A long and winding road: Al Hilal, Urawa Red Diamonds' arduous journeys to the 2022 AFC Champions League final

Urawa Red Diamonds have been the most-prolific team so far in AFC Champions League 2022 with 31 goals, five of which have come from David Moberg Karlsson -- who has shown a knack of popping up at pivotal moments. Kenta Harada/Getty Images

Even by modern football standards, the road to the 2022 AFC Champions League final has been a long and arduous one.

The fact that the tournament will only be completed in 2023 says as much, and it has not even been a year hampered and delayed by coronavirus postponements.

But with the Asian Football Confederation's decision to shift from a calendar-year format to a September-to-May schedule -- in line with the majority of European football and other prominent tournaments around the globe -- the 2022 edition of Asia's premier club competition became a transitionary season.

It means that when the newest champions of Asian football are finally crowned on May 6, it would have been exactly a year and a month since the campaign officially got underway.

It has been a real wait for the two finalists Al Hilal and Urawa Red Diamonds to get their shot at the big prize -- but one far longer than the other.

Ahead of Saturday's final first leg at King Fahd International Stadium, we recap the laborious paths both have trekked to get this far.

West Zone favourites Al Hilal live up to expectations

As the tournament's record four-time and defending champions, Al Hilal were always expected to go far -- and they certainly did not disappoint.

While they were made to work for an opening 2-1 win over Sharjah, the Saudi Pro League giants sound found their rhythm and subsequent triumphs over Al Rayyan and Istiklol (twice) meant they were the first team through to the round of 16 with two games to spare.

Al Hilal did take their foot off the pedal in their final couple of group-stage games and were made to sweat a little, but were ultimately able to seal top spot in Group A ahead of Al Rayyan on head-to-head record despite a 2-0 loss to the Qatari outfit on the final match day.

Getting through the round of 16 was a comfortable enough task as they defeated Shabab Al Ahli 3-1, before facing arguably their toughest test so far when they were met with stern resistance from Iranian upstarts Foolad before Moussa Marega's dramatic 87th-minute winner handed them a 1-0 victory.

Just when it looked like Al Hilal might not be all they were made out to be, they went on to produce a stunning response in the semifinals with a crushing 7-0 rout of Al Duhail, who were also looming as legitimate title contenders.

That triumph, which saw them race to a 4-0 lead inside 27 minutes, was highlighted by four-goal display from Nigerian star Odion Ighalo -- who is firmly in the hunt for the Golden Boot as he is just one behind current leader Edmilson Junior of Al Duhail.

Al Hilal have been boosted in recent months by the return of talismanic captain Salman Al-Faraj, who was previously sidelined after suffering injury while on international duty with Saudi Arabia at the FIFA World Cup.

Having also done admirably to reach the final of the recent FIFA Club World Cup, where they ultimately succumbed to a 5-3 loss to Real Madrid, Al Hilal will be determined to seal a return by retaining the ACL title.

Urawa rise to the top in East Zone as pedigree shows

As two-time winners of the tournament, Urawa have always enjoyed featuring in the ACL but some disappointing performances in their domestic J1 League has always made it tricky to predict how they will fare each season.

But cream always rises to the top and that is exactly what the Reds did -- beginning with getting out a potentially-tricky Group F.

Shandong Taishan were never going to really pose a threat given they fielded a youth team while Urawa would have expected to see off debutants Lion City Sailors -- which they did twice, even if the Singaporean upstarts did pull off a shock 3-0 win over Daegu.

In the end, Urawa were only able to pick up one point from two meetings with Daegu but still did enough to advance to the last 16 as one of the three best second-placed teams.

The luck of the draw continued to smile on Urawa in the knockout round but even then, they had to ensure they did not fall victim to a couple of less-illustrious but potentially-dangerous opponents.

The Reds did so emphatically by thrashing Johor Darul Ta'zim 5-0 and then seeing off another Southeast Asian opposition in BG Pathum United 4-0 to set up a tantanlising last-four encounter with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

With fellow J1 League heavyweights Yokohama F. Marinos and Vissel Kobe now fallen by the wayside, Urawa had one final hurdle to overcome in the form of fellow two-time champions Jeonbuk and did so in a thriller.

As they trailed 2-1 with extra-time coming to an end, the Reds looked dead and buried before Kasper Junker's 120th-minute equaliser would force the penalty shootout -- where veteran goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa would make two crucial saves to secure their third final in the past seven editions of the ACL.

That match was nonetheless a staggering 246 days ago. More than eight months have passed since Urawa earned their place in the ACL final, enough time for the likes of Junker and leading scorer Yusuke Matsuo to have departed for new adventures.

The team that the Reds send out to contest the decider will look slightly different to the one that got them this far, but they will be hoping their pedigree once again shows.