AFC Champions League- Road to Finals- Al Hilal
Al Hilal has gone through a 12-match unbeaten run to reach the AFC Champions League final this season. This will be their second appearance in the continental finals since the tournament revamp in 2002-03.
Al Hilal qualified for 2017 AFC Champions League after finishing as runners-up in the 2015-16 Saudi Professional League. They were drawn in Group D with Persepolis (Islamic Republic of Iran), Al Rayyan (Qatar) and Al Wahda (United Arab Emirates).
AL Hilal started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Iranian group rivals in Muscat. After Mohsen Mosalman scored in the 68th minute for the home team, it took a late equaliser from Brazilian Carlos Eduardo de Oliviera Alves to snatch one point from the encounter.
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In their second match they faced Al Rayyan at home. Carlos Eduardo scored on the 3rd minute adding another one to his tally. But, Qatari midfielder Rodrigo Tabata equalised for the away team with ten minutes of stoppage time left. It became more interesting when 5 minutes were added on to the match and Mohammad Al-Shalhoub won a penalty for his team in the fourth minute of injury time. He converted from it to take all possible points.
Next, Al Wahda welcomed Al Hilal at Riyadh in what was the third encounter for both the teams. Nawaf Al Abed gave the away side a lead in the 5th minute, just for Sebastián Lucas Tagliabué to equalise in the first half injury time. Al Wahda’s Hungarian forward Balázs Dzsudzsák scored on the 54th minute to put the home team forward. In the 62nd Minute the away team scorer Al Abed received a red card before Omar Khribin scored in the 69th minute to make it 2-2 and take one point home.
In the fourth match of their group stage, Al Hilal defeated Al Wahda 1-0, courtesy of a 24th minute penalty goal from their Brazilian forward Carlos Eduardo who made it 3 goals in 4 appearance in ACL this season.
Persepolis held Al Hilal to a goalless draw at Riyadh. In what was expected to be a match with Al Hilal dominance at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, it was a 50-50 match, rather Persepolis was the better of the two times although the score line did not reflect that.
Coming to Doha with an intention to take back all possible points home, Al Hilal gave an attacking start to the game. Uruguayan midfielder Nicolás Milesi gave them the lead just before half time. After the two teams came back to the ground, it was Al Rayyan the better of the two with Sebastian Soria(55’) and Rodrigo Tabata(59’) scoring for the home side to put them in a 2-1 lead. But Al Hilal did not have to wait long as Milesi netted the ball again on the 73rd minute to equalise. Substitute Omar Khribin scored on the 66th minute to make it 3-2 for the away side before Sergio Garcia made it 3-3 at the 82nd minute. But another goal from Khribin just 2 minutes after Garcia’s equaliser helped Al Hilal take all 3 points back to Riyadh.
Having suffered a surprise exit to Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan at the same stage in 2016, Al Hilal went into the first knockout round as firm favourites once more against a side who were making their debut appearance on the continent, Esteghlal Khouzestan.
In the first leg, Al Hilal travelled all the way to Seeb, Oman in search for a win or at least a draw. It was Abdulla Al- Hafith’s own goal at the 42nd minute that put the Omani side forward. But Abdullah Al Zori’s 52nd minute goal and Carlos Eduardo’s 57th minute goal helped Al Hilal take back all three points from Seeb.
In the second leg with Al Hilal favourites to proceed to the next round, Esteghlal Khouzestan travelled to Riyadh. To the surprise of all, the away team put up an amazingly strong fight at the beginning of the game with Aloys Nong netting in the 12th minute making it 2-2 on aggregate (though Al Hilal were favourites to qualify due to away goal rules). As soon as Al Hilal conceded, they came out of their skins and put up an intensely attacking minded football. Omar Khribin scored immediately on the 16th minute to make it 1-1. Although it was Al Hilal attacking all the way, they could not find another goal until Salem Al-Dawsari scored in the 82nd minute to win the match 2-1.
A mouthwatering quarter-final pitted the Saudi team against 2016 runners-up Al Ain as the two sides with the most AFC Champions League appearances went head to head.
A scoreless draw in the first leg in Al Ain left the game firmly in the balance ahead of the return fixture in Riyadh.
Three weeks later in the Saudi capital, Al Hilal delivered arguably their best display on the continent to date as they overran their Emirati opponents 3-0 with Carlos Eduardo completing a hat-trick.
In the semi-finals, it was to be Al Hilal versus Persepolis. The pair had twice faced off in Group D with nothing to separate the Saudi and Iranian giants as two draws ensued, but the semi-final would prove a different story.
In red-hot form for club and country, Khribin opened the scoring with a header on the half hour in Abu Dhabi and a rare goal from Yasir Al Shahrani gave Al Hilal a two-goal lead going into the interval. Abdullah Otayf was dismissed for two yellow cards in quick succession soon after the restart, but Diaz’s team kept pushing forward and Khribin added two more for an emphatic 4-0 victory at home.
Three weeks later, Al Hilal’s main task was to avoid complacency, particularly after Godwin Mensha put Persepolis in front in the 16th minute.
But Khribin’s penalty on 30 minutes then calmed any nerves and, after Mensha had bagged his brace in the second half, Khribin notched his fifth goal in two games – and ninth of the tournament – as the 2-2 draw saw Al Hilal progress to a second AFC Champions League final after a 6-2 aggregate win.