Favourites stumble as debutants shine
The opening matchday of this year's AFC Champions League brought a new dawn on a quartet of tournament debutants, with Guangzhou Evergrande, Lekhwiya, Bani Yas and FC Tokyo all announcing their arrival on the Asian scene in triumphant fashion. Former winners Jeonbuk Motors and Gamba Osaka, meanwhile, suffered heavy losses while the likes of strongly-favoured Al Hilal, Seongnam Ilhwa and Kashiwa Reysol dropped points. Join FIFA.com as we review the thrillers and upsets across the continent.
Gamba Osaka 0-3 Pohang Steelers
The much-anticipated champions' derby from Group E turned out to be one-sided in favour of Pohang Steelers. The 2009 winners put three unanswered goals past hosts Gamba Osaka, who won the 2008 edition. Coached by former Korea Republic international striker Hwang Sun-Hong, the Steelers got off to a perfect start when Kim Tae-Su got his head onto Shin Kwang-Hoon’s inch-perfect cross on 19 minutes. It took the visitors only three minutes to double the lead with Serbian defender Zoran Rendulic capitalising on Yosuke Fujigaya's goalkeeping error to head home their second.
Two goals down, the home side upped the tempo after the restart, desperate to claw themselves back into contention. However, their hopes of a comeback were crushed when Ghanaian forward Derek Asamoah wrapped up the win for the Koreans 14 minutes from time. In the section's other match, goals from Nigel Boogaard and Antony Golec, plus a series of heroic saves by Eugene Galekovic saw 2008 runners-up Adelaide United upset the odds to record a hard-fought 2-1 win at Bunyodkor.
Jeonbuk Motors 1-5 Guangzhou Evergrande
Big-spending Chinese debutants Guangzhou from Group H sprang the opening matchday's biggest surprise as they inflicted a 5-1 humiliation on hosts Jeonbuk. The home side entered the campaign aiming to win not only the match but also the tournament, having narrowly failed to be crowned Asian champions just three months ago. However, it was the visitors that raced to a stunning 2-0 half-time lead. Brazilian striker Cleo latched onto a Gao Lin pass to put the visitors ahead on 27 minutes, before Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca doubled the advantage with a sublimely-executed free-kick four minutes before the break.
The two-goal lead, however, only served to whet the Chinese champions' appetite for more as they piled on the pressure after the interval. Cleo sneaked in to direct Conca's diagonal shot into the net to complete a brace on 69 minutes. Although the Koreans quickly pulled one back through substitute Jeong Shung-Hoon, Conca put the game beyond doubt as he fired home a 25-yarder for his second shortly afterwards. With 13 minutes left, Muriqui sealed Jeonbuk's heaviest defeat in continental competition. Also emerging surprise victors were Buriram United of Thailand, whose Jirawat Makkharom struck the opener and match-winner as they stunned J.League champions Kashiwa Reysol 3-2 in the section's other game.
The other attractions
In Group A, a dramatic stoppage-time strike by substitute Goran Jerkovic saw Iranian giants Esteghlal run out 1-0 victors over Qatari cup winners Al Rayyan, while United Arab Emirates champions Al Jazira secured a 4-2 comeback win at Nasaf of Uzbekistan. The Uzbek hosts were 2-0 up inside 18 minutes courtesy of Fozil Musaev's opener and Sami Rubiya's own goal. However, the tide turned when Juma Abdullah cut the deficit with a 39th-minute header, before three second-half goals from Abdulla Moussa, Bare and Ricardo Oliveira handed the visitors victory.
Al Ittihad stamped their authority on Group B with a 4-0 demolition of Pakhtakor at home. Playing their home game at an empty Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium, the Jeddah giants dominated play from start to finish with Mohammed Abusabaan netting a brace, while Faouzi Abdelghni and Abdulla Omar were also on target. Joining the two-time winners at the section's top are Bani Yas of UAE, who defeated Qatar's Al Arabi 2-0 in a clash of debutants.
In Group C, both Sepahan and Lekhwiya needed late strikes to get their respective campaigns off to a winning start. In doing so the Iranian champions downed Al Nasr of UAE 1-0 with Bruno Correa scoring the only goal six minutes from time, while a curling effort by Korean midfielder Nam Tae-Hee saw the Qatari holders overcome Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli by an identical scoreline.
It was honours even in Group D with both matches ending in stalemate. While seasoned campaigners Al Gharafa luckily held novices Al Shabab to a goalless draw away, Iranian heavyweights Persepolis were left lamenting missed chances as they threw away a 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 with ten-man Al Hilal.
Seeking to open their Asian debut in style, Australian champions Brisbane Roar of Group F pressed hard against fellow debutants FC Tokyo. However, in a high-tempo encounter, it was the Japanese visitors that took the lead courtesy of Tatsuya Yazawa seconds before the break, before Aria Jasuru Hasegawa sealed the 2-0 win ten minutes into the second half. In the other game, Beijing Guoan continued their miserable record against K-League opposition with a 2-1 defeat at Ulsan Hyundai.
Elsewhere, China's Tianjin Teda drew 0-0 with Central Coast Mariners at home in a lacklustre game in Group G, while Seongnam Ilhwa secured a 2-2 draw at Nagoya Grampus. The home side went 2-1 ahead with 16 minutes left but Seongnam earned a share of the spoils in dramatic fashion when Brazilian striker Hevertinho equalised with a spectacular overhead kick deep into stoppage time.
Two-time Brazilian Player of the Year Dario Conca stood out among Guangzhou's formidable imported line-up, netting a brace and having a hand in another as his side stunned one of Asia’s biggest clubs with a resounding victory.
2 – Of five former winners only two were victorious as Al Ittihad and Pohang Steelers celebrated wins, while Gamba Osaka and Jeonbuk were stunned by heavy defeats.
What they said
"Our foreign players played the key roles as we played a wonderful match during which we scored five goals. But this is just a beginning but not the end. There are still five matches to play and we have to be ready for all of them," Guangzhou Evergrande coach Lee Jang-Soo
2012 AFC Champions League Matchday 1 results:
Group A: Al Rayyan 0-1 Esteghlal, Nasaf 2-4 Al Jazira
Group B: Bani Yas 2-0 Al Arabi, Al Ittihad 4-0 Pakhtakor
Group C: Lekhwiya 1-0 Al Ahli, Sepahan 1-0 Al Nasr
Group D: Al Shabab 0-0 Al Gharafa, Al Hilal 1-1 Persepolis
Group E: Bunyodkor 1-2 Adelaide United, Gamba Osaka 0-3 Pohang Steelers
Group F: Ulsan Hyundai 2-1 Beijing Guoan, Brisbane Roar 0-2 FC Tokyo
Group G: Tianjin Teda 0-0 Central Coast Mariners, Nagoya Grampus 2-2 Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
Group H: Buriram United 3-2 Kashiwa Reysol, Jeonbuk Motors 1-5 Guangzhou Evergrande