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Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

Al-Hilal all out to claim Asian Champions League title for a 5th time

Al-Hilal all out to claim Asian Champions League title for a 5th time

Defending champions Al-Hilal, who are also Club World Cup finalists, are all out to claim Asian Champions Club title for a record 5th time when they will host Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh on Saturday.
The second leg will be away at Saitama Stadium, Japan, on May 6.

Al-Hilal fans are very much excited about the prospects of winning the title for the fifth time in the long anticipated final.

Urawa will take on Al-Hilal almost nine months after the Japanese club booked their place in the two-legged showdown. It will be the third time Urawa and Al-Hilal have met in the finals in six years in Asia’s top club competition. Urawa came out on top in 2017, but the Saudis took revenge two years later claiming a record fourth Asian title.

Al-Hilal are almost out of the Saudi Pro League title race but got a morale boosting win against rivals Al-Ittihad in the King’s Cup semi-final on Sunday, ahead of the first leg of the Asian Champions League final.

Al-Hilal won 1-0 thanks to an own goal by Al-Ittihad captain Ahmed Hegazy in extra time to reach the cup final. They will face Al-Wehda that beat Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al-Nassr on April 18. It was the second consecutive win for Al-Hilal, who are fourth place in the league standings, seven points behind leaders Al-Ittihad who have two games in hand.

Al-Hilal emerged the topper in Group A earning 13 points and scoring six goals, with four wins, one draw and one loss.

Al-Hilal are looking to capture a record-extending fifth Champions League crown. The Riyadh club claimed the title for the first time in 1991 and then in 2000. However, they had to wait almost two decades for their third, when they defeated Urawa Reds in the 2019 final.

Having climbed alongside South Korea’s Pohang Steelers as the most successful clubs in competition history, Al-Hilal moved out on their own in November 2021 by beating Pohang in that year’s final. In fact, Al-Hilal have contested four of the past eight finals, finishing runner-up in 2014 and 2017. Saturday’s will be their ninth final.

Urawa Reds, meanwhile, have been a major player in the tournament. Saturday’s final is their third in six years – two of them against Al-Hilal. The Japanese side first secured the continental title in 2007, when they defeated Iran’s Sepahan, before seeing off Al-Hilal in the showpiece 10 years later. The two sides contested the final once more in 2019, with Al-Hilal triumphing 3-0 on aggregate.

The great march of Al-Hilal to the AFC final began by ousting Shabab Al-Ahli of Dubai from the knock-out round of 16, with a score of 3-1. In the quarter final, Al-Ahli defeated Foolad of Iran 1-0, before thrashing Al-Duhail of Qatar 7-0 in the semi-finals and thus qualified to meet Urawa Red Diamonds in the final.

Throughout the history of Asian Champions League, Al-Hilal participated 24 times in the tournament, and is credited to winning four titles.

Al-Hilal claimed its first Asian title by beating the Iranian Esteghlal Club in a penalty shootout with a score 4-3 in 1991.

Al-Hilal lifted the second title by beating the Japanese Jubilo Iwata 3-2 in 2000 while the third title came in 2019 against Urawa Red Diamonds 2-0. The fourth title came from the South Korean Pohang Steelers, with a brace from Nasser Al-Dosari and Moussa Mariga, respectively.

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