April 28 – Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will start their final defense their AFC Champions League title in Riyadh on Saturday against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds.
This is the third time the two clubs have met in the Champions League final and out of the 37 finals played in the competition, they are the only two teams to have faced each other more than once. Urawa lifting the title in 2017 with Al Hilal winning two years later in 2019.
Records and history are on the line. Both clubs have won the Champions League twice. Al Hilal in 2019 and 2021, and Urawa in 2007 and 2017.
The two-legged final will open in the sold-out 56,453-capacity King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh which will be upgraded to an 80,000-seat stadium in time for Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the 2027 Asian Cup. This is the sixth time the stadium has hosted a finals match. The second leg will be played in Saitama, Japan, May 6.
Al Hilal have had a stellar season in the international arena, losing in the final of the Club World Cup in Morocco in February to Real Madrid having stunned Brazil’s Flamengo with a 3-2 win in the semi-final.
In the Champions League Al Hilal have lost just once– in the Group Stage to Al Rayyan – and scored 22 times, while conceding six.
Their performance will hinge on the performance of Argentine Luciano Vietto, and Saudi maestro Salem Al-Dawsari. Nigerian forward Odion Ighalo’s seven goals in the competition so far have underpinned their run.
Urawa booked their place in the semi-final beating Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in August last year. Since then they have a new manager in Poland’s Maciej Skorza.
They have also had a change in playing staff with Yusuke Matsuo, Kasper Junker and Ataru Esaka leaving the club. Skorza will rely on David Moberg Karlsson, Jose Kante and Bryan Linssen to step up. Hiroki Sakai leads a backline that has conceded just four times in the competition.
After a long wait, the gloves are very much off in this battle to settle scores and be Asia’s top club.
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