Matchday four of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League 2017 group stages is well and truly upon us. There were eight games across the continent on Tuesday and let’s go through a recap of what happened.
AL TAAWOUN 1-3 AL AHLI (UAE) [N’Diaye 63′ – Diop 37′, 58′ Ribeiro 45′]
Makhete Diop did the star turn as UAE’s Al Ahli notched a vital 3-1 victory over Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun in Buraidah which sees them regain the top spot in Group A.
The Senegalese striker opened the scoring for Al Ahli in the 37th minute by latching on to Everton Ribeiro’s freekick from deep in the right wing and diverting it past the Al Taawoun goalkeeper from close range. Al Taawoun were given a route back into the game when they were awarded a penalty shortly afterwards. But Jehad Al-Hussain’s effort was saved by Majed Naser. Ribeiro then punished Al Taawoun by curling home a sensational left-footed freekick from near the byline on the right wing, the tightest of angles!
In the 58th minute, Diop had his second goal, thanks to Ahmed Khalil who took advantage of some slack defending and squared a pass for the Senegalese to side-foot home. Though Alassane N’Diaye pulled a goal back, courtesy a penalty in the 63rd minute, the result of the game was beyond any doubt. The result means Al Ahli and Esteghlal are joint top of the group with seven points each while Al Taawoun are third with four points.
LOKOMOTIV 1-1 ESTEGHLAL [Bikmaev 13′ – Rezaei 87′]
Iran’s Esteghlal had to rely on a late equaliser to gain a point from their away tie against Lokomotiv Tashkent on Tuesday, a result which sees Al Ahli catch up to them on top of the table.
It was the home team who controlled proceedings early on and they took the lead in the 13th minute when Marat Bikmaev got on the end of Jaloliddin Masharipov’s ball over the Esteghlal defence and tucked home neatly from a tight angle. It looked like the Uzbek side had achieved a very important win as the game wound down but Esteghlal had other ideas. Kaveh Rezaei saw a cross from the right reach him just inside the penalty area and he stroked a low finish impeccably into the far corner to ensure Esteghlal gained a point from their excursion to Tashkent.
The result leaves Esteghlal with seven points from four games while Lokomotiv have four points from as many games.
AL AIN 2-2 AL AHLI (KSA) [Ahmed 6′, Abdulrahman 85′ – Al Soma 43′, 89′]
A dramatic late sequence in Al Ain saw Al Ain FC held by Saudi Arabian side Al Ahli on Tuesday. The 2-2 result would have been a bitter pill to swallow for the home team who had seen the reverse tie also finish with the same scoreline.
It was the home team who started brilliantly with Ismail Ahmed firing them ahead in the sixth minute when he poked home after a knockdown header from playmkaer Omar Abdulrahman. But Al Ahli hit back minutes before the break when Omar Al Soma headed home from a corner. As time wound down in the second half, the game came alive in the final few minutes. First, Omar Abdulrahman gave Al Ain the lead in the 85th minute after he converted a spotkick after Al Soma was adjudged to have handled the ball. But four minutes later, Al Soma donned the hero role and volleyed home from the edge of the area to snatch his team a share of the spoils.
The result sees Al Ahli sit atop the group with eight points, one more than second placed Zob Ahan while Al Ain are third with six points.
ZOB AHAN 2-1 BUNYODKOR [Mohammadzadeh 5′ Tabrizi 54′ – Nurmatov 72′]
Bunyodkor’s hopes of qualifying to the knockout stages of the tournament ended after they were defeated 2-1 by Iranian outfit Zob Ahan on Tuesday at Isfahan.
Zob Ahan started the game brightly and within five minutes, had the lead. Vahid Mohammadzadeh placed a header into the net from a freekick down the left wing to the delight of the home supporters. They doubled their lead nine minutes after the restart through another header, this time from Morteza Tabrizi. Mohammad Hosseini’s delightful chipped cross was turned in at the back post by Tabrizi. Though Zob Ahan rekindled their sagging hopes by pulling a goal back through Shakhzodbek Nurmatov, who glanced a header home from a cross from the right, it was not enough to alter the result of the game.
Though Bunyodkor are out of the reckoning for progress, having lost all four matches so far, Zob Ahan are now second in the table with seven points, only one below Al Ahli.
URAWA RED DIAMONDS 1-0 SHANGHAI SIPG [Silva 44′]
Former Chelsea midfielder Oscar turned out to be the pantomime villain for Shanghai SIPG as Urawa Red Diamonds notched a 1-0 win over them which pulled them level with the Chinese outfit atop Group F.
