Asia's established sides lived up to expectations on the first matchday of the 2014 AFC Champions League with five of the seven former winning sides getting off to strong starts. But Al Ittihad's hopes of a third continental title were dealt a tough opening blow with a 1-0 loss at Tractor Sazi, while Pohang Steelers had their blushes saved with a 1-1 home draw against Cerezo Osaka.
Guangzhou Evergrande 4-2 Melbourne Victory
Guangzhou's new signing Alessandro Diamanti struck a brace as his side battled from two goals down to defeat Melbourne at home. Marcello Lippi's Asian champions began as the strongly-favoured side, but the hosts were made to sweat in the opening half, trailing by two goals at the break. Defender Pablo Contreras latched onto a clearance to open the scoring on 36 minutes for Kevin Muscat's visitors, before Leigh Broxham doubled the lead with a spectacular volley five minutes later.
The second half, though, belonged to Guangzhou, with the defending champions demonstrating their trademark fightback spirit. Diamanti was the instigator of their first goal, his smart pass ending up with Huang Bowen reducing the deficit with a volley on the hour mark. The former Bologna captain went on to draw his side level with a thunderbolt. Elkeson put Guangzhou ahead on 71 minutes, before Diamanti rounded off the comeback triumph five minutes from time. The result saw Guangzhou move top of Group G alongside Jeonbuk Motors, who fired three unanswered second-half goals past visiting Yokohama F. Marinos.
Tractor Sazi from Group C produced the matchday's biggest surprise by inflicting a 1-0 defeat on Al Ittihad at home with ten men. The visitors entered the meeting boasting a proud history but the game didn’t begin as they had expected. With the legendary Ali Karimi driving the midfield, the home team pressed hard and laid siege to their rivals goal. And Al Ittihad were indebted to custodian Abdulaziz Al Tukruni who pulled off a series of brilliant saves to keep the home side at bay.
Even after Karimi's dismissal after receiving his second yellow on the hour-mark, Tractor Sazi maintained their pressure on the opponents. Al Ittihad may have come close with Jamal Bajandouh's scissor-kick hitting the crossbar, though it was Tractor Sazi that had the final say. Team Melli forward Karim Ansarifard ghosted past a pair of defenders to fire home the only goal. In the other game, Asamoah Gyan scored the match-winner as Al Ain edged Lekhwiya 2-1 at home.
Walter Zenga's Al Jazira led the way in Group A after edging Qatar cup holders Al Rayyan 3-2 at home. In the other match, Palestinian forward Imad Khalili scored the only goal just before the hour as Al Shabab earned a hard-fought victory at Esteghlal.
The honours were all even in Group B with both matches ending up in goalless draws. Qatari side El Jaish were left ruing missed chances against visiting Foolad after their efforts were twice denied by the woodwork. It was an evenly-contested match in Al Hassa, though, with both hosts Al Fateh and Bunyodkor failing to find the back of the net despite creating a couple of chances each.
Two late strikes in a space of three minutes saw Al Sadd get past Sepahan 3-1 to top Group D. Khalfan Ibrahim put the Qatari hosts ahead on 18 minutes, but Mehdi Sharifi drew the visitors level on 78 minutes. Just as the game looked destined to end in a stalemate, Nadir Belhadj gave the home side the lead three minutes from time, before Rodrigo Barbosa Tabata sealed the win with a last-minute effort. In the other game, hosts Al Hilal recovered from a two-goal second-half deficit to earn a point courtesy of Nasser Al Shamrani’s brace.
In Group E, all four teams earned a point after the opening matchday. In the early game, last year's quarter-finalists Buriram United continued their impressive form as they negotiated a 1-1 draw with hosts Shandong Luneng. Adisak Kraisorn cancelled out Liu Binbin's opener with an injury-time strike to earn his side a precious away point. The other match saw Pohang Steelers come from behind to draw wit Cerezo Osaka by an identical scoreline at home.
Osmar Barba and Yun Illok scored in each half as last year's finalists FC Seoul from Group F defeated Central Coast Mariners 2-0 at home. In the other game, Beijing Guoan threw away a second-half lead to draw 1-1 against J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Group H's Ulsan Hyundai justified their status as former winners with a 3-1 opening win at Western Sydney Wanderers. The hosts made a dream start when Brendon Santalab putting them ahead inside a minute, but Kim Shinwook's 35th-minute leveller turned the game on its head. Ko Changhyun fired the visitors ahead nine minutes later, before Kang Minsoo struck late to settle the contest. The other game saw Kawasaki Frontale edge the visiting Guizhou Renhe 1-0 courtesy of Brazilian forward Renato's sublimely-taken free-kick.
With last year's tournament top-scorer Muriqui under-performing, Alessandro Diamanti proved his worth on debut almost single-handedly firing Guangzhou to victory. Two goals down at the interval the Italy midfielder, who joined Guangzhou earlier this month, dazzled viewers with his moves, goals and passes.
2 - A pair of teams, Guangzhou and Ulsan, fought from behind to earn three points while two former winners, Al Ittihad and Pohang, dropped points.
What they said
"The positive thing is that we got the three points from the match. But I’m really sad and disappointed with the performance that we had in the match. The goals that we scored in the beginning of the match were perfect but the team turned defensive." Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga.
Matchday One results:
February 25 & 26
Group A: Al Jazira 3-2 Al Rayyan, Esteghlal 0-1 Al Shabab
Group B: Al Fateh 0-0 Bunyodkor, El Jaish 0-0 Foolad
Group C: Tractor Sazi 1-0 Al Ittihad, Al-Ain 2-1 Lekhwiya
Group D: Al Hilal 2-2 Al-Ahli, Al Sadd 3-1 Sepahan
Group E: Shandong Luneng 1-1 Buriram United, Pohang Steelers 1-1 Cerezo Osaka
Group F: Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-1 Beijing Guoan, FC Seoul 2-0 Central Coast Mariners
Group G: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3-0 Yokohama F. Marinos, Guangzhou Evergrande 4-2 Melbourne Victory
Group H: Western Sydney Wanderers 1-3 Ulsan Hyundai, Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Guizhou Renhe