Al-Hilal held up Urawa Reds to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final at King Fahd International Stadium on Saturday, setting the stage for a thrilling second leg in Japan.
The sold-out stadium in the Saudi capital Riyadh saw an intense match between two heavyweights of Asian football with four-time champions of the Asian Champions League, Al Hilal, dominating the first half of the match.
The Saudi side opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a goal from Salem Al-Dawsari assisted by Michael Dalgado, sending the home crowd into raptures.
The winger was sent off late in the game after kicking out at Ken Iwao and will miss the second leg. The Saudis had several chances to extend their lead, but were unable to convert them, and the first half ended with Al-Hilal leading 1-0.
Al-Hilal was in control at the break, enjoying 70% possession.
“We started well and put pressure on the opponent,” Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz told AP. “We made a mistake in the second half, but in the final, you expect difficult games, and that will be the case in the second leg. Al-Hilal is able to get good results in difficult situations.”
In the second half, Urawa Reds came out with renewed energy and took control of the match. They equalised in the 53rd minute through their veteran striker, Shinzo Koroki, who scored his sixth goal of the tournament. The Japanese side continued to push for a winner, but Al-Hilal’s defence held firm and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The result gives Urawa Reds the away goal advantage going into the second leg, as they will play in front of their home fans at Saitama Stadium on 6 May. However, Al-Hilal will be confident of their chances, as the team has a strong record in the competition and reached the final for the fifth time in their history.
Both teams will be aiming to lift the prestigious Asian Champions League trophy, which is the most coveted club football trophy in Asia.
The tournament features the top clubs from all over the continent, and the winner earns the right to compete in the FIFA Club World Cup against the best teams from around the world.
Al-Hilal, one of the most successful clubs in Asia, has won the competition four times and has been runners-up four times. It boasts a strong squad, which includes several Saudi internationals such as Mohammed Al-Breik and Salem Al-Dawsari. The team is known for its attacking prowess and will be hoping to continue its scoring form in the second leg.
Urawa Reds, on the other hand, is one of the most successful clubs in Japan and has won the Asian Champions League twice before, in 2007 and 2017.
The squad has a talented squad that includes players such as Shinzo Koroki and Yosuke Kashiwagi, who have been instrumental in their run to the final. The team is known for its defensive solidity and will be hoping to keep a clean sheet in the second leg.