Friday 17 November 2017, 06:09

Contrasting styles match-up in Asian finale

  • Asian crown and ticket to FIFA Club World Cup up for grabs

  • Al Hilal seeking to win first continental title

  • Urawa aiming to end decade-long drought

Fans across Asia will be treated to a wonderful night of football as Al Hilal entertain Urawa Red Diamonds in this year's AFC Champions League final first leg on Saturday. Both clubs boast plenty of pedigree - the Saudi giants are the tournament's most experienced campaigners, notably reaching the final in 2014, while the J.League outfit lifted the trophy in 2007.

An intense encounter seems assured with the continental title, as well as a place at next month's FIFA Club World Cup up for grabs. There is added motivation, too, with Al Hilal desperate to end their long wait for a maiden AFC Champions League title and Urawa Red Diamonds keen on doubling their Asian haul. Join as we preview the first leg.

The match *Al Hilal-Urawa Red Diamonds, King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, Saturday 18 November (19:15 local time) *It is invariably a clash of styles when east meets west in the Asian showpiece and this year's final will be no exception. The visiting East Asians have, like most other J.League teams, impressed through their disciplined play, fluid passing and attack-minded approach. Indeed, they are this season’s leading goalscorers with 28 goals garnered thus far.

The West Asian hosts are, meanwhile, the only team to have remained undefeated in this campaign, largely thanks to their solid defence. But they are of course not lacking in firepower, considering they scored more goals than any other side during the knockout stage (13).

Ramon Diaz's Hilal will look to in-form Syrian striker Omar Kharbin in attack, while South American duo Carlos Eduardo and Nicolas Milesi are the men to provide drive from the midfield. Takafumi Hori's visitors, for their part, can count on the goalscoring efficiency of top-striker Rafael Silva, while playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi has tallied five assists this campaign.

Player to watch Despite now being 36-years-old, Yuki Abe has lost none of the form which saw him win his first AFC Champions League title with Urawa Red Diamonds back in 2007. Now ten years on, the defender has fixed his sights firmly on recapturing the Asian laurels having skippered his side all the way through to the final. Aside from his leadership, the former Japan and Leicester City player's experiences on the continental scene will be crucial if Urawa are to come away from Saudi Arabia with a satisfying result.

Do you know? The final will see three players vie against each other for the tournament’s top-scorer award. Leading the list is none other than Al Hilal's on-song striker Omar Kharbin, who is topping the scoring chart with nine goals - two clear of both team-mate Carlos Eduardo and also Urawa forward Rafael Silva. Few would, of course, question the Syrian's chances of claiming the ultimate individual accolade considering his prolific form during the knockout phase. Should he make it, Kharbin will become the first Asian player to clinch the award since Lee Donggook in 2011.

What they said "Urawa are a fantastic side. They have a very talented group of individuals. They have shown they deserve to be at this stage of the competition. Finals are always special and it is also dangerous because there is so much at stake and emotions can run high. But there is a desire and a sense of belief among my players." Al Hilal head coach Ramon Diaz