Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds got the all-important away goal as they weathered an avalanche of Al Hilal attacks on Saturday to take home a 1-1 draw into the second leg of the AFC Champions League final.
Rafael Silva’s eighth goal of the campaign stunned the crowd at King Fahd International Stadium as he capitalised on a poor defensive clearance from Salman Al Faraj to put the visitors in front inside the opening 10 minutes.
The Brazilian embarked on a solo run on the left flank, outpacing his marker before cutting inside and firing low.
Goalkeeper Abdulla Al Mayouf thought he had the ball under control but Al Faraj interfered with a weak clearance onto the path of the Brazilian whose follow up strike crawled past the goal-line to hand Urawa the lead.
The hosts' woes were compounded when Carlos Eduardo hobbled off with a muscle injury after just 18 minutes. Nawaf Al Abid replaced him.
Ramon Diaz’s men regrouped and dominated possession for the remainder of the first 45 minutes, forcing goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa into multiple reflex saves.
Omar Khribin struck from the edge of the six-yard box, but his first-time effort was parried by the Japanese goalkeeper.
Leading the competition’s goal-scoring charts and shortlisted for the 2017 AFC Player of The Year award, Khribin left Al Hilal supporters in disbelief as he wasted another sitter.
Al Faraj’s long-range effort was deflected onto the Syrian’s path with only Nishikawa to beat, but he fluffed his shot at the half-hour mark.
The number 77 finally made amends, controlling Al Dawsari’s miskick and finishing from close range to bring the Saudi side level eight minutes before half-time.
Urawa scorer Silva was stretchered off 20 minutes after the restart as Al Hilal continued their dominant display, although with no clear-cut chances.
Al Abid attempted a low strike from outside the area but Nikshkawa was well-positioned to save the midfielder’s effort.
The visitors defended for their lives as Khribin came within a whisker of finding a winner as he dived to head home Al Abid’s cross, but the ball brushed his head and ended beyond Urawa’s goal.
Even four minutes of added time could not separate the sides as Al Hilal remained unbeaten in the competition.
The difficult task of trying to get a result in Saitama awaits the Saudis next week as they continue their pursuit for an elusive AFC Champions League trophy.
Meanwhile, Urawa Red Diamonds will enter the second leg with an important advantage as they look to add to their 2007 title.