Urawa Red Diamonds started the game with intent as striker Rafael Silva hit the post in the very first minute when he met a cross from deep in the left wing. But Silva did get the opener in the 44th minute when he received a pass inside the area and stabbed a finish home. But the Japanese side saw a reinvigorated Shanghai side come hammer and tongs at them post the break. They dominated the game and were awarded a penalty in the 65th minute after Oscar was brought down. But his effort from the spot was saved by Shusaku Nishikawa.
Oscar was given another chance to redeem himself in the 76th minute after Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino handled the ball inside the box. Unbelievably, the Brazilian fired his effort over the bar, much to the chagrin of coach Andre-Vilas Boas. Urawa held on to notch the win which sees them only a point away from claiming progression to the knockout stages, the same situation as that enjoyed by Shanghai as well.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS 2-3 FC SEOUL [Antonis 77′ Scott 90+2′ – Seok-Hyun 4′ Damjanovic 42′, 71′]
Dejan Damjanovic scored a brace as FC Seoul beat Western Sydney Wanderers 3-2 and kept their slim hopes of qualififying from the group alive. It would have been sweet revenge for the South Korean side who were defeated by the same scoreline in the reverse fixture in Seoul.
The away side started the game very strongly and soared into the lead in the fourth minute when Lee Seok-hyun unleashed a rocket of a strike from 25 yards that flew into the far corner. Damjanovic then doubled Seoul’s advantage, minutes before half-time when Maurinho was brought down inside the box and the referee awarded a penalty for the away side. Damjanovic made no mistake from the spot and then went on bag a second goal in the 71st minute. The Montenegrin forward caught out the Wanderers’ goalkeeper with a sharp strike from 20 yards.
But the home team mounted a fight back immediately and pulled one back six mintues later. Terry Antonis side-footed home following a brilliant cutback from Jumpei Kusukami and an injury-time header from Lachlan Scott set up a nervy finish but FC Seoul held on to notch ther first victory of the campaign and draw level on points with the Wanderers.
JIANGSU FC 3-0 GAMBA OSAKA [Teixeira 3′ Ramires 7′ Jeong-ho 43′]
Chinese Super League (CSL) outfit Jiangsu Suning FC became the first team to qualify for the AFC Champions League knockout stages after they drowned Gamba Osaka 3-0 at home, thanks to an inspired performance from Brazilian midfielder Alex Teixeira.
Jiangsu began the game in Nanjing in splendid fashion, roaring to a lead inside three minutes. It was a result of fine work from Teixeira who robbed Yasuhito Endo of possession before advancing through to the area and lifted a finish past the Gamba custodian Masaaki Higashiguchi. Four minutes later, former Chelsea midfielder Ramires got into the act by diverting a deflected through-ball from Teixeira over Higashiguchi. A shell-shocked Gamba fell further behind minutes before half-time when Hong Jeong-ho headed in a free-kick from the impressive Teixeira.
Nothing of note transpired in the second half as Jiangsu, in the knowledge that they have secured their fourth straight win and the top spot in Group H, slacked off. The result means Gamba Osaka still sit bottom with three points but they can still make it out of the group, courtesy Adelaide United’s win over Jeju United.
JEJU UNITED 1-3 ADELAIDE UNITED [Cruz 8′ – Jae-Sung 7′ McGowan 49′ McGree 65′]
A-League side Adelaide United received a massive boost to their hopes of qualifying from Group H after they defeated Korean side Jeju United 3-1 away in Jeju. Adelaide were hardly expected to trouble Jeju United given their patchy performances in the three games so far but they rose to the occasion when it mattered.
It was the away side who took the lead early on in the first half through Kim Jae-Sung who sent a powerful drive from outside the area into the back of the net after a shot from Sergio Cirio had bounced back off the upright. But the home team hit back immediately with Magno Cruz heading in a cross from the left at the back post. Adelaide kept their positive gameplay going and got the lead back, four minutes after the restart. Dylan McGowan was not picked up as a corner was sent in high into the box and the centre-back nodded home with the goalkeeper off his line.
The result was then secured in the 65th minute when Riley McGree saw his innovative flick from a cutback stopped by the Jeju custodian but he somehow contrived to bundle the rebound home. The result leaves Jeju and Adelaide with four points each as the battle for the second qualifying spot in the group gets tighter.