The Meiji Yasuda J1 League has been long considered the gold standard for East Asian club football, as its heavyweight sides are on form domestically and internationally. Takafumi Hori’s Urawa Red Diamonds are the Manchester United of Japan. They have a convincing brand and a tradition of fielding competitive sides every season, and it was no surprise that they stuck it to Ramon Diaz’s Al Hilal, their Saudi Arabian counterparts.
Urawa defeated Al Hilal 1-0 in the second of the 2017 AFC Champions League Final at Saitama Stadium 2002 in Saitama, Japan, the current home of the Japan men’s national team, following a 1-1 draw at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh. Salem Aldawsari was sent off for Al Hilal in the second leg in the 79th minute on a second yellow card.
“The players had a special motivation for this tournament, as did the supporters, so I think this is why we were able to do so well,” said Hori. “I would also like to thank the supporters, who gave their best, but also Petrovic who built the foundations of the team, and I learned from him. We were very prepared for our opponents today after studying them a lot.”
With the Red Diamonds destined for a mid-table finish in the J1 League and Urawa eliminated from the Emperor’s Cup by league leaders Kashima Antlers in the Round of 16, It is a strong possiblity that by winning the AFC Champions League, Hori has secured the managerial position for the long haul. Also, this was Urawa’s second-ever AFC Champions League victory, their first taking place one decade ago in 2007.
“I was so happy 10 years ago and I’m so happy this time too,” said Urawa captain Yuki Abe, a member of that 2007 team. “The whole team fought really together to achieve this – I’m just so happy we’ve become Asian champions for a second time. “So many people came to the ground like Nagai and of course Hori-san (Satoshi Horinouchi); Ponte told me he was coming to the stadium too, Having those people the same age as me – Tulio, as well, and Keita (Suzuki), (Takahito) Soma – having all of you here giving us power made this possible.”
Urawa will now prepare for the FIFA Club World Cup in December with a couple of matches at home. They host Kawasaki Frontale on Nov. 29 and Yokohama F. Marinos on Dec. 1 to conclude their J1 League campaign.