Saudi giants seek ‘power shift’ in Asian football final

Riyadh: Saudi giants Al Hilal will attempt to end years of dominance by East Asian clubs when they take on Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in the two-legged AFC Champions League final from Saturday.
Al Hilal missed out on the trophy in an ill-tempered final in 2014, but they are hopeful of redressing the balance of power when they host Urawa in the first leg in Riyadh.
Clubs from the Asian Football Confederation’s eastern regions have won the last five Champions Leagues, and 10 overall since the competition’s first edition in 2003.
But Al Hilal captain and Saudi Arabia defender Osama Hawsawi pointed to West Asia’s strong performance in World Cup qualifying. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran reached Russia 2018.
“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,” the 33-year-old said, according to the AFC website.
“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 World Cup.”
Al Hilal, unbeaten in this year’s competition, have collected six Asian trophies but they are yet to win the Champions League, although they came close in 2014.
The Saudis went down 1-0 on aggregate to Western Sydney Wanderers, after a second leg in Riyadh which ended with an on-pitch melee and accusations of corruption.
“We are determined to lift this trophy,” said Hawsawi.
“We reached the final because we worked hard and are intent on reaching this goal.”
“The first leg of the final will be a decisive one, especially with the support of our fans. We will play the first leg at home, so we need to make the most out of it,” he added.
Urawa captain Yuki Abe was part of the team that won the Champions League in 2007, and he said he now wanted to lift the trophy again in honour of coach Takafumi Hori.
“I have had a lot of head coaches in my career, but Hori is one who has helped me improve, so I’d like to help win a big trophy for him,” said Abe.
“In 2007 we didn’t lose a single game, and this year Al Hilal are doing very well and haven’t lost yet. But, if possible, we would like to leave Riyadh with a goal and at least a draw.”