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Three things we learned as Blues head for Japan

Urawa players celebrate with Rafael Silva after he opened the scoring against Al-Hilal in the first leg of the Champions League final. (AFP)
RIYADH: Al-Hilal failed to bring down Urawa Red Diamonds as the Japanese side struck first to earn an important draw and a vital away goal in Riyadh on Saturday ahead of the second leg of the AFC Champions League final in Saitama next week.
Here are three things we learned as coach Ramon Diaz’s men came from behind to keep their chances of winning the title alive with a 1-1 draw at King Fahd International Stadium.
No Eduardo, No Party
Al-Hilal remained unbeaten in the AFC Champions League this season and their entertaining attacking style was again on display on Saturday. But as Carlos Eduardo hobbled off in the 18th minute, and striker Omar Khribin endured a bad day in the office, Al-Hilal found goals difficult to come by.
Throughout the 90 minutes, the Blues attempted 20 shots; a quarter of which were on target, but in the one statistic that matters, they scored just one goal.
At first look, this could be dismissed as being unlucky, and indeed, Urawa goalkeeper Shukasu Nishikawa deserved the plaudits for making a string of saves to keep his side in the game.
A deeper look, however, reveals that Al-Hilal have been overtly reliant on the duo of Khribin and Eduardo throughout the tournament. Out of 24 goals the team have netted so far, their two foreign attackers have scored 17, leaving the team to struggle when they go missing.
Diaz may not have a lot of time ahead of the second leg, but finding goals outside the two players must be high on his agenda, especially if Eduardo’s injury keeps him out of the Saitama tie.
Urawa’s Left-back Weakness
As Al-Hilal dominated possession in the first half, Mohammed Al-Burayk consistently found space down the right flank to supply crosses for his teammates. The Saudi international right-back is arguably the best in his position in the country, but he was helped on Saturday by the fact Urawa clearly had a Tomoya Ugajin-sized hole down the left side of their defence.
Time-after-time, Nicolas Milesi and Abdulla Otayf played overhead passes to Al-Burayk whose delivery from the wing was for the most part spot-on. Unfortunately for Al-Hilal, the chances created by targeting Urawa’s weak point all went begging.
Should Urawa coach Takafumi Hori spot and sort out this weakness, which he is very likely to do, then Al-Hilal will look back at this as a missed opportunity to make the most out of one of Urawa’s few gaps.
Al-Hilal’s Physical Struggles
Diaz sets up his team to play an entertaining brand of attacking football, which has been very efficient, sweeping aside every opponent en route to the final. A 3-0 win over UAE giants Al-Ain was followed by an even more impressive 4-0 victory over Iran’s Persepolis. Both sides are considered among the continent’s finest.
But while Diaz’s high-octane football is easy on the eye, it is hard on the bodies of his players.
Keeping your opponents under pressure for 90 minutes is physically demanding, and that showed clearly against Urawa on Saturday.
After a dominant first half where Al-Hilal could have easily been 4-0 up, they struggled to continue hammering Nishikawa’s goal in the same way after the break, in large part because players had naturally started to tire after an hour of continuous pressure.
If the Argentinian coach is to conquer Asia from the grand stage of Saitama Stadium, he will need to efficiently manage his players’ workload as they chase a positive result in Japan.