After a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the AFC Asian Champions League Final in Riyadh last weekend, Urawa return to Saitama Stadium confident they can get the job done at home where they are undefeated in their last ten Champions League matches, with nine wins and a draw.

Ironically, in their AFC Champions League triumph in 2007 they also drew the first leg away from home 1-1, on that occasion to Iran’s Sepahan, before finishing the job at home 2-0 to win 3-1 on aggregate.

Former Brazilian national team striker Washington, who was instrumental in Urawa’s success in 2007 and scored in their dramatic semi-final win over South Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, believes returning to Saitama with an away goal is crucial for Urawa’s chances.

“If you comeback home with a clean sheet or a good score in hands you have great chances to win the second leg at home with all your supporters around,” he told Football Today in an exclusive interview before last weekend’s first leg.

“The away draw was very important, it gave us confidence and in the second leg we won with our fans support. We achieved a great score and became champions.

“That’s why it’s so important to play a good game in the first leg and, if it is possible, to score. It would be the best to bring the second leg home with more confidence.”

Reflecting on the Reds’ success in 2007, the 42-year-old, who was capped nine times by the Seleção, said it ranked as one of the biggest highlights of his career.

“For us here in South America it’s like a Copa Libertadores, and for those in Europe it’s like a UEFA Champions League,” he said.

“So it’s the most important championship in Asia. Of my career highlights it’s one of the most important titles I have achieved.”

While the final is a match that will live long in his memory, the match that really stands out is the dramatic penalty shootout win over Seongnam in the semi-final. After both legs were drawn 2-2, Urawa edged the penalty shootout 5-3 in front of over 51,500 at a raucous Saitama Stadium.

“A final match is always important and unforgettable for us players,” he said. “But the semi-final win over Seongnam was very important because it was a tough and complicated opponent. Both home and away matches were tough.

“And also because it was a match that I played with a fractured nose that I suffered in a J.League game. So I had to use a mask and I also scored a beautiful goal.

“It was an important match because I dedicated myself, I could have stayed out of the game, but thanks to God I could play and even with a mask on I scored a goal and helped Urawa to qualify to the final.”

Only one player remains from that history making Urawa side of 2007, and that is current captain Yuki Abe, who joined the club in that 2007 season after eight years with JEF United Ichihara.

Now 36, Abe will lead the side out looking to repeat the success of 2007 where he scored the second, and ultimately match-winning goal for Urawa.

“I remember when he arrived at Urawa,” Washington recalled. “He was a very important player and was already in the Japan national team. His signing was very important at the time and gave so much quality to Urawa.

“And today he is the most experienced player and for sure that’s why he is the captain of the team. He is an important leader to Urawa and I am sure he will help them to be the champions.”

While he only spent two seasons at the club after a year with Tokyo Verdy, the Saitama club left an indelible mark on the Brazilian, who won the 2006 Golden Boot in the J.League with 26 goals.

“For me, Urawa is the greatest team in Japan, with all the respect to the other clubs,” he said.

“Urawa is a beautiful club and has a beautiful team. I am very proud to have worn the shirt and be part of Urawa’s history.

“I consider, along with many supporters, that Urawa’s team in 2006 and 2007 were the best of their history. That’s why we achieved the greatest titles in that time. And I am part of that team.”

Washington reunited with some of his former teammates, including fellow Brazilian Robson Ponte and Japanese international Tulio Tanaka, in Japan earlier this year for the testimonial match of Keita Suzuki, the captain of the 2007 squad.

“We were a group of friends,” he said. “We would always hang out together, and go out to have some lunch. It was a very happy group and we created a great friendship.

“And now in the last meeting at Keita’s farewell we made a beautiful reunion. It’s always good to see these great players, it makes us so happy and we all feel this happiness because beside the friendship we made history at Urawa Reds.

“We all keep in touch and when we can we talk to each other. It was a great team. This team will always be very important in my life.”

The second leg of the Asian Champions League Final between Urawa Reds and Al Hilal will be held on Saturday 25 November at 7.15pm local time. The Asian Game will take you to Saitama Stadium for a comprehensive look at this year’s AFC Champions League final.

Categories: People | Asia

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