The opening matchday of the 2010 AFC Champions League proved to be one of upsets, highlighted by last season’s finalists both suffering defeats. Pohang Steelers' title defence received a blow as the K-league giants lost 1-0 to Australia’s Adelaide United, with teenager Matthew Leckie scoring the only goal seconds before half-time.
Perhaps an even great shock was provided on the other side of the continent as two-time champions, and last year’s runners-up, Al Ittihad were crushed 3-0 by ambitious Uzbek outfit Bunyodkor in Tashkent. Pohang’s loss ensured it was a mixed start for the Korea Republic representatives, with Seongnam Ilhwa and Jeonbuk Motors both cruising to victories against Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale and Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia respectively, while Suwon Bluewings held 2008 winners Gamba Osaka to a goalless draw at home.
On the back of the national team’s title-winning performance at the recent EAFF (East Asian Football Federation) Championship, Chinese champions Beijing Guoan edged past A-League club Melbourne Victory 1-0, with the goal ironically scored by their Australian import Joel Griffiths. An even more impressive result was recorded by Shandong Luneng who overcame Japanese hosts Sanfrecce Hiroshima by an identical scoreline. In the continent’s west, Iranian teams stole the show as Esteghlal, Zob Ahan and Mes Kerman all got off to winning starts, while Sepahan grabbed an invaluable point with a 1-1 draw at Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab.
The big game
Adelaide United 1-0 Pohang Steelers
Pohang may be the defending champions but it was possibly Adelaide who entered the contest with a mental edge, having won both of their two-legged meetings in 2008. On that occasion the Australian team went on to reach the final, and, after their poor recent domestic form, it seems the Reds are once again inspired by facing continental opposition.
Looking to maintain their proud head-to-head record Adelaide played with plenty of resolve but the visitors created better chances in the opening stages. They should have taken the lead inside five minutes only for Alexandro to shoot wide, and soon after Mota narrowly missed the target with a free-kick. Then it was Adelaide’s turn to pile on the pressure, and the home club were rewarded with 19-year-old Leckie running from his own penalty area before rounding three opponents to score what proved a worthy winner.
Bunyodkor 3-0 Al Ittihad
While both sides were among the favourites to win not only the group but also the tournament, it was the Uzbek hosts that delivered an ominous warning by firing three unanswered goals past the Saudi giants. If the result was not so much of a shock, then the scoreline and comprehensive nature of the win surely was. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s charges looking to atone for elimination in the knockout stages over the last two seasons.
Brazilian legend Rivaldo opened the scoring after just three minutes when he latched on to a clever back-pass from countryman Denilson. The hosts soon doubled their advantage courtesy of Jasur Hasanov, who capitalized on a defensive error to find the back of the net. While Abdelmalik Ziaya could have pulled one back for Al Ittihad with a smart header, it was left to former Pohang goal-ace Denilson to complete the scoring with a second-half sealer.
Al Ittihad were not the only Saudi side to come up empty-handed with Al Ahli falling 2-1 to Iranian champions Esteghlal, though Al Shabab shared the spoils 1-1 with Sepahan. Al Hilal salvaged some pride for the Saudi contingent with the talismanic Yasser Al Qahtani striking twice to help down Qatari hosts Al Sadd 3-0.
Similarly, it was an unusually poor showing by Japanese representatives, with the J.League having provided two of the last three champions. Kashima Antlers were the sole Japanese victors following a battling 1-0 win over Chinese Changchun Yatai with Koji Nakata heading home three minutes from break.
Denilson struck seven times in as many matches to help Pohang to the Asian crown last season, a tally which included a brace against Bunyodkor. The 33-year-old demonstrated he has lost none of his goalscoring ability after linking with the Uzbek club by scoring one goal and providing the assist for another against Al Ittihad.
What they said
"Beijing played good football while Joel Griffiths proved the difference. He is
a good player but one we are not able to afford to import." Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick
2010 AFC Champions League Matchday 1 results
Group A: Al Jazira (UAE) 1-2 Al Gharafa (QAT); Al Ahli (KSA) 1-2 Esteghlal (IRN)
Group B: Bunyodkor (UZB) 3-0 Al Ittihad (KSA); Zob Ahan (IRN) 1-0 Al Wahda (UAE)
Group C: Al Ain (UAE) 0-1 Pakhtakor (UZB); Al Shabab (KSA) 1-1 Sepahan (IRN)
Group D: Al Sadd (QAT) 0-3 Al Hilal (KSA); Mes Kerman (IRN) 4-2 Al Ahli (UAE)
Group E: Seongnam Ilhwa (KOR) 2-0 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN); Beijing Guoan (CHN) 1-0 Melbourne Victory (AUS)
Group F: Persipura Jayapura (IDN) 1-4 Jeonbuk Motors (KOR); Kashima Antlers (JPN) 1-0 Changchun Yatai (CHN)
Group G: Suwon Bluewings (KOR) 0-0 Gamba Osaka (JPN); Henan Jianye (CHN) 0-0 Armed Forces (SIN)
Group H: Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN) 0-1 Shandong Luneng; Adelaide United (AUS) 1-0 Pohang Steelers (KOR)