Shusaku Nishikawa's penalty heroics earns Urawa Red Diamonds another AFC Champions League final at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' expense

Shusaku Nishikawa made two crucial saves in a 3-1 penalty shootout win to help Urawa Red Diamonds see off Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the 2022-23 AFC Champions League semifinals following a 2-2 draw between the teams. Kenta Harada/Getty Images

At the age of 36, Shusaku Nishikawa could have been forgiven for thinking his eventful career was slowly but surely coming to a quiet end.

But after his heroics in Thursday's 2022-23 AFC Champions League semifinals -- where he made two crucial saves for Urawa Red Diamonds in a penalty shootout win over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors following a 2-2 draw between the sides -- there could still be one final chapter to write in his story.

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In a thrilling last-four encounter at Saitama Stadium 2002, Urawa had relinquished an early lead after Yusuke Matsuo's 11th-minute opener was cancelled out by a Paik Seung-ho penalty ten minutes into the second half.

As the game entered extra-time, it looked as though Jeonbuk had snatched the victory when Han Kyo-won put them in front in the 116th minute until Kasper Junker dramatically equalised right at the death to force penalties.

From there, it was Nishikawa who would grab the spotlight as he saved Jeonbuk's opening two attempts by Kim Bo-kyung and Lee Seung-gi while Kim Jin-su also saw his spot-kick come back off the woodwork, paving the way for Ataru Esaka to convert Urawa's fourth attempt to seal a 3-1 shootout win.

It should come as no surprise that Nishikawa would produce such a star turn in a tie of this magnitude, based on his ability and experience.

He is after all a seasoned campaigner with over 600 club appearances and 31 Japan caps to his name, who has won countless trophies -- including being a pivotal member of the last Urawa side to win the ACL in 2017.

Nonetheless, with the Reds struggling to mount any semblance of a title challenge in the J1 League and initially not considered among the favourites in this year's ACL, it did look as though Nishikawa would have to settle for a dignified but discreet close to his footballing journey.

Even then, it was initially his 20-year-old protégé Zion Suzuki who started the continental campaign as Urawa's first choice in goal, playing in their opening four group-stage ties to hint that a changing of the guard might have been in motion.

Yet there is no substitute for experience. Both in terms of sheer volume of games played, as well as a know-how to deal with the biggest high-pressure moments.

Nishikawa, widely regarded as one of Japanese football's best goalkeepers to have never plied his trade abroad, used all of that experience on Thursday.

It did not matter that he had already been beaten from the spot previously by Paik in regulation time.

He simply made it count when it really mattered, and Urawa had that -- and him -- to thank for a third ACL final appearance in six years.

Given the tournament is now in a transitionary year as it pivots from its original calendar-year season to a September to May schedule more in line with major competitions around the world, Urawa would have started a brand-new J1 League season by the time they take on the West Asia winners in next February's final.

Current players will leave and new signings will arrive.

Still, one gets the feeling it might be Nishikawa -- more than halfway towards his 37th birthday -- who will be drawing on all his experience to help the Reds in their quest for a third ACL crown.