(MENAFN - The Peninsula) The AFC
Doha: 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 (ACL) Group C tie 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.
Elsewhere, in Jeddah, Omar Al Somah struck twice to give Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli a 2-0 opening day win over Al Sadd in Group D, yesterday.
Al Sadd had knocked out Al Ahli in the Round of 16 during last year's edition, but Syrian striker Al Somah had missed both legs of that tie. This time around, he made his presence felt with a convincing show up front.
It was Al Sadd who started off as the brighter side, with Jung Woo-young coming close to scoring in the ninth minute but his powerful free-kick could only scrape the side netting.
Akram Afif then somehow skied the ball over the bar from just around the six-yard box a few minutes later.
Al Ahli punished the visitors midway through the first half when Baghdad Bounedjah was adjudged to have brought down Al Somah in the box. The crowd favourite sent Al Sadd custodian Saad Al Sheeb the wrong way to give Al Ahli the lead.
Al Sadd looked to push forward in search of an equaliser in the second half but they found the going tough, with Al Ahli head coach Jorge Fossati ensuring a robust defensive display against his former side.
In the 69th minute, Abdelkarim Hassan's strike was parried away by Mohammed Al Owais for a corner in what was the first real chance of the second half.
Six minutes later, Al Sadd's hopes of overturning the result were dealt a heavy blow when Al Somah doubled Al Ahli's lead. The in-form striker netted with a thumping header off a Salman Muwashar corner to get his second of the night.
Al Ahli will now be high on confidence when they travel to Uzbekistan on Matchday Two to play Pakhtakor while 2011 champions Al Sadd host Persepolis with an eye on making amends.