Urawa Reds boys defy odds to win JSSL title

Urawa Reds beat Perth Glory 1-0 in a sudden-death play-off to be crowned JSSL Professional Academy 7s champions.
Urawa Reds beat Perth Glory 1-0 in a sudden-death play-off to be crowned JSSL Professional Academy 7s champions.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The Urawa Reds players were at least a head shorter than their Perth Glory opponents, whose average height was 1.75m.

But, even after they were dwarfed by the Australian side in Sunday's 0-3 loss in a round-robin game, it was the Japanese boys who stood tallest when they were crowned JSSL Professional Academy 7s champions yesterday.

"Run more than your opponents, challenge harder than your opponents" were coach Takanari Sueto's words of advice to his young charges before the final against Perth.

And run Urawa forward Hori Mahiro did, even though the final was his fourth game at the Padang yesterday while it was just Perth's second game of the day.

Drawing energy from cheers in the stand, the 16-year-old overcame his fatigue to score in extra time, leading Urawa to a 1-0 victory and their maiden title.

He found himself unmarked at the right side of the Perth box and coolly converted a pass from his captain Kaito Mori.

The 30-minute final had finished goalless at full-time and the match entered a sudden-death play-off, featuring three players from each side. The team to score first won.

Hori, who ran towards his team-mates with arms outstretched after scoring the golden goal, said: "I was tired but, because of the support from the crowd, I was ready to give my all. The feeling of scoring that winning goal, it was the best of the best of the best."

"Because we are smaller, our game plan is to outrun them and we also tried to attack more," added Sueto. "The team did that."

Urawa Reds had beaten China's Aksil Reunited and crowd favourites Liverpool 2-0 and 3-0 respectively in the knockout round, before defeating Spanish side Valencia 1-0 in the semi-finals.

This is the second year that the JSSL Professional Academy 7s have been added to the annual JSSL International 7s. This year's edition also drew teams such as Fulham, Bangkok United and local side JSSL FC. Some 350 teams took part in both events - a 35 per cent increase from last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2018, with the headline 'Urawa Reds boys defy odds to win JSSL title'. Print Edition | Subscribe