Al Ain off the mark in style
Inaugural winners and UAE Pro League champions Al Ain marked their return to the AFC Champions League with an impressive 3-1 comeback win over fellow former continental champions Al Hilal on Wednesday.
Omar Abdulrahman (L) scored as Al Ain scored an impressive 3-1 win over Al Hilal
Abdulla Al Dossary had given two-time Asian Club Championship winners Al Hilal an early lead only for exciting United Arab Emirates midfielder Omar Abdulrahman to equalise for the hosts at Tahnoun bin Mohamed Stadium midway through the first half.
Australian striker Alex Brosque completed the comeback for Al Ain shortly after half-time, and despite Midel Radoi missing a penalty after Al Hilal’s Salem Al Dawsari had been sent-off for just before the hour mark, substitute Asamoah Gyan sealed the win in stoppage time.
“Al Ain had a big game and we showed the good level of UAE football against a big team like Al Hilal,” said Al Ain coach Cosmin Olariou.
“The match in general was good and the good thing for us is that the players were not affected when we conceded the first goal. Instead they made a good comeback and scored three goals to take the three points from such an important match.”
Also in Group D on Wednesday, Brazilian striker Nilmar equalised with three minutes remaining as Qatar’s Al Rayyan came from behind three times to earn a hard-fought 3-3 draw with Iran’s Esteghlal in Doha.
Iran captain Javad Nekounam, who was playing in his first AFC Champions League match since 2005, appeared to have handed Esteghlal all three points when he converted from the penalty spot just a minute earlier after a Rodrigo Tabata penalty and an own goal by Hami Omranzadeh had seen Al Rayyan cancel out goals from Jlloyd Samuel and Arash Borhani.
Elsewhere in the AFC Champions League this week, Brazilian forward Muriqui inspired Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande to a 3-0 win over 2007 winners Urawa Reds.
Muriqui scored one and set-up Lucas Barrios’ opener at Tianhe Sports Center with a late own goal by Keita Suzuki sealing the win for last year’s quarter-finalists.
“I’m happy that we won and very satisfied with the performance of my team,” said Guangzhou’s World Cup winning Italian coach Marcello Lippi.
“Our opponent’s players have good skills, and are very good at controlling the match zonally. The entire match was very smooth, so I’m happy to have this result. We have prepared for it for so long.”
The win leaves Guangzhou clear at the top of Group F after an 88th minute own goal from Jung Hyuk stopped 2006 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors making a winning start on Tuesday as Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United twice came from behind to earn a 2-2 draw.
Also on Tuesday, Dejan Damjanovic and Yun Il-lok each scored twice as K-League champions FC Seoul emphatically signaled their AFC Champions League intentions with a 5-1 win over Chinese Super League runners-up Jiangsu Sainty in their Group E opener at Seoul World Cup Stadium.
And with Spanish defender Osmar Barba scoring with 14 minutes remaining to earn Thailand’s Buriram United a 1-1 draw with Japan’s Vegalta Sendai, FC Seoul also find themselves clear at the top of the table after the opening round of fixtures.
In Group G, Oleksandr Pyshur and Fozil Musaev scored in each half as two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor from Uzbekistan beat J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0, while 2009 champions Pohang Steelers were held to a goalless draw at home by China’s Beijing Guoan.
And in Group H, former Guangzhou Evergrande striker Cleo headed home from close range in the dying seconds of the first half as Emperor’s Cup winners Kashiwa Reysol edged out China’s Guizhou Renhe, while goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong saved a late penalty to earn Suwon Bluewings a goalless draw with Central Coast Mariners in Australia.
Elsewhere, Albanian striker Xhevahir Sukaj scored twice as Iranian champions Sepahan kicked off their campaign in fine fashion with a 3-0 win over qualifiers Al Nasr of the United Arab Emirates.
Also in Group C, 2012 finalists Al Ahli beat Qatar’s Al Gharafa 2-0 thanks to goals from Mustafa Al Bassas and Brazilian striker Victor Simoes.
In Group B, AFC Champions League ever-presents Pakhtakor began their 11th consecutive AFC Champions League campaign with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia’s Ettifaq, while first half goals from Sebastian Soria and Youssef Msakni secured Qatar champions Lekhwiya a 2-1 comeback victory over play-off winners Shabab Al Arabi.
Finally in Group A, Saudi Pro League champions Al Shabab took full advantage of a pair of defensive lapses to secure a 2-0 win over Qatar’s El Jaish, while Iran’s Tractorsazi Tabriz began their maiden campaign in the AFC Champions League in impressive fashion as goals by Mehdi Seyed-Salehi, Javad Kazemeyan and Masoud Ebrahimzadeh secured a 2-0 win over Al Jazira in front of a capacity crowd at the 67,000-seat Yadegar Emam Stadium.