Rafael Silva strike seals Asian Champions League crown for Urawa
Rafael Silva's late goal secured Urawa Red Diamonds' first AFC Champions League (ACL) crown in a decade as the J-League side sealed a 2-1 aggregate win over Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal at Saitama Stadium on Saturday.
Silva scored with just two minutes remaining as Urawa followed up their 2007 success with victory in front of almost 58,000 fans as the title returned to Japan for the first time since Gamba Osaka's 2008 victory.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Riyadh last week, Al Hilal needed to score to have any chance of claiming the club's first Asian title since 2000, but the night was to end in frustration for the Saudi giants.
Tomoya Ugajin held on to his place in the Urawa starting lineup despite a disappointing showing in the first leg, even though Brazilian defender Mauricio Antonio was available having served a one-match suspension as Hori named an unchanged side from last week's game in Riyadh.
There were no surprises in the Al Hilal selection as Ramon Diaz chose Nawaf Al Abed to replace the injured Carlos Eduardo, as he had done in the first leg when the Brazilian suffered the knee injury that has ruled him out of the rest of the season.
Urawa started brightest, pressuring the Al Hilal defence from the off to create an opening inside the first minute that Kazuki Nagasawa pulled across goal. Soon after the pressing paid off again, only for Nagasawa's tame effort from outside the area to be picked up by Al Muaiouf.
Al Hilal were being caught cold in the chilly Saitama air, often second to the ball in a scrappy opening 30 minutes that steadily descended into a disjointed and fractious affair, pockmarked with fouls and bookings.
Ugajin and Tomoaki Makino both found their way into Ravshan Irmatov's notebook for fouls on Omar Khribin, while Abdullah Otayf was a little hard done by when his name was also taken after upending Nagasawa.
Al Hilal, though, were steadily becoming more assertive. Salem Al Dawsari caused concern for the Urawa fans when he danced past two home defenders before launching a shot from outside the area that only just cleared Shusaku Nishikawa's crossbar.
Nicolas Milesi, too, was becoming more prominent in the centre of the park, the blonde haired Uruguayan seemingly never far from possession as he buzzed around midfield, stealing the ball from Urawa before receiving a return pass from Khribin before a mishit sent a strike harmlessly wide.
That opportunity was Al Hilal's one clear-cut opening in the first 45 minutes but the Saudi side's improved showing suggested Diaz's team would be more assertive in the second period.
Silva's shot from the edge of the area soon after the restart gave Al Hilal a jolt, but while Al Hilal dictated play in the Urawa half, they created little to trouble Nishikawa.
Al Hilal's frustration grew and, in the 78th minute, it spilled over as Al Dawsari upended Wataru Endo to earn a second yellow card and put his side under further pressure.
With time running out and Al Hilal growing increasingly desperate, Urawa finally killed off the tie when Silva raced in on goal before smashing his shot high into the net to seal an historic victory for the Reds.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch