Sydney FC marked their return to the AFC Champions League with a hard-fought goalless draw in their Group H opener against Suwon Bluewings at Sydney Football Stadium today. The Australian side, who last featured in the continental tournament four years ago, were playing in their first competitive game since their domestic season concluded three weeks ago.
But they showed only a few signs of rustiness and managed to compete despite being a man down from the 32nd minute when Terry McFlynn was sent off for stomping on Lee Sang-ho. "The team showed great character and it was a very good team performance," said Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka.
"We wanted to win the match but we didn't plan on playing 60 minutes a player short. Terry (McFlynn) apologised to the players at half-time and that helped draw the team together even further."
McFlynn said there was no malice or intent in the incident which lead to his dismissal. "We matched them for long periods and kept possession for lengthy periods as well," he said.
Also in Group H, Shanghai Shenhua and Kashima Antlers of the J.League played out another scoreless draw to leave all four teams on a single point after one game each.
In Group G, a brace from Brazilian forward Rodrigo Pimpao gave Japanese side Cerezo Osaka the perfect start to their maiden Champions League campaign as they beat Arema Indonesia 2-1 at Nagai Stadium. Pimpao opened the scoring after 14 minutes before Noh Alam Sah equalised from the penalty spot for the visitors four minutes into the second half.
However, Pimpao sealed the points for the hosts with his and Cerezo's second 14 minutes from time. They join Jeonbuk Motors on three points in their group after a solitary strike from Park Wong-jae on the hour secured a 1-0 win for the Koreans over Shandong Luneng at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
Osaka's Brazilian coach Levir Culpi admitted the Indonesian champions had made life hard for his side. "This is the first time that we took part in the Champions League, so I'm happy with the result," he said. "It was very tough in the first-half but we were finally able to play our game in the second-half. Arema defended with ten players and tried to counter-attack, while we couldn't connect passes. I don't know why we made so many mistakes."
Pimpao added: "We couldn't play our game in the first-half, we must improve our play not to make the same mistakes. I don't care how many goals I can score, I just want to win the championship for Cerezo."
Also in Group G, Shandong Luneng were unable to make it a third Chinese victory in the opening round of games - Hangzhou Greentown and Tianjin Teda both won on Tuesday - as they went down by a single goal at Jeonbuk Motors. Park Jae-Won was the hero for the Koreans, his header on the hour at Jeonju World Cup Stadium enough to condemn the Chinese champions to a narrow defeat.
Zobahan start strong
In the western side of the competition, last season's beaten finalists, Iranian side Zobahan, got off to a winning start in Group D by coming from behind to prevail 2-1 at home to UAE outfit Emirates. Moroccan striker Nabil Daoudi put the visitors ahead in the 39th minute but defender Mohammad Hosseini equalised in first-half injury time after Emirates goalkeeper Ahmad Ibrahim spilled a long throw-in. Brazilian forward Igor Castro completed the turnaround in the 53rd minute, gobbling up the rebound when Ibrahim parried a Shahin Kheiri free-kick.
The other group game, between Al Rayyan of Qatar and Saudi side Al Shabab, finished 1-1.
FC Seoul, runners-up in 2002, began their Group F campaign with a 1-0 win at Al Ain of UAE, with prolific Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic claiming the game's only goal in the 25th minute.
There was late drama, meanwhile, in Uzbek champions Bunyodkor's Group C game at Al Wahda of UAE. The visitors looked set for victory when Uzbek international midfielder Azizbek Haydarov gave them an 85th-minute lead but substitute Hugo levelled just three minutes later to earn a 1-1 draw for Josef Hickersberger's team.
Saudi giants Al Ittihad top the group after a brace from Algerian forward Abdelmalek Ziaya fired them to a 3-1 win at home to Iranians Persepolis.