TOKYO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will have to overcome the odds and a resilient Urawa Red Diamonds side if Ramon Diaz’s team is to take the Asian Champions League trophy back to Riyadh on Saturday.
The teams played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Riyadh last week, with Rafael Silva’s opener for Urawa giving the Japanese club a slender advantage going into the return this weekend at Saitama Stadium.
Nearly all the tickets for Saturday’s game have been snapped up, according to the Asian Football Confederation, and Urawa fans will be hoping to see their team crowned the continent’s best for the first time in a decade.
Urawa have won all three of their home fixtures in the knockout phase of this year’s competition and a 0-0 draw will be enough for Takafumi Hori’s side to become Japan’s first winners of the title since Gamba Osaka in 2008.
Al Hilal’s hopes are further hampered by the loss to long-term injury of influential Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo, who suffered damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the build-up to Urawa’s opener in Riyadh.
“There is still everything to play for and now we must make sure we stay on the same level so we can become champions of Asia,” veteran Al Hilal striker Yasser Al Qahtani told reporters.
“After the first leg, the teams now know even more about how each other play, so we know the strong and weak points of the opposition.
“I think it will be close but the team that put in the most effort will have the more luck and be able to win the match.”
Urawa’s Silva is expected to be fit, despite also leaving the first leg early due to injury, while Saudi Arabia international Nawaf Al Abed should deputise for the absent Eduardo.
Despite being one of the most successful clubs in Asia, Al Hilal have not claimed regional bragging rights since the competition’s inception in 2002 having previously claimed the Asian Club Championship, the tournament’s predecessor, in 1991 and 2000.
They went closest in 2014 only to slip to a narrow loss over two legs against Western Sydney Wanderers of Australia.
Urawa, meanwhile, won their first — and so far only — Asian Champions League crown in 2007, when they defeated Iran’s Sepahan over two legs. (Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by John O’Brien)