Prolific Al Duhail blocking Al Hilal's route to Asian final



Sat, 25 Feb 2023 - 11:14 GMT


Sat, 25 Feb 2023 - 11:14 GMT

File - Al Duhail reached the semi-finals of AFC Champions League for the first time in history, courtesy of Al Duhail twitter account

File - Al Duhail reached the semi-finals of AFC Champions League for the first time in history, courtesy of Al Duhail twitter account

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal go into their sixth Asian Champions League semi-final in nine years on Sunday looking to find a way to silence Al Duhail's prolific strike force and keep alive their hopes of a record-extending fifth continental title.


The defending champions squeezed past Iran's Foolad on Thursday to set up the meeting with the Qatari club in Doha, with the winners due to take on Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds over two legs in the final on April 29 and May 6.


Al Hilal have won in four of their last five semi-final appearances and defeated Urawa when they last met in the final in 2019, avenging a loss in 2017 to claim a record fourth success in Asia's premier club competition.


But to renew that rivalry Ramon Diaz's side will need to overcome an Al Duhail side boasting the attacking prowess of prolific forward Michael Olunga and winger Edmilson Junior.


Olunga, the tournament's top scorer in 2021, netted both goals in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Al Shabab from Saudi Arabia to take his tally to six in this year's competition.


Edmilson has been even more impressive in front of goal, registering eight times in the current campaign to lead the scoring charts, although there are doubts over the Belgian's availability after he sustained an injury in the quarterfinals.


"We have achieved something historical," said coach Hernan Crespo. "We have never been in the semi-finals before and I am proud to be part of this historic occasion."


Al Hilal, though, have even greater achievements on their minds as they look to become the first side to win back-to-back Asian titles since compatriots Al Ittihad in 2005.


Diaz's side were boosted in the previous round by the return of captain Salman Al Faraj, who started for Al Hilal for the first time since sustaining an injury in Saudi Arabia's famous 2-1 win over Argentina at the World Cup finals in Qatar.


The 33-year-old featured for the opening 76 minutes of the game against Foolad, although it was only after his departure that Al Hilal were able to find a way past the Iranians through Moussa Marega's 87th minute winner.


"We know Duhail have good players, I know the coach personally as I coached him when he was a player," said Diaz.


"It is good to play against Duhail as both teams will have their fans behind them."



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