ACL semi-final preview: Urawa Reds v Shanghai SIPG
FC Seoul's Dejan Damjanovic has played against both teams and tips Urawa Reds to win17 October 2017 | Paul Williams
So it all comes down to this.
Urawa Reds versus Shanghai SIPG for a spot in the 2017 AFC Champions League final, in all likelihood against Al Hilal who look to have their place in the final assured after a comprehensive 4-0 win over Iranian side Persepolis in the first leg.
With that tie seemingly done and dusted, all eyes will be on the glorious Saitama Stadium this Wednesday night as Urawa Reds host Shanghai SIPG with scores locked at 1-1 from the first leg.
Shanghai need to score, so they will have to attack. But really, do they know any other way? With Oscar, Hulk, Wu Lei and Elkeson in their arsenal they only know one gear.
So can Urawa withstand the onslaught? How will their at-times fragile defence handle the pressure? Can they control possession and starve Shanghai of the ball? Will that leave them open to Shanghai’s blistering counter attack, which was on full display when they tore apart Guangzhou Evergrande in the first leg of their quarter final?
All these questions will be answered on Wednesday night, but before then one man who knows these teams well is FC Seoul striker Dejan Damjanovic. With FC Seoul grouped with both Urawa and Shanghai in Group F this year, Damjanovic has seen these two teams up close and for the 36-year-old it is Urawa that is the superior side.
“Their ball possession, it’s unbelievable,” he told FootballToday.
“This is why Urawa is the best team in Asia without any competition. Any moment when you think you have them, you don’t have them. They can make two or three passes and switch the side and make an easy game for them.
“This is their quality and this is what Shanghai need to be careful of. Keeping the ball and making you tired is their biggest advantage.”
Since Damjanovic and FC Seoul played Urawa, things have changed, however. The Reds went on a torrid form slump that saw them slip from top spot to mid-table, seemingly in the blink of an eye, which cost Mihailo Petrovic his job.
When FC Seoul played Urawa at Saitama in February, only a late goal from Damjanovic added a skerrick of respectability to the score line as FC Seoul were thumped 5-2. According to Damjanovic, from that match he was convinced Urawa would go all the way.
“In the group stage Urawa performed a little bit better (than Shanghai), they were playing like Barcelona,” FC Seoul’s all-time leading scorer explained.
“We were thinking ‘this is unbelievable, if they play like this all season they’ll easily win the Champions League and be champions in Japan.’”
But as good as Urawa can be, they face a formidable foe in Shanghai SIPG who boast one of the best attacks anywhere in Asia.
Damjanovic had a word of advice for Urawa on how to defend an attack containing Oscar, Hulk, Elkeson and Wu Lei.
“Generally, you cannot defend them individually, so you must defend them as a team,” he said.
“You must have a good zone defence with a lot of focus on these guys. Generally, you must make a big focus on them, but as a team. Defend the space together, don’t give Hulk too much space for shooting because everybody knows what he can do when he has space.
“Generally, you must play as a team. This is a semi final. Maybe in the group stage and some games you can play just as individuals, but now when you have a final at stake they must be a team.”
Asked who he thinks will win and advance to the final, Damjanovic couldn’t split them.
“They’re two really good teams,” he said. “I don’t know who is going to win. I was thinking Urawa, but now Shanghai is still flying with Hulk and Oscar, so I think it’s going to be a really good game.
“To be honest Shanghai had a lot of luck this game (against Guangzhou Evergrande), a lot of luck. But maybe they deserved it.
“They fought and they didn’t give up and a little bit of luck came to them. Sometimes you need luck and Shanghai deserved it, but they definitely had luck. But now they must perform better, because I don’t think luck will come twice.”
asian champions league, urawa reds, shanghai sipg, dejan damjanovic