The past five champions of the AFC Champions League have hailed from the East, a streak Shanghai SIPG and Urawa Red Diamonds will be looking to extend in 2017.
After negotiating their way through a tricky group stage and an even tougher knockout round, the two teams will face off for the status of East Asia’s best team this year.
Then, of course, there is also the bigger prize of a Champions League final berth for the winner of this highly-anticipated battle, which starts with the first leg at the Shanghai Stadium.
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) September 25, 2017
Here, FOX Sports Asia previews Wednesday’s action between the rising force in China and one of Japan’s traditional powerhouses.
Best achievement: Quarter-finals (2016)
Last time out in 2016: Quarter-finals
On the domestic front: Currently 2nd in Chinese Super League (4 games remaining)
Manager: Andre Villas-Boas – The Portuguese is one that needs no introduction after spells in charge of famous clubs such as Chelsea, Tottenham and Porto. Even by the lofty standards from his previous achievements in Europe, leading SIPG to the Champions League in his first season at the helm would be quite the achievement.
Wu Lei – The pride of ??!
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) September 21, 2017
Urawa Red Diamonds
Best achievement: Champions (2007)
Last time out in 2016: Round of 16
On the domestic front: Currently 7th in J1 League (7 games remaining)
Manager: Takafumi Hori – After a brief spell as caretaker coach in 2011, Hori was handed the reins on a fulltime basis two months ago following a parting of ways with Mihailo Petrovic. The Reds may be struggling on the domestic front but that could be alleviated should Hori lead them to continental success.
HOW THEY GOT THIS FAR
Shanghai survived a monumental score in the quarter-finals to beat Guangzhou Evergrande on penalties following a epic 5-5 draw.
Prior to that, it had been fairly smooth-sailing for them as they progressed from Group F with a game to spare, before seeing off Jiangsu Suning 5-3 on aggregate in the quarters.
Likewise, Urawa were in the same group and also sealed their knockout round berth before the final match-day, where their first hurdle had been Korea Republic’s Jeju United.
Will Hulk be on target in Shanghai once more?
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, the Reds came back to win 3-2 on aggregate and repeated the feat in the last eight as they beat Kawasaki Frontale 5-4 on aggregate having overcome another two-goal deficit.
In their two previous meetings this year in the group stage, Shanghai won a five-goal thriller at home, while the Reds got their revenge at the Saitama Stadium 2002 after a Rafael Silva strike handed them a 1-0 victory.
Oscar v Takuya Aoki
It is no secret that most of Shanghai’s attacking thrusts come through Oscar, but the Brazilian had a distinctly quiet outing in the second leg against Evergrande.
On that occasions, his creative influence had been quelled by Xu Xin and Urawa will be looking to Takuya Aoki to do the same.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) September 26, 2017
Aoki does an excellent job in shielding his back four and recycling possession but, coming up against a player of Oscar’s quality, the 28-year-old could just be asked to purely focus on following the Brazilian wherever he goes.
Shinzo Koroki v Shi Ke
Even when the Reds are at full strength, Shinzo Koroki plays a key role for them in attack but, with injury doubts over Tadanari Lee and Rafael Silva, he could prove to be even more important on Wednesday.
He already has four goals to his name in the tournament so far and three of them have come as the opening goal at a time when his side looked to be struggling to find the breakthrough.
Shinzo Koroki is the ultimate big game player for @REDSOFFICIAL!
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) September 22, 2017
An away goal for Urawa could prove to be pivotal and Koroki would fancy his chances coming up against a side missing centre-back Wang Shenchao and goalkeeper Yan Junling through suspension.
Whether 24-year-old Shi Ke can rise to the occasion against one of Japan football’s most-consistent strikers will go a long way in determining the outcome of Wednesday’s first leg.
Wu Lei v Tomoaki Makino
Given the amount of attention usually lavished on Hulk, it is easy to sometimes forget that SIPG have another deadly attacker in Wu Lei who has contributed as much to their displays this year.
Since his debut as a 14-year-old, Wu has emerged as an absolute star of Chinese football and he is – at some point on Wednesday – likely to find himself up against an opponent with equally-impressive credentials.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) September 23, 2017
His time at German club Cologne may not have been fruitful but it is clear that Makino is a class above the rest at this level.
If anyone can keep Wu Lei quiet, he could just be the man.