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Analysis: Attacking Al Hilal prove too strong for Urawa

Kuala Lumpur: For the first time since 2011, the AFC Champions League trophy is back in West Asia after Al Hilal overcame Urawa Red Diamonds following a 2-0 victory in the second leg of the final at Saitama Stadium on Sunday. 

The 3-0 aggregate scoreline was no less than the Saudi Arabian giants deserved as the Riyadh side took the game to their J.League opponents both home and away to be crowned kings of the Continent.

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Al Hilal’s joy down the right

Razvan Lucescu’s team caused Urawa endless problems down the right in the first leg, with Peruvian Andre Carrillo’s goal coming from full-back Mohammed Al Burayk’s delivery from that side of the pitch. And things got no better in the second leg.

The warning signs came as early as the fifth minute when Carrillo brushed off Takahiro Sekine with ease before sending a cross in for Salem Al Dawsari, whose header was directed straight at Shusaku Nishikawa in the Urawa goal.

Al Burayk teed up his fellow full-back Yasser Al Shahrani just after the hour as the Al Hilal pressure down the right built, before Sebastian Giovinco dinked in for Bafetimbi Gomis after the hosts had again conceded possession down their left, but the tournament’s top scorer was denied by Nishikawa.

When the opening goal eventually arrived, it was little surprise where it came from. Carrillo burst forward, shrugged off Sekine once more and laid off to Salman Al Faraj before the ball eventually found its way to Al Dawsari for a tap-in.

With the game all but over, there was still time for one more flurry down the right, with Gomis getting the better of Daisuke Suzuki before playing in Carrillo, who returned to ball to the Frenchman for an easy finish to complete a torrid night for Urawa’s left-sided players. 

The fantastic four

Al Hilal have been excellent going forward throughout the 2019 AFC Champions League, scoring a tournament-leading 26 goals and boasting the competition’s 11-goal top scorer Gomis. Supporting him, the trident of Al Dawsari, Giovinco and Carrillo provide pace, flair, creativity and yet more goals.

It’s a frightening foursome and it’s hard to imagine a better attacking quartet anywhere on the Continent. Indeed, since the knockout rounds began, they have scored 13 of Al Hilal’s 16 goals, while the trio behind Gomis have seven assists between them.

Their excellence was on display once again in the second leg, with Al Dawsari (who had a Matchday high six shots on goal) opening the scoring following a beautifully weighted first-time ball by the Man-of-the-Match Giovinco.

Carrillo, arguably the best player over the two games, was menacing throughout and it was fitting that the 28-year-old combined with Gomis to round off a victory in which all four displayed their ability on the biggest stage. 

Hashioka offers hope for the future

While there were few positives to take from Urawa’s performance over the two legs as their season of woe domestically crept into their Continental campaign, Daiki Hashioka’s assured performances was one.

Over both legs, the right-sided wing-back won more duels, aerial duels and tackles – as well as delivered the highest number of crosses – than any other player from either side. At Saitama Stadium, he was top for duels (12), aerial duels (7) and crosses (6).

But numbers only tell part of the story. The 20-year-old only made his AFC Champions League debut in March, when he scored twice against Buriram United, and then cemented his place in the starting line-up from the beginning of the knockout rounds.

Hashioka admitted after the match that he had plenty to learn, but keen observers of Japanese football have been surprised by his rapid rise over the past nine months. Displaying maturity beyond his years, the Saitama native has the potential to develop into one of Urawa’s most important players in the seasons ahead.

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