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AFC Champions League Matchday 1 Review

AFC Champions League Matchday 1 (West Asia)


MATCH OF THE WEEK: Al-Ahli (UAE) vs. Al-Ahli (KSA) [Group D] || 3-3

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Rashid Stadium, Dubai, UAE

Attendance: 7,200

The match between the two Al-Ahlis at the Rashid Stadium was an enticing encounter that did not rest until the final whistle. The game began with a goal from new signing Osvaldo against his former club after Majed Nasser completely missed a back pass from Abdelaziz Haikal. The short-tempered goalkeeper completed a blunder that normally would have halted Al-Ahli’s game but the Emiratis were superb in bringing the game back on its head. 

Ismaeel Al-Hammadi, the man of the match, was buzzing throughout the course of the game with his direct running at the Saudi defenders causing problems and eventually resulting in the equaliser with a powerful shot at goal in the 19th minute. Al-Ahli (UAE) began to take control of proceedings until a goal completely against the run of play was scored minutes before the end of the first half. Ahmad Khalil made sure that Al-Ahli (UAE) were still in it with a goal just a couple of minutes before the break.

The influential captain of Al-Ahli (KSA) Taiseer Al-Jassim bagged another important goal for his team in the course of two weeks after Majed Nasser committed another blunder, actions that will surely not make Cosmin Olaroiu any happier. But it was not to be for the Saudi team as none other than Ismaeel Al-Hammadi equalised for the Red Knights with 10 minutes to go. The game had ended, and the teams shared the points.

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Kwon Kyung-Won was very influential behind the scenes for Al-Ahli (UAE) in a sort of Sergio Busquets-esque role where he protected the defence, dropped into holes, helped circulate the ball and provided solidity while Everton Ribeiro came on as a late substitute but did nothing significant. Oussama Assaidi on the other hand has continued his lacklustre start to Emirati football.


Persepolis vs. Lekhwiya [Group A] || 3-0

Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran

Attendance: 15,350

Result of the first Matchday came in Azadi stadium where Persepolis put in a fantastic performance to beat Qatari champions, Lekhwiya, 3-0. Persepolis who have had a season to forget, came into the game with a slight underdog tag on them but they performed well above expectations and thoroughly deserved their win.

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It wasn’t much to report from first half as Persepolis had the better chances but failed to capitalise. They started the second half with more intent and were rewarded when a great cross into the six-yard box from a freekick by Gabriel, found veteran Mohsen Bengar who headed home to break the deadlock. Persepolis didn’t sit back and pressed on to double their lead. A low cross from Gabriel again, found young striker, Mehdi Taremi, and he set up Hadi Norouzi with a brilliant back heel as the 32 year old Norouzi made no mistake to slot it past the keeper to make it 2-0. Lekhwiya pushed forward after the second goal and created some chances for Sebastian Soria and Nam Tae-Hee but they failed to find the back of the net. Persepolis captain, Mohammad Nouri, who had been great all game orchestrating moves from a deeper role than his usual, went on a run from deep and he found himself in the penalty area but he was fouled by Mohammed Musa with only a few minutes remaining. Nouri himself stepped up to take the penalty and he made it 3-0 to send Persepolis fans home happy and start their Champions League campaign with 3 points.


Al-Nassr (KSA) vs. Bunyodkor [Group A] || 1-1

King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, KSA

Attendance: 23,664

The Abdul Latif Jameel League Champions took on Bunyodkor at the King Fahd Stadium in what was their second ever ACL appearance. The draw between both teams gives an interesting addition to a group that has already started with twists coming in the form of Persepolis’ shocking 3-0 win over Qatari Champions Lekhwiya; giving the fans hope for a Group of Death.

A failed attempt of a clearance from a corner helped give Bunyodkor the lead and heading into the break with a 1-0 lead, but half a dozen of minutes later saw Uruguayan winger Fabian Estoyanoff equalise for the Saudi Champions courtesy of a backheel from Adrian.

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Al-Nassr will want to proceed from the group and get past their best try in 2011 where they lost 4-1 to Zob Ahan in the Round of 16 while Bunyodkor are licking their lips for their third semi-final appearance after some promising performances as of yet. 


Pakhtakor vs. Naft Tehran [Group B] || 2-1

Pakhtakor Markaziy Stadium, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Attendance: 4,913

In Tashkent, Uzbek champions, Pakhtakor, looked to make a winning start to their campaign against debutants, Naft Tehran. Both teams had chances in the first half, Pakhtakor had hit the bar midway through the half as Ghorbani missed a one on one with the keeper minutes later.

It was poor defending from Naft when a ball over the top on 48th minute found Pakhtakor captain Makharadze and he head the ball past Beiranvand who found himself in no man’s land to make it 1-0 to the home team. Minutes later, Pakhtakor were reduced to 10 men as midfielder, Karimov, was given a straight red for an incident off the ball. The sending off made Naft more dangerous going forward and they produced some great chances. Creative midfielder, Iman Mobali, who had been threatening the Pakhtakor back 4 with his crosses from deep, this time found striker Ali Ghorbani and he equalised with a great strike.

