Monday, December 10, 2007

FIFA Club World Cup Quarter Final: Urawa Red Fever!

I've been dying to see the Japanese club Urawa Reds play for years, ever since I saw footage of their dedicated and crazed supporters in the stands madly chanting, doing the pogo, and brandishing those gigantic flags in unison for their beloved team. Like many of us, I love the spectacle and clamor of supporters benevolently unhinged; of fans shedding their collective skins of decorum and polite behavior and willingly surrendering to the gods of passion, emotional turmoil, and the frenzy and drama of the match at hand. There's nothing else like it. And when your team disconnects from the frivolity or grimness of the everyday world, playing football with all of the intelligence and furor their bodies and minds demand, it seems heretical not to succumb to the passion yourself. It seems like sin.

Watching the Urawa Reds (and their exuberant supporters) face off against the Iranian club Sepahan FC last night in the quarter finals of the FIFA Club World Cup definitely lived up to my expectations. The tournament, aired here in the States on FSC and held for the last four years in Japan, is not a favorite among European clubs--because it interrupts the schedule of whatever European/Champions League title holder is involved, not to mention is yet another tournament in an already crammed schedule--but I've always enjoyed watching it considering it pairs up teams (the six champions from the various global confederations) that you would never get to see play against one another otherwise. Last year, for example, we got a chance to see Barcelona and Brazil's Internacional vie for the title (Inter won 1-0).

This year, the six teams are Boca Juniors, AC Milan, Etolie du Sahel from Tunisia, Pachuca, Sepahan, New Zealand's Waitakere United (an underdog team if ever there was one, with most of its players working "real" jobs when they're not on the pitch), and Urawa Reds. Sepahan beat the daylights out of Waitakere on the first night (3-1, but it felt much worse), Etolie du Sahel shocked everyone by knocking Pachuca out 1-0 Saturday, and then last night the Reds and Sepahan met up. These two teams have a history with one another, as the Japanese club beat the Iranians 3-1 last season in the Asian Champions Cup (a win that landed the Reds in the Club World Cup).

Well, it seems that the Urawa Reds like them some Sepahan. Although both clubs played a fluid, well-paced and energetic game, the Reds' skill on the ball in the midfield and their methodical--though far from dull--pressure on goal (they won 3-1; the third goal was an own one, though) was impressive and could pose a problem for AC Milan on December 13. Milan are the favorites, no doubt, but I wouldn't be surprised if Reds striker Washington--a towering Brazilian who has played for Fenerbahce among other clubs--and midfielder Shinji Ono have something to say about that. We can only hope!

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