SEOUL: Big-name strikers such as Hulk and Alexandre Pato may have drawn a blank as the AFC Champions League last-32 group phase got underway but their Chinese Super League teams kicked off with vital victories on Tuesday (Feb 13).
Tianjin Quanjian, making a first appearance in the tournament in which 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four, defeated Kitchee of Hong Kong 3-0.
Former French U-21 international Anthony Modeste, signed for over $40 million last summer, opened the scoring in the first half as Tianjin, who finished third in the 2017 Chinese Super League, took control.
An own goal and a Sun Ke strike gave Tianjin the win despite the best efforts of Kitchee striker Diego Forlan, the 38-year-old who once starred for Manchester United and Inter Milan.
SIPG, semi-finalists in 2017 after spending more than US$100 million on Brazilian stars Hulk and Oscar, won 1-0 at Kawasaki Frontale.
The team’s less-heralded Brazilian import Elkeson grabbed the only goal of the game against the Japanese champions midway through the first half.
The 2016 winners Jeonbuk Motors returned to the competition in style, coming from 2-0 down in South Korea to defeat Japanese visitors Kashiwa Reysol 3-2 thanks to a second-half brace from 39 year-old Lee Dong-guk.
Jeonbuk, banned from defending its title in 2017 after a club scout was indicted for bribing referees in domestic competitions in 2013 and 2014, conceded two first half goals before Lee, who appeared in the English Premier League for Middlesbrough in 2007, inspired a comeback.
Earlier on Tuesday, South Korea’s Ulsan Horang-I took the lead three times at Melbourne Victory but had to settle for a 3-3 draw.
In West Zone action, substitute Baghdad Bounedjah struck twice late in the match as Qatar’s Al Sadd clinched a 2-1 win over the UAE’s Al Wasl in Dubai.
Bounedjah, who only got back to action last week after being sidelined for more than two months with a fracture, first put away a sublime Xavi pass in the 79th minute to help Al Sadd cancel out Fabio Lima’s 26th minute goal for Al Wasl.
The Algerian then ensured three points for the 2011 champions with a 90th minute goal following an Akram Afif pass which the Al Wasl defence failed to clear.
Qatar’s Al Rayyan, however dropped points at home against Iran’s Estheglal after settling for a 2-2 draw, with captain Rodrigo Tabata having a mixed outing.
The Michael Laudrup coached Al Rayyan were in for a horror start when Tabata deflected a powerful shot from two-time AFC Player of the Year Server Djeeparov into his own goal in the sixth minute.
But the classy midfielder more than made amends by providing the assist for Abdelrazzaq Hamdalla to equalise in the 18th minute and then himself found the net 10 minutes later to help Al Rayyan take the lead.
Al Rayyan looked set for victory but were reduced to 10 men in the final 10 minutes when Tabata was sent off for a late challenge on Pejman Montazeri.
The Iranians took full advantage of the situation, with Ali Ghorbani heading home to equalise two minutes from time.
Earlier Iran’s Persepolis thrashed Uzbekistan’s Nasaf 3-0 with Ali Alipour scoring twice in the second half after Godwin Mensha had put them ahead in the 20th minute.
In a late match, the UAE’s Al Ain and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal featured in a goalless draw at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh.