Al Hilal lose Carlos Eduardo for ACL second-leg final vs. Urawa Reds
Urawa Red Diamonds' hopes of claiming their first AFC Champions League (ACL) crown in a decade were given a boost after Al Hilal's influential Brazilian midfielder Carlos Eduardo was ruled out for Saturday's game with a serious knee injury.
Eduardo scored seven goals in this year's campaign as the Saudi Arabian side advanced to their second final in four seasons. He hurt his knee in the build up to the goal Urawa scored at the King Fahd International Stadium in a 1-1 draw in the opening leg that gives the Japanese side a slim advantage.
The 28-year-old was substituted immediately after sustaining the injury. But he has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a tear to his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the club announced this week.
The loss of Eduardo will be keenly felt by Al Hilal. However, coach Ramon Diaz will be able to call upon Saudi Arabia international Nawaf Al Abed, who came off the bench to take the Brazilian's place during the first leg.
The teams shared a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Riyadh, with Rafael Silva's early goal for Urawa cancelled out by Omar Khribin, the tournament's leading scorer with 10 goals in the campaign.
"We didn't accomplish anything yet," Urawa boss Takafumi Hori said. "We must remain focused in the second leg to get a result at home and lift the trophy.
"We got a good result, but we cannot get complacent. We have strength at both ends of the field, but we didn't show that. In the second leg everything has to be different."
Urawa had injury concerns of their own as goal scorer Silva was also taken off after turning his ankle as the pitch cut up throughout the second half. But the former Albirex Niigata forward insists he would be ready for the second leg on Saturday evening at Saitama Stadium.
"My injury will not affect my chances of playing," said Silva. "I will be ready for the second leg. I have a strong desire to conquer the AFC Champions League."
After seeing his side dominate the first leg in front of their own fans, Al Hilal boss Diaz believes his team can pick up the required result in Japan to crown the club Asian champions for the first time since 2000.
"We started a bit slow, and conceded a goal in an unexpected manner, but I was impressed by the players' response after the goal," Diaz said of the opening game.
"There is still a second leg in Japan and we will play to win in Saitama. The tie is not over until the final whistle in the second leg."
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch