2019 season set for epic final showdown
Kuala Lumpur: The chase for Asia’s ultimate club prize begins on Saturday when Al Hilal SFC from Saudi Arabia host Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League final where both teams will jostle to win the coveted prize for a record-equaling third time.
Al Hilal will look to wipe out the memories of their defeat to Urawa Red Diamonds in the 2017 final as they aim to take full advantage of the passionate home support at the King Saud University Stadium when the final begins at 7.30pm local time.
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Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised both teams for reaching the 2019 AFC Champions League final.
The AFC President said: “The AFC Champions League has seen many worthy champions emerge and football fans will once again be captivated by another much-anticipated final between Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds. I wish both teams the best of luck as they chase for a third AFC Champions League crown.
“The AFC is determined to build on the ever-growing popularity of the AFC Champions League which is now one of the most exciting club competitions in the world. This is the ideal stage for the Continent’s top talents to shine and excite our fans, whose passion have made this year’s competition truly memorable.”
The AFC Champions League is one of the richest Continental Club competitions in the world and it continues to grow with increased investment including incentives for clubs where travel subsidies have doubled this year.
And more than 500 million fans have already engaged through the AFC social media channels for this year’s showpiece.
The winners will join Al Saad of Qatar in the FIFA Club World Cup to be played in Qatar between December 11 and 21, 2019. Asian sides have an impressive record on the world stage with both Kashima Antlers from Japan and UAE’s Al Ain finishing runners-up in the 2016 and 2018 editions of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Last year, a record crowd of 135,022 fans watched the two-legged final in the two stadiums between the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis and eventual champions Kashima Antlers of Japan, eclipsing the attendance record set in the 2017 final.
Al Hilal entered the 2019 final following a nail-biting semi-final encounter against Al Sadd of Qatar, where Razvan Lucescu’s men emerged 4-1 winners in the first leg before going through with a 6-5 aggregate despite losing 4-2 at home.
With 10 goals in the campaign, French stalwart Bafatemi Gomis, this season’s leading scorer, will spearhead the attacking frontline for Al Hilal, who are looking to be third time lucky after tasting defeat in the AFC Champions League finals in 2014 and 2017.
Similarly, Urawa Red Diamonds will look to Japanese forward Shinzo Koroki, who scored his eighth goal in the return-leg of the semi-final to end Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande’s 21 home games unbeaten streak in the competition.
Also in the team is 38-year-old Japanese midfielder Yuki Abe who is looking to become the first player in history to win the AFC Champions League with the same club for the third time.
The veteran is also close to equaling Kwoun Sun-tae of Korea Republic as the player with most AFC Champions League medals after guiding Jeonbuk Hyundai (2006 & 2016) and Kashima Antlers to the title last year.
Urawa Red Diamonds will be buoyed by their victory over rival Al Hilal in 2017 but both teams will leave nothing to chance when they meet on Saturday before the all-important return leg at the Saitama Stadium 2002 on November 24.
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