Dubai: Iran’s Persepolis and the UAE’s Sharjah were the only teams to record wins - and FC Goa claimed a historic draw - on a day that saw four matches end in draws as the Asian Champions League’s west zone competition kicked off on Wednesday.
While last year’s runners-up Persepolis edged the UAE’s Al Wahda 1-0, Sharjah beat Iraq’s Air Force Club, also by a similar margin, to set themselves up for a hectic group stage campaign over the next few weeks.
Qatari big guns Al Sadd and Al Rayyan were lucky to escape with draws against unfancied opponents.
Al Rayyan were surprised by debutants FC Goa who put up a solid defensive display to pull off a goalless but dramatic draw in Group E. G0a are the first ever Indian team to play in the ACL group stages.
Al Rayyan had only themselves to blame as stars such as Yacine Brahimi and Yohan Boli failed to capitalise on their chances.
Somewhat similar was Al Sadd’s fate in Group D as they trailed Foolad by a 61st-minute goal scored by Brazilian Luciano Chimba.
But 2011 champions Al Sadd forced a last-gasp draw thanks to Boualem Khoukhi’s strike one minute from close at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.
Captain Seyed Hosseini was the star for Persepolis as his 40th-minute strike fetched three points for the Iranian giants who had finished runners-up to South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai in Doha last year.
The 39-year-old defender found himself in a great position to score from the edge of the box after Mehdi Torabi had placed the ball for him following an exchange of passes with Ehsan Pahlavan.
Persepolis have been a force to be reckoned with in Asia over the past few years, missing out on the title last year and also in 2018 when they were beaten by Japan’s Kashima Antlers in the final.
Abu Dhabi-based Al Wahda are making their 12th appearance in the competition having skipped it last year due to several coronavirus cases among their squad.
The four-time UAE champions reached the semi-finals of the event in 2007 but since then have got past the group stage only once, in 2019.
Al Wahda had their chances on Wednesday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, India but it was Persepolis who dominated the Group E match, Shahriyar Moghanloo’s eighth-minute header thudding into the crossbar.
Torabi could have put Persepolis 2-0 up 20 minutes after the break but his effort off a Moghanloo pass went wide before the defensive minded Iranians went on to seal the three points.
Meanwhile Khalid Bawazir was the star for Sharjah, his 62nd minute goal fetching them three points on their home turf against the Baghdad based Air Force Club, three-times winners of the AFC Cup.
In Group B, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor bounced back from two goals down to clinch a thrilling 3-3 draw with Iran’s Tractor, with all six goals coming in the second half.
Ashkan Dejagah struck from the penalty spot to put Tractor ahead in the 53rd minute and Mohamed Abbaszadeh made it 2-0 three minutes later.
Pakhtakor hit back strongly with Dragan Ceran, Sharof Mukhidinnov and Khojimat Erkinov finding the net in a 13-minute purple patch before another successful penalty, this time by Abbaszadeh five minutes from close saw the team split the points.
In another match Al Wihdat of Jordan and Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia featured in a goalless draw.