Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal, Japan's Urawa face off for long-delayed Asian Champions League title

Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal, Japan's Urawa face off for long-delayed Asian Champions League title
3 min read
The 2022 Asian Champions League title fight between Al-Hilal and Urawa on will be the third time that the clubs have met in the final in six years in the continent's top club competition.
Saudi Arabia's A;-Hilal are the Asian Champions league defending champions [Getty]

Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia and Urawa Red Diamonds finally meet in the Asian Champions League final on Saturday - almost nine months after the Japanese side booked their place in the two-legged showdown.

The winter World Cup in Qatar and travel complications arising from the pandemic mean Asian football has yet to crown its 2022 champions more than a year after the competition began.

The wait will soon be over, with defending champions and Club World Cup finalists Al-Hilal hosting two-time winners Urawa in the first leg in Riyadh, before the title is decided in Saitama a week later.

"From my first working day in Urawa I have been thinking about the final," said Maciej Skorza, the Polish coach who has only been in charge of the Japanese side since January.

"We were working very hard for this moment, to be ready for the challenge, to be ready for this very difficult game," Skorza said after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League.

It will be the third time that Urawa and Al-Hilal have met in the final in six years in Asia's top club competition.

Urawa came out on top in 2017, then the Saudis got revenge two years later to claim a record fourth Asian title.

The form book is likely to go out of the window in this year's encounter, with Urawa reaching the final as long ago as August last year after a semi-final win over South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors.

Much has changed for the J-League team since then, with Spanish coach Ricardo Rodriguez making way for Skorza and a number of comings and goings in his squad.

Winger Yusuke Matsuo, the club's top scorer in the Champions League with six goals, departed for Belgian side Westerlo at the end of last year and Danish striker Kasper Junker left for J-League rivals Nagoya Grampus.

Skorza has still managed to hit the ground running since the new J-League season began in February and his men are just two points behind leaders Vissel Kobe.

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Ighalo threat 

Continental competition will be much fresher in Al-Hilal's memory.

They booked their place in the final in style in February, crushing Qatar's Al-Duhail 7-0 with four goals from former Manchester United and Watford striker Odion Ighalo.

The Nigerian forms a deadly partnership with Saudi winger Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored a stunning goal in his country's historic World Cup win over eventual champions Argentina in Qatar.

His club showed they can also shine on the global stage, beating Brazil's Flamengo in February to reach the Club World Cup final, where they lost 5-3 to Real Madrid.

Al-Hilal sit a disappointing fourth in the Saudi Pro League, but they progressed to the domestic cup final on Sunday with a 1-0 win over league leaders Al Ittihad.

"We have enough time to recover, six days before the final against Urawa," manager Ramon Diaz said after an energy-sapping semi-final that went to extra time.

"Our players have time to catch their breath and return to full readiness".