Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds
Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds
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.
Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London
- New boss Jorge Jesus to give start to new star signing after $17 million move from Al-Ain last week.
- Al-Hilal coach keen to put on a good show in London and start season with silverware against Al-Ittihad.
LONDON: Jorge Jesus confirmed Omar Abdulrahman will make his Al-Hilal debut in the Saudi Super Cup final against Al-Ittihad on Saturday.
The UAE playmaker joined the Saudi Pro League champions last week in a loan deal from Al-Ain that was worth $17 million, a fee that has only been surpassed once in football history.
The 26-year-old has been training with his new teammates at English football’s HQ at St. George’s Park this week and traveled down to London on Friday with the rest of the team ahead of the showpiece game at Loftus Road.
Abdulrahman has not played since May, when Al-Ain were dumped out of the AFC Champions League by Lekhwiya, and he was not considered for the Arab Club Champions Club on Sunday, but Jesus said the 2016 Asian Player of the Year is line to make his first appearance for his boyhood club this weekend.
“Omar is training with the team for five or six days,” said Jesus. “Intelligent players like Omar learn fast, so that’s why he will be part of the game.”
There are various subplots to the game in west London, not least the fact that Al-Ittihad coach Ramon Diaz comes up against the club that fired him in February. He won the double in the first season in Riyadh and then choreographed Al-Hilal’s run to the final of the AFC Champions League in his second. Now he goes up against Jesus, the Portuguese tactician who replaced him this summer.
“It’s true Diaz could know the players more and this could influence the match, but they are working with my ideas today and I expect the match to be an excellent game,” said Jesus.
Al-Hilal lost the Super Cup the last time it was held in London, losing to Al-Ahli on penalties in a thriller at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground. Jesus knows this year’s match could provide a launchpad for the season ahead and broaden the appeal of football in the Kingdom.
“Everybody knows the importance of this match, because we play outside Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It represents the image of our football. We are happy to be present in London and play the Saudi Super Cup here. The eyes of Europe sees London as the center of football, so we need to create a good image of Saudi football.”
Jorge Jesus is looking to get his reign as Al-Hilal coach off to a winning start at QPR's Loftus Road ground on Saturday.
Jesus will be without the injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf and Nawaf Al-Abed while national team full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani will undergo a late fitness test.
“We are missing some players but that should not reduce the importance of some players we have in the squad,” said Jesus. “We have to find our best combination of players to go to the match with.”
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub will captain the side from midfield following the departure of Osama Hawsawi and knows bragging rights are up for grabs on Saturday between Saudi Arabia’s two most successful clubs who have won the top prize in the Kingdom 23 times between them.
“It’s one match, there is no other chance,” he said. “We will do our best to win the cup. We can start the season well if we win this cup. We will fight hard to win, but Ittihad is doing their hardest to win it, too. We are super motivated to show a good level and start with a Saudi Super Cup victory.”
Al-Hilal labored to a 1-0 win over Al-Shabab on Sunday night and know they will need to be much nearer their best against last season’s King’s Cup winners.
“In the beginning of the season, you can have some difficulties,“ Al-Shalhoub said. “Our first home game in the Arab Cup we showed a good level, but we have to me more ready against Ittihad.”