Glory awaits either Urawa Red Diamonds or Al Hilal with AFC Champions League final still anyone's game

For the third time in six seasons, either Urawa Red Diamonds or Al Hilal will be crowned winners of the AFC Champions League as they meet on Saturday with the final currently tied at 1-1. AP Photo

When the fulltime whistle blows at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday evening, glory awaits either of this year's AFC Champions League finalists.

And with the first leg done and dusted but another 90 minutes to go in this season's decider in Asian football's premier club competition, both Urawa Red Diamonds and Al Hilal remain firmly in the contest.

It is J1 League outfit Urawa -- hosts of Saturday's return encounter -- that are the slight favourites after coming away from last week's opening tie with a 1-1 draw away from home in Riyadh.

More so than a valuable away goal to their names, the big advantage for the Reds could be the fact that Al Hilal will be without star attacker Salem Al-Dawsari through suspension -- after he was sent off late on in the first leg.

Although they entered the decider as the underdogs, Urawa showed plenty of determination and drew on all their nous -- as perennial challengers in the ACL -- to grind out a positive result last Saturday.

Their experience came to the fore with seasoned campaigners like Hiroki Sakai, Shusaku Nishikawa and Shinzo Koroki -- who scored their crucial equaliser after Al-Dawsari had fired Al Hilal ahead -- rising to the occasion.

With 60,000 fans expected to fill Saitama Stadium 2002, it is now Urawa's turn to be the favourites as they bid to win a third continental title following their triumphs in 2007 and 2017.

Nishikawa has backed the Urawa faithful to play their part but also cautioned his side against getting ahead of themselves given the threat that Al Hilal will pose.

And even without Al-Dawsari, the Saudi Pro League giants indeed still have plenty of firepower at their disposal.

In ex-Manchester United man Odion Ighalo, they boast the competition's joint-second highest scorer with seven goals to his name.

The Nigerian has already shown an ability to turn a game on its head off his own boot, having weighed in with four goals in the semifinals to inspire a 7-0 rout of Al Duhail in a game many had expected to be an even contest.

Aside from Ighalo, Al Hilal can also call upon ex-Porto man Moussa Marega while captain Salman Al-Faraj can always be relied on to pull the strings from the middle of the park.

With such high stakes on the lines, perhaps even more so for Al Hilal as they gun for a record-extending fifth ACL title to salvage a campaign that will almost certainly see them relinquish their status as SPL champions, it looks like the cooler heads will prevail with any mistakes potentially costly.

Last time out, it was Urawa who did that when a defensive mix-up allowed their opponents to open the scoring.

Nonetheless, the same could be said about Al-Dawsari, whose needless and petulant kickout at Ken Iwao robbed his team of his availability in the second leg.

Any mistakes last weekend still came with the safety net that they could ultimately still be rectified with another 90 minutes to come.

On Saturday, however, there will be no second chances as both Urawa and Al Hilal look to attain the status of champions of Asia for the 2022 campaign.