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Al-Hilal’s Eduardo looking to lead from the front

Much of Al-Hilal’s chances of continental glory rest on the shoulders of their star forward, Carlos Eduardo. (AFC)
Japan’s Urawa Reds will provide a stern test for the Riyadh giants. (AFP)
Omar Khrbin
LONDON: Al-Hilal’s Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo knows how much winning the AFC Champions League means to the club and is hoping he can continue his rich vein of form and lead the Riyadh giants to the trophy they most covet.
It was his hat-trick in the second leg of the quarter final against Al-Ain that propelled Al-Hilal deep into tournament, and having swept past Iranian side Persepolis 6-2 on aggregate in the last four, they come into the final as the favorites against Japan’s Urawa Reds.
But Eduardo insists that favoritism, and the hunger Al-Hilal have to win the title, adds no pressure on to the players as they prepare for their biggest clash of the year.
“No pressure,” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview. “We have to enjoy the moment, you don’t have the chance to win a AFC Champions League all the time, so we only have to enjoy and feel no pressure at all.”
With seven goals this season, Eduardo is equal second on the scoring charts behind Shanghai SIPG’s Hulk and his teammate at Al-Hilal, Syrian striker Omar Khrbin.
That partnership with Khrbin has been Al-Hilal’s biggest strength this season, combining for 16 of their 23 goals in this campaign. But Eduardo was quick to deflect the praise from himself and on to his teammates.
“Helping Al-Hilal qualify was the most important part of scoring the three goals,” the 28-year-old said.
“With the goals, I helped my team to advance, but it was the team’s victory. Without my teammates I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it.”
Eduardo, who signed for the Riyadh club in 2015 having had previous spells with FC Porto in Portugal and OGC Nice in France, almost helped them to the final of the AFC Champions League two years ago.
Trailing Dubai’s Al-Ahli 0-2 at half-time in the UAE, Al-Hilal staged a second-half comeback and a pile driver from 30 meters out from Eduardo just after the hour mark pulled them level at 2-2, which would have been enough for Al-Hilal to advance on away goals.
But a 95th-minute winner from Al-Ahli’s South Korean defender Kwon Kyung-won broke Saudi Arabian hearts just a year after their tough loss to Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2014 final.
Having not been at the club for that match against Western Sydney, Eduardo, who once scored five goals in a single match for OGC Nice, says the two legs against Urawa Reds will be the biggest of his career.
“It is the most important match in all aspects,” he said.
“That’s why I said I want to enjoy this moment I am living, also because in football you have more bad moments than good ones, so I have to enjoy this good moment.
Against Urawa Reds they will come up against a side with the most potent attack in this year’s competition, scoring 28 goals in their 12 matches so far and with the likes of Rafael Silva, Shinzo Koroki and Yosuke Kashiwagi in their side, they will pose a constant threat.
Somewhat bizarrely, the Japanese outfit have lost four matches in this year’s competition but have still managed to plot their way through to the final, with two miraculous second-leg comebacks against Jeju United in the Round of 16 and Kawasaki Frontale in the last eight helping their cause along the way.
In a good omen for the Reds, and a bad one for Al-Hilal, the only team to lose four matches and make the final was Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 — the year they beat Al-Hilal in the final.
In better news for Eduardo and Co., they come into the showdown as the tournament’s form team having gone through undefeated with seven wins and five draws from their 12 matches.
It is that statistic that gives the Brazilian so much confidence heading into tomorrow’s first leg at the King Fahd International Stadium, but despite feeling confident about their chances, Eduardo insisted they would show Urawa the utmost respect.
“We know Urawa Reds is a great Japanese team and has good quality players,” he said.
“We are going to respect them as we respected all our opponents until now, but it’s a final and both teams want to win.
“I am feeling good physically, I am feeling very confident, as all the other players are. We’re ready for this final and we want to give our best to become the champions.
“More than ever, we need this title.”