Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

Urawa’s midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa, left, and Al Hilal’s goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf with the AFC Champions League trophy in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

  • Teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Australia have dominated the continental tournament since 2005, winning every title but one
  • Al Hilal has fallen in two finals in the past five years: losing 1-0 over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and then, in 2017, to Saturday’s opponent Urawa 2-1 on aggregate

RIYADH: Al Hilal is not just facing Japan’s Urawa Reds in the first leg of Asian Champions League final on Saturday in Riyadh. The Saudi Arabian club also has to overcome the dominance of teams from east Asia.
Teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Australia have dominated the continental tournament since 2005, winning every title but one. West Asia — the tournament is split into east and west geographic zones until the final — only has the 2011 triumph of Qatar’s Al Sadd to celebrate.
Other top West Asian nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and United Arab Emirates have all sent their best to contest the final yet all have failed to win the tournament that was established in 2003.
In addition to the regional failure, the Riyadh powerhouse has fallen in two finals in the past five years: losing 1-0 over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and then, in 2017, to Saturday’s opponent Urawa 2-1 on aggregate.
It could be a case of third-time lucky for Al Hilal especially as it has the tournament’s top scorer in its ranks. Bafetimbi Gomis has already scored 10 goals.
“I know that we have been unlucky in the Asian Champions League final on two previous occasions but we are confident that we can win this time,” said Gomis, a former French international who signed for the club for a reported transfer fee of around $16 million in August 2018.
Al Hilal’s failure to win the home leg cost the team in 2014 and 2017 and the ex-Lyon and Swansea City striker knows that taking an advantage to Japan for the return match on Nov. 24 is vital.
 “We have to play to our best from the start of the first game and look to get on top,” Gomis said. “The game will not be decided here in our home stadium and will go all the way to the final whistle but we want to get a good start.”
Al Hilal starts as favorite despite Urawa’s 2017 success. The Japanese team has been struggling at home for most of the season.
While the two-time continental champion has been progressing toward another Asian final, there have been relegation worries in the J League.
Urawa sits just five points clear of the relegation zone after playing two games more than its rivals.
The Reds will put domestic worries aside and have a star striker of their own to shoot Urawa to a record third Champions League title.
“Of course I want to become a history-maker,” said forward Shinzo Koroki, who has scored eight goals on the road to the final. “This is the top club competition and the champions will go to the FIFA Club World Cup. It is a big honor for any team.”


Liverpool cleared to win Premier League at Anfield

Atletico Madrid’s Marcos Llorente scores a goal against Liverpool during their match in London. The Reds will play against Everton on June 21. (Reuters/File)
Updated 06 June 2020

Liverpool cleared to win Premier League at Anfield

  • All remaining 92 Premier League games this season will be played behind closed doors, but there are fears that hosting the game in Liverpool could encourage supporters to congregate around stadiums

LONDON: Premier League leaders Liverpool could claim a first title for 30 years at Anfield after the initial batch of fixtures of the restart was announced on Friday.
Jurgen Klopp’s men, with a commanding 25-point lead at the top of the table, were just two wins away from clinching the title before coronavirus forced the suspension of football in March.
Liverpool’s first match back is against Everton on June 21. The Merseyside derby is due to take place at Goodison Park, less than a mile from Anfield, but a venue has not been confirmed by the Premier League. Crystal Palace will then visit Anfield three days later.
Wins in both of those matches would guarantee Liverpool’s first English top-flight title since 1990. But if Manchester City lose at home to Arsenal on June 17, the Reds would be champions if they beat Everton.
Liverpool City Council’s safety advisory group will meet next week to make a decision on whether the game can go ahead at Goodison or should be moved to a neutral venue.
All remaining 92 Premier League games this season will be played behind closed doors, but there are fears that hosting the game in Liverpool could encourage supporters to congregate around stadiums.

SPEEDREAD

Liverpool’s first match back is against Everton on June 21. The Merseyside derby is due to take place at Goodison Park, less than a mile from Anfield, but a venue has not been confirmed by the Premier League. Crystal Palace will then visit Anfield three days later.

The only other match that could be moved to a neutral venue from the first three rounds of fixtures is Liverpool’s visit to City on July 2.
The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, voiced fears that “there would be many thousands of people who would turn up outside Anfield” on the day Liverpool’s long wait for a league title was ended.
That has been disputed by the club, who said they have engaged with supporters’ groups to make sure social-distancing guidelines are followed.
Aston Villa will host Sheffield United in the first match of “Project Restart,” followed by Arsenal’s trip to City on June 17.
Manchester United’s visit to Tottenham will spearhead the first full round of matches spread over four days from June 19 to 22.
Premier League CEO Richard Masters said: “We know it won’t be the same without our loyal supporters in stadiums but, together with our broadcast partners, we are able to ensure fans can watch or listen to each match live from home.”