Urawa deny Al Hilal in AFC Champions League final first leg

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

The AFC Champions League final remains evenly poised after Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds played out a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s first leg at the King Fahd International Stadium.

Rafael Silva had gotten Urawa off to a dream start when he opened the scoring in the seventh minute, although Omar Kharbin grabbed the equaliser eight minutes before halftime to force the draw.

The result leaves the final firmly in the balance ahead of next Saturday’s second leg at the Saitama Stadium 2002, although it is the Reds who have a slight advantage courtesy of their away goal.

It took them just seven minutes to secure just that, largely owing to the individual brilliance of Brazilian forward Rafael Silva.

Embarking on a blistering run down the left, Silva initially saw his cross intercepted by Salman Al-Faraj, but the clearance was weak and landed back into the danger zone.

It was the Urawa star who reacted quickest to the loose ball, guiding his shot into the back of the unguarded net to hand the visitors the lead.

While it was they who had the early advantage on the scoreboard, it was Al Hilal who were soon enjoying most of the possession and it seemed only a matter of time before they carved out a proper opening.

Salem Al-Dawsari was first to threaten in the 17th minute but could only place his shot wide after being picked out by Mohammed Al-Breik’s first-time cut-back.

Then, Kharbin twice had excellent one-on-one opportunities following more good work down the right by Al-Breik, only to be denied on both occasions from point-blank range by brilliant saves from Shusaku Nishikawa.

But, in the 37th minute, it proved to be a case of third time lucky for the Syria international as Al-Dawsari’s scuffed shot fell kindly into his path and he held off Yuki Abe strongly before finishing through Nishikawa’s legs.

Right on the stroke of halftime, the hosts looked destined to edge ahead when Kharbin guided Al-Faraj’s searching diagonal pass back into the six-yard box, but Yaseer Al-Shahrani somehow could only send the ball back across the face of goal from a yard out.

At this stage, Al Hilal were firmly in the ascendancy but, to Urawa coach Takafumi Hori’s credit, he sent his charges out for the second half looking a much better organised and disciplined unit.

They did still have to survive a couple of scares that arrived in the 50th minute, with Kharbin narrowly failing to connect with free header at the back post, before Nicolas Milesi was an inch away from firmly connecting with Nawaf Al-Abed’s left-wing delivery which would have resulted in a certain goal.

Nonetheless, by and large, Al Hilal were not afforded the same time and space on the ball they had in the first half as their opponents looked to suffocate the life out of the game, even if it meant less of a spectacle for the spectators.

And, with two minutes remaining, Urawa could even have stole the win when substitute Tsukasa Umesaki found space on the edge of the box and decided to have a go.

However, at full stretch, Abdullah Al-Mayouf managed to keep out Umesaki’s low drive with a fine fingertip save to ensure Al Hilal still have everything to play for in a week’s time.

AL HILAL: Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Mohammed Al-Breik, Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Yaseer Al-Shahrani, Nicolas Milesi (Mohamed Kanno 79’), Abdullah Otayf (Mukhtar Fallatah 70’), Salman Al-Faraj, Carlos Eduardo (Nawaf Al-Abed 19’), Salem Al-Dawsari, Omar Kharbin.

URAWA RED DIAMONDS: Shusaku Nishikawa, Wataru Endo, Yuki Abe, Tomoaki Makino, Tomoya Ugajin, Kazuki Nagasawa (Tsukasa Umesaki 77’), Takuya Aoki, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Yuki Muto, Rafael Silva (Zlatan Ljubijankic 65’), Shinzo Koroki (Toshiyuki Takagi 87’).