Asian favourites draw first blood
Pedigree again shone in this week's opening matchday of the 2009 AFC Champions League with the majority of the more established Asian sides cruising to victories.
In East Asia, Japan's Gamba Osaka opened their title defense brightly, crushing Chinese champions Shandong Luneng 3-0, while the much anticipated Suwon Bluewings, Kashima Antlers clash ended with a surprisingly one-sided 4-1 win for the Korean champions.
On the other side of the continent, two-time winners Al Ittihad got off to a flying start as they overcame Iranian heavyweights Esteghlal 2-1 at home. At the same time, 2007 runners-up Sepahan fired two unanswered goals past Al Arabi of UAE, while Uzbek heavyweights Bunyodkor saw off Saudi giants Ettifaq 2-1 at Tashkent in the group's another game.
Game of the day
Suwon Bluewings (KOR) 4-1 Kashima Antlers (JPN)
What was expected to be one of the tightest battles of the opening round proved to be anything but, as four-time Korean champions Bluewings made an emphatic statement by crushing six-time J-league winners Kashima 4-1. Two quick goals in the dying minutes of the first-half fired the home side into a dream start, with Chinese international Li Weifeng and Brazilian Eduardo on target. Hong Soon-Hak scored their third eight minutes from time before Park Hyun-Bem made it 4-0, leaving Araujo Marcos' last-minute strike little more than a consolation. In the other game, Argentine striker Hernan Barcos netted a brace as Shanghai Shenhua surged to a 4-1 win over tournament debutants Armed Forces FC of Singapore.
Surprise of the day
Beijing Guoan (CHN) 2-0 Newcastle Jets (AUS)
While there were not big surprises throughout the opening matchday, it was indeed a dramatic scene that three Australian siblings named Griffiths battled against each other as Newcastle Jets were defeated 2-0 by hosts Beijing Guoan. The Australian fans might have mixed feelings with Joel and Ryan impressing in their debut for Beijing, with the latter, the youngest of the three, opening the scoring after seven minutes before the former set up Du Wenhui for the clincher. Conversely Adam, the twin brother to Joel, will have to wait for the return fixture to regain family bragging rights. The group's other match saw Japanese side Nagoya Grampus upset hosts Ulsan Hyundai 3-1.
Gamba Osaka (JPN) 3-0 Shandong Luneng (CHN)
Holders Gamba Osaka showed their visiting Shandong side no mercy crushing the Chinese champions 3-0. Gamba took the lead after twenty minutes through Brazilian forward Leandro. Japanese international Yasuhito Endo doubled the advantage by converting a spot-kick on 70 minutes, before substitute Hayato Sasaki sealed the win for the home side with a thunderous long-range effort four minutes later. The win sent Gamba to top of the group, ahead of FC Seoul on goal difference, who recorded a 4-2 win over their Indonesian hosts Sriwijaya.
Al Ittihad (KSA) 2-1 Esteghlal (IRN)
Al Ittihad had their blushes saved thanks to two late goals as they fought from a goal down to defeat Iranian giants Esteghlal. Arash Borhani headed Esteghlal into the lead with 13 minutes remaining however Emad Moteab rose high to level for the hosts with three minutes to play, before Hicham Aboucherouane secured an unlikely win with a goal deep into stoppage time. Equally fortunate were Qatari outfit UMM-Salal, who had to count on Bahraini international A'ala Hubai's last-ditch effort to upstage UAE hosts Al Jazira.
Group D favorites Sepahan of Iran saw off UAE's Al Arabi 2-0, while in another game Bunyodkor's Anvarjon Soliev scored in each half to give last year's surprise packets a deserved 2-1 win over visiting Ettifaq of Saudi Arabia. Having lost twice to Adelaide last year, the Australian jinx again haunted Pohang Steelers as they were held to a goalless draw by Central Coast, a result that ensured Kawasaki Frontale hold pole position in the group courtesy of their 1-0 triumph over China's Tianjin Teda.
Uzbek side Pakhtakor, one of the tournament's most frequent participants, stole the show by stunning hosts Al Ahli, while Al Hilal shared a 1-1 scoreline with Saba Battery in a match delayed for 24 hours due to a severe sandstorm in Riyadh. Three goals scored in a space of six minutes saw Tehran-based Persepolis run 3-1 winners over Sharjah at the Azadi Stadium and in the other match, Saudi's Al Shabab overcame Qatari hosts Al Gharafa by the same scoreline.
What they said
"Adam (Griffiths) played against us hard with relentless tackles but he focused too much on the physical side. After the game Joel (Griffiths) and I went to Adam's room with beers and not surprisingly, we again became brothers." Ryan Griffiths, Beijing Guoan forward.
2009 AFC Champions League, Matchday 1 results:
Group A: Al Ahli (UAE) 1-2 Pakhtakor (UZB); Al Hilal (KSA) 1-1 Saba Battery (IRN)
Group B: Al Gharafa (QAT) 1-3 Al Shabab (KSA); Persepolis (IRN) 3-1 Sharjah (UAE)
Group C: Al Ittihad (KSA) 2-1 Esteghlal (IRN); Al Jazira (UAE) 0-1 UMM-Salal (QAT)
Group D: Sepahan (IRN) 2-0 Al Arabi (UAE); Bunyodkor (UZB) 2-1 Ettifaq (KSA)
Group E: Beijing Guoan (CHN) 2-0 Newcastle Jets (AUS); Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) 1-3 Nagoya Grampus (JPN)
Group F: Sriwijaya (IDN) 2-4 FC Seoul (KOR); Gamba Osaka (JPN) 3-0 Shandong Luneng (CHN)
Group G: Suwon Bluewings (KOR) 4-1 Kashima Antlers (JPN); Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) 4-1 Armed Forces FC (SIN)
Group H: Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) 1-0 Tianjin Teda (CHN); Central Coast (AUS) 0-0 Pohang Steelers