The opening 2011 AFC Champions League Matchday proved a positive one for previous continental kings, with two-time winners Al Ittihad, 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors and 2008 victors Gamba Osaka all cruising to opening wins. Only the tournament's inaugural winners Al Ain got off to a miserable start after losing 1-0 to Korea Republic champions FC Seoul.
The round also provided a good launchpad for Iranian representatives with former runners-up Sepahan showing their Asian pedigree by overcoming hosts Al Hilal 2-1 while compatriots, and last year’s finalists, Zob Ahan, saw off debutants Emirates by an identical scoreline.
Although many traditional heavyweights fared well there were also a host of upset results. Perhaps topping the list was Hangzhou Greentown who were victorious in their tournament debut against Japanese champions Nagoya Grampus. Chinese hopes of success in 2011 receiving another boost as Tianjin Teda triumphed at highly-regarded K-League side Jeju United.
FIFA.com reviews the opening group matches as 32-teams commenced their tilt for Asian supremacy and passage to the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup.
Al Hilal 1-2 Sepahan
Goals: Christian Wilhelmsson 90+3; Ibrahima Toure 51, Fabio Januario 60
Champions of their respective countries, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and Iran’s Sepahan entered the opening meeting of Group A seeking not only to gain maximum points but take a leap on the likely rivals for top spot in the group. With so much at stake, the game got off to a cautious start with chances limited throughout the opening half. The hosts pushed for an opener immediately after the interval but it was the visitors that went ahead through their Senegalese striker Ibrahima Toure. Disaster then struck for Al Hilal as goalkeeper Abdullah Alsdairy turned Fabio Januario's corner into his own net. Swede Christian Wilhelmsson may have pulled one back for Al Hilal in added time but the goal was too late, too little. The away triumph saw the Iranians sit atop the section ahead of Al Jazira and Al Gharafa, who battled out a goalless draw in the other game.
Hangzhou Greentown 2-0 Nagoya Grampus
Goals: Luis Ramirez 60, Maimaitiyili Bali 86
The visiting Nagoya arrived at Hangzhou bolstered by their weekend Japanese Super Cup victory over Nagoya Grampus. However it was the home side that prevailed with Hangzhou coach Wu Jingui vowing to emulate the manner of Inter Milan's UEFA Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona last season. Employing a similar game plan to that utilised by Jose Mourinho, Wu's charges successfully closed down their rivals and after holding Nagoya for an hour, striker Maimaitiyili Bali entered the fray adding potency in attack. The tactical change paid immediate dividends as Bali crossed for Luis Ramirez to open the scoring. The provider then turned scorer in the closing minutes when he caught out goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki with a shot from an acute angle. The win sent the Chinese side top of the group marginally ahead of FC Seoul on goal difference.
Al Ittihad's Algerian striker Abdelmalek Ziaya was twice on target as the Saudi hosts outmuscled Persepolis of Iran 3-1. The comfortable victory put the Jeddah giants in Group C's driving seat ahead of Bunyodkor and Al Wahda who shared a 1-1 draw.
Zob Ahan were made to sweat against Emirates with the UAE debutants taking a surprise lead just prior to the break. But the Iranians hosts quickly drew themselves level courtesy of Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, before their Brazilian hotshot Igor Castro scored the match-winner ten minutes into the second half. The hard-earned three points ensured Zob Ahan led Group D with Al Rayyan and Al Shabab drawing 1-1 in the other game.
Across the other side of the continent, Gamba inflicted a 5-1 demolition on Melbourne Victory to set the pace in Group E alongside Chinese Tianjin, who recorded an unlikely away win at Jeju. Also celebrating three opening points were Japan’s Cerezo Osaka of Group G, who made hard work of dispatching underdogs Arema Indonesia 2-1 to stay top alongside Jeonbuk, 1-0 victors over Chinese champions Shandong Luneng.
It was honours even for all contenders in Group B with hosts Pakhtakor conceding an own goal with two minutes remaining to share the spoils with Al Nassr 2-2, while Esteghlal also threw away a 1-0 lead late on to draw 1-1 against Al Sadd. Group H looked the most even as all four teams – Kashima Antlers, Shanghai Shenhua, Suwon Bluewings and Sydney FC – failed to muster a single goal.
Gamba’s new Brazilian striker Adriano Ferreira Martins proved his worth on debut by converting a spot-kick and setting up two goals as his side recorded a resounding victory over Melbourne.
7 – The total number of matches which ended in stalemate, including three goalless draws.
What they said
"If we had taken some of the chances that we had created in the first half then the game could have been more comfortable. But I am satisfied with the result. It is hard to win the first game of the season and this was just the start we wanted," Jeonbuk Motors coach Choi Kang-Hee
2011 AFC Champions League Matchday 1 results:
Group A: Al Jazira 0-0 Al Gharafa, Al Hilal 1-2 Sepahan
Group B: Pakhtakor 2-2 Al Nassr, Esteghlal 1-1 Al Sadd
Group C: Al Wahda 1-1 Bunyodkor, Al Ittihad 3-1 Persepolis
Group D: Al Rayyan 1-1 Al Shabab, Zob Ahan 2-1 Emirates
Group E: Jeju United 0-1 Tianjin Teda, Gamba Osaka 5-1 Melbourne Victory
Group F: Hangzhou Greentown 2-0 Nagoya Grampus, Al Ain 0-1 FC Seoul
Group G: Jeonbuk Motors 1-0 Shandong Luneng, Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Arema Indonesia
Group H: Shanghai Shenhua 0-0 Kashima Antlers, Sydney FC 0-0 Suwon Bluewings