Mixed bag for Saudi trio in Asian showpiece
© AFP

Wednesday's first legs of the 2012 AFC Champions League quarter-finals ended up with two wins and two draws, with all eight teams still harbouring hopes of moving on to the semis.

Targeting a record third Asian title, Al Ittihad underlined their status as pre-tournament favourites with a 4-2 comeback victory against Guangzhou Evergrande at home. Despite the two-goal deficit, though, the Chinese champions are not ruled out and can advance with a 2-0 home win in the return in a fortnight's time.

It proved a night of mixed results for Saudi Arabian fans, with heavyweights Al Hilal stunned 1-0 at Ulsan Hyundai and Al Ahli held to a goalless draw at Sepahan. Even more disappointing were Adelaide United, who threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Bunyodkor at home.

The match
Al Ittihad 4-2 Guangzhou Evergrande

The game lived up to its billing as one of the more anticipated showdowns, with two-time winners Al Ittihad twice coming from behind to defeat debutants Guangzhou Evergrande in a 4-2 thriller. Fielding a three-man attacking line-up in new signing Ramon Barrios, Gao Lin and Muriqui, Marcello Lippi's cavalier strategy paid dividends on 25 minutes, Gao Lin firing into the roof of the net off a Muriqui cross. Diego Souza drew the hosts level a minute later, but substitute Huang Bowen latched onto Dario Conca's back-pass to restore the visitors' lead.

The hosts came out like a house on fire after the restart, taking the lead with two goals in quick succession. Captain Mohammed Noor drew level with spot-kick on 49 minutes, before Naif Hazazi headed home 12 minutes later. Having weathered the storm, Guangzhou launched a swift counter-attack with Conca shooting just over. With a minute left, the impressive striker jumped over Feng Xiaoting to conclude the scoring with a fine header.   

The surprise
Ulsan Hyundai 1-0 Al Hilal

Rafinha scored the only goal before Kim Young-Kwang pulled off a series of goalkeeping heroics as hosts Ulsan stunned Al Hilal 1-0. The three points provided coach Kim Ho-Gon's hosts with a slender advantage heading into the return match in Riyadh. Coach Antoine Kombouare's visitors, meanwhile, are left with no option but to win the second leg.

Ulsan fired on all cylinders from the outset in order to catch Al Hilal out. With the Saudi side still settling into the contest, the K-League Cup winners got the better of the opening stages with Lee Keun-Ho's shot blocked on eight minutes. But the Koreans wouldn't be denied two minutes later, new signing Rafinha seeing his angled shot deflected home. The home side, though, had Kim to thank for his heroics between the posts in the remainder as he single-handedly defended their narrow lead through to victory.

In other action
Taking heart from their proud record against Bunyodkor, hosts Adelaide got off to a dream start by taking a 2-0 lead after 16 minutes. Iain Ramsay latched onto Dario Vidosic's shot-cum-cross to open the scoring on seven minutes, before Evan Kostopoulos capitalised on a goalkeeping mistake by Ignatiy Nesterov to double the lead. The tide, though, turned just before the break with Nigel Boogaard sent off for tripping Kamoliddin Murzoev. Jasur Khasanov pulled one back from the resulting free-kick and Shavkat Salomov equalised off a clearance as the Uzbek giants earned a share of the spoils.

Elsewhere, Iranian champions Sepahan shared the spoils with Al Ahli in a goalless draw, leaving the visiting Saudi giants heading into the return match at home with a precious away point. The hosts missed a golden chance to open the scoring early on, with Iran international striker Mohammad Reza Khalatbari crashing his effort against the crossbar. Al Ahli had their chance, too, captain Taisir Al Jassim surging clear into the area only to be denied by goalkeeper Reza Mohammadi.

The player
Saudi international striker Naif Hazazi had a hand in three of Al Ittihad's four goals, earning a penalty for Noor to equalise before scoring two goals with his head.  

The stat
426 - The number of minutes since Adelaide United goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic had last been beaten until Jasur Khasanov's classic free-kick just before the break for Bunyodkor. Despite the setback Galekovic continued to pull off a number of impressive saves to help the ten-man Reds to a draw.

What they said
"I feel we deserved a draw, but 1-0 is still a good result [for an away game] and we are in a good position to qualify for the semi-finals. I would have preferred to score, so from that point of view I am disappointed, but we played well so I am happy," Al Hilal coach Antoine Kombouare

Quarter-final, first leg
19 September

Al Ittihad 4-2 Guangzhou Evergrande
Sepahan 0-0 Al Ahli
Adelaide United 2-2 Bunyodkor
Ulsan Hyundai 1-0 Al Hilal