Getting to know: Urawa Red Diamonds

I did this previously for the 2012 campaign and the 2013 qualifier as a way to take a look at the opposition and find out more about them, and decided to bring it back for another campaign.
Today we look at the second team in the group- Urawa Red Diamonds.

Urawa Reds were founded by Shin-Mitsubishi Industries in 1950, starting out in Kobe before moving to Tokyo in 1958.

In the amateur era, Mitsubishi won the Japan Soccer League on four occasions (1969, 1973, 1978 and 1982), in addition to 7 cup wins including the Emperors Cup on four occasions (1971, 1973, 1973 and 1980).

In the J-League era of Japanese Football, Urawa have been a top tier regular and perennial contender, although they’ve won the J-League on just the one occasion- 2006. Other successes in this era include the 2003 League Cup and back to back Emperor’s Cup wins in 2005 and 2006.

The big success for Urawa however came in 2007 when they won their first and only AFC Champions League title defeating Sepahan 3-1 on aggregate. Following that Urawa participated in the Club World Cup hosted in their own back yard, where they beat Sepahan before losing to Milan 1-0 in the semi-finals. They then beat Tunisian side Etolie du Sahel on penalties to finish third.

They followed that up making the semi-finals of the ACL the following year. However it’s been a bit of a downhill spiral for Urawa, since then, with their best results occurring in the Nabisco cup where they were runner up twice.

2014 however saw a bit of a renaissance for the Reds however, with a second place finish in the league for the first time in seven years, finishing just one point behind Champions Gamba.

Manager:  Mihalio Petrovic
The 57 year old Austrian, who has the manager of Urawa since 2012, is a highly experienced manager, particularly in Japanese football with a spell at Sanfrecce Hiroshima prior to taking the Urawa Job.

As a player Petrovic had a lengthy career lasting the best part of the last two decades, spent for the best part at two clubs. After coming up through the ranks at Red Star Belgrade, he made 147 appearances over a five year stint in Slovenia for Olimpija Ljubljana. After departing, and following a brief stint with Dinamo Zagreb Mihalio moved to Sturm Graz where he spent the next 12 seasons making 239 appearances.

After retiring, Petrovic moved immediately into the coaching world, bouncing around six jobs in a decade, including with his former club Olimpija. Following that he returned to Sturm Graz as a manager for three seasons before departing in 2006 and heading for Japan.

His time in Japan started with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, where he returned the club to the top tier, and in 2011 he guided them to their first ever ACL appearance. Despite his success however he’s yet to win any silverware in Japan.

Goalkeepers: 1) Shusaku Nishikawa 15) Koki Otani, 23) Nao Iwadate
Defenders: 2) Kenchi Kaga, 4) Daisuke Nasu, 5) Tomoaki Makino, 14) Tadaaki Hirakawa, 17) Mitsuru Nagata, 22) Yuki Abe, 27) Rikya Motegi, 33) Wataru Hashimoto, 36) Takuya Okamoto, 46) Ryota Moriwaki.
Midfielders: 3) Tomoya Ugajin, 7) Tsukasa Umesaki,  8 ) Yosuke Kashiwagi, 13) Keita Suzuki, 16) Takuya Aoki, 18) Shuto Kojima, 24) Takahiro Sekine, 25) Shota Saito.
Forwards: 11) Naoki Ishihara, 19) Yuki Muto, 20) Tadanari Lee, 21) Zlatan Llubijankic, 30) Shinzo Koroki, 31) Toshiyuki Takagi.

Key players
Zlatan Llubijankic
Last week we saw Beijing was a side that was reliant on their foreign players to provide cutting edge and make the difference in the front third, however that’s not the case with Urawa as Llubijankic is the only visa player in their squad.

Llubijankic has had a solid career in Europe with decent spells with Belgian club Gent and Domzale in his homeland. That form made him a fixture in the Slovenian national team, including making the 2010 World Cup squad. After a decade in European Football, Zlatan departed Europe for Japan and Omiya Ardija where he scored 17 goals in 71 appearances in the past three seasons. Urawa will be looking to the big Slovenian to score the goals this campaign.

Yuki Abe
The versatile defender/ defensive midfielder has a wealth of experience and is now in his second spell with the Saitama based club. All up he’s made 180 appearances for the club, including playing a part in their successful 2007 ACL campaign by scoring the decisive goal in the second leg of the final.

Abe has also got European experience under his belt thanks to his stint with Leicester City, and national team experience including the 2010 World Cup. Despite spending most of his career in a defensive midfielder role, he played in central defence last week against Suwon and at the weekend against Gamba, and he’s expected to form part of the back four tomorrow night.

Shunsaku Nishikawa
The 28 year old custodian was signed at the beginning of last season after four seasons at Sanfrecce Hiroshima where he was twice named in the J-League team of the year. All up he’s made 279 appearances in the J-League, and his form has earned him 15 national team appearances for Samurai Blue including being the back-up keeper in the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Asian Cup. Shunsaku is the only Urawa player who was selected to represent his nation at the Asian Cup but failed to get any playing time.

Tadanari Lee
A name that should be familiar to Australians after his extra time winner in the 2011 Asian Cup final, Lee is a striker who’s scored goals everywhere he’s gone in Japan. After 50 goals for Kashiwa and Sanfrecce, Lee was signed by English side Southampton- however he failed to settle in and eventually returned to Japan two years later.

Yosuke Kashiwagi
Japanese Football is characterised by skilful, creative midfielders and Urawa are no exception with Yosuke Kashiwagi providing skill and trickery in the no.10 role. With 30 goals and 54 assists in 203 games for Urawa since 2010, Kashiwagi looms as the man most likely to unlock Brisbane’s defence tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s game looms as the toughest of the group stage campaign against one of the powerhouses of Japanese and Asian football. Three seasons ago Brisbane were outplayed by an FC Tokyo side who had just been promoted from J2, this time they face a far tougher test this time around.



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