Looks like a case of same result, different score. As they did when the same two sides contested the AFC Champions’ League final in the middle of November, Urawa Red Diamonds beat Iran’s Sepahan by two goals. And, in spite of this being the most evenly contested game of the FIFA Club World Cup so far, Urawa looked likely winners from the get-go. The Japanese club pushed a frenetic pace through the first half and, after a series of attacks, forced a goal from the left though the hard work of Takahito Soma (great last name).
Sepahan, to their credit, fought hard from the back foot – for instance, it took the crossbar to prevent them from knotting the score at 1-1 through Emad Mohammed just after the start of the second half – but Urawa always stayed one step ahead of them. Well, two when all was said and done, after Urawa’s Brazilian, Washington, scored from a crazy tight angle and Sepahan defender Hadi Aghily nodded in an own-goal (the second credited to him this tournament; poor in luck, but rich with hair, that one).
The general quality of this game put me in a mind to revise my estimation from yesterday’s post where I plopped CONCACAF into the thick of the fight for the #3 confederation in international soccer. They’re still in there, but after watching Urawa run Sepahan ragged – and, not coincidentally, after watching Sepahan hold them off for long stretches – it seems the AFC (that’s the Asian Football Confederation…I’m pretty sure) has a dog in the fight boiling beneath the top two confederations, UEFA and CONMEBOL. Put another way, I don’t doubt Urawa would run a team like Pachuca just as ragged as they did Sepahan.
And that constitutes something of a warning to AC Milan: if the Italians come out flat or complacent, the Asian club has enough in the tank to pull off the upset. Urawa may not punch toe-to-toe with Milan when it comes to the technical and tactical, but, like most East Asian teams, they can go the full 90 and run a marathon besides, all of it flat-out. They defend pretty well, too; had Marcus Tulio Tanaka not flubbed a moderately tricky touch, the Iranians’ consolation goal probably would never have come. Milan’s offense poses more of a threat, of course, but, if this morning’s game is any indication, they’ll have to make space or struggle to find it.
So, that’s one more of this tournament’s – what? – seven games in the book and I’m again having to readjust my preferences. There was just something about Sepahan I kind of liked. Maybe it’s the thought of trying to get their Iraqi forward, Emad Mohammed, playing in MLS; he looked a bit like Maykel Galindo out there. Whatever it was, they’re gone. So…now who do I pull for?
I’ll stick with the underdogs, of course, but think I’ll pull for Etoile Sportive du Sahel; maybe they can stun Boca Juniors Wednedsay morning. Probably not, I know, but, another upset – and a big one – would do this tournament good.