Qatar’s Al Duhail turned on the power in the second half to beat Iran’s Esteghlal FC 3-0 in their opening 2019 AFC Champions League Group C tie in Doha yesterday.
The home side came racing off the blocks, and nearly got their opening goal within 60 seconds of kick-off. Luiz Junior intercepted the ball in midfield and supplied Shoya Nakajima who advanced down the left and struck from a narrow angle. The Japanese’s shot was saved by Mehdi Rahmati.
Centre-back Ahmed Yasser tested the goalkeeper from distance. His powerful strike seemed destined for the top corner, but Rahmati tipped it behind in the 12th minute.
Al Duhail nearly broke the deadlock just before the break through Nakajima who took Bassam Al Rawi’s cushioned header first-time from the edge of the box but could not find the back of the net.
Rui Faria’s men came out from the dressing room a different side, taking the game to their opponents and soon taking the lead.
Benatia marked his AFC Champions League debut with a goal, heading home Murad Naji’s cross to open the scoring for Al Duhail in the 56th minute.
Top scorer Youssef El Arabi doubled the Qatari side’s lead in the 74th minute. The Moroccan latched onto a Nakajima through pass and rounded the goalkeeper before slotting into an empty net to make it 2-0. Esteghlal’s frustration grew with their inability to break the Qatari defence and they resorted to shooting from range. Captain Pejman Montazeri tried his luck but his effort sailed wide.
Substitute Ali Afif sealed victory with the third goal after a swift counter attack. The Qatari international midfielder embarked on a 50-yard jinking run and then exchanged a one-two with Nakajima that left him with a simple tap in in added time.
Al Duhail travel to Saudi Arabia to face Al Hilal on Matchday Two, while Esteghlal welcome Al Ain to Tehran next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal edged past Emirati side Al Ain 1-0, with Mohamed al-Shalhoub scoring the winning goal in the 65th minute.
The Saudis held the upper hand from the outset, Brazilian Carlos Eduardo forcing a save from Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa as early as in the third minute of the Group C clash. After Al Hilal failed to score off a couple of half-chances in the first half, Eduardo found himself in the thick of the action five minutes after resumption but much to his agony his shot crashed against into the upright.
But Al Hilal’s constant pressure eventually paid off when captain al-Shalhoub profited from a cross from Mohamed al-Buraik and blasted home to seal an invaluable away win.
In Group D, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor couldn’t hold on to their early lead and split points with Persepolis after a 1-1 draw at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Pakhtakor went ahead in the fifth minute after Dragan Ceran’s header bounced off the upright and Marat Bikmaev found himself in perfect position to score off the rebound.
Persepolis, the runners-up last year, however equalised in the 25th minute with Croatian Mario Budimir scoring from close following a pass from Bashar Resan.
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