Al Hilal heartbreak as Urawa Red Diamonds clinch Asian Champions League title

Andre Carillo’s own goal proves the difference in Saitama as the Japanese side win 2-1 on aggregate

Marius Hoibraten, left, Alexander Scholz, right, and Takahiro Akimoto, centre, celebrate after Urawa Red Diamonds win the Asian Champions League final with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Al Hilal. AP
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Urawa Red Diamonds are champions of Asia for a third time after they defeated holders Al Hilal 2-1 on aggregate in the Asian Champions League final on Saturday.

The Japanese side, who shared a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Riyadh last week, prevailed 1-0 in the return fixture at Saitama Stadium, where Andre Carillo’s own goal on 49 minutes proved enough.

The final represented the third time the two teams had met in the showpiece, after 2017 and 2019, with the rivalry now much like this year’s ultimate scoreline - sitting at 2-1 to Urawa.

Hilal, record winners of the continent’s principal club trophy, could not add to their four titles - they were attempting to capture the trophy for a third time in four years - although they will be left to rue a missed opportunity in injury-time.

With time running out for the visitors, Odion Ighalo's close-range shot was saved by Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.

Hilal will take little comfort from being so dominant in the first half. The Saudi Arabian side made clear their intentions right from the off, when Ighalo saw his effort blocked on the line by Urawa centre-back Alexander Scholz. In the build-up, forward Abdullah Al Hamdan, in for the suspended Salem Al Dawsari, looked to have been tripped by Nishikawa, although the referee waved away Hilal’s protests.

Unperturbed, Ramon Diaz's men settled into their stride, Michael and Carillo forcing fine saves from Nishikawa, Ighalo failing to control a ball over the top, and Mohammed Kanno quickly drilling over.

However, Urawa offered a stark reminder of their danger on the counter. For all their defensive discipline in the opening 45 minutes, the hosts came closest to breaking the deadlock. Captain Hiroki Sakai lofted a cross to Shinzo Koroki, scorer of that precious away goal one week ago, but the veteran forward could only crash an acrobatic volley against the Hilal crossbar.

Yet, four minutes into the second half, Urawa made amends. Defender Marius Hoibraten headed a free-kick spinning across goal, Koroki missed with his connection and, as the ball spun towards the empty goal, Carillo could not prevent it from nestling in the Hilal net. It was deemed an own goal. Just like the first leg, the champions conceded not long after half-time.

For a time, Hilal looked ragged. But Urawa soon settled back into their defensive shape, asking their rivals to break them down, squeezing the space deep in their half.

Still, Tomaki Okubo found some at the other end, the Urawa midfielder racing clear on the right but blazing over. Minutes later, Atsuki Ito sent a superb shot from distance inches past the Hilal post.

As time drifted towards its conclusion, Hilal’s hold on the trophy disappeared from their grasp. They crowded the Urawa penalty area, but to little effect. Ighalo was not allowed to get away a shot through bodies; Michael fired his attempt way off target.

Right at the death, Hilal’s final chance was arguably their best. Ighalo rolled a defender, stared down Nishikawa, but smashed the ball straight at the Urawa stopper. Manager Diaz held his head in his hands.

And that was it. Hilal's bid for back-to-back successes was gone, Urawa's trio of titles secure. Unbeaten now in 13 matches, Maciej Scoria's turnaround of the team to took over late last year was complete.

Updated: May 06, 2023, 11:26 AM