Football: Urawa captain Sakai eyeing Man City upset at Club World Cup

Fit-again Urawa Reds captain Hiroki Sakai says his team is ready to defy the odds against Manchester City in the Club World Cup semifinals on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old was expected to miss the tournament in Saudi Arabia following right knee surgery he underwent in early November that initially ruled him out for three months.

But the veteran surprised with a quick recovery and came on as a late substitute on Friday as the Asian champions Urawa saw off CONCACAF winners Club Leon of Mexico 1-0 in Jeddah to set up an intriguing encounter with the European champions.

"I believe our players can naturally do well if they play thinking this game is the chance of their lifetime," the former Marseille right-back said.

Urawa manager Maciej Skorza claimed he would have taken Sakai to the tournament even if he was not fit enough to play given the influence he has on the squad, but can now rely on the three-time Japan World Cup defender to marshal his side on the pitch.

"I was able to play without pain for the first time in almost a year (against Leon). I was playing with the feeling that this was how I used to move," Sakai said with a smile.

Sakai faced Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side while at Marseille, recalling England's three-time defending league champions were "towering opponents" after his team were soundly beaten 3-0 both home and away during the Champions League group stage in 2020.

The European champions have never failed to reach the final or been beaten by an Asian club at the Club World Cup, making Urawa's task at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium even more daunting.

But with the first-hand experience of stunning favored European nations at the Qatar World Cup last year with Japan, Sakai believes anything is possible.

"You never know what the outcome will be even if you're up against so-called stronger sides, just as Japan beat Spain and Germany," he said.

© Kyodo News