Urawa Reds manager Gert Engels is wary of culture shock as his side prepares to defend its Asian Champions League crown against Al Qadsia in Kuwait on Wednesday.
Urawa received a bye into the quarterfinals by virtue of winning the title last season, but Engels insists the lack of match practice against continental teams this year could put his side at a disadvantage.
“It is really important because it is our first game against a team from another country,” he said.
“Some of our players have experienced games like this with the national team, but we need to switch from J. League to Champions League and focus on this game.
“I don’t like this system. It makes the tournament a little strange. The winner should compete from the beginning.”
Reds will travel to the Persian Gulf for the first leg of the tie missing two key players. Midfielder Keita Suzuki has still not recovered from an ankle injury, while striker Tatsuya Tanaka picked up a knock in Japan’s 3-2 World Cup qualifier win over Bahrain at the start of the month.
Engels will assess his side’s fitness before naming his starting lineup, but does not expect to make wholesale changes from the team that drew 0-0 with Oita Trinita on Saturday.
“The most important thing is to check who is fit to play,” he said.
“We had two weeks off, then we had a tough game against Oita, then three days to recover. It is hot there, but I don’t need to change every player. I need to check who is more tired than others, but I think changes are not so necessary.”
The Kuwaiti side has pedigree in Asia’s premier club competition, reaching the last four in 2006. But Engels believes his team is strong enough to bring a positive result back to Saitama Stadium for the return leg on Sept. 24.
“They are a very aggressive team,” he said, “but I’m confident that we can score, which is very important. I’m confident that we can draw or even win.”
Urawa is one of three Japanese clubs competing in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night. Kashima Antlers face Australia’s Adelaide United in Ibaraki Prefecture, while Gamba Osaka take on Al Karama in Syria.
Urawa became the first Japanese winner of the competition last year, beating Iran’s Sepahan over two legs in the final and earning a berth in the Club World Cup in the process.