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Insider's View: Urawa Red Diamonds

Goal.com logo Goal.com 20-02-2017

Urawa Red Diamonds shape as one of the favourites for the 2017 J.League title but their poor recent reputation in the AFC Champions League (ACL) should give Western Sydney Wanderers some hope.

The Reds won the ACL at their first attempt in 2007 but failed to get out of their group in 2013 and 2015, while they were eliminated in the Round of 16 last year.

Goal's Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi believes Urawa struggle to handle more physically imposing sides in the ACL and has predicted the Wanderers could exploit the visitors' lack of height at Campbelltown Stadium on Tuesday.

Before each ACL match involving an A-League club, Goal will provide an 'Insider's View' on the opposition team, featuring a journalist from that club's home country.

The Big Issue

Urawa's Group F opener against Western Sydney will be only their second competitive match of the 2017 season, with the 2016 J.League runners-up having started their campaign on Saturday with a 3-2 loss to Kashima Antlers in the Japanese Super Cup.

Having trailed 2-0 at half-time, the Reds levelled the match with two goals in as many minutes after the break as substitute Shinzo Koroki converted a 74th-minute penalty and Yuki Moto equalised with a close-range finish.

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But a defensive error cost Urawa with seven minutes left, as Yuma Suzuki pounced on a back-pass to score the winner for Kashima.

Yamaguchi is not sure how Urawa will recover from the Super Cup so early in the season or how coach Mihailo Petrovic will rotate his squad.

"Players are not in perfect fitness because it is the very beginning part of the season, and so this fitness problem will definitely be a big issue for them," Yamaguchi said.

The Danger Man

One player who could be fresh for Tuesday night's ACL clash is playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi, who wasn't named in Petrovic's squad to take on Kashima.

Yamaguchi rates the 29-year-old midfielder as Urawa's best player and claims he is central to most of his team's attacks.

"[Kashiwagi] is an attacking midfielder with great ball control with his left foot," Yamaguchi said.

"He makes some creative passes, with great game vision."

Kashiwagi played 44 matches in all competitions for the Reds last year, including 35 in the J.League where he scored five goals and notched nine assists.

The Sanfrecce Hiroshima youth produce has represented Japan five times and has spent the past seven years with Urawa.

Why could Urawa win?

Yamaguchi rates the Reds as the favourites to win the 2017 J.League, claiming they have "boosted the squad by recruiting new players for their weak points".

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"It looks as if they don't have any opponents to beat them in Japan," he said.

Petrovic's preference for playing three up front - any combination of Muto, Koroki, Tadanari Lee and Slovenian centre-forward Zlatan Ljubijankic - saw Urawa finish last season as one of only two clubs to score over 60 goals in the J.League.

Urawa also top-scored alongside Guangzhou Evergrande in Group H of the ACL last year as they finished behind second behind Sydney FC to reach the Round of 16.

While new Brazilian forward Rafael Silva is unavailable to play Western Sydney due to injury, Petrovic will have plenty of firepower on offer at Campbelltown Stadium.

Why could Urawa lose?

Japanese clubs, players and journalists are often concerned about how their teams will compete against the height and strength of Australian players and Yamaguchi is no exception.

He rates Urawa's lack of height in defence as a major problem.

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Of the four defenders to have played the most games for the Reds last season - Ryota Moriwaki, Daisuke Nasu, Wataru Endo and Tomoaki Makino - only the latter is taller than 180 centimetres.

"[Urawa] are strong inside Japan but not as strong when they play against foreign clubs," Yamaguchi said.

"They lack player with strong physical ability and this will be another disadvantage when they play against Australian clubs with more tall players."

The Reds have competed in the ACL in three of the past four years but have missed out on the quarter-finals on each occasion.

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