By Alastair Himmer
TOYOTA, Japan (AFP) – Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds repeated their excellent performance at the continental final by beating Iran’s Sepahan 3-1 on Monday to set up a match against AC Milan in the Club World Cup semi-finals.
“I’m very pleased with our team’s performance. I think we showed some good football. We had been well organised and there was a lot of commitment from my players,” said Urawa’s German coach Holger Osieck.
“We tried to play very, very positively. Today we could score three goals, and definitely I’m very, very satisfied with what I saw today from my team.”
The opening goal came in the 32nd minute when midfielder Takahito Soma produced a cross from the left for Yuichiro Nagai, who fired home from close range.
In the 54th minute, Brazilian striker Washington got the ball in the area, then passed Sepahan goalkeeper Mohammad Savari and fired in a right-footer from close to the goal line.
Roared on by a partisan home crowd, Urawa controlled the game from the beginning and threatened the Sepahan goal repeatedly.
Another Brazilian Nene’s shot was saved by Savari, while Makoto Hasebe’s shot went over the bar in the 29th minute.
The visitors found their passes often interrupted by Urawa, but they had a good chance in the 26th minute with Abdul Wahab Abu Al Hail sending a pass to Emad Mohammed on the right. Kabir Bello slid to the goal line, but he failed reach the ball.
In the 31st minute, Jaba Muhiri received a nice pass in the area, but he was beaten in a one-on-one against Urawa keeper Ryota Tsuzuki.
Sepahan continued to struggle to create a clear chance in the second half, with captain Mohamad Seyed Salehi and Hadi Jafari hitting a couple of desperate shots, too long and too blunt.
The game was put well beyond doubt in the 70th minute when Sepahan defender Hadi Aghily’s headed clearance off Nagai’s header went into his own goal.
Sepahan got a consolation when substitute forward Mahmoud Karimi saw his blunt shot get past Tzusuki and roll into the net in the 80th minute.
In the AFC Champions League final Urawa beat Sepahan 3-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Sepahan’s Croatian coach Luka Bonacic lamented: “We were sick today. When we are fine, this is completely a different team. We couldn’t show our good performance today. Urawa played much better. It’s a matter of course that they won.”
Urawa will play European champions AC Milan of Italy in the semi-final at the Yokohama stadium on Thursday.
About that game Osieck said: “Our aim had been to qualify for the semi-finals. Our next opponents will be AC Milan, and there’s no question that Milan are one of the top teams in the world, not only in Europe.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play this team. It’s not only a challenge, it’s always a kind of responsibility, because we have to perform well, we don’t have to just show up and play.”
And 32-year-old Washington added: “I feel this is a special moment for Japan, Urawa and all of us players. Urawa are on the verge of making history. We want to take advantage of the momentum and go for it.”