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Koroki promises more for Urawa


Thursday, August 22, 2019
Shinzo Koroki-Urawa-AFP

Tokyo: Shinzo Koroki’s goals have been instrumental for Urawa Red Diamonds in the AFC Champions League as the two-time champions have advanced to the last eight of this year’s competition, even if the 33-year-old claims he has yet to be at his best in the 2019 Continental championship.


Koroki scored three times during the group phase as Urawa emerged from Group G in second place behind Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors to secure their spot in the knockout phase for the fifth time in the club’s history.

But it was his brace in the second leg of the Round of 16 win over Ulsan Hyundai in June that was of vital importance to his team as those goals spurred Urawa to a 3-0 win on the night and a 4-2 aggregate victory overall to send the J.League side into the quarter-finals.

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“I don’t think I’ve been at my best just yet,” Koroki, who has also scored nine times this season for Urawa in the J.League, said. “However, I have scored some goals at important points in matches that have led to good results for the club, so that’s a positive.

“We knew (against Ulsan) that we were in a situation where we had to win, so it was important to approach that match in a positive manner. I think that their condition wasn’t at their best and so we tried to also take full advantage of that.

“We know though that for the next round we must keep improving and try to find ways to limit the damage that our opponents can cause whilst still playing our style of football.”

Round of 16 2nd Leg: Ulsan Hyundai FC v Urawa Red Diamonds

Next up for Urawa is Shanghai SIPG in a rematch of the clash between the clubs in the semi-finals of the 2017 AFC Champions League, a game the Japanese side won to advance to the final and a meeting with Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia.

Despite two years passing since they last faced off, there have been few changes to the clubs’ squads and Koroki is expecting a familiar feeling to the encounter, with Urawa winning the previous meeting 2-1 on aggregate.

“I have very strong memories of the quality of the foreign players at the club, such as Oscar and Hulk, and we knew that we had to take care of those two players in particular,” Koroki says of the 2017 duel.

“But I don’t think there’s really too many changes to be honest. For us, we know that it will be important to take full advantage of the experience we have from those matches in finding a way to progress.”

Despite the challenges Urawa face against the Chinese Super League champions, Koroki is happy to be facing SIPG rather than renewing hostilities with domestic rivals Kashima Antlers, who have also advanced to the last eight and will meet Guangzhou Evergrande.

“For me I think it’s better to play with either of the two Chinese teams rather than Kashima,” he said.

“Shanghai are a very strong opponent and they have some players that are also of a very high level and so we know that we need to take great care in how to deal with those individual players.

“We also need to think of the best way to approach this first leg because we know that it will be a very tough challenge away from home.”

The last time Urawa appeared in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League they went on to win the title, and Koroki is hoping he and his teammates can use the experience gained from winning the trophy in 2017 as motivation for the upcoming matches.

“I don’t think that there’s such a big change with the team and there are still several members of that side with the club now so we can’t forget the thrill of winning that title,” he says.

“Of course there are some younger members of the squad who weren’t part of that team and so I want to share the experience and joy of winning that title with them ahead of these matches.”

Photos: AFP, AFC

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