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2017 Final Flashback: Al Hilal vs Urawa Reds Diamonds

Kuala Lumpur: When Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds meet in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League final in Riyadh on Saturday, it marks the second time in three years that the sides have faced off in the showpiece event. 

As the clock ticks down towards the highly anticipated re-match, looks back at the 2017 clash, which saw the two teams competing in the final for the second time.

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The stage is set

After the bitter disappointment of narrowly losing the 2014 final to Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers, Al Hilal went into the game desperate to lift the trophy for the first time.

The Riyadh giants, who had won multiple Asian titles prior to the inception of the AFC Champions League, were also unbeaten in 12 matches in the 2019 competition ahead of the main event.

Urawa, meanwhile, were crowned kings of Asia 10 years earlier when they defeated Iranian side Sepahan and were aiming to become the fourth team to win the tournament on two occasions.

Their run to the final had been less smooth, though, as the Saitama side required dramatic second-leg comebacks in both the last 16 and quarter-finals against Korea Republic’s Jeju United and domestic rivals Kawasaki Frontale before eventually booking a date with Al Hilal.

Just under 60,000 spectators turned up for the first leg on November 18 at King Fahd International Stadium, where Al Hilal had been so dominant three years previously against Western Sydney, only to fall just short.

The home support was stunned into silence after just seven minutes as Rafael Silva burst into the Al Hilal penalty area from deep and when his low cross towards Shinzo Koroki was only half cleared by Salman Al Faraj, the Brazilian was on-hand to finish from eight yards out.

Khribin vs Nishikawa

Al Hilal fought back strongly and almost levelled midway through the first half when Mohammed Al Burayk centred for Omar Khribin, who looked destined to score from just a few yards out, only for Shusaku Nishikawa in the Urawa goal to pull off an incredible reflex save.  

Khribin, who with nine goals to his name prior to the final was the tournament’s joint-top scorer, had another chance to level the scores soon after when an Al Faraj shot from distance fell kindly at his feet, but the Syrian was once again denied by Nishikawa.

But Khribin eventually had his moment eight minutes before the interval. Al Burayk was again involved, heading the ball towards Salem Al Dawsari whose scuffed effort from the penalty spot landed at Khribin’s feet and he made no mistake this time to equalise from inside the six yard box.

The hosts’ main marksman would have yet another chance after the interval but was just inches away from connecting with a header at the back post, while Kazuki Nagasawa was denied by a fabulous fingertips save from Abdullah Al Mayouf at the other end as the tie ended 1-1 and firmly in the balance ahead of the second leg.

The return meeting

A week later the sides would meet again, this time at a vibrant Saitama Stadium, where just like in Riyadh a week earlier, the 57,000-strong crowd was befitting of the occasion of Asian football’s biggest club match.

Urawa had won all six of their games in front of home support and, as was the case in the 2007 final, had returned from the away leg in a strong position after a 1-1 draw.

The contest proved to be a tight affair and, needing a goal to have any chance of lifting the trophy, Al Hilal pushed forward, with Al Dawsari firing just over from the edge of the area midway through the first half.

But the visitors were finding chances hard to come by and with the game in its final 20 minutes, the chances of an Urawa goal increased. Koroki had a header well saved by Al Mayouf after a dangerously whipped-in free-kick by Yosuke Kashiwagi as tension began to grip the stadium.

2nd Leg: Urawa Red Diamonds vs Al Hilal

Al Dawsari sees red, Silva seals the title

Al Hilal’s hopes of finding the decisive away goal took another hit with 12 minutes to play as Al Dawsari was dismissed for his second bookable offence and 10 minutes later the Japanese side delivered the final blow.

Silva rolled Osama Hawsawi to latch onto Yuki Muto’s ball through the middle before taking one touch and rifling into the roof of the net with an unstoppable effort from just inside the penalty area to win the game and raise the roof off Saitama Stadium.

Yuki Abe, the only player who had also started the 2007 final, lifted the trophy into the Saitama night sky as Urawa joined Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and China PR’s Guangzhou Evergrande as two-time winners.

Al Hilal, meanwhile, were left to ponder what might have been as for the second time in four years they had finished as runners-up by just a single-goal margin.

The Riyadh side did not have to wait long for a chance of revenge, though, as just two years on they will renew acquaintances with Urawa as they bid to finally end their AFC Champions League heartbreak, while the J.League side will attempt to become the tournament’s first three-time winners.

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