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Saitama: Tomoaki Makino is targeting a place in the FIFA Club World Cup final for Urawa Red Diamonds as the recently crowned AFC Champions League winners aim to round off their 2017 campaign in the United Arab Emirates with another tilt at glory.

The 30-year-old put in a strong performance in the heart of the Urawa defence as the Saitama side saw off Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal 1-0 in the second leg of the final of the continental competition on Saturday to win 2-1 on aggregate and book their place – alongside hosts Al Jazira – as AFC’s representatives at the global event.  

Takafumi Hori’s team will now attempt to emulate domestic rivals Kashima Antlers’ 2016 achievement and become just the second Asian team to reach the final of the FIFA Club World Cup after Kashima ran Real Madrid close last year only to lose 4-2 in extra time following a Ronaldo hat-trick.

“We will be in the competition representing the J-League and Asia, so we will make sure we go there with real resolution and feeling of responsibility,” said Makino.

Urawa were the first Asian side to finish third at the FIFA Club World Cup back in 2007 after defeating the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Sepahan to become continental champions for the first time.

With Japan hosting the tournament, Urawa again overcame Sepahan in the quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to AC Milan in the semi-finals after Clarence Seedorf’s solitary goal.  

In the third-place decider, Urawa beat Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw, but Makino wants his side to go one better this time and compete in the final at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.

“In 2007, Urawa recorded a third-place finish, so we want to try and top that. The target is to go one higher,” added the defender.

Makino joined Urawa in 2012 following a spell in Germany, five years after the side had lifted their maiden AFC Champions League trophy.

The defender looked to the achievements of that generation, which included current captain Yuki Abe, for inspiration ahead of Saturday’s victory, and his centre-back partner Abe was one of those who inspired Makino on the night.

Close to 58,000 fans attended the second leg in Saitama to help set a new AFC Champions League record for a two-legged final, and the Urawa defender enjoyed playing in front of the large home crowd.

 

“Looking ahead to the game, I watched [Yuichiro] Nagai and Abe’s goals from the 2007 AFC Champions League final over and over again, and that raised my motivation.

“Being able to play in an atmosphere at Saitama Stadium that was even greater than back then gave me goosebumps. It was amazing.”

As with the first leg, Urawa conceded the chunk of possession to Al Hilal, but Makino and co showed resilience in defence to keep Urawa’s fifth clean sheet in the competition in a physically demanding game less than a week after flying across the continent from the first leg in Riyadh.

“Within a really tough schedule, I feel like I gave all the strength I was able to give,” concluded Makino, reflecting on his individual performance.

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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