|The man in the mask: Washington of Urawa Red Diamonds [GALLO/GETTY]|
Japanese champions Urawa Red Diamonds will need to overcome exhaustion and injuries as well as their opponents when they face Iran’s Sepahan in the second leg of the AFC Champions League final in Saitama.
Holding a slim advantage after their 1-1 draw in Esfahan last week, Urawa are seeking to become the first team from Japan to win Asia’s premier club competition since the expanded format was introduced in 2003.
However, the side’s German manager Holger Osieck needs to lift his weary players after a gruelling 10 days, that included the long journey to Esfahan and the weekend’s bruising 1-1 away draw at Kawasaki Frontale.
Brazilian striker Washington scored against Frontale but also aggravated his facial injury after taking a knock on the nose.
Washington, who wears a mask during matches to protect his face, failed to train on Monday but is expected to line up against the Iranians, along with Tadaaki Hirakawa and Tatsuya Tanaka, who are also carrying slight knocks.
Skipper Nobuhisa Yamada is still out because of an ankle injury but defender Tulio will probably take the field after a thigh strain kept him out of the first leg.
Sepahan start as underdogs
Like Urawa, Sepahan are also hoping to become the first club from their country to lift the title in its present format, but start as underdogs against an Urawa team who are unbeaten at home in the competition and scored a vital away goal in Iran.
The Hafzi Cup winners dominated the second half of last week’s first leg, with Mahmoud Karimi equalising for the hosts in the 46th minute after Robson Ponte had put Urawa ahead just before halftime.
The Iranians already know how to beat Japanese opposition having eliminated Frontale in the quarter-finals in a penalty shootout after a goalless 120 minutes.
Sepahan’s Serbian coach Luca Bonacic is buoyed by the fact he can pick his starting line-up from an injury-free squad.
The winners will qualify for next month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan as Asia’s representatives.