Andre Carrillo’s header was the difference as Al Hilal SFC secured a narrow 1-0 win over Urawa Red Diamonds in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Champions League at King Saud University Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts made their intentions clear from the start, controlling possession and building up pressure on their opponents, while Urawa kept a compact shape and looked to hit on the counter.
The first 20 minutes saw each side get a major opportunity, but heroic defending at both ends meant the goalkeepers would remain untested yet. Daisuke Suzuki threw his body to deflect Sebastian Giovinco’s shot 14 minutes into the game while Ali Al Bulayhi blocked Takahiro Sekine’s effort from inside the Al Hilal box three minutes later.
The capacity crowd at King Saud University Stadium prepared to celebrate in the 29th minute after Salem Al Dawsari’s cross from the right reached Giovinco with only the goalkeeper to beat. The Italian applied his finish past Haruki Fukushima, but Takuya Aoki emerged from nowhere to clear the ball off the goal-line.
And if Al Hilal thought it impossible to get closer to scoring than they did without actually finding the back of the net, that moment came just two minutes later.
Fukushima just about managed to get his fingertips to Carrillo’s header from the corner, and the ball found its way to Al Bulayhi at the far post inches from the goal line and with no one marking him, but the defender fluffed his lines, sending the ball wide.
Razvan Lucescu’s men picked up where they left off after the restart, piling the pressure on Urawa.
The Japanese defence finally yielded at the hour mark as a fatal mistake from goalkeeper Fukushima allowed Carrillo to get on the end of a Mohammed Al Burayk cross. The Peruvian made no mistake with the goal at his mercy, heading home the opener.
With the lead obtained, Al Hilal opted to retain possession and minimise risks, as their chances were limited to two efforts from Giovinco over the next half an hour.
The former Juventus forward curled an effort from outside the box in the 74th minute that was calmly caught by Fukushima, and eight minutes later he saw his second attempt narrowly miss the target.
Substitute Nawaf Al Abed nearly added a second Al Hilal goal at the death, but his half-volleyed finish from close range hit the side netting.
Al Hilal take a one-goal lead into the return fixture in Saitama in two weeks’ time, but also have the advantage of not conceding at home.
Source: The AFC