Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds

Syrian striker Omar Khribin wheels away in celebration after slotting home Al-Hilal’s equalizer against Urawa Reds. Inset: Urawa coach Takafumi Hori has defensive issues to address. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2017
0

Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds

RIYADH: Ramon Diaz praised his Al-Hilal side’s character after they failed to secure a positive result at home in the first leg of the 2017 AFC Champions League final.
The Riyadh giants were held to a 1-1 draw against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in front of 60,000 fans at the King Fahd International Stadium. They were stunned after just seven minutes as Rafael Silva swept home on the rebound following Salman Al-Faraj’s failure to clear the Brazilian’s initial effort properly.
“We had a slow start to the game, and conceded an unexpected goal, but I was impressed by the players’ reaction after the goal,” Al-Hilal coach Diaz said after the game.
Indeed, the Al-Hilal players did not let the frustration of going behind get to them. Instead, Diaz’s men had 70 percent possession in the first half and pounded the Japanese goal with attack after attack, but with limited success.
An 18th-minute injury to star midfielder Carlos Eduardo further complicated things for the hosts as Diaz was forced into an early substitution and introduced Nawaf Al-Abid for his first game after a lengthy injury layoff.
Striker Omar Khribin was particularly wasteful as the hosts created numerous chances and repeatedly found space behind Urawa’s defence. But despite the side’s inefficiency in front of goal, Diaz remained positive as he lauded his players’ attacking intent.
“If we didn’t create chances, that would have been a real concern, but we were clearly the better side and created multiple chances,” said the Al-Hilal boss.
One man who ensured the hosts did not score the goals their possession perhaps deserved was Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa. The 31-year-old was forced into multiple last-ditch saves in the opening half, and he admitted his defenders were not on their day, leaving him exposed to face a series of Al-Hilal chances.
“Football is a team sport,” reflected Nishikawa. “Today, our defence was not perfect, but that is football. As a team, it is your duty to help one another and in games like this you have to be there to make key saves.”
Manager Takafumi Hori echoed his goalkeeper’s words as the performances of some Urawa players were brought into question, particularly that of left-back Tomoya Ugajin.
“It happens that in football matches you can go through difficult times, like what we saw against Al-Hilal. We were under pressure and sometimes a player doesn’t handle that pressure well. But we work as a team and sometimes other players have to carry their teammate if he is not playing well.”
Al-Hilal may have dominated possession throughout and created chances, but their only goal of the game came in the final minutes of the first half as Khribin got on the end of a misfired Salem Al-Dawsari shot to control and slot past Nishikawa. The Syrian’s strike was his tenth goal of the AFC Champions League season on the same day he was named in the three-man shortlist for the 2017 Asian Footballer of the Year award.
The second half saw a notable drop in intensity as Al-Hilal players suffered the effects of a physically demanding, robust playing style adopted throughout the opening period. Diaz looked to bring on fresh legs as he introduced striker Mukhtar Fallatah to partner Khribin up front. The former Al-Wehda striker was making his Al-Hilal debut in the competition under unenviable circumstances and Diaz was quick to admit it may not have been the ideal setting for the 31-year-old to make his bow.
“I am pleased with his overall performance,” said the Al-Hilal boss. “He has been training well and came in at a difficult stage of the match. I think he did well.”
The result leaves the Riyadh giants with the uphill task of trying to get an away goal in Saitama next week. A goalless draw will be enough for the Japanese side to lift their second AFC Champions League title.


River edge out Boca after extra time to win Copa Libertadores

River prevailed 5-3 on aggregate after the first leg finished 2-2. (AFP
Updated 10 December 2018
0

River edge out Boca after extra time to win Copa Libertadores

  • River Plate came from behind to beat bitter Argentine rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra time
  • The fixture postponed on three occasions and then relocated from Buenos Aires to Madrid

MADRID: River Plate won the Copa Libertadores by beating their fiercest rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 after extra time on Sunday, bringing an end to a final tainted by violence and moved more than six thousand miles away from Argentina.
Boca took the lead through Dario Benedetto but Lucas Pratto equalized before Juan Quintero and Gonzalo Martinez scored in extra time, aided by Wilmar Barrios being sent off, to win a fittingly dramatic contest for River.
It means River prevailed 5-3 on aggregate after the first leg finished 2-2 and the club reclaim the trophy they had last won in 2015, lifting it for the fourth time in their history.
“The only thing I feel is sadness for not winning the cup and giving it to the people of Boca,” Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said.
“It is difficult to say to people that we haven’t won, especially those that made so much effort to come from Argentina.”
Postponed on three occasions and then relocated from Buenos Aires to Madrid, the supporters of these two great clubs showed in the Santiago Bernabeu why this fixture had been billed as one of football’s greatest ever.
Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin were among the 62,200 in attendance.
But, despite the bouncing huddles in the streets, the plumes of blue and red smoke, the swinging scarves, fluttering flags and fans that were chanting in their seats three hours before kick-off, there was nothing to extinguish the lingering sense of regret.
There was no repeat of the scenes that cast a shadow over Argentinian football and saw the original game at River’s El Monumental on November 24 postponed, when around 50 fans attacked Boca’s team bus and left some of their players injured.
Madrid, which will also host the Champions League final in June, was chosen in part because of its record of hosting major events and the security, which included around 2,500 police officers, did its job before kick-off.
Fans were separated into zones either side of the stadium and had to go through checks even to enter the area immediately surrounding it.
The shame was only that the operation was not as thorough 15 days ago and that a minority decided to take advantage.
Both clubs were allocated 25,000 tickets, with 5,000 of those reserved for residents of Argentina. The fear had been most of those buying would be tourists and neutrals, but the atmosphere suggested different.
Both teams had initially refused to play in Spain’s capital but as the losers, Boca’s sense of grievance will now become more entrenched.
They felt River were responsible for the chaos two weeks ago and should have forfeited the trophy. They took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but the appeal was rejected on Saturday.
When the players shuffled out two hours before kick-off to inspect the pitch, they held up their phones to capture the thousands already inside and the view of a stadium most of them had never played in before.
The cheers grew louder when they came out for kick-off. Then there were whistles as the teams swapped ends and each were greeted by their opponent’s fans behind the goal.
Jonatan Maidana was playing for Boca when they last won the Copa Libertadores 11 years ago and, now in the red and white of River, he almost gave his former club an early lead, slicing just over his own crossbar.
The game lacked quality but came alive one minute before half-time. Nahitan Nandez’s superb pass split two River defenders and Benedetto kept a cool head, guiding into the corner, before taunting the beaten Gonzalo Montiel.
River had been inferior but improved. Their first real attacking move was also a brilliant one as Leonardo Ponzio and Quintero exchanged passes before the latter pulled back for Pratto to sweep home.
The game meandered toward full-time and seemed destined for penalties until Barrios was shown a second yellow card for a tackle on Exequiel Palacios and soon after, Quintero struck.
It was a goal worthy of winning the tournament, as he collected 25 yards out, glanced up and whipped the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.
Leonard Jara almost snatched a late Boca goal but his shot nicked the outside of the post. Then, with Boca’s goalkeeper Esteban Andrada up for a corner, River added the final touch.
Martinez ran the ball into the empty net and River’s substitutes and staff were already pouring onto the pitch to begin the celebrations.