Uzbeks shine as Japanese stumble
Uzbekistan made a perfect start to this year’s AFC Champions League, with Tashkent duo Bunyodkor and Pakhtakor securing impressive wins against Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Saudi Arabia's Al Ettifaq.
Iran’s Sepahan and Tractor Sazi also got off to winning starts, while FC Seoul became the only K-League side to grab three points despite their country’s dominance on the Asian stage over recent years. Join FIFA.com as we take a close look at the action across the continent.
The big match
Al Ain 3-1 Al Hilal
Inaugural winners Al Ain from Group D firmly stated their intention of securing a second Asian title, outmuscling ten-man Al Hilal at home. The hosts had the better of the opening stages, but Abdulla Al Dosary headed the visitors ahead against the run of play on nine minutes.
It took the home side 18 minutes to equalise, midfielder Omar Abdulrahman levelling with a stunning volley. The Al Ain No10 turned provider shortly after the restart, crossing for Alex Brosque who gave his side the lead.
Al Hilal was reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Salem Al Dawsari for fouling Brosque in the area on 55 minutes, and although Abdullah Al Sudairy saved Mirel Radoi's spot kick, the Al Hilal goalkeeper could do nothing with Asamoah Gyan's stoppage-time strike. In the section's other match, a plucky Al Rayyan came from behind three times to hold Esteghlal to a 3-3 draw.
Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 Urawa Red Diamonds
Having stunned 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors 5-1 in last edition's opener, Group F's Guangzhou once again got off to a brilliant start by routing 2007 winners Urawa at home. Taking heart from last year’s showings, Marcello Lippi’s hosts took the lead inside 16 minutes, Lucas Barrios scoring off a cut-back from Muriqui.
And the provider got his name on the scoresheet on 65 minutes, acrobatically turning a return pass from Gao Lin home. In a goalmouth scramble, Keita Suzuki unfortunately put through his own net to gift the hosts an emphatic victory. Meanwhile, a last minute goal saw former continental champions Jeonbuk held 2-2 at Thailand’s Muang Thong United.
The other attractions
Iranian debutants Tractor Sazi led the way in Group A, courtesy of their surprise 3-1 home defeat of Al Jazira. Mehdi Seyed-Salehi headed the hosts ahead before Javad Kazemian doubled the lead on the hour-mark. Ali Mabkhout pulled one back for the visitors but Masoud Ebrahimzadeh struck late to seal the victory. In the other group game, novices El Jaish were no match for Saudi giants Al Shabab, who cruised to a 2-0 home win.
In Group B, Pakhtakor opened their 11th campaign with a solitary-goal victory over Ettifaq. But the hosts had goalkeeper Alexander Lobanov to thank after he saved Yahia Al Shehri’s penalty on the hour-mark, before substitute Temurkhuja Abdukholiqov netted the only goal with a minute left. Sharing the section’s summit are Qatari champions Lekhwiya, who battled from behind to edge Al Shabab Al Arabi 2-1 at home.
Albanian striker Xhevahir Sukaj struck twice and Omid Ebrahami was also on target as two-time runners-up Sepahan saw off Al Nasr 3-0 at home to move to the top of Group C. Also opening in winning fashion were Saudi champions Al Ahli, who eked out a 2-0 home win over Al Gharafa.
In Group E, K-League champions FC Seoul showed tournament newcomers Jiangsu Sainty no mercy with a 5-1 home victory, with Dejan Damjanovic and Yun Illok each scoring twice. Thailand's Buriram United, meanwhile, stole a point at Vegalta Sendai, with Spanish defender Osmar Barba cancelling out Ryang Yonggi's opener for a 1-1 draw.
Two-time finalists Bunyodkor from Group G took full advantage of their continental experience by stunning Hiroshima 2-0 against the run of play. In the other group game, Beijing Guoan obtained their first point against a K-League side, bravely holding hosts Pohang Steelers to a goalless draw.
Former Guangzhou forward Cleo headed home the only goal as Kashiwa Reysol defeated debutants Guizhou Renhe to move to the top of Group H. Suwon Bluewings, meanwhile, were indebted to goalkeeper Jung Sungryong, who saved Nick Montgomery's late penalty as they escaped from Central Coast Mariners with a goalless draw.
Having helped steered Guangzhou to last year’s quarter-finals, Brazilian striker Muriqui continued his Asian form in this year's opener, having a hand in all the three goals.
1 - Iran's Tractor Sazi emerged the only side of the five debutants to open with a victory, dispatching Al Jazira 3-1 at home.
What they said
"There are plenty of talented home-grown players in Japan and our team will be stronger with top-quality imports (like Guangzhou's Muriqui), but good players are usually expensive. Muriqui caused us a lot of headaches today and it would have been a different outcome had been not for him," Urawa Red Diamonds coach Mihailo Petrovic
2013 AFC Champions League matchday 1 results
26 & 27 February
Group A: Tractor Sazi 3-1 Al Jazira, Al Shabab 2-0 El Jaish
Group B: Pakhtakor 1-0 Al Ettifaq, Lekhwiya 2-1 Al Shabab Al Arabi
Group C: Sepahan 3-0 Al Nasr, Al Ahli 2-0 Al Gharafa
Group D: Al Ain 3-1 Al Hilal, Al Rayyan 3-3 Esteghlal
Group E: Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Buriram United, FC Seoul 5-1 Jiangsu Sainty
Group F: Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 Urawa Red Diamonds, Muang Thong United 2-2 Jeonbuk Motors
Group G: Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-2 Bunyodkor, Pohang Steelers 0-0 Beijing Guoan
Group H: Central Coast Mariners 0-0 Suwon Bluewings, Guizhou Renhe 0-1 Kashiwa Reysol