Al Ain’s Kodjo Laba (left) and Al Sadd’s Tarek Salman in action during their Asian Champions League Group D match in Doha on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
Group D of the 2020 AFC Champions League took off to a fiery start as Al Ain FC shared the spoils in an exciting 3-3 draw with Qatar’s Al Sadd SC on Tuesday.
While Al Ain needed to pick up points after opening their campaign with two losses, Al Sadd required to consolidate their position at the top of Group D.
Despite not playing a competitive match in the past six months, Al Ain took just five minutes to open the scoring, when Togolese striker Kodjo Laba met debutant Wilson Eduardo’s low cross to slot past Qatar international Saad Al Sheeb.
It was end to end from that moment on, as Al Sadd looked to reply in kind with the biggest chance coming down to captain Hassan Al Haydos on the right, but he slipped before managing a shot. At the other end of the pitch, Al Sheeb needed to come out of his area to head a long ball away from Laba.
Al Sadd equalised just after the half hour mark when 2019 AFC Footballer of the Year Akram Afif fired in a right footed shot into the bottom corner.
Al Ain replied instantly through Kazakhstan international midfielder Bauyrzhan Islamkhan, who controlled the ball a few yards outside Al Sadd’s area, before firing in a shot that took Al Sheeb by surprise -- the Qatari keeper rose to meet it to no avail as the ball crept just under the crossbar.
Al Sadd drew level when Santi Cazorla scored on his AFC Champions League debut; the Spaniard hammered in a low shot with his right foot from Afif’s cut-back from the left side of the pitch.
Not long after, Baghdad Bounedjah got his first goal of the current edition and put his side ahead after he tapped in Nam Tae-hee’s low cross, the latter having beaten Bandar Al Ahbabi to assist his teammate.
A few minutes after the hour mark, Al Sadd’s Khoukhi put the ball past his own keeper after rising to clear a lofted ball into the area but instead headed in to gift Al Ain the equaliser.
Al Ain collected their first point to remain in contention, while Al Sadd moved up to five points ahead of the two sides’ rematch on Friday.
Meanwhile, a fiercely contested tactical battle at Education City Stadium saw Al Duhail emerge 2-1 winners over Sharjah FC on Matchday Three of the 2020 AFC Champions League Group C on Tuesday.
Sharjah went into the game in pursuit of their first win in the AFC Champions League since 2004, having collected one point from their first two games.
Al Duhail, meanwhile, were looking to make amends having lost to Al Taawoun on Matchday Two to freeze at three points.
Igor Coronado had the first chance of the match for Sharjah after eight minutes, but his free-kick from all of 30 yards out sailed over the crossbar.
Al Duhail’s best chance of the opening period came just before the half-hour mark, when Ahmed Yasser rose highest to meet a cross from a free-kick. Al Hosani did enough to initially parry it then followed through with a sweeper-style clearance.
Five minutes before the end of the first half, Sharjah were caught napping after a misplaced pass from Mohammed Abdulbaset allowed Luiz Junior to collect the ball deep into his own half and supply an impeccable pass to Almoez Ali who expertly applied his finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to put Al Duhail in the lead.
Al Duhail picked up from where they left off after the restart and within six minutes, Abdullah Al Ahrak had won a free-kick just outside the Sharjah penalty box and new signing Ramin Rezaeian curled it perfectly into the top corner to double the Qataris’ lead.
Five minutes later, Coronado used his trickery to dribble his way past two Al Duhail players before being brought down by Ali inside the box, prompting the referee to point to the spot. The former Palermo playmaker stepped up and coolly converted in his trademark style to half the deficit.
Despite relative dominance for Sharjah and coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari throwing in a trio of attacking players in Khalid Bawazir, Saif Rashid and Salem Saleh, Al Duhail stood tall to see off the match and move up to six points, five points ahead of their opponents.
Sharjah’s chances of progress to the next round are now hanging on their ability to collect the three points in the reverse fixture on Friday.