Al-Hilal’s key man Khribin backed to fire his side to glory
Al-Hilal’s key man Khribin backed to fire his side to glory
The first leg in Riyadh ended 1-1 with Khribin, who almost led Syria into the 2018 World Cup, scoring his 10th goal of the tournament. His strike eight minutes before half-time canceled out an early opener from Urawa’s Rafael Silva.
Al-Hilal, beaten in the 2014 final by Western Sydney Wanderers, dominated but could not take an advantage into today’s return match in Japan.
With Urawa scoring an away goal in Riyadh, it puts the emphasis back on Al-Hilal to score at Saitama Stadium.
With Khribin among the most in-form strikers in Asia and the leading goalscorer in the continental tournament, midfielder Mohammed Al-Shalboub is confident of victory. “Ever since joining up, he has put in so much effort and will never accept defeat,” Al Shalboub was quoted as saying by the Asian Football Confederation.
“He is very important for us. I think he deserves to be AFC Player of the Year.”
Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz has been linked with the national team job in Saudi Arabia after the dismissal of fellow Argentine Edgardo Bauza, but says he is focused only on the Champions League final.
“This is the final and you expect the final to be tough,” Diaz said.
“We showed in the first leg that we can make chances and we will be looking to do the same in the second.” Al-Hilal, who won the Asian Club Championship in 1991 and 2000 but are yet to win the Asian Champions League that was established in 2003, will be without star Eduardo.
The Brazilian midfielder tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first leg and is likely to be replaced by Saudi international Nawaf Al-Abed. Urawa, playing in front of a sell-out crowd of over 60,000 fans in Saitama, is aiming to repeat its 2007 triumph and to bring the title to Japan for the first time since 2008.
Coach Takafumi Hori has promised an improvement in his team’s display from the first leg in Riyadh.
“I’m happy that we got a 1-1 draw away from home — it’s a good result for us against a very good Al-Hilal side,” Hori said.
“They dominated possession and applied a lot of pressure on us, but our players defended well, and I am thankful to them. But the second game will be something different in front of our own supporters. We will put in a different performance.”
The winner will represent Asia in the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup next month.
Mohamed Salah viewing Champions League final against Real Madrid as ‘just another match’
- The Egyptian ace has been the key man in Liverpool’s march to Saturday’s showdown in Kiev against Real Madrid
- “Every match is different, this is my first Champions League final so I am very excited. It is of course a very important game”
He may be about to play in the biggest match of his life, but Mohamed Salah is going to approach the Champions League final as if it is just another game.
The Egyptian ace has been the key man in Liverpool’s march to Saturday’s showdown in Kiev against Real Madrid, scoring 11 goals and setting up a further four. Added to that has been his dynamic domestic form with the 25-year-old’s 32 LePremier ague strikes setting a new record and helping him land a host of awards, among them the coveted PFA Player of the Year gong.
All that has piled the pressure on Salah ahead of the final. But if you thought that would get to him then think again, with the Liverpool talisman claiming he is going into the clash as he would any other match.
“I cannot put more pressure on myself so I just play a normal game for me,” Salah said at a press conference announcing he is the new DHL brand ambassador for the MENA region.
“Of course, it is different, it’s the final of the Champions League, but you have to take it easy, relax and enjoy the game.
“Every match is different, this is my first Champions League final so I am very excited. It is of course a very important game.
“But I am trying not to take it too seriously and not put myself under too much pressure, both for me as an individual and the team as a whole.”
It should perhaps come as no surprise to hear the Liverpool and Egypt star talk about the biggest game in club football in such understated terms. Salah’s 44 goals have all come with the kind of smile on his face which suggests he is playing with a freedom normally associated with a kid having a kickabout with his mates in the park. Added to that, Liverpool’s progression to the final has come virtue of a devil-may-care attitude that hints that passion rather than pressure is what has been on their mind every time they walk onto the pitch.
That philosophy has been instilled to them by their coach Jurgen Klopp. The German is revered as much by the players as by Liverpool’s fans and Salah is in no doubt as to how important he has been to his form and the team’s remarkable Champions League run.
“From day one we are friends, he treats me like a friend,” Salah said of Klopp.
“We are very close to each other but still he’s the coach and I am a player. He is a great man and as a coach you can see everyone loves him.”
Standing in the way of Salah and Co. from lifting Liverpool’s sixth European Cup are Real Madrid. While the Spanish giants have not hit the heights of previous campaigns, they stand on the verge of a third Champions League crown in a row, and, with Cristiano Ronaldo in fine form, will provide the Reds’ toughest test yet.
Such has been the heights he has hit this season that Salah has often been compared to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, and touted to become the first player since 2007 other than that duo to win the Ballon d’Or. It is a comparison he has sought to distance himself from and once again he downplayed any idea that the final was a case of him verses the Portuguese star.
“He is a top-level player, but as he said he plays with his right foot and I play with my left,” Salah said.
“We are both focused on playing well in the final and trying to win it for our teams. All I can do is try hard and focus on doing well for Liverpool.
“I want to get to a higher and higher level, I am hoping to do well in the final and we are going to go there to do well in the final and to try and claim the trophy.”