History suggests Al Hilal must beat Urawa in AFC Champions League 2019 final first leg

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan takes a walk down AFC Champions League final memory lane to decide if Al Hilal must beat Urawa Red Diamonds in Saturday’s first leg if they are to emerge victorious.

Just two years ago, the same two teams faced off in the final of the AFC Champions League in the same order.

Then, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal were held to a 1-1 draw in Riyadh and their failure to capitalise on home advantage ultimately proved costly, as Japanese outfit Urawa Red Diamonds went on to win the second leg 1-0 and clinch their second continental crown.

This Saturday, Al Hilal will again host Urawa in the first leg of the decider at the King Saud University Stadium and, while that recent disappointment will still be fresh in their minds, history suggests that anything less than a win would spell trouble for Razvan Lucescu’s charges.

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Of course, statistics and the form guide can very easily be thrown out the window in such a massive tie featuring two excellent sides, although the AFC Champions League final trend is an interesting one that could be hard to ignore.

Firstly, in the ACL era which began in 2002, 16 finals have been played with 12 of these taking place over two legs.

Excluding the four from 2009 to 2012, only once has a team overcame a first-leg defeat to emerge triumphant – Al Ittihad in 2004 when they intially lost 3-1 at home to Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC) before incredibly winning the second leg in South Korea 5-0.

In six of the two-legged finals, the side that won the first leg (coincidentally always the home team) went on to claim the title even if they suffered defeat in the return encounter.

It does not sound that dire, does it? At the very least, even if Al Hilal do not win on Saturday, avoiding defeat would be a fair outcome ahead of the rematch at the Saitama Stadium 2002.

But in the remaining five two-legged finals, if the home team were held in the first leg, they would inevitably go on to lose the tie overall – even if it was on away goals like in the case of FC Seoul after a 3-3 aggregate draw with Guangzhou Evergrande in 2013.

Since that year, which saw the final reverting to a two-leg system, the two scenarios have alternated annually and it was the former which eventuated in 2018, when Kashima Antlers beat Persepolis 2-0 at home before sealing the title with a 0-0 draw in Tehran.

At the very least, Al Hilal will be bucking a curious recent trend should they claim the win in Riyadh on Saturday.

Perhaps more importantly for their prospects of claiming a third ACL crown, it is imperative they do so.