Ahead of Urawa Red Diamonds’ AFC Champions League clash with FC Seoul, we look back at some of the best players to don the red and black…
The AFC Champions League knockout stage is in full swing. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors held Melbourne Victory to a one-all draw, while F.C. Tokyo laid down the gauntlet in their round of 16 tie – the Japanese side defeated Shanghai SIPG 2-1 at home.
On Wednesday, Urawa Red Diamonds will be flying the Hinomaru when they come up against Korea Republic’s FC Seoul.
The Saitama side have seen many legends don the red and black stripes. Here are just a handful who have shone for the Diamonds:
Out of the post-war rubble, Mitsubishi Motors rose to become a juggernaut in the automobile industry. In 1950, it established a football club for company staff and in 1965 became one of the eight founding members of the Japanese Soccer League (now the J. League). Around this time, along came fresh Rikkyo University graduate Kenzo Yokoyama. For over a decade, the goalkeeper played 136 times for the club and earned 37 national caps. He also stood between the sticks for Japan as they won an historic bronze medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
The growth of football in Japan coincided with Urawa’s renaissance period, winning a treble in 1978 (managed by Yokoyama). By the time Masahiro Fukuda joined, however, the Reds were in a rough patch. The 1988/89 season saw them relegated to the second tier. Fukuda was brought in to bolster their flagging attack and he did just that. With Fukuda scoring 36 goals in his first season, the club gained immediate promotion to the top flight. Breaking the 30-goal mark again in 1995 all but assured Fukuda’s legendary status. He spent his entire playing career at Urawa, retiring in 2002 with the nickname “Mr. Reds”.
“The Genius” is an institution. Since first stepping out for Urawa in 1998, the midfielder has shown himself to be one of the biggest stars on the continent. Superb vision, technique and pinpoint passing are hallmarks of his game earning him over 100 caps for the club and lengthy stints in the Netherlands (Feyenoord, 2001-2005) and Germany (VfL Bochum, 2007-2010) before going on to play in the AFC Champions League with Western Sydney Wanderers. He has represented Japan at every age level and played at three World Cups. He was called up to France ’98 at the tender age of 18 and is still playing at 36, now in the J2 League with Consadole Sapporo.
It took 13 years from the J.League’s inception for the Reds to secure their first championship. Seven members of the starting line-up were also in the national squad, testament to the team’s strength. Among them, Keita Suzuki was elected onto the league’s best XI. The defensive midfielder was often cited as Japan’s answer to Claude Makélélé. A rock at the back, Suzuki helped the side qualify for, and subsequently win, the 2007 AFC Champions League.
Urawa’s first continental title in 2007 allowed forward Yuichiro Nagai to explode onto the international stage. With three goals, including one in the second leg of the final, he was named joint MVP at the 2007 AFC Champions League. That same year, Nagai helped guide the Reds to a third place finish at the FIFA Club World Cup. This was the first time a Japanese club had played in the competition, and has remained the joint highest finish by an Asian side.