Asian heavyweights bounce back in style

AFC Champions League Matchday 3 saw a series of traditional powerhouses rediscover form, with former winners Gamba Osaka and Jeonbuk Motors finally getting off the mark to reignite their hopes, while Pohang Steelers and Sepahan emerged triumphant to move top in their respective groups.

Al Ittihad and Al Jazira, meanwhile, were the only two teams to stay perfect after three games as they closed upon early progression. At the other end of the standings, debutants Nasaf and Al Arabi each lost on the road to be left languishing at the bottom. Join as we detailed some enthralling encounters across Asia.

The match
Gamba Osaka 3-1 Bunyodkor
Having ended their losing streak with a 1-1 draw against Albirex Niigata over the weekend, Group E's Gamba Osaka continued their revival under new coach Masanobu Matsunami with an opening victory to dispatch Uzbek champions Bunyodkor 3-1 at home. Brazilian striker Rafinha proved to the hometown hero setting Yasuhito Endo up for the opener, before converting a brace of second-half penalties as his side gained a lifeline. The breakthrough came on the quarter-hour when Endo latched onto a back-pass from Rafinha to fire a rocket into the far corner, with the Brazilian then ensuring an unassailable lead before Soliev Anvarjon grabbed a late consolation.

In the other group game, Kim Dae-Ho capitalised on a goalkeeping error by Eugene Galekovic to score the only goal as Pohang Steelers saw off Adelaide United at home. The results saw Pohang and Adelaide sit equal top on six points, while Gamba and Bunyodkor trail with three points each.

The surprise
Esteghlal 1-2 Al Jazira
Few teams have left Esteghlal’s Azadi Stadium unscathed, with the Iranian giants entering the Group A contest against Al Jazira undefeated in their 12 previous home matches on the Asian stage. That proud record, however, was brought to an abrupt end by the UAE champions. Juma Abdulla provided the visitors with an early lead, and while Ferydoon Zandi equalised just past the hour mark, prolific Brazilian Bare duly scored the match-winning goal for the visitors.

With nine points from three games, the UAE champions lead Esteghlal by five points and are well-placed to become the first team from their country to progress to the knockout stage since 2007. In the other game, Qatari cup holders Al Rayyan picked up their first points with a 3-1 home defeat of struggling Uzbek debutants Nasaf.

The other attractions
Despite squandering a series of gilt-edged chances to break the deadlock, Al Ittihad marksman Naif Hazazi netted the only goal with a spot-kick ten minutes from time as Group B's Al Ittihad edged Bani Yas to maintain their unblemished record. In the other game, late goals saw Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor outmuscle Al Arabi 3-1 in Tashkent to move level with Bani Yas on four points, with the UAE debutants leading on goal difference.

2007 runners-up Sepahan strengthened their grip on Group C as they continued an unbeaten run with a 2-1 home win against Qatari champions Lekhwiya. Defender Jalal Hosseini put the hosts ahead after ten minutes, and although the visitors drew level through Ali Afif shortly after the restart, Bruno Correa headed home the winner a minute from time. The Iranian champions now move three points clear of Ahli, who overcame hosts Al Nasr by an identical scoreline with midfielder Taisir Al Jassim netting one and setting up another.

In Group D, Gholamreza Rezaei and Eamon Zayed both scored within the opening five minutes before Javad Kazemian sealed the win with 17 minutes remaining as Persepolis pulled off a resounding 3-0 win at Al Gharafa. The result, coupled with Al Hilal's 1-1 draw at Al Shabab in the other game, moved the Iranian heavyweights four points clear of the Saudi champions, with the remaining pair languishing at the bottom on two points each.

It was honours even in Group F, with FC Tokyo and Ulsan Hyundai continuing to share the lead after they both came from behind to draw 1-1 against Beijing Guoan and Brisbane Roar respectively. Lee Keun-Ho missed a penalty for Ulsan shortly after the interval but Lee Jae-Sung struck to cancel out Nick Fitzgerald's early opener as the K-League side failed to overcome the visitors, who played virtually the entire second half with ten men. In the other game, Aria Jasuru Hasegawa's equaliser just before the break was enough for FC Tokyo to salvage a point in Beijing.

Nagoya Grampus registered Group G's first win firing three unanswered goals past Tianjin Teda to move top with five points. Jungo Fujimoto struck in the first half to set the visitors on the road to victory, before second-half goals from Keiji Tamada and Kensuke Nagai helped the Japanese through. The other game saw Seongnam Ilhwa miss a penalty and forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Central Coast Mariners, a result which leaves the two sides level on three points, two behind leaders Nagoya.

In Group H, surprise Thai side Buriram United saw their perfect start ended after conceding two unanswered first-half goals against Jeonbuk Motors at home. Lee Sung Hyun opened the scoring while substitute Seo Sang-Min was also on target as the visiting K-League champions registered their first points to put their campaign back on track. Despite the loss, the Thai champions maintain pole position in the section courtesy of their two opening triumphs. Hot on their heels are the Japanese and Chinese champions - Kashiwa Reysol and Guangzhou Evergrande - who are level on four points after playing out a goalless draw.

The player
Rafinha stood out amongst the continent's many Brazilian imports having a hand in all three goals to help power Gamba past Bunyodkor.

The stat
- Only two of the 32 teams have managed to maintain 100 per cent records after three rounds with Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad and UAE’s Al Jazira staying perfect thus far.

What they said
"We had prepared for the rain and unpredictable weather conditions in Thailand so we had no problem dealing with them. After grabbing our first win, we are certainly confident about our chances in this group although we also know there is still a long road ahead" Jeonbuk Motors coach Lee Heung-Sil on their win at Buriram United

AFC Champions League Matchday 3 results
3-4 April
Group A: Esteghlal 1-2 Al Jazira, Al Rayyan 3-1 Nasaf
Group B: Pakhtakor 3-1 Al Arabi, Al Ittihad 3-1 Bani Yas
Group C: Al Nasr 1-2 Al Ahli, Sepahan 2-1 Lekhwiya
Group D: Al Gharafa 0-3 Persepolis, Al Shabab 1-1 Al Hilal
Group E: Gamba Osaka 3-1 Bunyodkor, Pohang Steelers 1-0 Adelaide United
Group F: Ulsan Hyundai 1-1 Brisbane Roar, Beijing Guoan 1-1 FC Tokyo
Group G: Central Coast Mariners 1-1 Seongnam Ilhwa, Tianjin Teda 0-3 Nagoya Grampus
Group H: Kashiwa Reysol 0-0 Guangzhou Evergrande, Buriram United 0-2 Jeonbuk Motors