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After the equaliser, Naft were on the front foot as they looked to take the lead. They played some nice football and created great opportunities from wide areas for Ghorbani who failed to find the back of the net. Last 15 minutes of the game belonged to the home team and it was in the 84th minute when a long range freekick, was poorly saved by Alireza Beiranvand and the ball kindly dropped for Sergeev who tapped it in to give 10 men Pakhtakor a 2-1 win. Naft will be disappointed but it was their failure to capitalise on their chances and a few defensive lapses which cost them the game.


Al-Ain vs. Al-Shabab (KSA) [Group B] || 0-0

Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain, UAE

Attendance: 14,426

The two Arab teams in the group watched Pakhtakor take the full 3 points in Uzbekistan against Naft Tehran before taking to the pitch to kick start their respective Champions League campaigns. The hosts felt the impact of missing star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, absent through injury, even as they dominated the proceedings as they failed to feed Gyan Asamoah. Their main threat came on the wings through the runs of widemen Kembo Ekoko & Miroslav Stotch. In turn, Al-Shabab started very defensively but gradually stepped up their game and retaliated with a couple of shy attacks.

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The game opened up slightly in the second half with the introduction of striker Naif Hazazi for Al-Shabab & Mohammed Abdulrahman for Al-Ain but neither team proved clinical enough to finish the game. They settle for a scoreless draw to keep their places above Naft but behind Pakhtakor in the group standings.


Foolad vs. Al-Sadd [Group C] || 0-0

 Ghadir Stadium, Ahvaz, Iran

Attendance: 37,843

This game was a repeat of last season’s round of 16 match up in which Al-Sadd won on away goals. Foolad who are the reigning champions of Persian Gulf Pro League, were looking for revenge and also to get maximum points at home.

Foolad dominated proceedings in the first half, good pressing and some good passing display from them saw Al-Sadd on the back foot. Cameroonian striker, Aloys Nong, had a few chances to give his team the lead, but a combination of lack of composure and poor finishing saw his shots go wide or straight at the keeper.

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In the second half, Al-Sadd looked more threatening as Abdelkarim Hassan and Khalfan Ibrahim cut through the Foolad defence on a few occasions but failed to find the target. Foolad had to finish the last 20 minutes with 10 men as midfielder, Mahdi Badrloo, received a second yellow and was sent off much to the dismay of his manager, Dragan Skocic, and the rest of Foolad players who had been furious with the refereeing performance. Game ended 0-0 as Foolad would and should be bitterly disappointed not to take the 3 points at home in a game where they had some great chances.


Al-Hilal vs. Lokomotiv Tashkent [Group C] || 3-1

 King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, KSA

Attendance: 17,440

Managerless Al-Hilal grabbed a valuable 3 points against the Uzbekistan Cup Winners at the King Fahd Stadium in front of 17,440 fans. Captain and veteran Saud Kariri opened the scoring from a corner after a pinpoint corner from dynamic Thiago Neves. Yousef Al-Salem double the score only 3 minutes later and the Blue Wave were heading into halftime with a comfortable two goal lead. Sardor Mirzayev had other ideas with a screamer scored in the 39th minute to minimise the difference.

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Al-Hilal completed their win with an even better goal from Thiago Neves who curled the ball into the top corner from outside of the box. This win gives Al-Hilal a head start on Foolad and Al-Sadd who drew a blank and will give the interim manager confidence in keeping his job until the end of the domestic season. Can Al-Hilal’s fans be the driving force to their success? #back4revenge


Nasaf Qarshi vs. Tractor Sazi [Group D] || 2-1

 Qarshi Markaziy Stadium, Qarshi, Uzbekistan

Attendance: 11,160

Tractor Sazi, who are competing in their third straight AFC Champions League campaign, kicked off away to Uzbek side, Nasaf Qarshi. Tractor who have never won away from home in the Champions League, looked at this game as a platform to finally break their curse and return to Tabriz with 3 points.

Nasaf started the game poorly and were unable to get their passes together. A cross from the right side by Ahmad AmirKamdar found Persian Gulf Pro League’s top goalscorer, Edinho, and he scored with a fantastic looping header over the goalkeeper into the far post to give his team the lead. Tractor looked solid at the back and weren’t too troubled in the first half.

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Second half started with the home side equalising within the first 30 seconds. A poor defensive header was met by a spectacular volley on the edge of the box by Shomurodov, which left Hamed Lak helpless in the Tractor goal. We expected Tractor Sazi to get their act together but we were wrong as 5 minutes after the equaliser, a brilliant freekick delivery found its way in the 6-yard box and was headed in by defender, Karimov, to give Nasaf the lead. Tractor tried to make their way back into the game but found it difficult. Iran international, Andranik Teymourian, found himself with a glorious opportunity to equalise with a couple of minutes remaining but his shot went wide and Tractor Sazi were once again defeated away from home. This is a great start for Nasaf Qarshi as they look to build on this win in their upcoming games.

 

About Sina Saemian

An engineering student in Manchester with a passion for the beautiful game in Iran, from Esteghlal to TeamMelli and everything in between. Avid follower of Iranian domestic football and Middle Eastern football in general.

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