Urawa triumphs in Champions League

by James Mulligan

SAITAMA — Urawa Reds coach Holger Osieck said his players had little time to savor last night’s AFC Champions League victory over Sepahan as the Saitama giants look to wrap up their second successive J. League title on Sunday.

The Reds became the first Japanese team to win the revamped ACL title after goals from Yuichiro Nagai and Yuki Abe gave them a 2-0 victory over Iran’s Sepahan in the second leg of the final on Wednesday evening in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Saitama Stadium.

“There is not a lot of time to celebrate,” German coach Osieck told reporters. Our schedule is very tight, our next game is on Sunday and teams want to give you a tough time if you are a winning team.

“But today is a day to celebrate. It is something special, something special for Japan. Tomorrow we will focus on Sunday’s game.”

Urawa plays Shimizu S-Pulse at Saitama Stadium at the weekend, with Osieck’s men five points ahead in the league with three games left to go.

Victory against S-Pulse will be enough to give Urawa the league title if second-placed Gamba Osaka and third-placed Kashima Antlers fail to win their games.

The newly crowned Asian champions were rewarded with a winner’s check for $500,000 after their 3-1 aggregate victory, but more important to them is a place in December’s Club World Cup and a potential match against UEFA Champions League winner AC Milan.

“The Club World Cup is a great opportunity for us,” said Osieck. “If we play in the semifinal against Milan it will be a highlight in the Reds’ history.”

Osieck, assistant coach to Franz Beckenbauer when Germany won the 1990 World Cup, took over from Guido Buchwald as Urawa coach before the start of this season after his compatriot and fellow World Cup winner led the Reds to the J. League and Emperor’s Cup double.

Urawa president Mitsunori Fujiguchi had made winning the ACL title the priority at the beginning of the season and Osieck, who had a stint as club coach in the ’90s, delivered at the first time of asking.

“Fujiguchi-san was a very happy man. Sometimes in life, dreams come true,” said Osieck.