In a thrilling clash at the Saitama Stadium 2002, Japanese giants Urawa Red Diamonds are crowned AFC Champions League winners after defeating Al Hilal 2-1 on aggregate.
Urawa Red Diamonds won 1-0 early on Saturday morning to emerge as the new Asian champions, leaving Al Hilal’s Odion Ighalo to rue another missed opportunity at one of the biggest trophies of his career.
This defeat comes as a heartbreaking blow following Al Hilal’s loss in the FIFA Club World Cup finals earlier this year against Real Madrid.
Aiming for a record AFC Champions League triumph, Al Hilal did their ambitions little good by managing a 1-1 draw in the first leg last week, setting the stage for an intense battle in the return leg.
Odion Ighalo and his Al Hilal teammates knew they had a mountain to climb, as they were facing a formidable Urawa Red Diamonds side that had displayed remarkable defensive resilience throughout the tournament.
The odds were stacked against them, but Al Hilal’s fighting spirit was undeterred. But in a cruel twist of fate, it was an Andre Carrillo own-goal that ultimately tilted the balance in favour of Urawa Red Diamonds.
A momentary lapse of concentration saw Carrillo inadvertently deflect a cross into his own net, sending the Saitama Stadium 2002 into a frenzy of celebration. Al Hilal fought valiantly to find an equalizer, but Urawa Red Diamonds’ resolute defense proved insurmountable.
The final whistle sounded, and the scoreboard displayed a 1-0 victory for Urawa Red Diamonds, giving them a 2-1 aggregate win.
Despair and disappointment filled the faces of the Al Hilal players, who had given their all throughout the tournament.
Odion Ighalo, in particular, was visibly crestfallen, realizing that another major trophy of his career had slipped through his fingers.
Though Al Hilal fell short in their quest for AFC Champions League glory, they can still salvage their season with the King’s Cup final looming.
On May 12, Al Hilal will face Al Wehda at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, offering Ighalo and his teammates a chance to end the campaign on a triumphant note.
Ighalo won the first trophy of his career in 2019 when he lifted the Chinese FA Cup with Shanghai Shenhua.
Last year, the former Manchester United striker added the Saudi League title to it after firing Al Hilal past their rivals.