I went To The Champions League Final! No, Not The UEFA One But The Asian One!

The epic 2022 Asian Champions League (ACL) concluded in Saitama on Saturday evening, 424 days after it first started early last year with bubble matches in neutral stadia and no fans present. It was a different story last weekend though as over 50,000 fans packed into the Saitama Stadium 2002 for the second leg of this showpiece final, and Tokyo Fox was lucky enough to have been offered a ticket to experience it all.

This was actually my first ever ACL match and at times I did feel a little guilty of depriving a proper fan of a ticket but if I had turned it down then no doubt a similar-like person would’ve got it. As it was, I am sure I wasn’t the only fake fan in attendance!

My day actually began in Shizuoka, and I only had a very short time at home before I had to then head on up to Saitama Prefecture. On an incredibly windy day I decided to cycle from the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre to Akabane-iwabuchi Subway station for exercise and to save a bit of money and time. Even though it’s only 20 minutes from there to Urawa-misono Station on the Saitama Rapid Railway line it still cost ¥480 which is rather expensive by Japan standards.

Wanting to avoid the really big crowds I arrived 90 minutes before kick off (many fans were there three hours ahead of the start!) and headed down the Wembley Way-like path which leads you to the stadium. It really is a wonderful walk (unless it’s raining!) and the route is lined with Reds flags and banners displaying the history of the club. There are some food trucks too!


After about 15 minutes, the fantastic architecture of Saitama Stadium 2002 could be seen in all its glory. I don’t recall there being such a vast open area of greenery so that seems like a nice place to chill out for a bit before a match. Not this match though as I was pushed for time.


I finally met up with my friend Yuki (last seen in a Nagoya-based post five years ago) who had been waiting patiently for my arrival.

Once we’d gone inside the ticketed area there was a photo opportunity with the ACL trophy but the line was so long that we could only snap a quick one from the side in between people taking their shots.

This stadium was built for the 2002 World Cup (hence the name!) in Japan and Korea. It  was used four times in that tournament including England’s group opener against Sweden, Japan’s 2-2 draw with Belgium, and the semi-final involving Brazil and Turkey. Leicester City legend Muzzy Izzet even appeared briefly for the latter in that semi, and some of the pillars in the stadium concourse display information and images from those games.

The last time I set foot in this stadium was also a final as back in December 2018 I saw the Emperor’s Cup Final there. That match, as well as the J-League ones I’ve attended here were obviously very Japanese occasions but this ACL final had more of an international flavour.


Even though over 99% of the attendees were Japanese there were a few Al Hilal fans and maybe because of that the announcements were in the default language of English. The home crowd were having none of it though and every time the hype-man appeared on the big screens in the stadium he was roundly booed.


A second Leicester reference as former foxes player Yuki Abe brought out the ACL Trophy as part of the pre-match pomp and ceremony. Of course, he is far more famed for captaining Urawa Reds to a couple of ACL titles!

I’d have liked to see the teams come out and the other pre-match rituals but instead I was holding a piece of red plastic sheeting above my head for the sake of it looking amazing for the TV viewers!

This ACL final was finely poised following the 1-1 draw a week earlier in the first leg in Saudi Arabia. The Japanese matchday experience is often a warm and family-friendly one but for this occasion the atmosphere was a cauldron of hostility to the Saudi Arabian side every time they touched the ball. It was even louder for certain players!

The first half hour saw Reds pressed in their own half as Al Hilal dominated possession but could only create one real chance of note which saw a fine save from goalkeeper Nishikawa who made another good stop before the break. In between that Reds did actually come the closest to breaking the deadlock when Shinzo Koroki volleyed against the bar.

The DJ continued to spin the typical Euro sports stadium hits at half time (Gala, Coldplay etc) but there was far less reaction by the Japanese fans who were probably wondering where the usual tunes were! A load of flag waving and mobile phone light activities followed after that before the players returned to the field.

Just a few minutes into the second half and what proved to be the deciding goal was scored when the defender Carrillo turned a floating goalward header into his own net. I’m not sure if the strong wind had anything to do with it but it seemed to all happen in slow motion!

Reds did what they had to do after that and were well organised and disciplined but there was time for one more Hilal chance. Just as the clock ticked over 90 minutes striker Ighalo created a fantastic equalising opportunity but hit it too centrally and the Reds keeper blocked it for a true match-winning save.

It actually wasn’t too long a wait for the trophy presentation once the final whistle had been blown which surprised me as I was expecting a fairly lengthy wait to see captain Hiroki Sakai lift the trophy.


The players did a lap of honour to celebrate their crowning as the kings of Asia. They’ve proved themselves worthy champions in Asia (their third ACL triumph) but it seems like the trophy many fans really want to see is a second J1 title.

Final Score: Urawa Reds 1-0 Al Hilal (Reds win 2-1 on aggregate)

Click here to read ‘In Attendance At The 98th Emperors Cup Final (2018)’

Click here to read ‘Friday Night Football’ (2015)

Click here to read ‘Ohara Training Ground In Saitama’ (2015)

Click here to read ‘Watching Urawa Reds vs Arsenal In The Saitama Challenge Cup Final’ (2013)

About tokyofox

A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan
This entry was posted in Sport and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to I went To The Champions League Final! No, Not The UEFA One But The Asian One!

  1. Pingback: A Week of Golden Funtime With The Family In The Izu Sunshine | Tokyo Fox (東京狐)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.