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Otsuki: First half difficulties cost Urawa title

Saitama: Urawa Red Diamonds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki was left lamenting his side’s inability to claw back their first-leg deficit in the opening 45 minutes of the second leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League final as the two-time champions lost out on Sunday to Al Hilal SFC.

The side from Saudi Arabia completed a 3-0 aggregate win thanks to second half goals from Salem Al Dawsari and Bafetimbi Gomis to claim the title for the first time in the club’s history.

Urawa went into the game at Saitama Stadium trailing by a goal from Andre Carrillo in the first leg in Riyadh two weeks ago and Razvan Lucescu’s side kept the 2007 and 2017 champions’ attack quiet throughout much of the game.

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“I tried to manage the team well,” said Otsuki. “We were 1-0 down from the first leg so we had to try to come back, but it didn’t work out.

“We couldn’t score in the first half, so the game became difficult and after we conceded the first goal we had to go forward more and more. That’s why we conceded the second one. We worked hard but this was all we could do.”

#ACLFinal 2019 - 2nd Leg: Urawa Red Diamonds vs Al Hilal SFC

While Urawa failed to become the first club to win the AFC Champions League for a third time – they remain stuck on two titles along with Al Ittihad and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors – their run to the final has added significant sheen to a disappointing season domestically.

Urawa have laboured in the J.League, but at continental level they had impressed on their way to the tournament decider, seeing off Chinese trio Beijing FC, Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande as well as defeating Ulsan Hyundai in the Round of 16.

But Al Hilal proved a step too far for Otsuki and his players, although the coach felt his team – and Japanese football at large – will have learned lessons from his side’s involvement in this year’s AFC Champions League.

“We have played against very good teams with big names and great talent,” he said. “It has been hard, especially when you play against great talent because they put us under pressure."

“We have also travelled a lot and that caused a lot of difficulties for us too. When we last won the AFC Champions League in 2017 we had a training camp for one or two weeks, but this time we couldn’t do that.

“But playing in the AFC Champions League gives us and Japanese football a lot of experience and lessons, so hopefully Japanese football can learn some lessons from this.”