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)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Three things we learned as Blues head for Japan

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.


Sebastian Vettel celebrates home pole in Hockenheim, woe for Lewis Hamilton

Updated 29 min 10 sec ago
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Sebastian Vettel celebrates home pole in Hockenheim, woe for Lewis Hamilton

  • German outpaces Bottas by two-tenths of a second
  • Hamilton set to start from 14th on the grid

HOCKENHEIM: Sebastian Vettel surged to pole for his home German Grand Prix on Saturday as Lewis Hamilton suffered a setback when his Mercedes broke down to leave him at the back of the grid.
Vettel topped qualifying with a devastating final lap in his Ferrari to pip Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.
A distraught Hamilton limped out in the first qualifying session when his car broke down with a hydraulics failure.
Vettel rubbed salt in the British defending world champion’s wounds by outpacing Bottas by two-tenths of a second.
In front of a huge crowd of flag-waving Germans at the track near his Heppenheim birthplace, Vettel delivered a lap record in one minute and 11.212 seconds to top the Finn’s 1:11.416.
“Thanks to those fans,” said Vettel. “It was amazing to see so many Ferrari and Germany flags.
“It just kept getting better and I knew for the last lap I had a little bit more — I am full of adrenaline, but feel so happy.”
It is his second pole for a German Grand Prix and the 55th of his career.
Vettel’s qualifying success makes him favorite to land his first Formula One victory at Hockenheim and only his second Grand Prix win in Germany as he seeks to extend his eight-point advantage over Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen was third in the second Ferrari ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull and the two Ferrari-powered Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Another home hope Nico Hulkenberg was seventh ahead of his Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz, rising Monegasque star Charles Leclerc of Sauber and Sergio Perez of Force India.
Hamilton, who had attempted to push his car to stay in contention, said: “It was definitely a tough one, but these things happen and all you can do is try and gather your thoughts and live to fight another day.
“I’ll give everything tomorrow to see how high I can get up, but its not going to be like Silverstone.”
Hamilton is expected to start 14th on the grid after his setback which saw him take a brief airborne excursion at Turn One and then go off again at Turn Eight.
He lost use of his gearbox and was told by the team to stop to avoid further damage, following a hydraulics failure.
After trying to push the car, he crouched over it as if praying before taking a motor-cycle ride back to the paddock.
It came two days after Mercedes confirmed he had signed a blockbuster two-year contract extension and followed other unexpected disappointments in Canada, Austria and Britain where Hamilton and his team had been unable to match expectations.
After heavy rain had washed out final practice in the morning, the session began in improved conditions and on a drying track, the two Saubers again setting the pace as they had in the rain.
The atmosphere was sultry with a track temperature of 27 degrees Celsius, air at 21 and humidity at 84 percent.
The two Ferraris were soon on top of the times ahead of the Mercedes before Verstappen entered the fray, Vettel having set an early lap record in 1:12.538 that was soon trimmed by his team-mate’s 1:12.505.
The Q1 segment ended with Ferrari on top and the elimination of Esteban Ocon of Force India, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso, Lance Stroll of Williams and Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren.
Hamilton clocked the fifth best time before his problems forced him to abandon.
Q2 began with Bottas on top before Ericsson went off in the stadium section, leaving gravel on the circuit as he recovered. The session was red-flagged for eight minutes.
Out from Q2 went Fernando Alonso of McLaren in 11th ahead of Sergey Sirotkin of Williams, Ericsson, Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, who will start from the back of the grid after taking penalties for engine parts changes and did not clock a lap.
Raikkonen set the pace for Ferrari in Q3, but was outdone by Vettel and then Bottas to set up a final showdown for the big crowd.