2017 AFC Champions League Final: Key Battles

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

The first leg of the 2017 AFC Champions League final will take place on Saturday with Al Hilal hosting Urawa Red Diamonds at the King Fahd International Stadium.

Few can argue that these two teams are not deserving of their place in the showpiece event, after they swept away all that stood in their way in the respective zones.

Both have got this far largely due to the fact that they are undeniably two extremely good teams: organised, well-drilled and fluid in transition.

Nonetheless, every winning side also requires individual brilliance from time to time, and Al Hilal and Urawa have no shortage of match winners.

With that in mind, FOX Sports Asia looks at three key battles that could just go a long way in deciding the outcome of Saturday’s clash in Riyadh.

Osama Hawsawi v Shinzo Koroki

Granted, Rafael Silva may have been Urawa’s leading marksman in the Champions League so far this season, but plenty of that is down to the selfless work of Shinzo Koroki alongside him.

As the focal point of the attack, the 31-year-old uses his strength and determination to good effect and often requires the attention of a second opponent, freeing up space for the likes of Rafael to exploit.

Still, Koroki is no slouch himself when it comes to finding the back of the net and is currently the top scorer in the J1 League with 20 goals.

As such, it is vital that he is minded by a defender who has both the necessary physique and experience, but Al Hilal have just that man in captain Osama Hawsawi.

Rarely beaten in a one-on-one contest and arguably still Saudi Arabia’s best centre-back even at the age of 33, Hawsawi lining up against Koroki would be an absolutely enthralling duel.

Nicolas Milesi v Yosuke Kashiwagi

Every coach knows gaining the ascendancy in engine room battle is crucial to winning any match.

In Nicolas Milesi and Yosuke Kashiwagi, Al Hilal and Urawa have two midfield generals who are capable of dictating the play and allowing their respective teams to keep a stranglehold on proceedings.

Kashiwagi is arguably the more dangerous of the two going forward with his eye for a killer pass and ability to effortlessly find space in the middle of the park.

However, Milesi is also equally effective with his distribution but also offers more bite when his team are not in possession.

Should the Uruguayan manage to stifle Kashiwagi and then deal damage of his own, it would put Al Hilal in a very promising position.

Carlos Eduardo v Tomoaki Makino

As the tournament’s top scorer so far, Omar Kharbin is expected to be Al Hilal’s main threat once again but the Reds should ignore Carlos Eduardo at their own peril.

With his uncanny knack of popping up in the right place at the right time, the Brazilian has already helped himself to seven goals this campaign and none were more crucial than the hat-trick in the quarter-final second leg against Al Ain.

When opposition teams have managed to find a way to keep Kharbin quiet, Eduardo inevitably pops up to shoulder the scoring burden, which makes it all the more crucial that Tomoaki Makino is all over him on Saturday.

While he still plays in the heart of defence for Japan, Makino has been used as a left-back by Urawa coach Takafumi Hori throughout 2017 and will definitely find himself up against Carlos Eduardo, who usually drifts out wide to receive possession.

With his European experience, Makino will definitely be backing himself to keep Al Hilal’s star import at bay and then exploit the Saudi side when pushing forward.