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Al Hilal fans flock to Japan for decisive second leg

By Michael Church
Asian Champions League Final - First Leg - Al Hilal v Urawa Reds

By Michael Church

TOKYO (Reuters) - Al Hilal will be backed by up to 3,000 of their own fans at a sold-out Saitama Stadium on Sunday as they look to claim their first Asian title in almost two decades when they face Urawa Red Diamonds in the Asian Champions League final second leg.

Razvan Lucescu's side hold a 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Riyadh two weeks ago courtesy of a goal from winger Andre Carillo and the club have requested all of their allocation for the return match at the 63,500-seater stadium north of Tokyo.

Media in Saudi Arabia have reported crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has ordered four planes to transport fans to Japan as Al Hilal attempt to end a run of heartbreak in the continental club championship.

The 15-times Saudi champions have suffered agonising defeats in the competition's final twice before, losing in 2014 to Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers before succumbing again in 2017 against Urawa.

Al Hilal last won a continental title in 2002, when they defeated South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors to claim the Asian Cup Winners Cup, and they have not been crowned champions since the creation of the Asian Champions League 17 years ago.

They are also seeking to become the first club from the west of Asia to win the title since Qatar's Al Sadd in 2011 as the competition has become dominated by sides from East Asia.

Urawa are eyeing a third title having won in 2007 and 2017 and victory would mean the trophy staying in Japan after last year's win by Kashima Antlers.

The home side's hopes are boosted by the return of first-choice goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, who missed the first leg due to suspension. An error from his replacement Haruki Fukushima gifted Al Hilal the goal in Riyadh.


(Editing by Peter Rutherford)