Al-Hilal’s Eduardo looking to lead from the front
Al-Hilal’s Eduardo looking to lead from the front
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.”
Lewis Hamilton wins German GP as rival Sebastian Vettel crashes late on
HOCKENHEIM: Lewis Hamilton regained the championship lead in unexpected and dramatic fashion on Sunday, winning the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end.
Heavy rain played havoc late on at the Hockenheimring as Vettel misjudged a basic entry into a turn and slid over the gravel into the barriers with 15 laps to go.
The four-time Formula One champion started from pole position and seemed in control. He was livid with himself, kicking the gravel in frustration as he stepped out his car.
His mishap opened the door wide open for Hamilton.
The British driver was fourth at the time of the crash, having started from 14th on the grid because of a hydraulic problem in qualifying.
“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve got to believe,” Hamilton said. “I did a long prayer before the race. I wanted to stay collected, stay calm. The team did such a great job today. I kept believing and it happened so I manifested my dream today. A big, big thanks to God.
“Conditions were perfect for business time. When it rained, I knew I would have a good position.
“You never knew what was going to happen after the safety car. I hope this solidifies their belief in me, and I hope this solidified my belief in them. For those who didn’t know me before, now you do.”
Valtteri Bottas started and finished second on a great day for Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third on a bad one for Ferrari.
Vettel’s incident led to a safety car coming out for several laps.
When the race resumed, with about 10 laps left, Bottas almost overtook Hamilton.
That did not go down well at a nervy Mercedes. Shortly after, Bottas was firmly told on team radio to “hold position” and not challenge Hamilton, who secured his fourth win of the season and 66th overall.
“As a driver a win is what we are after, when Seb went off I think there was a good chance,” Bottas said. “Taking positives, as a team it is a perfect result for us. We had a bit of a battle lap one after the safety car. I didn’t get past and I got told to minimize the risk but I understand. I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough. It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff justified the team orders afterwards.
“It’s two things,” he said. “We didn’t have the quickest car and we need to prepare for the next races. It was still raining at the time and the fight was so intense. With the bad luck we had, we didn’t want to take chances.”
Raikkonen finished third after also having to comply with team orders, move over and let Ferrari teammate Vettel through. “I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough,” he said. “It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”
Ferrari were holding a one-two for a lot of the race, but had to settle for a third and a DNF. Rain caused havoc toward the end and provided a real test of the drivers’ mettle and skill.
“In the past, it’s been difficult in the rain and I was surprised with how the grip reacted,” said Raikkonen. “It didn’t really change an awful lot in the end. It was a tricky race. I had a problem with one of the lappers, the Sauber. It was a tricky race but we try next time.”