Al Hilal winger Salem Al Dawsari praised his side’s character and determination in defeating Riyadh rivals Al Nassr to book a third Asian Champions League final in five years.
Hilal triumphed 2-1 against their capital neighbours in a thrilling semi-final at a packed King Saud University Stadium on Tuesday night, with Al Dawsari striking the winner 19 minutes from time.
Former Porto forward Moussa Marega had put the 2019 champions 1-0 up on 17 minutes, only for Anderson Talisca to level the match five minutes into the second half. Nassr had left-back Ali Lajami sent off moments before half time following a lunge at Marega.
Hilal, who reached the final also in 2014 and 2017 but finished runner-up in both, will face either defending champions Ulsan Hyundai or Pohang Steelers in next month’s showpiece.
“What made the difference in this match is our character, our determination and the fact that we are accustomed to playing such high-profile matches,” said Al Dawsari, who collected a second successive man-of-the-match award. "When you play for Al Hilal, you are always playing under pressure, so this is the standard for us.
"In matches like this, it is all about who can remain focused and commit the least number of mistakes, and with only two days to prepare after the quarter-finals, you have to know how exactly to recover and be ready for the game. We knew how to manage this match and as a result were able to get our objective - which is to win and reach the final."
Al Dawsari, 30, had been a doubt for Saturday’s quarter-final against Persepolis and again on Tuesday, but still managed to score in both and thus play an integral part in Hilal’s march to the final. The Saudi Arabia international came through the ranks at Hilal and will now contest his fourth Champions League decider.
“I couldn’t play for three weeks after my injury, but I kept working hard day and night,” Al Dawsari said. “In fact, I still feel pain, but I had to push myself and cope with it for the sake of my club and the badge on my chest.
“We are delighted to have reached the final. The support of our fans has been crucial in this win. We always want to do well for them and I am happy that we did it again."
Meanwhile, Nassr manager Pedro Emanuel rued his team's early concession, but still paid tribute to his players for their fight until the final whistle.
“Today was not our lucky day, we had the first chance to score but we didn’t put it in,” said the former Al Ain manager, who joined the club three weeks ago. "It was an emotional game, of course an important derby and a semi-final of the AFC Champions League, and because of that we didn’t start the game as we wanted. We lost the ball a lot at the start and we allowed Al Hilal to play.
"I’m very proud of my players. All the fans should be proud. They were warriors even though at some points we didn’t play as well as we wanted, but we fought hard all the time. We had 20 shots and the way we conceded the second goal was the luck of the game, and it caused the players to lose confidence. We had a clear chance to score in the final minute too.
“I want to congratulate my players because they believed until the final minute that we could score. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks and we lost one battle, but we are going to fight to win the war.”
Ulsan Hyundai face South Korean compatriots Pohang Steelers on Wednesday seeking to keep alive their bid to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles since Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad in 2005.