2019 Final – Key Players: Al Hilal SFC
Riyadh: Al Hilal SFC continue to chase the ever-elusive AFC Champions League title as they host Urawa Red Diamonds in the first leg of the 2019 final.
Nearly two decades since their last Asian triumph, Al Hilal are in the final for the third time after 2014 and 2017, and whether they have been part of the last two attempts, - one of them, or have recently joined the side, all the Al Hilal players know their names will be immortalised should they bring home the much coveted trophy.
Ahead of Saturday’s first leg at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium, the-AFC.com has selected three players who could be key to their side’s chances of finally assuming the Continental throne.
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When Al Hilal last reached the AFC Champions League final in 2017, it was Syrian striker Omar Khribin who led the competition’s scoring charts with nine goals going into the first leg of the final against Urawa Red Diamonds.
Despite still being on the club’s books, Khribin has not been included in their Continental squad. The reason? A 6-foot-tall poacher in the name of Bafetimbi Gomis.
Since his arrival in Riyadh in the summer of 2018, the former Lyon, Marseille and Swansea City striker has established himself as a true fan favourite, and with the sort of scoring records he has been setting, it is easy to see why.
In his debut season at King Saud University Stadium, Gomis finished as his team’s top scorer with 21 league goals, more than double the next highest scorer in the side (Carlos Eduardo – 10).
Taking his form to the AFC Champions League, the Frenchman scored four in the group stage to drive his team to the top of their group. He then went on to score a hat-trick against rivals Al Ahli in the Round of 16.
Although the semi-finals started negatively for Gomis as he scored an own goal in the first leg, the 34-year-old more than made up for it with a brace in the first leg and added his tenth of the campaign in the return fixture against Al Sadd.
Gomis is now one goal away from breaking Khribin’s record as Al Hilal’s highest scorer in a single AFC Champions League campaign and if he can deliver in the final, he will be remembered as perhaps the greatest foreign striker in the club’s history.
Salem Al Dawsari
One of just two Al Hilal players to have played the whole 90 minutes in both the 2014 and 2017 AFC Champions League final in Riyadh, Al Dawsari has grown in importance for his club with each passing year.
Whether cutting in from the left with the ball at his feet, or arriving into the box to finish off an attacking move like he did to open the scoring in the second leg of the semi-final against Al Sadd, Al Dawsari is an integral part of every Al Hilal attack.
🌪️ Salem Al Dawsari:— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) November 5, 2019
⚡️ More dribbles completed (2⃣4⃣) than any player who will feature at the 2019 Final
⚽️🅰️⚽️ in last 3⃣ #ACL2019 matches#ACLFinal | @Alhilal_FC | @salem_d29 pic.twitter.com/NNbN0W1xjd
The 28-year-old has completed more dribbles than any other player taking on to the final on Saturday. He is also joint-top for goals created for Al Hilal, with three assists to go with his two goals in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Having come through the youth ranks at Al Hilal, Al Dawsari sharpened his game in a six-month loan spell in Spain with Villarreal. He has since come back a more clinical finisher and his end product has significantly improved.
Often sharing the left flank with full-back Yasser Al Shahrani, Al Dawsari’s ability to operate centrally or out wide offers coach Razvan Lucescu options, with the left-back sometimes overlapping or moving into the half-space while Al Dawsari stretches the pitch.
With two encounters at this stage to his name, including one against Urawa Red Diamonds, Al Dawsari’s experience could be vital to propel his side to AFC Champions League glory at the third time of asking.
Ahead of their 2019 AFC Champions League campaign, Al Hilal looked to bolster their squad, especially following the injury sustained by their former playmaker Omar Abdulrahman. They found their man in the diminutive 32-year-old Italian nicknamed ‘The Atomic Ant’.
Sebastian Giovinco arrived from MLS side Toronto FC where he had been one of the league’s standout performers, winning the 2015 MLS MVP Award and netting over 65 times in three seasons.
Unlike the man he was brought to replace, the former Juventus player was utilised further up the pitch as part of a front two with Gomis.
Giovinco adapted to life in Riyadh well and his partnership with Gomis has produced 12 goals and three assists in the 2019 AFC Champions League so far.
Domestically, Giovinco has been in hot form, despite coach Lucescu opting to rest him on several occasions ahead of Continental clashes. The Italian has three goals in four starts in the Saudi Pro League this season.
At 32, the Atomic Ant might not have the pace of before, but his ability to beat his marker is second to none and he is a threat from set-pieces. His combination play with Gomis will be key for Al Hilal to unlock Urawa’s defences.
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