Urawa Reds have gained an unwanted reputation for choking on the big stage in the 10 years since they first won the Asian Champions League, but that tag may have to be re-evaluated after they reclaimed the title with a series of composed performances in this year’s competition.
Urawa lifted the ACL trophy last Saturday after beating Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal 1-0 at Saitama Stadium for a 2-1 aggregate win, giving the club its second Asian title. The first, in 2007, promised to usher in an era of domestic and continental dominance for Japan’s best-supported team, but the reality turned out to be dramatically different.
Reds steadily slipped down the J. League pecking order in the years that followed, sinking lower and lower until they reached their nadir with a 15th-place finish in 2011. That prompted the club to bring in former Sanfrecce Hiroshima manager Mihailo Petrovic in a bid to revive its fortunes, and the Serbian responded by leading the team to a third-place finish in his first season.
The years that followed, however, turned out to be a frustrating catalogue of near misses and agonizing failures.