RIYADH: Al-Hilal secured a 1-0 win over Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Saturday in Riyadh with Andre Carrillo scoring the winning goal with a header in the second half.
The result represents the first win for the Saudi club against Urawa in AFC Champions League history, fifa.com reported.
Al-Hilal take a one-goal lead into the return fixture at Saitama Stadium in Japan on Nov. 24, but also have the advantage of not conceding at home.
The hosts made their intentions clear from the start on Saturday, controlling possession and building up pressure on their opponents, while Urawa kept a compact shape and looked to hit on the counter, the-afc.com reported.
The first 20 minutes of the AFC Champions League match saw each side get a major opportunity, but heroic defending at both ends meant the goalkeepers would remain untested yet.
Daisuke Suzuki threw his body to deflect Sebastian Giovinco’s shot 14 minutes into the game while Ali Al Bulayhi blocked Takahiro Sekine’s effort from inside the Al Hilal box three minutes later.
The capacity crowd at King Saud University Stadium prepared to celebrate in the 29th minute after Salem Al-Dawsari’s cross from the right reached Giovinco with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The Italian applied his finish past Haruki Fukushima, but Takuya Aoki emerged from nowhere to clear the ball off the goal-line.
And if Al-Hilal thought it impossible to get closer to scoring than they did without actually finding the back of the net, that moment came just two minutes later.
Fukushima just about managed to get his fingertips to Carrillo’s header from the corner, and the ball found its way to Al-Bulayhi at the far post inches from the goal line and with no one marking him, but the defender fluffed his lines, sending the ball wide.
Razvan Lucescu’s men picked up where they left off after the restart, piling the pressure on Urawa.
The Japanese defense finally yielded at the hour mark as a fatal mistake from goalkeeper Fukushima allowed Carrillo to get on the end of a Mohammed Al-Burayk cross. The Peruvian made no mistake with the goal at his mercy, heading home the opener.
With the lead obtained, Al-Hilal opted to retain possession and minimize risks, as their chances were limited to two efforts from Giovinco over the next half an hour.
The former Juventus forward curled an effort from outside the box in the 74th minute that was calmly caught by Fukushima, and eight minutes later he saw his second attempt narrowly miss the target.
Urawa's coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki had not given up hope despite the defeat, though, as he said in the press conference after the game.
Otsuku said the loss by only one goal was a good result for his team, especially with the many lost chances to score by Al-Hilal, confirming his team’s capability to win in Saitama.
“We did not intensify our defensive efforts as we did not receive but one goal. Regardless of this result, we finished this game in a way that allows us to fight back in the second leg,” he said.
Razvan Lucescu, Al-Hilal’s coach, said that he could not blame his players for the wasted chances to score, as they exhibited an amazing performance in the game.
“We need to keep our balance, the first part was positive and as a result we will play with much confidence in Saitama, knowing that the result is not decided yet. We fought for every ball.
“Our defense was awesome and we were mentally present. We sought to create gaps in our rivals ranks to exploit the spaces available, we played a big game in an uneasy match,” he said.
Urawa Reds striker Shinzo Koroki told reporters after the match that it was difficult for him to score: “So, I told my teammates that I would not be able to score and the game would end with 1-0, but I will play again at our stadium to score. Carrillo was the best player and the only one to score a goal.”
He added: “They will keep playing to win in the second leg rather than be satisfied with the current result.”
He concluded by agreeing with Razvan that the final result is not decided yet.