Al Hilal looks to dent eastern dominance of Asian soccer
By JOHN DUERDEN
Nov. 17, 2017
Al Hilal captain Osama Hawsawi is heartened by World Cup qualifying results to believe his side can break east Asia's dominance in the Asian Champions League final.
Al Hilal hosts Urawa Reds of Japan on Saturday in Riyadh in the first leg.
Hawsawi's club has won the league twice from five finals, in 1991 and 2000. Both one-off finals went to extra time, one to a penalty shootout.
It lost its last final in 2014 to Western Sydney, 1-0 on aggregate. Western Sydney's first title for Australia is part of a run in which east Asia teams have won 10 of the last 11 finals. Only Qatar's Al Sadd broke the run for west Asia sides in 2011.
"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," Hawsawi says.
"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."
Those two are his Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the last 20 years, west Asia has qualified two teams for the World Cup only twice before, for the 1998 and 2006 tournaments.
Al Hilal has cruised through the playoffs, especially at home, where it won all three matches and outscored opponents 9-1.
Urawa Reds, on the other hand, had to overcome deficits against fellow J-League sides; beating Jeju United in extra time in the round of 16, and Kawasaki Frontale 4-1 in the quarterfinals to advance by one goal. Urawa then edged Shanghai SIPG, including big-money Brazilians Hulk and Oscar, in the semifinals.
Urawa Reds lifted the trophy in its only previous final appearance a decade ago, and still has a survivor of that side, Yuki Abe.
"In 2007 we didn't lose a single game, and this year Al Hilal are doing very well and haven't lost yet," the former Leicester City midfielder sats. "If possible, we would like to leave Riyadh with a goal and at least a draw."
The second leg is on Nov. 25 at Saitama Stadium, Urawa's home just north of Tokyo.