Al-Hilal suffered its third consecutive defeat in a decade on Saturday in the Asian Champions League final. The records will show that Urawa Reds won the second leg 1-0 to win the match 2-1 on aggregate, but it won’t be as clear that the Riyadh giants could have won the trophy, as they did in 2014 against Western Sydney Wanderers and three years later against the same Japanese team. Because of the nature of football, the Saudi champions have won four continental titles, more than any other team. However, for the title holders, this was a case of what might have been.
If Ali Al-Bulaihi’s attempted clearance in the first leg had not somehow hit the post, allowing Shinzo Koroki to score a goal that came out of nothing, Al-Hilal would have been comfortably ahead 1-0 at home last week. What might have happened had Salem Al-Dawsari, scorer of the initial objective, not seen red later in the game avoiding him with regards to the subsequent leg? What would have transpired if Ramon Diaz’s team had simply utilized their enormous possession more effectively in both games?
Al-Dawsari was out for the second leg due to injury, and captain Salman Al-Faraj was also injured, making the 1-1 draw in the first leg not only disappointing but also costly. Diaz had to call the changes because fullback Yasser Al-Shahrani was also unavailable. He brought in young forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan, an experienced midfielder, and Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo.
In the fourth minute, the visitors were claiming a penalty after seeing the goal for the first time. Odion Ighalo had a shot that was cleared off the line after Al-Hamdan and Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa both fell while trying to get the ball.
The initial stages went on along these lines as the Saudi Middle Eastern bosses posed inquiries of the hosts and quietened the group. Michael forced Nishikawa into a flying save after 21 minutes when he dribbled along the area’s edge.
It was an impression of the main leg where Al-Hilal had the belonging and possibilities yet couldn’t make the most of them, which implied Urawa were in every case only close to scoring contrary to the rules. Practically occurred on the half-hour mark furthermore, that. Koroki, the goal scorer in Riyadh last week, launched a spectacular flying volley against the crossbar after Hiroki Sakai waltzed down the right and delivered a perfectly timed cross.
Ighalo got around the goalkeeper but was surrounded by defenders and was unable to take a shot. Soon after, Mohamed Kanno shot just wide from inside the area at the end of a play. That didn’t bother Carrillo, who got the ball far from the goal and shot into the top corner before Nishikawa, the busier of the two goalkeepers, saved to his right.
Al-Hilal had a possession percentage in the seventies at halftime for the second Saturday in a row, but there were concerns that not enough clear chances were not being created. In addition, Urawa posed a threat on the counter in comparison to the previous leg.
With a soft goal just three minutes into the restart, the Reds took the lead. When Marius Hoibraten headed a free kick back across goal, the wind seemed to push the ball out of Abdullah Al-Mayouf’s reach and into the net, where it bounced off Carrillo’s leg.
It lifted the fans and gave new energy into the Japanese group. Al-Hilal kept moving forward, but it still had trouble finding meaningful opportunities. Urawa went close on several events however with 10 minutes staying, a cross from Michael on the left twisted as far as possible past the Red protection and nearly into the furthest corner. With balls flying into the area, it signaled the beginning of the Blues’ intense pressure.
In the 90th minute, there was an opportunity. Ighalo made a small space inside the area and turned three defenders the wrong way before firing a low shot, despite not having any impact in either leg of the final. Nishikawa rose to the occasion. In fact, Urawa’s defense stood up to everything Al-Hilal could throw at them, and the Japanese team’s defense and the absence of Al-Hilal’s players were ultimately the difference.
Al-Hilal now returns home without a trophy and with a great deal of regret. They have displayed after past difficult last losses, nonetheless, that they have the stuff to return and lift the prize once more. They’ll want to be in the final again, but they might prefer to avoid Urawa Reds next time.