Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

Urawa’s midfielder Kazuki Nagasawa, left, and Al Hilal’s goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf with the AFC Champions League trophy in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Al Hilal facing history as well as Urawa in Asian final

  • Teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Australia have dominated the continental tournament since 2005, winning every title but one
  • Al Hilal has fallen in two finals in the past five years: losing 1-0 over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and then, in 2017, to Saturday’s opponent Urawa 2-1 on aggregate

RIYADH: Al Hilal is not just facing Japan’s Urawa Reds in the first leg of Asian Champions League final on Saturday in Riyadh. The Saudi Arabian club also has to overcome the dominance of teams from east Asia.
Teams from South Korea, China, Japan and Australia have dominated the continental tournament since 2005, winning every title but one. West Asia — the tournament is split into east and west geographic zones until the final — only has the 2011 triumph of Qatar’s Al Sadd to celebrate.
Other top West Asian nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and United Arab Emirates have all sent their best to contest the final yet all have failed to win the tournament that was established in 2003.
In addition to the regional failure, the Riyadh powerhouse has fallen in two finals in the past five years: losing 1-0 over two legs to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2014 and then, in 2017, to Saturday’s opponent Urawa 2-1 on aggregate.
It could be a case of third-time lucky for Al Hilal especially as it has the tournament’s top scorer in its ranks. Bafetimbi Gomis has already scored 10 goals.
“I know that we have been unlucky in the Asian Champions League final on two previous occasions but we are confident that we can win this time,” said Gomis, a former French international who signed for the club for a reported transfer fee of around $16 million in August 2018.
Al Hilal’s failure to win the home leg cost the team in 2014 and 2017 and the ex-Lyon and Swansea City striker knows that taking an advantage to Japan for the return match on Nov. 24 is vital.
 “We have to play to our best from the start of the first game and look to get on top,” Gomis said. “The game will not be decided here in our home stadium and will go all the way to the final whistle but we want to get a good start.”
Al Hilal starts as favorite despite Urawa’s 2017 success. The Japanese team has been struggling at home for most of the season.
While the two-time continental champion has been progressing toward another Asian final, there have been relegation worries in the J League.
Urawa sits just five points clear of the relegation zone after playing two games more than its rivals.
The Reds will put domestic worries aside and have a star striker of their own to shoot Urawa to a record third Champions League title.
“Of course I want to become a history-maker,” said forward Shinzo Koroki, who has scored eight goals on the road to the final. “This is the top club competition and the champions will go to the FIFA Club World Cup. It is a big honor for any team.”


Test cricket to return to Pakistan with Sri Lanka’s visit

Updated 14 November 2019

Test cricket to return to Pakistan with Sri Lanka’s visit

  • Sri Lanka will play a two-match series at Rawalpindi and Karachi next month
  • The series is part of ICC’s World Test Championship

ISLAMABAD: Test cricket is set to return to Pakistan after more than 10 years when Sri Lanka plays a two-match series at Rawalpindi and Karachi next month.
Sri Lanka was the last team to play a test match in Pakistan in March 2009, when the team’s bus came under attack at Lahore. Eight people were killed during the terror attack, and several Sri Lankan players were injured.
All incoming tours were canceled after the attack and Pakistan later lost its status as a co-host for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
The Pakistan Cricket Board on Thursday said Sri Lanka Cricket had confirmed next month’s tour would go ahead, based on the successful staging of a series of one-day and Twenty20 internationals at Karachi and Lahore in September and October.
Sri Lanka was originally scheduled to play the test series last month and then return to Pakistan for a limited-overs series in December. However, the tours were swapped so that Sri Lanka officials could assess the security situation in Pakistan before deciding on the test venues.
Rawalpindi is now scheduled to host the first test from Dec. 11-15, and the second test will be played at Karachi from Dec. 19-23. The series is part of ICC’s World Test Championship.
Zakir Khan, the PCB’s director of operations, said that the confirmation of next month’s test matches reflected confidence in Pakistan’s safety situation.
“This series is part of our cricket celebrations and we will leave no stone unturned in putting up a show which is a memorable one for the players, officials, fans and media,” Khan said.
Several top Sri Lanka players withdrew from the limited-overs series in Pakistan because of security concerns. Sri Lanka lost the ODI series 2-0 after the first game was washed out, but it’s second-string team sprung a huge surprise when it swept Pakistan 3-0 in the Twenty20 series at Lahore.
The SLC said it was satisfied with the visit and the high-level security provided for the team.
Sri Lanka Cricket chief executive Ashley de Silva said he believed cricket’s member nations should host their home matches in their own countries.
“We believe all cricket playing countries should host international cricket at home and in this relation we are happy to play our part in complete resumption of international cricket in Pakistan, which not only has a proud history but has been one of our biggest supporters in our early days as a cricket nation,” he said.
“We drew our opening World Test Championship series against New Zealand, and I anticipate, like in the past, these two tests will be exciting and competitive, and the fans will thoroughly enjoy the quality of cricket that will be on display.”
Pakistan has hosted its home games at neutral venues in the United Arab Emirates and in England during the last decade. The Pakistan team will play two test matches in Australia before returning for the series against Sri Lanka.