Japanese media yesterday praised the Urawa Red Diamonds' mental strength after they came through a pulsating tie to become the country's first AFC Champions League finalists.
The J-League champions came from a goal down in the second half before holding their nerve in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out against South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma to set up a final with Iran's Sepahan.
Newspaper commentaries hailed Urawa's toughness, but also questioned how the Reds found themselves 2-1 down with 20 minutes to go after taking an early lead in Saitama.
"As seen in domestic J-League matches, they tend to fail once they become defensive," the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said.
Other newspapers said Urawa were tired after a congested schedule of Champions League and J-League games, with several players suffering injuries.
"Due to fatigue after having played a series of games, players lost their momentum in the second half and could not match the speed of the attacking opponents," the Nikkan Sports said.
"But Urawa possess strength to look up and move ahead," it said.
The Nikkei Business Daily said Urawa made the mistake of trying to sit on their lead, but later showed their mettle by scoring all five penalty kicks.
"After the first goal... [Urawa] became hesitant to stage an offensive," it said. "But Urawa showed their strength by managing to stand firm, to equalize the game and to score all five penalty kicks."
Midfielder Makoto Hasebe, whose second-half equalizer forced extra time, admitted he almost lost hope of winning as the Korean champions staged wave after wave of attacks.
"It was seriously tough. So many times, my spirit almost gave up," Hasebe said.
Urawa's German coach Holger Osieck was relieved to come through the "dramatic" game.
"It was a speedy and dramatic game. Both teams played their 100 percent, and I'm really happy that we were the winners," he said. "We took an early 1-0 lead and my players did very well, but the Koreans also played well in the second half, while we also had several chances. Either side could have won the match."
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