By Ian Griffiths
November 18 – Rafael Silva struck a vital away goal as Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds secured a 1-1 draw at Al Hilal in the first leg of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League final on Saturday.
The Brazilian’s eighth goal of a highly productive continental campaign hands Urawa the undoubted advantage ahead of next Saturday’s return leg in Saitama, where the Japanese outfit will now be slight favourites to add to the title they won in 2007.
“We got a good result today, but we cannot get complacent,” Urawa coach Takafumi Hori told reporters after the game.
“I am happy that we got a 1-1 draw away from home. It is a good result for us against a very good Al Hilal side. We went through difficult periods in this game.
“But, the second game will be something different in front of our own supporters. We will put in a different performance,” he added.
With Al Hilal looking to make amends for their defeat in the 2014 final at the hands of Western Sydney Wanderers it was to be the visitors who dealt the first blow on seven minutes, Silva unleashing a terrific shot and then making the most of Salman Al Faraj’s weak defensive clearance to fire the rebound past goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf.
To their credit, Al Hilal responded well to the early setback, although 2017 AFC Player of the Year nominee Omar Khribin could, and very possibly should, have done better with two gilt-edged chances that saw the striker denied by the outstanding Shusaku Nishikawa in the Urawa goal.
Khribin was to make amends for those earlier lapses however, the Syria international converting from close range to bring the Saudi side level eight minutes before half-time.
Substitute Nawaf Al Abid was then denied by Nishikawa as the hosts continued to dominate proceedings after the break.
However, with chances at a premium and Urawa defending heroically, Khribin failed to convert yet another opportunity from a pinpoint Al Abid cross, a miss that could had been even more costly for the Saudi Arabian heavyweights had Al Mayouf not denied Tsukasa Umesaki with a superb fingertip save late on.
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