Preview: Urawa Red Diamonds v FC Seoul

Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds take on Korean outfit FC Seoul at the Saitama Stadium 2002 in the first leg of their AFC Champions League Round of 16 clash on Wednesday.

The Reds progressed to the knock-out stage of this year’s competition by virtue of finishing as the runners-up in Group H, one point behind group winners Sydney FC.

The K League Classic side, meanwhile, were convincing winners of Group F after losing only once in the group stage of the competition.

Wednesday’s match will be the first between the two sides.

On the domestic front, the Reds are currently in second place on the J1 League standings and trail leaders Kawasaki Frontale by one point. Urawa, who were held to a goalless draw in their most recent match against Albirex Niigata on Saturday, do have a game in hand though.

Seoul meanwhile defeated Seongnam 3-2 on Saturday and are on top of the K League Classic table, three points ahead of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who have played one match less than them.

Seoul coach Choi Yong-Soo admitted that winning the first leg would be crucial as it would give them a huge advantage when they play the second leg on home soil.

“The first leg is very important and we want to keep a clean sheet and score a goal,” Choi told reporters. “I hope we can show our brand of football and that can lead us to a good result.

“Urawa plays with a similar attacking style and formation to Hiroshima, but I think Urawa has more attacking power and quality.

“We have been well focused and competitive since the start of the season and we are leading the K-League, but I know Urawa will also be competitive. We will have to play with pride as it is a match between Korea and Japan.”

For the hosts, Yuki Muto has been the best player of the competition far, not only for the three goals he scored, but for his all-round efforts in an attacking sense. Shinzo Koroki also poses a threat as he has scored twice in the AFC Champions League this year.

With ten goals to date so far in this year’s competition, Seoul’s striker Adriano is certain to have been mentioned as the danger man by Urawa coach Mihailo Petrovic during his pre-match team talks. The 28-year-old Brazilian has been in sublime form since making the move to the Korean capital from Daejeon Citizen and it’s hardly a surprise that he has finally been able to translate his domestic form to continental competition.

Petrovic, though, might be buoyed by the fact that the majority of Adriano’s goals in the AFC Champions League have come in the first couple of Matchdays and that he has only scored once in the last three fixtures in the competition.

If Adriano won’t get you, veteran Montenegrin forward Dejan Damjanovic will. The 34-year-old has scored three times in the group stage of the competition and appears to be nearing his best again after returning to Seoul following stints at Jiangsu Suning and Beijing Guoan.

“Seoul is a high quality team and plays attacking football. It is a fun for us to play such an opponent. It will be a spectacular game and an interesting game for us Reds as well as Japanese football,” said Mihailo Petrovic, who will be without services of Daisuke Nasu as he is suspended for the match.

“I take this outcome positively as we will have a shorter travel than going to Shandong and our supporters can feel easier to travel to Seoul, which is closer than Shandong.”

For the hosts, Wednesday’s match will be their first in the knock-out stage match since 2008, when they lost in the semi-finals. Since then, they have qualified for the competition on two occasions, but been eliminated in the group stage both times.

In recent times, Seoul have been regulars in the knock-out stage, although they have never won the competition, losing in the final in 2002 and 2013. In the last two years, they have been knocked out at the semi-final and Round of 16 stage.

Urawa will take on Seoul at 18:20 HKT on FOX Sports 2.