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Urawa beat Al Hilal to win AFC Champions League

Saitama, Japan (AFP): Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds won the Asian Champions League after beating Saudi Arabian defending champions Al Hilal 1-0 in Saturday’s final second leg for a 2-1 aggregate win.

An own goal by Al Hilal’s Andre Carrillo early in the second half gave Urawa their third Asian title in front of almost 55,000 home fans in Saitama, north of Tokyo, following a 1-1 draw in last week’s opening leg in Riyadh.

“This is a scene I had only ever dream of before — I can’t believe it,” said Urawa captain Hiroki Sakai.

The Japanese side had to withstand fierce first-half pressure from Al Hilal, who were looking to win a record fifth continental title and a third in four seasons.

The decisive moment came when Carrillo turned a header from Urawa’s Marius Hoibraten into his own net amid strong wind in the 48th minute, before a determined rear-guard effort from the home side saw out the result and sent the crowd into delirious celebrations.

“They put us under constant pressure right from the start and it was a difficult game,” said Urawa striker Shinzo Koroki, who scored his team’s goal in the first leg.

“But in the second half we started to push them back and although we didn’t have so many chances, we made it count when we did.”

The two teams were meeting in the final of Asia’s premier club competition for the third time in six years. Urawa won in 2017 but Al Hilal came out on top two years later.

Al Hilal were without injured captain Salman Al Faraj and suspended star winger Salem Al Dawsari, who was sent off late in the first leg for kicking out at Urawa’s Ken Iwao.

Al Hilal manager Ramon Diaz made three changes from the first leg, dropping Malian striker Moussa Marega and bringing in experienced Peruvian Carrillo, while Urawa were unchanged.

The Saudi side had an early chance when Odion Ighalo broke clear in the box, only for Urawa defender Alexander Scholz to block his shot on the line.

Al Hilal’s Michael also had a scent of goal midway through the first half, but Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa got down quickly to parry his shot.

Urawa came even closer to opening the scoring against the run of play when Shinzo Koroki, who scored his team’s goal in the first leg, hit the bar with a flying volley on the half-hour mark.

Nishikawa again had to be alert to keep out a long-range Carrillo effort with the first half winding to a close, before Urawa’s Yoshio Koizumi pulled a shot wide of the post at the other end.

Urawa made the perfect start to the second half when a floated free-kick from around the half-way line found Hoibraten, whose wind-assisted header found its way over the line via Carrillo’s boot.

The Japanese side enjoyed far more possession from then on and Atsuki Ito almost added a second goal when he shot just wide of the post with the goalkeeper beaten.

Al Hilal posed far less attacking threat in the second half and Nishikawa was on hand to deny Ighalo when the Saudi side did create a chance late in the game.

The final was taking place more than a year after the Asian Champions League season began, with delays because of the winter World Cup in Qatar and travel complications arising from the Covid pandemic.

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