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Big Eduardo injury blow rocks Al-Hilal before final

Carlos Eduardo will miss the second leg of the Asian Champions League final and the rest of Al-Hilal’s season with a serious knee injury. (Al-Hilal)
DUBAI: Al-Hilal knew they were going to be without Carlos Eduardo for the second leg of the AFC Champions League final on Saturday but now they are contemplating life without him for a considerably longer period after it was confirmed he has suffered a serious knee injury.
The club announced yesterday that the key attacking midfielder will be out for up to eight months with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury he sustained just eight minutes into the first leg against Urawa Red Diamonds in Riyadh on Saturday. He was carried off on a stretcher after colliding with visiting midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa and a scan has revealed significant damage to his left knee.
Eduardo will sit out the remainder of this season after undergoing surgery and then extensive rehabilitation work back in Brazil.
The news is a huge blow for coach Ramon Diaz as Eduardo is the linchpin of the team and has scored seven goals during the run to the final.
The Blues may look to sign a short-term replacement for Eduardo in the January transfer window. Uruguayan striker Matias Britos has failed to impress since joining in the summer and could be moved on, allowing Prince Nawaf bin Saad and his board to invest in two foreign players.
With Diaz preferring a single striker set-up, Omar Khribin, Gelmin Rivas and Mukhtar Fallatah are more than capable of sharing the attacking load, so two attacking midfielders could be on the cards for Al-Hilal, but that is a discussion for another day. Right now Diaz is preparing for Saturday and the biggest night in Al-Hilal’s recent history.
He needs to find a solution to the problem the injury to Eduardo has created in a game where Al-Hilal have to score at least once to have any hope of landing their first AFC Champions League title since the competition’s reincarnation in 2003.
The task will not be easy against an Urawa side that has won every single one of their home games en route to the final.
Without Eduardo, Al-Hilal will find scoring all the more difficult. The 28-year-old has scored 50 goals across all competitions since joining the Riyadh-based side in the summer of 2015, a huge tally for an attacking midfielder.
Nawaf Al-Abed is one solution and he seems the most likely candidate to replace Eduardo for the game at Saitama Stadium. He returned from a long-term injury to replace the stricken Eduardo in the first leg and his overall contribution was positive. But the 27-year-old Saudi Arabia international is a different type of player to the Brazilian.
While both players like to drift in from the right flank, Al-Abed prefers to operate in the space between the opponents’ defense and midfield, dictating play from outside the box.
However, the diminutive playmaker is not as prolific as Eduardo. In the continental competition, he has scored a single goal in nine appearances and attempted just two shots on target, one of them being a poor effort from the edge of the area against Urawa on Saturday.
Another player widely touted to start in Saitama, is Mohammed Al-Shalhoub. The 37-year-old is the only player in the current Al-Hilal squad to have won the competition.
In his breakthrough season as a 20-year-old, he contributed to the side’s triumph in the 1999/2000 Asian Club Championship. Seventeen years on, Al-Shalhoub is still going strong and his experience has proved to be an important asset when he comes off the bench. The No. 10 is capable of playing behind the striker on either flank or centrally, but whether he still has the physical ability to compete in a game of this magnitude is up for debate.
Either way, Eduardo’s absence will put more pressure on Khribin to come up with the goals that can fire Al-Hilal to glory. The Syrian looked burdened by the weight of expectations in the first leg, wasting three chances he would have blindly put away on any other day. However, he did score the equalizer that gives Al-Hilal hope.