A history of Urawa Reds’ magnificent Champions League success

A history of Urawa Reds’ magnificent Champions League success

Only six Japanese clubs have ever worn the crown of Asian champions. Five of those clubs conquered the continent once, with JEF United Chiba, Tokyo Verdy and Júbilo Iwata winning the old Asian Club Championship, and Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers each winning the AFC Champions League, which became the premier competition in 2002.

And then there is Urawa Reds - two-time AFC Champions League winners.

Urawa are the only team in Japanese football to ever be Asian champions on two occasions Moreover, they were also runners up in 2019, and with their berth in this season’s final, they are the first Japanese club to ever make four Asian championship finals.

The Reds’ continental record holds a lofty position among the rest of AFC too, with their two titles making them tied for third all time and their four finals ranking tied for second.

Let’s take a look back at Urawa’s outstanding Asian record:


Urawa’s first trip to the AFC Champions League came in 2007, who qualified after winning the league and cup double the previous season.

The Reds promptly showed why they were the class of Japan, going undefeated in the group stage to take first place. A quarter-final meeting with South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors was no problem as they won, 2-1, in Jeonju then, 2-0, back at home. Another Korean club, Seongnam FC, pushed Urawa to the limit, but the Reds were flawless in penalties, making all five spot kicks to book their spot in the final.

Iranian club Sepahan SC awaited Urawa in the final and a Robson Ponte goal in the first leg earned the Reds a crucial 1-1 draw that sent them to the second leg simply in need of a home win. With a crowd of nearly 60,000 cheering them on, Urawa delivered as Yuichiro Nagai and Yuki Abe each scored to win 2-0, 3-1 on aggregate, and become the champions of Asian in their first foray into the continental championship.


Urawa did not become a stranger to the AFC Champions League, making the semi-final in 2008 and three other appearances before gearing up for another run in 2017.

The group stage draw did Urawa no favors, landing them in a loaded Group F, but they picked up four wins in an impressive showing to finish in first place.

South Korea side Jeju United had Urawa on the ropes in the round of 16 with a 2-0 win in the first leg, but the Reds staged an epic comeback in the second leg. Shinzo Koroki and Tadanari Lee scored to force the tie into extra time, where Ryota Moriwaki’s 114th minute goal sent the Urawa faithful wild and the team into the quarter-finals.

Urawa dug themselves a hole once again, this time against J.League rival Kawasaki Frontale. Following a 3-1 loss in Kawasaki, Urawa conceded the opening goal in the second leg to fall behind 4-1 on aggregate. Koroki started the comeback with a goal to make it 4-2, then Zlatan Ljubijankić cut the deficit to one before Rafael Silva equalized in the 84th minute. Just two minutes later, Toshiyuki Takagi became the hero, finding the back of the net for a fourth unanswered Urawa goal to complete the comeback and book the Reds’ place in the semi-final.

The Reds managed a first leg draw against Shanghai SIPG in the semi-final, making matters much easier than in previous rounds, so Rafael Silva’s lone goal in the second leg was all it took to put Urawa in the final a decade after they last triumphed.

It was the Brazilian who played the role of hero once more, scoring early in the first leg to pace the Reds to a 1- draw with Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia. Then Rafael Silva broke the deadlock in the 88th minute of the second leg, scoring another late winner for an Urawa side whose dramatics carried them to a second AFC Champions League final.


Urawa met several familiar foes in the 2019 AFC Champions League. First they advanced with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors out of Group G, then the Reds beat another South Korean side in Ulsan Hyundai in the round of 16 and Shanghai SIPG in the quarter-finals, before getting the best of Guangzhou FC to make the final.

The ultimate round saw Urawa meet Al HIlal again, but the Saudi Arabian side got their revenge, winning 3-0 on aggregate to lift the crown.


An Emperor’s Cup victory put Urawa in the AFC Champions League, then the Reds went on a remarkable run in the tournament, outsourcing opponents by a combined score of 31-4 to book their spot in the final.

Now, a third meeting in the final with Al Hilal awaits them as they try to make history with a third Asian crown.