is a crucial fixture for the former Chelsea boss.
In the other semifinals, Al Hilal will be overwhelming favorites to complete the job against Persepolis.
Syria striker Omar Khribin fired a hat-trick in the first leg and will be keen to bounce back after the war-torn country’s World Cup dream was extinguished by Australia in a playoff last week.