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2017 AFC Champions League, Semifinals
  • Rafael da Silva (11')
2nd Leg - Urawa Red Diamonds win 2-1 on aggregate
2nd Leg - Urawa Red Diamonds win 2-1 on aggregate

Urawa Reds beat Shanghai SIPG, advance to ACL final

Rafael Silva scored the goal that took Urawa Red Diamonds into the final of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday evening as the Brazilian's header earned Takafumi Hori's side a 1-0 win over Shanghai SIPG, and a meeting next month with Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal.

Silva's 11th minute effort secured a 2-1 aggregate win over the two legs for the 2007 champions. They will be seeking to become the first Japanese winners since Gamba Osaka claimed the title in 2008.

Urawa successfully stifled SIPG's expensively assembled forward line. SIPG fell short in the continental championship for the second season in a row, having exited last year's competition at the quarterfinal stage.

SIPG needed to score after conceding an away goal in the first leg in Shanghai three weeks ago, but Andre Villas-Boas' team rarely looked like finding a way past a well-drilled and determined Urawa back line.

Yu Junling returned in goal for SIPG after missing the first leg due to suspension while Hulk was back in the Shanghai starting line-up after missing his side's 3-3 draw with Liaoning Whowin the Chinese Super League last weekend.

Tomoaki Makino and Wataru Endo, meanwhile, were recalled by Urawa coach Hori.

Hulk served up an early warning with a free kick that Wu Lei steered into the arms of Shusaku Nishikawa. But, with Urawa diligent in midfield and defence, the visitors' goal scoring openings were few and far between.

The bulky Brazilian tried his luck from long range just after the midway point in the half. He chose to drive the ball directly at goal, with Nishikawa equal to the task. Cai Huikang's header from the resulting corner was also just wide.

By then, though, Urawa led by a goal and could have had a second.

The defensive woes that have beset SIPG all season both at home and in continental competition came to the fore once again. Odil Ahmedov allowed Rafael Silva the time and space to meet Kashiwagi's corner unencumbered.

There was little Yu could do to keep the header out as Urawa took the lead. And just six minutes later, the keeper was relieved to watch Yuki Muto's header fly back across the face of goal after the SIPG defence had been unpicked by Endo's run and cross down the right.

With Oscar and Elkeson peripheral, Ahmedov out of sorts and Wu Lei subdued throughout the opening 35 minutes, it was Hulk who was attempting to lift SIPG back into the game, only to be frustrated by Urawa's back line.

As the end of the half drew closer and the Urawa defence dropped deeper, SIPG started to put the home side under increased pressure.

Ahmedov missed a gilt-edged chance four minutes before the break after a tidy period of possession gave the Uzbek midfielder time and space to pick his spot. But his shot was only good enough to find the arms of Nishikawa.

Shanghai continued to press in the opening exchanges of the second half, only for Urawa to frustrate the visitors and carry a significant threat on the break.

Makino took time off from his enthralling duel with Hulk to rattle the crossbar from a similar situation that saw Silva score in the first half. Then, Shinzo Koroki's headed attempt with less than a quarter of the game remaining, was pushed over the bar by Yu.

SIPG's star men continued to be ineffective as Urawa frustrated the big-spending Chinese Super League outfit, with Hulk shouldering the principal threat for Villas-Boas' side.

Twelve minutes from time he almost unlocked Urawa with a long-range drive that Nishikawa spilled before doing well to block Elkeson's follow-up from close range. Despite the mounting pressure, SIPG could not find a way through.

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