It’s been a busy start to the season for the Urawa Red Diamonds, with the team competing in the J1 League, AFC Champions League, and the Xerox Super Cup, leading to 21 games in the first 13-and-a-half weeks of the season.
The Reds recently overcame a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Jeju United – of the Korea Republic – in the AFC Champions League to progress to the quarter-finals. But what’s been most impressive has been the team’s ability to continue to challenge for the league title despite this.
What’s been greatly behind Urawa’s strong J1 strong J1 standing – fourth after 12 games, one game in hand on league leaders Kashiwa Reysol – has been their scoring. They lead the league in goals scored at 33; have the best goal difference of +18; and yet they’ve conceded the 11th most goals – in a league of 18 teams – in J1.
But, who are the men behind this scoring? Well, while the whole set of forwards have been firing on all cylinders this season, a certain duo has been tearing it up for Urawa in J1 and stand as the top and joint-second highest scorers: Shinzo Koroki and Rafael Silva.
Koroki and Silva leading the charge
The Urawa Red Diamonds operate a 3-4-2-1 formation with a very fluid front trio which often features new Brazilian signing Rafael Silva as the striker and Shinzo Koroki – who starred for the Japanese Olympic team in 2016 – as an attacking midfielder just behind.
The Japanese-Brazilian duo has amassed a whopping 17 goals and five assists through the first 12 games of the season, and Silva has only played in nine of those. When the Sao Paulo-native isn’t in the team – often due to the rotation required to deal with such a bulk of games – Koroki will sit up top, where he has had a huge amount of success.
In the three games that Koroki has started up front, he has scored two hat-tricks and two assists. Now, as lethal as Koroki has proven himself to be as the striker, he can’t match Silva’s rugged play and effortless finishing ability.
Complimentary skill set of Urawa Red Diamonds forwards
Rafael Silva plays as though he’s on the street, just playing vibrant and improvisational football. He loves to play off of the slowest defender, with his rapid acceleration often earning him a few yards of space before bearing down on goal. His shot is lethal from either foot; there’s a great amount of poise and concentration that allows him to take and control the ball from any part of his body.
But Silva isn’t a traditional sniper, as it were; he’ll work hard to get his team involved in the attacks and make his movement count. If met by a flat line of defence, the Brazilian will unload to one of his teammates and then blaze through the back line to get on the end of the incoming ball. He’s also not afraid to show off his skills.
Shinzo Koroki simply has a ridiculous engine, doesn’t stop all game, possesses great feet for dribbling and playing the perfectly tempered pass, and is a cool finisher. One of the reasons why the Miyazaki-native has been such a high scorer for Urawa this season is because his speed and winding runs have cut through defences.
They’re a dual threat when on the pitch, both are very fast on and off of the ball, have great technique, and, above all, are team players. In the AFC Champions League, Urawa tore Western Sydney apart to the tune of a 6-1 score line. Silva stole the show, with his assist on Koroki’s goal being particularly special.
The fluidity of Urawa’s front line allows them and Yuki Moto – who is often the third piece to the attacking trio – to torment the opposition defence wherever they see fit, shifting sides and spraying balls over the top.
On May 31, Urawa went through to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League after Shinzo Koroki nailed in the opening goal and assisted the second in their 3-0 extra time win over Jeju United. Rafael Silva didn’t feature in the game – not even on the bench, but that’s down to the manager – Michael Petrovic, needing to rotate to compete on all fronts.
Luckily for the Reds, it’s not just Silva and Koroki who have been in form, with all other attackers who are brought into the line-up knowing how to find the back of the net, a strong aspect of the team that Koroki has picked up on:
“It’s a great thing for the team that all the forwards are scoring at the moment.”
“We’re all playing well, so whichever one of us is in the starting line-up, it doesn’t change what the team is doing. Hopefully, we can keep going this way.”
Shinzo Koroki, Japan Times
The Urawa Reds and their enigmatic fan base will need these two slick scorers to keep firing them in if they hope to get to challenge for the league title as well as the AFC Champions League; right now, there’s no sign of them slowing down.