Soccer

Reds hope home crowd can provide big boost in second leg of ACL final

Kyodo

The Urawa Reds hope to draw strength from a vocal home crowd against Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final, defensive stalwart Tomoaki Makino said Saturday.

Urawa, aiming for its second ACL title in three seasons, will start the return leg at Saitama Stadium on Sunday trailing 1-0 on aggregate following Al Hilal’s victory in Riyadh on Nov. 10.

Around 600 Reds fans braved the cold and rain to watch the J. League side practice on Saturday.

With a full house expected for the match, Makino said the home crowd could be the deciding factor.

“The supporters really give us something extra. It lets us draw on more than just our own strength,” the 32-year-old center back said.

Club captain and top scorer Shinzo Koroki echoed that sentiment, saying the Reds players were determined to give their all in front of a packed stadium.

“There will be around 60,000 supporters making the effort to turn up, so we want to work hard and fight with all we’ve got,” the striker said.

Goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa said the players were moved to see the hundreds of fans at practice despite the miserable weather.

“They even risked their own health to come and cheer us on. It’s so impressive. I’m sure Reds supporters will show what they’re really capable of tomorrow,” said Nishikawa, who returns to the lineup after serving a suspension in the first leg of the final.

Stand-in Haruki Fukushima gave an admirable performance between the posts in Riyadh, preventing a bigger deficit under sustained pressure from Al Hilal at King Saud University Stadium.

While Peru international Andre Carillo’s 60th-minute strike was the only goal, the Saudis created several chances and demonstrated a potent attack.

Victory in the continental tournament would be a high-point in an otherwise confounding year for Urawa, which fired manager Oswaldo Oliveira early in the J. League season and still faces the threat of relegation to J2 with two games left.

Having taken the reins following Oliveira’s dismissal, manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki has the chance to lead his team to the Asian title after starting the year as an assistant.

“While the excitement level is very high coming into such a big game, there are so many things that you cannot afford to overlook,” Otsuki said. “We want to make our maximum effort.”

If Urawa can claim an aggregate victory, it will tie South Korea’s Pohang Steelers as the most successful club in the history of the ACL with three titles.

It will also bring the ACL trophy to Japan for a third straight year, with the Kashima Antlers having won the title last year following Reds’ triumph in 2017.