Tokyo: Al Hilal is relying on star Syrian striker Omar Khribin to deliver victory in the 2017 Asian Champions League final at Urawa Reds.
The first leg in Riyadh ended 1-1 with Khribin, who almost led Syria into the 2018 World Cup, scoring his 10th goal of the tournament. His strike eight minutes before half-time cancelled out an early opener from Urawa’s Rafael Silva.
Al Hilal, beaten in the 2014 final by Western Sydney Wanderers, dominated but could not take an advantage into Saturday’s return match in Japan.
With Urawa scoring an away goal in Riyadh, it puts the emphasis back on Al Hilal to score at Saitama Stadium. With Khribin among the most in-form strikers in Asia and the leading goalscorer in the continental tournament, midfielder Mohammed Al Shalboub is confident of victory.
“Ever since joining up, he has put in so much effort and will never accept defeat,” Al Shalboub was quoted as saying by the Asian Football Confederation. “He is very important for us. I think he deserves to be AFC Player of the Year.”
Al Hilal coach Ramon Diaz has been linked with the national team job in Saudi Arabia after the dismissal of fellow Argentine Edgardo Bauza, but says he is focused only on the Champions League final.
“This is the final and you expect the final to be tough,” Diaz said. “We showed in the first leg that we can make chances and we will be looking to do the same in the second.”
Al Hilal, which won the Asian Club Championship in 1991 and 2000 but is yet to win the Asian Champions League that was established in 2003, will be without star Eduardo. The Brazilian midfielder tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first leg and is likely to be replaced by Saudi international Nawaf Al Abed.
Urawa, playing in front of a sell-out crowd of over 60,000 fans in Saitama, is aiming to repeat its 2007 triumph and to bring the title to Japan for the first time since 2008.
I’m happy that we got a 1-1 draw away from home — It’s a good result for us against a very good Al Hilal side. But the second game will be something different.”
- Takafumi Hori | Coach of Al Hilal
Coach Takafumi Hori has promised an improvement in his team’s display from the first leg in Riyadh.
“I’m happy that we got a 1-1 draw away from home — It’s a good result for us against a very good Al Hilal side,” Hori said. “They dominated possession and applied a lot of pressure on us, but our players defended well, and I am thankful to them.
“But the second game will be something different in front of our own supporters. We will put in a different performance.”
The winner will represent Asia in the 2017 Fifa Club World Cup next month.
Asian Champions League final
Urawa Reds (Japan) v Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), 2.15pm