TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds won the Asian Champions League when a 1-0 win over Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia at Saitama Stadium on Saturday handed them the title 2-1 on aggregate.
Rafael Silva scored two minutes from time to give Urawa the win having also scored his side’s vital away goal in the first leg in Riyadh last week.
Urawa become the first Japanese side to claim the continental championship since Gamba Osaka in 2009 while the win is Urawa’s second, 10 years after their only previous success.“We learned a lot after the first game, we analysed our opponents well and we were well prepared,” said Urawa coach Takafumi Hori.
“In the first game we put defence first, but we were at home today and we were more aggressive. We could control the ball more and that’s why we were able to win.”
The home side started with the same line-up that drew 1-1 in the first leg, Brazilian forward Silva having shaken off an ankle injury.
Nawaf Al Abed started for Al Hilal in place of Carlos Eduardo, who suffered a serious knee injury in the first leg.
Urawa made the brighter start with Kazuki Nagasawa twice going close in the opening eight minutes as the Saudi side froze in the chilly evening air at Saitama.
But twice champions Al Hilal grew more assertive, with Salem Al Dawsari firing narrowly over the bar from outside the area while Nicolas Milesi should have done better before the break when he pulled his shot wide of Shusaku Nishikawa’s goal.
The Saudis, though, were to be continually frustrated as Omar Khribin dragged his free kick wide and Mohamed Al Burayk saw his shot deflected wide for a corner as Urawa’s defence held firm.
Urawa went close to breaking the deadlock with 17 minutes remaining when goalkeeper Abdullah Al Muaiouf threw himself to the left to claw Shinzo Koroki’s goal-bound header off the line before collecting Silva’s attempt with the rebound.
Minutes earlier, Yuki Muto found the goalkeeper’s arms with an unmarked header in the box as Al Hilal - needing to score to keep their hopes alive - left more space at the back.
The Saudi side’s hopes suffered a blow in the 78th minute when Al Dawsari picked up his second booking in six minutes and was sent off after upending Wataru Endo as Al Hilal’s frustration boiled over.
With time running out and Al Hilal in desperate need of a goal, Urawa hit on the counterattack and Silva’s pace left the Saudi backline for dead before he lashed a right-foot shot into the roof of Al Muaiouf’s net to seal victory.
“It was a dream that we could go so far in this competition,” said Al Hilal coach Ramon Diaz.
“Maybe we missed the chance to come here to Tokyo with a big advantage, if we had translated the many chances we had in the game in Riyadh into goals,” the Argentine added.
“It was a good participation for us and I‘m very proud of all we have done. We missed the luck in this game but it’s going to give more experience to all of our players.”
Reporting by Michael Church in Tokyo, Editing by Rex Gowar