Al Hilal out to end eastern ACL dominance

Al Hilal out to end eastern ACL dominance

HONG KONG - Reuters
Al Hilal out to end eastern ACL dominance

Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal will take on Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Nov. 18, seeking to put an end to eastern dominance of the continental club competition.

Teams from the east of Asia have won the last five titles and 10 of the last 11, but the Saudi side is confident of turning the tide when they host the first leg in Riyadh.

“In the past, east Asia teams had the upper hand, but now there is a power shift and teams from the west are doing better,” said Al Hilal central defender and captain Osama Hawsawi.

“For example, in World Cup qualifying we faced both Australia and Japan and we qualified ahead of the former and defeated the latter.

“There are strong teams in both east and west, of course, but it should be noted that two teams from the west qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.”

Qatar’s Al Sadd were the last team from the west to win the title when they defeated South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors in a penalty shootout in 2011. Al Hilal came close in 2014 with a narrow defeat in the final against Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers.

The Saudi club have an illustrious record at Asian level but the continental title has proved elusive.

“We are determined to lift this trophy,” said Hawsawi. “We reached the final because we worked hard and are intent on reaching this goal.

“We showed good performances under coach [Ramon] Diaz last season and we have built on that so far this campaign.”
Urawa will also bid to end a lengthy drought at continental level, having reached the final for the first time since their maiden title in 2007.

Yuki Abe, who spent time in England with Leicester City, is the only player remaining in the starting line-up from the side that defeated Iran’s Sepahan over two legs a decade ago.

Takafumi Hori’s team will also seek to break a long run of disappointment for Japanese clubs.

Gamba Osaka was the last J-League team to claim the title in 2008 and no Japanese side has reached the final since.