Al Hilal’s agonising 19-year wait to be crowned continental kings, once again, was emphatically ended on Sunday through Salem Al Dawsari’s and Bafetimbi Gomis’ second-half goals that earned a deserved 2-0 victory at Urawa Red Diamonds in the 2019 AFC Champions League final – and 3-0 aggregate success.
Sunday’s hosts – threatened by J1 League relegation – had been pummelled from the start in Riyadh and were particularly fortunate to escape with just a 1-0 deficit. But a more-balanced opening was witnessed at Saitama Stadium 2002, the venue of 2017’s heart-breaking showpiece loss to the same opponent, with chances shared early on at both ends through Saudi Arabia winger Al Dawsari’s saved header and centre-back Abdullah Al Bulaihi’s brave block on former Japan Under-19 winger Takahiro Sekine’s goal-bound volley.
A searing second-half performance from Hilal – who’d also lost to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014’s decider – began with France centre forward Gomis’ close-range half-volley being repelled, left-back Yassir Al Shahrani then lashing wildly over with the net at his mercy. This endeavour, however, was memorably rewarded in the 74th minute when Italy magician Sebastian Giovinco’s refined one-touch pass was converted by the on-rushing Al Dawsari, who’d been dismissed two years ago at the same ground.
Limited Urawa were, predictably, unable to pull off the three-goal swing required at that stage to extend East Asia’s eight-year grip on the title and epic celebrations from Hilal were guaranteed when leading marksman Gomis swept home from six yards in injury time for his 11th 2019 ACL strike. Here are the player ratings:
URAWA RED DIAMONDS (3-4-2-1)
Shusaku Nishikawa 7: Returning goalkeeper twice made supreme second-half stops from Gomis to keep Urawa in it.
Takuya Iwanami 4: Enjoyed the rough and tumble early on, going into the referee’s book after break. Then collapsed.
Daisuke Suzuki 4: Was troubled by Gomis and Giovinco throughout. Left chasing shadows for Al Dawsari goal.
Tomoaki Makino 6: Japan centre-back was a beacon in defence, yet again, for Urawa. Strong early challenge on Giovinco.
Daiki Hashioka 5: Threatened early in second stanza with blocked header. Influence on proceedings soon faded.
Ewerton 5: Porto loanee was lively, yet lacks nuance to his game to make a discernible difference.
Takuya Aoki 4: Had a negligible presence on proceedings. No repeat of his Riyadh heroics, covering the rearguard.
Takahiro Sekine 5: Fortunate not to receive second booking for a block on Carrillo. Al Bulaihi deflection denied him first-half opener.
Kazuki Nagasawa 4: Another attacker for whom this showpiece game passed by. Taken off after hour mark.
Fabricio 3: Only thing notable about Brazilian’s performance was his Mohawk. Hooked before goal.
Shinzo Koroki 5: Easy to feel sorry for veteran striker. Was denied any quality possession and forced to chase long balls.
Yosuke Kashiwagi 6: Unable to hurt Hilal.
Kenyu Sugimoto 6: Could not get Urawa moving forward.
Yuki Abe N/A: Zero impression on the game.
AL HILAL (4-4-2)
Abdullah Al Mayouf 7: Not always a colossus for club or country. But stood tall in early stages, this time.
Mohammed Al Breik 7: Simply never stops running. His non-stop drive helped unsettle Urawa on home territory.
Jang Hyun-soo 7: Former FC Tokyo centre-back is a Rolls-Royce of a defender. Almost pounced from corner after break.
Ali Al Bulaihi 8: There was no rashness to his game on Sunday. Produced defining 23rd-minute block on Sekine’s shot.
Yasser Al Shahrani 7: In-tandem with Al Breik, Hilal can lay claim to possessing the continent’s best full-backs. Deserving of medal.
Andre Carrillo 6: Scorer from first leg was physically buffered this time. Pace was a constant threat on counter-attack, giving assist for Gomis.
Salman Al Faraj 8: Hilal stalwart produced an exquisite pass in build-up to goal. Thoroughly deserved this. A Hilal icon.
Abdullah Otayf 7: Pass master mixed it up. Merited retaining place, rather than bringing in Kanno.
Salem Al Dawsari 8: From Hilal youth product, to living legend. Slotted in goal to clinch this most-cherished victory. Fitting.
Sebastian Giovinco 8: Italy maestro’s one-touch pass to tee-up Al Dawsari was divine. Urawa had no reply.
Bafetimbi Gomis 7: 2019 ACL top-scorer spurned two excellent chances, but made no mistake on third attempt. What a buy.
Abdullah Al Hafith N/A: Late injury replacement for Al Breik.
Mohamed Kanno N/A: Almost teed up Gomis for a header.
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub N/A: Poignant last few moments were handed to 38-year-old, one-club man.
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