Kuala Lumpur: Carlos Eduardo and Rafael Silva have both played significant roles in helping Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds progress to the 2017 AFC Champions League final.
Ahead of the first leg in Riyadh on Saturday, the-AFC.com takes a closer look at the Boys from Brazil, who will be looking to add to their respective tallies of seven goals in what have been hugely impressive campaigns to date.
Carlos Eduardo arrived at Al Hilal in mid-2015 with some pedigree, having previously appeared for both Porto and Nice. The attacking midfielder soon netted home and away against Qatar’s Lekhwiya to help his new side to the AFC Champions League semi-final, before defeat to Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates.
After Al Hilal’s poor 2016 continental campaign, the Saudi giants, and Carlos Eduardo, have returned in fine fashion this time round with the two-time Asian champions yet to taste defeat in the competition and the Brazilian bagging seven goals in their march to the final.
Having started his career in his native Brazil, Silva arrived at Urawa following a stint with Lugano in Switzerland and just over two years with fellow J.League outfit Albirex Niigata, where his goalscoring feats caught the eye former Reds coach Mihailo Petrovic.
The forward has since gone on to force his way into Urawa’s starting line-up in the AFC Champions League and, like compatriot Carlos Eduardo, has netted seven times to help the Saitama outfit progress to a second AFC Champions League final.
The current campaign
The Brazilian got off to a fine start in Group D, scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Persepolis, before adding another in the 2-1 victory over Qatar’s Al Rayyan and a penalty in the Matchday Four win over Al Wahda of the UAE.
After advancing to the knockout rounds as group winners, Carlos Eduardo scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Esteghlal Khouzestan in the first leg of the last 16, before teeing up Salem Al Dawsari for the winner in the reverse fixture as a return to the quarter-finals was ensured.
Paired with 2016 runners-up Al Ain in the quarter-finals, Carlos Eduardo produced one of the best individual performances seen in this year’s competition as his hat-trick, including a stunning volley, wrapped up a 3-0 victory in the second leg to advance by the same aggregate scoreline, before Persepolis were seen off in the semi-finals.
After coming off the bench to score twice in Urawa’s opening three games, Silva started against Shanghai SIPG and netted the only goal of the game before adding a further two to his tally – again as a substitute – in a 6-1 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers.
Urawa advanced to the knockout rounds as Group F winners and, after overcoming Korea Republic’s Jeju United in the last 16, Silva’s next major contribution was another fine finish in his side’s come-from-behind 4-1 quarter-final second leg win over Kawasaki Frontale.
Strong performances had by now seen Silva establish himself as a starter and, following a 1-1 draw against Shanghai in the first leg of the semi-finals, the Brazilian headed home from close range in the second leg to send Urawa to the final.
Importance to the team
While Al Hilal possess talent all over the pitch, not least in nine-goal top scorer Omar Khribin, Carlos Eduardo proved he was the man for the big occasion with his treble against Al Ain in what has been the Riyadh side’s toughest obstacle to date.
Al Hilal have played five different teams in the 2017 AFC Champions League and Carlos Eduardo has registered at least a goal against them all, while the Brazilian has created more chances (22) and won more duels (87) than not only any of his teammates, but also any of the Urawa players.
Any player who scores seven goals in an AFC Champions League campaign boasts undoubted importance to his team, yet to do so in the limited game time Rafael Silva has had is nothing short of remarkable, with the forward netting at a rate of once every 65.43 minutes.
But Silva’s goals have been as crucial as they have been frequent as he twice scored in 1-0 victories over Shanghai SIPG and also the equaliser against Kawasaki in a game that will go down as one of the great AFC Champions League comebacks.
What to expect
Three of Carlos Eduardo’s seven goals have come from headers after deliveries from the left and he will pose a major threat with his runs to the near post in such situations, while the Brazilian’s exquisite volley and composed finish for his second and third goals against Al Ain highlighted an excellent all-round game.
The attacking midfielder has a superb understanding with his fellow South American, Nicolas Milesi, who has assisted four of his goals.
Any dead ball situations within the vicinity of the Urawa penalty area and the Uruguayan is sure to seek out the run of Al Hilal’s number three.
The statistics show that if Silva is handed a chance in front of goal he is more than likely to score, with his tally of seven coming from just 11 shots and only one of his eight shots on target having failed to find the back of the net.
Clinical finishing is undoubtedly a key component of the Brazilian’s game and a shooting accuracy of more than 72 percent marks him out as his side’s biggest danger inside the penalty area, from where he and Urawa have scored all of their goals in the 2017 AFC Champions League.
Photos: Lagardère Sports