Urawa make it an AFC Champions League hattrick as Al Hilal left to rue missed chances

May 7 – Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds have made history as the first team to win three AFC Champions League titles, with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the second leg of the final in Saitama on Sunday.

It was a win that ended Al Hilal’s dreams of defending the Champions League crown which they won in 2022 and which would have been their fifth Asian title. It has nevertheless been a stellar season for the Saudis and one that saw them become the first AFC club to reach the final of the club world cup.

Urawa took an away goal advantage into the second leg. The single goal that decided the tie and the title came from an own goal by Peruvian Andre Carrillo three minutes into the second half.

Urawa started with the same line-up from the first leg while Al Hilal made three changes, two of them forced. Most notably Abdullah Al Hamddan replaced striker Salem Al Dawsari who was suspended having been sent off in the first leg. Abdullah Otayf took over in central midfield from the injured Salman Al Faraj while Carrillo claimed the final foreign player spot ahead of Moussa Marega.

Al Hilal carried on where they left off in the first leg with dominance of the midfield but were unable to turn their pressure into goals. Three minutes into the second half Urawa took the lead when Ken Iwao’s wind-assisted free kick from inside the centre circle was headed towards goal by Marius Hoibraten where Carrillo’s attempted clearance hammered into the Al Hilal goal.

Urawa came to life and could have scored more but the one proved to be enough in front of the second capacity crowd of the final of 53,574. The first leg in Saudi Arabia was played in front of 50,881 fans at the King Fahd International Stadium.

AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa praised the clubs and the passion of the fans, and referenced the upcoming changes to the AFC Champions League  and club competition structure.

“This season of the AFC Champions League was captivating, and the excitement it has produced and managed to sustain is a harbinger for the future, especially when the new look AFC club competitions are introduced from the 2024-2025 season. Asian club football fans can look forward to a whole new experience where excitement, passion and technology will converge to create a new future,” added the AFC President.

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