The “KLM” strike trio? Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden explains that and more as J-League royalty Urawa Red Diamonds hit Moore Park for a huge ACL clash with high-flying Sydney FC.
Just a week after Australia and Japan were placed together in the final round of qualification of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, two of the top teams from the Hyundai A-League and the J-League will meet on Wednesday night to give a mouth-watering early taste of titanic clashes to come.
Despite being drawn in what was regarded as the toughest group with defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande and Pohang Steelers – the most successful club team in Asian history – both teams on show at Allianz are in touching distance of the knockout stage.
Sydney sits on top with nine points and will book its last 16 spot with a point. Urawa, second with seven, could do so with a win.
The club is in form and picked up its fifth win of the season so far with a 3-1 victory at home to Vegalta Sendai on the weekend.
It was another solid performance and the Japanese media was having fun on Saturday. “Barcelona may have MSN but Urawa Reds have KLM,” said Sports Hochi.
Instead of Messi, Suarez and Neymar who seem to be fading just as the European season reaches the pointy end, Urawa’s trio of Shinzo Koroki, Tadanari Lee and Yuki Moto are making headlines.
All three got on the scoresheet as the 2007 Asian champions defeated Vegalta Sendai.
“It was the first time for all three of us to score in the same game,” said Muto.
“We are enjoying playing together at the moment and the team is playing well. We hope we can continue to do so against Sydney.”
With the top four all collecting three points, the Reds stay in third but it has been a fine start to the season and after seven games, Urawa sits just a point behind leader Kashima Antlers.
Urawa are moving into top gear, playing at a high tempo and looking to get forward at every opportunity, though the home fans at Saitama Stadium demand nothing less.
“I feel that our fans and supporters provides real encouragement to our team,” said coach Mihailo Petrovic after the win.
“We conceded unnecessarily after taking the lead. Our next challenge for the future is to be able to remain concentrated while moving the match forward.”
Urawa sits in second in Group H with seven points, two behind Sydney.
A win could put the Japanese team in the last 16. It is a major target for the club. After winning the 2007 title, the Reds have underachieved on the continental stage.
Back then, the champion received a bye to the quarter-final stage of the following edition and the Reds made it to the last four.
After that however, two subsequent appearances both ended at the group stage. In short, Urawa did not appear enough in the tournament and when it did, the performances were not good enough.
The club is determined to make it this time.
“Winning the match will set a good condition for our team for our next match in Sydney,” added the coach.
“As for the AFC Champions League, we need to get some points from the match against Sydney.
“If we can do so, we will be able to come close to one of the goals we set before the start of the season this year that is to go through the Champions League group stage.”
As Urawa is currently flying high with KLM, it could happen.
Sydney FC take on Urawa Red Diamonds in matchday five of the AFC Champions League 2016 group stage. Catch the match live on Fox Sports 4 or follow @SydneyFC on Twitter for updates.