While Urawa Red Diamonds are a club with the finest AFC Champions League pedigree, Lee Man could be meeting the defending champions at the right time, as inconsistency threatens to derail the Japanese club’s challenge for domestic silverware.
The Hong Kong Premier League side travel to Saitama after handing Bali United a 5-1 thrashing last week and take on the three-time title winners in Tuesday’s play-off knowing they will be underdogs against one of Asia’s most successful clubs.
Still, a faltering run of recent form has left questions hanging over Urawa’s trophy-winning ambitions.
“This summer time our performance is not as I expected, maybe because this is my first time in Japan working in these circumstances with these temperatures,” Urawa’s Polish coach Maciej Skorza told the Post after a narrow 1-0 win over Nagoya Grampus at a sweltering Saitama Stadium on Friday.
“I’ve changed a little bit my training sessions, and I think the team has reacted not in the way that I expected.
“Generally, I like to keep a longer time in training sessions, working on tactical parts but during this temperature it’s not a good idea. I think this is one of the reasons why we are not looking good in the physical aspect.”
After a strong start to their domestic campaign, Urawa’s form has wilted in the heat with the win over Nagoya being the club’s first in five games.
As a result, they are out of the Emperor’s Cup, the country’s premier knockout competition, and sit in fourth place in the J League standings, nine points behind leaders Yokohama F Marinos after 24 rounds of the 34-game season.
While the hopes of a first J League title since their only win in 2006 are diminishing, their performance is still an improvement on last year’s showing in the competition.
Then Urawa finished in ninth place and well adrift of champions Marinos, prompting coach Ricardo Rodriguez to quit at the end of the campaign.
The Spaniard was replaced by former Wisla Krakow and Lech Poznan coach Skorza in January, and the Pole has overseen a significant uptick in performances during the current season.
Despite being the defending champions, Urawa’s failure to finish in the J League’s top three or win the Emperor’s Cup last season means the club has to go through this play-off against Lee Man.
“It was important to win this one against Nagoya before playing Lee Man,” Urawa’s Danish defender Alexander Scholz said. “I expect the team to be fully concentrated on that game because it’s one game we can’t afford to lose.
“I really want to play in the Champions League again because we had such a good experience last time, it’s fun for me to play against teams from all over Asia, and it’s part of this club’s identity also. We have to win it.”
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