AFC Champions League

Urawa v. Al Hilal Analysis: Ruthless Rafael Silva wraps up Reds’ return to throne

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Saitama: Urawa Red Diamonds were crowned Asian champions on Saturday after beating Al Hilal 1-0 in the 2017 AFC Champions League final second leg at Saitama Stadium.


Just as in the first leg, which ended 1-1, Al Hilal gave a good account of themselves, but ultimately couldn’t turn their dominance of the ball into clear chances, and were again punished by the clinical Rafael Silva.



Defensive discipline key for Reds



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Urawa’s away goal in Riyadh meant Al Hilal needed to score here, and the visitors were the more proactive team as a result.



Ramon Diaz’s side had more time on the ball from the outset, but despite having 60.3 percent possession in the first half only 14.9 percent of the play was in the Urawa defensive third as the hosts pressed and harried doggedly.



The Saudis became increasingly direct as time wore on, with 89.4 percent of the game contested in the centre or final thirds of the pitch in the final 15 minutes, but Urawa remained resolute defensively and ultimately rebuffed everything that was thrown at them.



Khribin threat curbed



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All eyes were on tournament top scorer Omar Khribin coming into this match, but after the Al Hilal striker caused all manner of problems in the first leg in Riyadh, Reds were wise to his threat and gave him no room here.



The 23-year-old was only allowed one touch inside the penalty area in his 62 minutes on the pitch – and even that was a pass – and he was accompanied by at least one defender wherever he went.



The Syrian ultimately had to be substituted in the second half after failing to shake off a knock, and departed the pitch having only been able to muster one shot off target.



Sharpshooter Silva strikes gold for the Diamonds



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Rafael Silva’s 88th-minute strike sparked wild celebrations at Saitama Stadium, but the Brazilian afterwards said his contribution to the triumph was “only a percentage”.



The 25-year-old was being modest, and he in fact played a part in exactly one third of Reds’ 30 goals in this years AFC Champions League – scoring nine and assisting one.



What makes that stat even more impressive is the fact that Silva plundered his haul from just 10 shots on target.



Abdullah Al-Mayoof became the only goalkeeper to deny Silva when he kept him at bay in the 73rd minute here, but he was unable to do the same late on as Reds’ No. 8 slammed home to wrap up the title.