Urawa Red Diamonds, Guangzhou Evergrande meet in battle of the fallen giants

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

They are both clubs with a rich history in Asian football looking to reclaim their place at the continental summit, but only one of Urawa Red Diamonds and Guangzhou Evergrande can prevail.

The two traditional heavyweights are set to meet in the semi-finals of AFC Champions League 2019, with the first leg taking place at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Wednesday.

Both teams have rich history in Asia’s premier club competition and have won three of the last six crowns but only one will progress to the final and keep alive their hopes of a third title.

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Representing Japan are Urawa, whose most recent success came just two years ago, but who are on a woeful streak of form that has seen them go without a win in their last ten games in all competition.

Even in the quarter-finals of ACL 2019, they drew 2-2 and 1-1 with Shanghai SIPG to progress only on the away-goals rule, and they are currently languishing 13th in the J1 League and just four points above the relegation zone.

For a side boasting Japan internationals past and present such as Tomoaki Makino, Shinzo Koroki, Kazuki Nagasawa, Kenyu Sugimoto and Yuki Muto, as well as quality foreigners like Ewerton and Mauricio Antonio, their recent demise has been as shocking as it is inexplicable.

Nonetheless, anything can happen in the latter stages of a cup competition and the Reds are just four games away from being crowned champions of Asia and ensuring that 2019 will still be a successful year, provided they can steer clear of relegation in the final weeks of their domestic season.

On the other hand, Evergrande have not fallen quite so far but are a wounded team who are no longer the dominant side even in the Chinese Super League, let alone all of Asia.

After seven consecutive league crowns since promotion, their hegemony was finally ended in 2018 as they were pipped to the title by SIPG – in a year where they were also eliminated from the Champions League in the Round of 16 by another Chinese upstart in Tianjin Quanjian.

They remain on course to reassert their dominance on the domestic front but a run of a draw and two defeats has seen their lead at the top of the table reduced to a solitary point over Beijing Guoan, with SIPG also still in the hunt a further two points adrift.

Like Urawa, Fabio Cannavaro’s charges also required away goals to advance from the last eight, meaning the two teams actually head into Wednesday’s clash bereft of form and confidence.

Still, the fact that the match does offer both some form of salvation means there should be no motivation to deliver on the field pitch and there will still be enough quality to deliver a spectacle.

For Urawa’s Koroki, Nagasawa and Ewerton, Evergrande have Paulinho, Anderson Talisca and Elkeson, but only one set of star-studded names can prevail and stay in the hunt.

For the other, their status as fallen giants of Asian football will continue for at least another year.