April 11 (Reuters) – Asian champions Al Hilal Coach Ramon Diaz said his team will fight to defend their Saudi Pro League title after a disappointing 2-2 draw against Al Tai on Monday that left them 10 points behind league leaders Al Ittihad.
Argentine coach Diaz is also looking to defend his team’s AFC Champions League title when they host Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in the first leg on April 29. The second leg will be away at Saitama Stadium on May 6.
Al Hilal, who suffered a blow in the title race after losing 3-0 to third-placed Al Shabab on Friday, went two goals down in the first half as Guy Mbenza and Amir Sayoud struck for Al Tai.
Diaz made four substitutions after the break and Al Hilal levelled the tie with goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and substitute Brazilian winger Michael Delgado.
“I did not put some players in the starting lineup for fear of injuries due to the busy match schedule. The performance improved a lot after they played… We will fight till the end,” Diaz told reporters.
With seven games remaining, Al Hilal, who have won the title five times in the last six seasons, including the last three in a row, are in fourth place with 46 points, 10 points behind Al Ittihad, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr are second on 53.
Despite Al Hilal’s current position they will play in the AFC Champions League next season as last season’s Saudi champions, due to changes in the Asian championship’s start and end dates. The current season’s champions will also qualify automatically for the group stage of the competition.
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