SAITAMA, Japan, Nov 25, (AFP): Brazilian sharp-shooter Rafael Silva smashed a late winner as Japan’s Urawa Reds beat 10-man Al Hilal 1-0 on Saturday to win a second Asian Champions League title.
The forward, who also scored in last weekend’s 1-1 first-leg draw in Riyadh, blasted a superb winner two minutes from time for Urawa, last crowned continental champions in 2007.
“Words can’t describe how happy I feel right now,” said Silva after recovering from a sore ankle he sustained in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s been a difficult week with the injury but this makes it worthwhile. We fed off the crowd’s energy and were running on 100 percent adrenalin,” added the 25-year-old, who was the target of racial abuse in the build-up to the game.
Urawa officials filed a formal protest to the Asian Football Confederation after racist comments were posted on the player’s Instagram account.
Tempers flared on the pitch too as Silva and Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Milesi went nose to nose, with Al Hilal becoming increasingly anxious as they tried to cancel out Urawa’s away goal.
Japanese teams have struggled in Asia’s premier club competition since Gamba Osaka lifted the trophy in 2008 and the Reds were under the cosh for much of the return game in Saitama. But the visitors, chasing a first Asian title since 2000, lacked end product and their cause was not helped by the dismissal of midfielder Salem Al Dawsari in the 78th minute.
Al Dawsari fizzed a first-half shot just over with arguably Al Hilal’s best chance of the match before Syria striker Omar Kharbin curled a free kick just wide before the break.
At the other end, Reds striker Shinzo Koroki had a header brilliantly saved before Silva almost broke the net with his late rocket to dash Saudi hopes.
The home crowd of 57,000 erupted with joy at the final whistle while Al Hilal’s players slumped to the turf, many sobbing, after coming up short in their bid for a third Asian title.
Reds manager Takafumi Hori said: “The players did wonderfully well. We didn’t have much time to prepare after the first leg but we showed great character to win.”
Urawa’s victory qualifies them for next month’s Club World Cup in the UAE.
“Hopefully we can go there and do a job too,” said Silva, who also scored the winner in last month’s victory over star-studded Shanghai SIPG in the semifinals.
“We’ll take a little time to recover from tonight and then we go again.”
Visiting coach Ramon Diaz tried to put a positive spin on the result.
“Congratulations to Urawa on winning the title,” said the Argentine. “I’m proud of how my players performed. It’s been a dream to come this far in the tournament, it’s been a great experience.”