Urawa Red Diamonds: inside word on Roar's ACL opposition

Our Asian football expert on this J-League power, one remembered fondly after 1100 travelling fans lit up Allianz for a midweek ACL group clash in 2007. Holger Osieck, Shinji Ono and Matt Spiranovic are all former employees at the Saitama Stadium.

Every football fan should try a night at Saitama Stadium - the home of Japan's Urawa Reds and one that Brisbane Roar FC will visit this Wednesday night - for it is one of those arenas best sampled under the floodlights. It’s best, however, to arrive in the daytime.

As soon as you emerge from the station after a short ride north from Tokyo, the stadium is visible but a 20-minute walk along that one single road can take a lot longer if you get distracted with all the food and beverage stalls that line either side. And you really should get distracted.

Talking of feasts, the second leg of the 2007 Asian Champions League final was all that and more in a football sense. The win against Sepahan of Iran was reasonably comfortable but that didn't dampen the atmosphere as Urawa became the first Japan winner of the tournament.

There were 60,000 fans inside the stadium that night, the flags behind the goal had rarely been waved so proudly, the drums rarely banged so loudly and the songs sung so lustily.

And there was Holger Osieck grinning on the sidelines.

Calling Urawa Reds Japan's biggest club is a sure-fire way to upset some fans in the Land of the Rising Sun. How can this be when Kashima Antlers have won seven J.League titles to the Reds' one?

But at that moment, Urawa was the biggest in Asia. It had the fans, the atmosphere, the confidence, the swagger, the glamour and the Asian crown. Most importantly though, it had an identity, something that few Asian clubs have managed to create outside their homeland.

There was a semi-final appearance in 2008 that is not quite as impressive as it sounds as this was in the days when the champs got a bye to the quarterfinals in the next tournament - something that Western Sydney Wanderers would probably appreciate -before losing to Gamba Osaka.

And that was it until 2013 when the Reds exited at the group stage by the narrowest of margins, though being with Guangzhou Evergrande and Jeonbuk Motors it was a tough group.

If any club can sympathise with the domestic troubles of Western Sydney Wanderers, it is Urawa. Winning the 2007 Champions League cost it a second J-League title.

After the triumph over Sepahan, the Reds had a ten-point cushion at the top of the table with five games remaining. It still contrived to finish second, exhausted by continental exertions.

The current version of Urawa is still smarting from another last day title failure. A win in the last game of the 2014 season over Nagoya Grampus would have been enough.

Yomoaki Makino scored after just two minutes and it was all looking good before the visitors equalised with 18 minutes remaining and then took the three points thanks to a last minute goal that silenced the 53,000 fans in attendance.

That was the last competitive game before last Wednesday's visit to South Korea and Suwon Bluewings in the opening game of the 2015 AFC Champions League.

It ended with another 2-1 loss after taking a first half lead. Ryota Moriwaki curled home fine opener just before the break but the Reds conceded twice in the second period, with Brazilian striker Leo bundling home later winner at the far post.

Mihailo Petrović was left to lament defensive mistakes from a team that is still adapting to a number of new signings.

Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankic arrived from local rivals Omiya Ardija while Naoki Ishihara comes from Petrovic's former club Sanfrecce Hiroshima. They are competing for a starting spot with a player that Australian fans know well, Tadanari Lee.

The 2011 Asian Cup final goalscorer started the Super Cup final defeat against Gamba Osaka on Saturday and may well be on the bench on Tuesday.

Yuki Abe was there in 2007 and is still there now, his period interrupted by an 18-month spell in England with Leicester City. The defensive midfielder returned in 2012, his name could still be seen on the backs of red shirts emerging from the station on their way to that magnificent stadium.