Urawa Reds beat Al Hilal to win 2017 AFC Champions League

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Urawa Red Diamonds won their second AFC Champions League title on Saturday after beating Al Hilal 1-0 to claim a 2-1 aggregate final win.

For the third game running, Rafael Silva emerged as the Reds’ hero as his 88th-minute strike was enough to secure the title for the Japanese outfit.

With Saturday’s triumph, Urawa became the first Japanese side to become two-time Asian champions, with their previous title coming exactly a decade ago.

And, while they might have entered the tie as slight underdogs following a tentative first-leg display a week ago – a 1-1 draw in Riyadh – it did not take them long to show they meant business.

Pressing the visitors from the first whistle, Urawa had a chance inside the opening minutes when a poor clearance from Mohammed Jahfali handed Kazuki Nagasawa a sighting at goal from which he fired just wide.

Nagasawa, deployed in a more advanced position but tasked to do his usual defensive duties from the front, had another effort after robbing Salman Al-Faraj of possession but sent his shot straight at Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

It took Al Hilal some time to find their rhythm and it was evident they were missing the attacking spark usually provided by the injured Carlos Eduardo.

Salem Al-Dawsari did however try his best to get them going and threatened in the 25th minute, cleverly skipping past Tomoya Ugajin before lashing a ferocious shot just over the bar.

Three minutes before the break, they had a good opportunity to grab the away goal they needed as Omar Kharbin held the ball up well before feeding it to Nicolas Milesi, only for the midfielder to scuff his shot harmlessly wide.

Just as they did in the first leg, Urawa continued to show excellent organisation and it looked increasingly like it would take something special for Al Hilal to break them down in the second half.

Instead, it was the Reds who looked the more dangerous of the two teams and Al-Mayouf did brilliantly to keep his side in the contest in the 73rd minute, producing a reflex save to keep out Shinzo Koroki’s bullet header before recovering in time to deny Silva on the follow-up.

But, with 12 minutes remaining, Al Hilal’s hopes were dealt a real blow when they were reduced to ten men, after Al-Dawsari was shown a second yellow for catching Wataru Endo with a late lunging challenge.

Now with the numerical advantage, it looked a formality that the Reds would go on to see out the remainder of the contest and win the title on away goals.

Nonetheless, just for good measure, they went on to win it properly in the 88th minute; Silva showing good strength to turn Osama Hawsawi and latch onto Yuki Muto’s pass before rifling an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.

URAWA RED DIAMONDS: Shusaku Nishikawa, Wataru Endo, Yuki Abe, Tomoaki Makino, Tomoya Ugajin (Mauricio Antonio 74’), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Tsukasa Umesaki 90’), Takuya Aoki, Kazuki Nagasawa, Yuki Muto, Rafael Silva, Shinzo Koroki (Zlatan Ljubijankic 84’).

AL HILAL: Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Mohammed Al-Breik, Osama Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfali, Yaseer Al-Shahrani, Abdullah Otayf (Mohammed Al-Shalhoub 88’), Nicolas Milesi, Salman Al-Faraj (Yaseer Al-Qahtani 68’), Salem Al-Dawsari, Nawaf Al-Abed, Omar Kharbin.