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Matchday 1 Group A Highlights

2 March 2011 One Comment

Sepahan 2 – 1 Al Hilal
Sepahan stunned Saudi giants Al Hilal on Tuesday as the Iranians claimed a 2-1 victory in their opening AFC Champions League encounter at King Fahd International Stadium.

After a goalless first half it was the visitors who went ahead when Ibrahima Toure headed home in 51st minute before Sepahan added a second just nine minutes later when Al Hilal keeper Abdullah Alsdairy managed to turn Fabio Januario’s corner into his own net.

It seemed Sepahan were coasting to victory but Christian Wilhelmsson struck in stoppage time to ensure a nervy few minutes for Farhad Kazemi’s side.

The win means Sepahan move top of Group A with three points, two ahead of Al Jazira and Al Gharafa who played out a goalless draw in Abu Dhabi.

Chances were at a premium through much of the early stages of the first half and Wilhelmsson summed up the quality of the few opportunities that were created when his speculative 25th minute effort ballooned off a defender and was comfortably held by keeper Mahdi Rahmati.

The first real opportunity arrived in the 34th minute when a long ball was played into the area and Nawaf Alabid raced between two defenders and rose to meet the cross but could only direct his header at the Sepahan keeper.

But six minutes into the second half it was Sepahan who got their noses in front when a long throw bounced through the area and found Toure unmarked at the far post and the Senegalese striker directed a header against the edge of the woodwork and into the back of the net.

Al Hilal looked to offer a quick response and a fine move by Wilhelmsson deserved more as the Swedish winger danced his way past three defenders before drilling a well-struck effort that was too close to Rahmati.

But instead it was Sepahan who went further ahead just before the hour when a corner by Januario was diverted into his own net by Al Hilal keeper Alsdairy.

That goal pretty much wrapped up the points for the visitors but Al Hilal continued to try and press for a goal as Mohammad Salem Al Qarni just failed to get his foot to a Wilhelmsson cross when well-placed inside the area.

But it was Sepahan who came closest to scoring again 10 minutes before the end when Milorad Janjus swept a low shot from just inside the area that Alsdairy did well to get a hand to and push onto the post.

The visitors took their foot off the pedal after that, seemingly content with their margin of victory.

However, Al Hilal pulled one back through Wilhelmsson from the left of the area with a well-hit effort in stoppage time and though the hosts pressed after that, Sepahan held on for the win.

Al Jazira 0-0 Al Gharafa
Qatar side Al Gharafa and UAE Pro League leaders Al Jazira settled for a point apiece following a goalless draw in their opening 2011 AFC Champions League Group A game at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium.

Al Jazira, who are on course for a domestic double including a first-ever league title, enjoyed the better share of exchanges but could not convert their superiority into goals and had to be satisfied with a draw.

In the first period, which was played mostly at a pedestrian pace, it was Al Jazira who saw more of the goalmouth action. With left back Abdulla Mousa given a lot of space on the left flank, most of Jazira’s initial attacks came from there.

In the 14th minute Mousa ran from deep and crossed into the box but the danger was thwarted just before his Brazilian team-mate Bare could reach it.

Four minutes later, Al Jazira’s Argentinian import Matias Delgado saw his shot bounce off a defender only for Mousa to latch on to the loose ball but Qasem Burhan, Al Gharafa custodian and Qatar national team goalkeeper, was quick to save his effort.

Though Al Gharafa looked more powerful on paper, it was not until the 24th minute that they threatened but Al Jazira goalkeeper Ali Kashief saved Iraqi striker Younus Mahmood’s shot.

The Qatari club’s best chance in the first half came when their Cote d’Ivoire star Amara Diane broke the offside trap and, after a slight hesitation, shot but Kashief did well to push the ball for a corner kick.

With Ibrahim Diaky, Subhait Khater and Delgado in the middle and Bare and fellow Brazilian Ricardo De Oliveira up front, Jazira kept pressing but failed to get a clear look at the rival goal.

A little frustrated, Jazira’s Diaky and Juma Abdulla received yellow cards while Gharafa’s Mirghani Al Zain also got his name into the referee’s notebook.

Moroccan Othman Al Assas replaced Al Zain at the start of the second-half to bolster Al Gharafa’s midfield but again it was the host team who made the running. A Delgado through pass found Bare but the Brazilian was foiled before he could convert in the 52nd minute. From the resultant corner kick, Delgado unleashed a firm drive from the top of the box but Burhan was equal to the task.

Then in the 60th minute, interplay between Bare and Delgado ended with the Argentine having a go at goal but Burhan’s outstretched legs saved his team.

Jazira’s pressure almost paid off in the 62nd minute but for a superb goal line clearance by defender Marcone Amaral. Bare sent Oliveira through and the latter moved in, evaded the advancing Burhan and shot into an empty goal but Amaral rushed back swiftly and thwarted danger.

Al Gharafa managed a counter-attack in the 71st minute and Ahmed Fares lobbed the ball into the box, where Mahmoud headed against the right-hand post and Jazira custodian Ali Kashief managed to recover and pick up the loose ball.

With time ticking away, Al Jazira pressed hard and the home crowd thought Diaky had earned a penalty when Burhan charged out to block him but referee Nawaf Shukrullah was close to the action and pointed to a goal kick.

Three minutes from time Al Jazira earned a free-kick but Khater’s well-taken shot was saved by Burhan. Then in the final minute Delgado worked his way into the box but a defender cleared and with that the final whistle came shortly afterwards.

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