Al-Hilal aiming for record 5th Asian Champions League title

Al-Hilal is potentially 180 minutes away from extending its regional record of continental titles from four to five as it faces Urawa Reds of Japan in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final at Riyadh on Saturday.

With the Saudi national team upsetting eventual champion Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar last November, and Al-Hilal eliminating the champions of Africa and South America at the Club World Cup in February before losing the final 5-3 to Real Madrid, expectations are high in the host nation.

Al-Hilal is not only the defending continental champion — and trying to become the first team since domestic rivals Al-Ittihad in 2004 and 2005 to win the AFC title back-to-back –but is also facing Urawa in the final for the third time in six years. The Japanese club won in 2017, with Al-Hilal avenging that two years later.

“We know that it’s going to be a difficult game but that is what you expect when you reach a final,” Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz said. “We know what we have to do and we also know that this is the first half and then we go to Japan.”

Urawa is hosting the return leg on May 6 at Saitama Stadium, just north of Tokyo.

As well as several players who represented Saudi Arabia at the World Cup, Diaz can call upon in-form Odion Ighalo. The former Nigeria striker, who played on loan at Manchester United n 2020, leads the goalscoring standings in the Saudi Professional League with 18 goals so far this season.

He also has seven goals in the continental tournament —- two more in the final series will move him ahead of Edmilson Junior of Qatar Al-Duhail. Al-Hilal thrashed Al-Duhail 7-0 in February’s semifinals.

Urawa played its semifinal against Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea last August in what has been an elongated tournament. This edition started 14 months ago, with the delay resulting from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) transitioning to a calendar that mirrors the European competition.

Since Urawa’s last Asian Champions League game, Ricardo Rodriguez has been replaced as head coach by Maciej Skorza of Poland. Urawa is currently in fourth place in Japan’s top tier, and Al-Hilal is in fourth spot in the Saudi domestic league.


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