Koroki rises to squeeze Oscar's SIPG out of AFC Champions League

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Urawa Reds forward Shinzo Koroki (L) shoots to score a goal during the AFC Champions League football quarterfinals second leg match between Urawa Reds of Japan and Shanghai SIPG of China at the Saitama Stadium 2002 in Saitama, on Tuesday. — AFP

SAITAMA, Japan — Captain fantastic Shinzo Koroki's powerful first-half header via crossbar and goalkeeper proved enough to squeeze Urawa Red Diamonds into the semifinals of the AFC Champions League at the expense of Shanghai SIPG on the away goals rule Tuesday.

Wang Shenchao equalized for the visitors with a cool volley on the hour, but the Japanese side comfortably held on for a 1-1 draw and a semifinal place courtesy of the goals scored by Tomoaki Makino and Koroki three weeks ago when the first leg was drawn 2-2 in Shanghai.

The prolific Koroki was, however, officially denied his seventh strike of the campaign on a technicality.

Gloveman Yan Junling was credited with an own goal after palming Koroki's 39th-minute header from Takahiro Sekine's cross onto the woodwork and watching helplessly as it cannoned back into his outstretched arm and over the line.

That was harsh on Yan, who had kept his toothless side – packed with expensive imports – in the tie with a string of saves as Urawa pressed for the cushion of a second goal on a sultry night in Saitama.

It was a poor performance by Vitor Pereira's SIPG side, who were devoid of penetration up front without suspended 55 million euro Brazilian striker Hulk, who had scored both first leg goals from the penalty spot as they came from 2-0 down.

Instead they started with Marko Arnautovic at center forward, the big Austrian having been signed from English Premier League West Ham last month for 25 million euros.

But with playmaker Oscar – who cost 60 million euros from Chelsea – having an off night, chances remained few and far between.

SIPG had little fluency in the attacking third, a familiar trait that has seen them exit with a curious unbeaten streak of seven draws and one win in their last eight matches in this year's Champions League.

Arnautovic's best efforts were a wasteful header over from six yards out, which would not have counted anyway as the referee had blown for a push, and a tame shot easily deflected for a corner eight minutes from time.

After Shenchao's equalizer SIPG still needed another goal but it was Urawa who seconds later came closest, Daiki Hashioka thumping a shot against the crossbar and Tsuyoshi Otsuki's side continued to carry the more serious threat on the counter attack.

Urawa, the 2007 and 2017 AFC Champions League winners, progress to their fourth semi-final appearance where they will face either defending champions Kashima Antlers or Guangzhou Evergrande, who play Wednesday. Their first leg in China ended 0-0. — AFP


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