Urawa Red Diamonds were crowned the champions of Asia on Saturday after they downed Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal 1-0 in the second leg of the AFC Champions League 2017 final at Saitama stadium in Japan.
Having drawn the first leg in Riyadh 1-1, Urawa Reds needed only a goalless draw to clinch the title for the first time since 2007 but they went on to record an 88th minute winner, courtesy Rafael Silva, to clinch the tie 2-1 on aggregate.
With both sides beginning cautiously, the first half saw very few notable chances, with the first of them falling to Urawa’s Kazuki Nagasawa who fired wide from just outside the area in the opening minute itself. The visitors came closest to scoring when Salem Al Dawsari went past Tomoya Ugajin and struck a fierce effort just over the Urawa goal in the 25th minute.
Al Hilal, trying hard to manufacture chances, were left dismayed when midfielder Nicolas Milesi blasted over from 15 yards after being set up by the heavily marked Omar Khribin and both teams went into the break level on the night.
Urawa once again started the second-half on the ascendancy with Rafael Silva skewing an effort wide in the 46th minute. Needing desperately to score a goal, Al Hilal drove forward in attack and Yasser Al Shahrani saw his low shot on the hour mark deflected agonisingly wide.
Al Hilal head coach even took the drastic measure of substituting tournament topscorer Omar Khribin with Mukhtar Fallatah but the all-important goal eluded them.
It was Urawa who went close yet again when Al Hilal goalkeeper Al Mayoof pulled off a superb reaction save to keep out Shinzo Koroki’s header from Yosuke Kashawagi’s free-kick from the left, before Tomoaki Makino was thwarted on the follow-up.
Al Hilal’s task was made harder in the 78th minute when Al Dawsari was sent off for picking up a second yellow card. As a tense finale to the game ensued, Rafael Silva popped up with the winner in the 88th minute to send te home crowd into raptures and seal the result in Urawa Reds’ favour.
He raced on to Yuki Muto’s through ball and found the net from 15 yards for his ninth goal of the tournament, in the process making Urawa Red Diamonds the first Japanese side to be crowned the kings of Asia after Gamba Osaka in 2008.