Urawa Red Diamonds claim final Nadeshiko League top-flight title

Urawa Red Diamonds celebrate after winning the Nadeshiko League women's football title with a trophy lift.
Urawa Red Diamonds celebrate after winning the Nadeshiko League women's football title on November 8, 2020, at Urawa Komaba Stadium in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Kyodo News)

The Urawa Red Diamonds are back on top. Six years after their last championship title, the Saitama-based club snapped Nippon TV Beleza’s Nadeshiko League dominance in the league’s final top-flight season.

Urawa clinched the title in early November with two games left to play after a resounding 5-1 victory over Ehime FC. The leaders went on to claim a total of 44 points across 18 games while amassing a +20 goal difference.

Instrumental in their title-winning season was Yuika Sugasawa. The veteran striker netted her 17th goal on the final day of the season. While the result of that game was a 1-1 draw with Nojima Stella, Sugasaw’s goal solidified her spot as the season’s top goalscorer.

Yuika Sugasawa scores a penalty in Urawa Red Diamond's 1-1 draw with Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara at Urawa Komaba stadium, Saitama Japan.
Yuika Sugasawa scores a penalty in Urawa Red Diamond’s 1-1 draw with Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara at Urawa Komaba stadium, Saitama Japan. (Photo by Naoki Morita)

Now, Urawa will hope to continue their impressive form as the Empress’s Cup kicks off. Despite reaching the final on five previous occasions, the Reds have never won the knockout tournament.

“I think that the Empress’s Cup will be a difficult match that is different from the league,” said Sugasawa to club reporters. “I think that if you can show what you have done in the league one by one, you will be able to go to the final. It’s not easy, but I hope the whole team can switch their minds toward the Empress’s Cup now.”

The 42nd annual competition is set to begin on November 28. A total of 48 teams from across the country will participate, each hoping to make it to the final on December 29.

A new chapter begins in Japan

A 2020 Plenus Nadeshiko League sign is propped up in an empty ZETT A Oripri Stadium. The Japan women's football league started behind closed doors following the COVID-19 outbreak.
2020 Plenus Nadeshiko League Division 1 match between JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies 2-4 Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies at ZETT A Oripri Stadium, Chiba Japan. (Photo by Naoki Nishimura)

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly made the 2020 season unique. Yet, Urawa’s title success will most notably be remembered as the last of the Nadeshiko League era.

The league itself will not disappear. Instead, it will shift down a division to make way for the newly-formed WE League. Despite this, the Reds will still be able to defend their top-flight title.

Last month, the WE League announced the 11 clubs that will compete professionally in its inaugural season. Urawa sits among these clubs, as do other heavy-hitters such as Beleza and INAC Kobe Leonessa.

Following the Empress’s Cup, the country will set its sights on the Tokyo Olympics. After that, the WE League will begin and Japanese women’s football will adopt a winter schedule.

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