Saitama: Goals from Salem Al Dawsari and Bafetimbi Gomis ensured Al Hilal claimed the AFC Champions League for the first time in the club’s history as the Riyadh-based side completed a 3-0 aggregate win over Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds at Saitama Stadium on Sunday.
Al Dawsari’s close range effort 16 minutes from time and Gomis’ injury time strike gave Al Hilal a 2-0 win on the night and allowed them to complete a historic win following their first leg victory at the King Saud University Stadium two weeks ago.
Al Hilal become the first club from West Asia to win the title since Al Sadd’s victory in 2011 and they are the first team from Saudi Arabia to claim the trophy since the second of Al Ittihad’s back-to-back wins in 2005.
Just as importantly, the win also goes some way toward making up for the heartbreak of losing in the final in both 2014 and 2017, with the Saudis losing to Urawa two years ago in agonising circumstances.
But Razvan Lucescu’s side never looked like allowing anything similar to happen on Sunday in front of a boisterous crowd of 58,109 at a pulsating Saitama Stadium as they sealed a place in the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019.
Urawa made one change to the side that lost in the first leg in Riyadh, with Shusaku Nishikawa returning between the posts for Haruki Fukushima while Al Hilal named an unchanged line-up.
Both sides struggled to take control during a frantic first 15 minutes that featured little goalmouth action despite the energetic efforts of the two sets of players.
Al Dawsari had the game’s first sight of goal 16 minutes in, only for Nishikawa to comfortably gather the Saudi international’s low shot from outside the area.
Urawa threatened only occasionally, despite the need to score at least once to keep their hopes of a third AFC Champions League title alive.
The home side did open up Al Hilal’s defence with a penetrating move down the left in the 24th minute that saw Takahiro Sekine release Shinzo Koroki and the striker’s pass to Kazuki Nagasawa was laid-off to the advancing Sekine, but he failed to make his effort count.
Urawa were labouring in the final third as Al Hilal’s well-organised defence held them at bay, leaving Takuya Aoki to unsuccessfully try his luck from distance 12 minutes before the interval.
As the game wore on, it was the visitors who carried the greater threat. Gomis saw his shot blocked at close range by Nishikawa before Jang Hyun-soo sent his effort off target when the Urawa goalkeeper dropped the ball at his feet.
Yasser Al Shahrani also volleyed wide soon after and Gomis was again denied by Nishikawa, the Urawa goalkeeper this time using his chest to deny the tournament’s top scorer with 21 minutes remaining.
Eventually, though, the goal did come when Al Dawsari slotted in from close range after a fluent move saw Al Hilal quickly sweep the ball from one flank to the other before Sebastian Giovinco slid the ball into his teammate’s path and 28-year-old coolly slotted home.
Gomis, subsequently named MVP and winner of the Top Scorer award with 11 goals, then ensured there was no way back deep into added time when Al Hilal hit Urawa on the break to send the visiting fans into hysterics.