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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Neymar opened his goalscoring account for Al-Hilal on Tuesday as the Saudi side defeated Nassaji Mazandaran 3-0 in their Asian Champions League clash in Tehran. The goal came in the Brazilian’s fifth game since joining the Riyadh giants and it was worth the wait.
It has been a good few days for the team, who went top of the Roshn Saudi League at the weekend and are now looking good for a place in the knockout stages of the Asian tournament.
Tuesday’s game at the Azadi Stadium was a hard-fought, and sometimes bad-tempered, affair but it ended in a vital victory for the four-time ACL champions who, like their Iranian hosts, finished the game with 10 men.
After a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Navbahor in their opening game, Al-Hilal now sit top of Group D on four points, ahead of the Uzbeks on goal difference. Nassaji are close behind on three points, followed by Mumbai City, who lost their first two games.
Neymar was not first to hit the target on Tuesday; that honor belonged to Aleksandar Mitrovic, who opened the scoring after just 10 minutes. Salman Al-Faraj delivered the ball to the right wing, where a galloping Mohammed Al-Breik sent a looping cross toward Mitrovic, who got between two defenders on the edge of the six yard area to head home.
The main talking point of the first half came seven minutes before the break when both teams were reduced to 10 men. After Michael fouled fellow number 96 Mohammadreza Abbasi, the two sets of players confronted each other and, when the dust had settled on the general melee, Salman Al-Faraj and Amir Houshmand were singled out for red cards.
Nassaji goalkeeper Mohammed Rashid Mazaheri escorted Al-Faraj off the pitch to help protect the veteran midfielder from objects being hurled at him from the stand. Neymar, who started the game still looking for that elusive first goal since signing for Al-Hilal from Paris Saint-Germain in August, was also the target of cans and bottles thrown by home fans.
His revenge for this was sweet, however, and came two minutes before the hour mark. Nasser Al-Dawsari slipped the ball to him on the edge of the area and the former Barcelona star unleashed an unstoppable low, left-footed shot into the bottom corner of the net, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance. It was a perfect, world-class finish from the forward, who had missed a penalty against Al-Shabab last Friday.
Neymar almost grabbed a second four minutes later. Kalidou Koulibaly advanced powerfully into the Iranians’ half and then found Neymar on the left side of the area. The Brazilian fired a low shot that beat the goalkeeper but came back off the opposite post.
With 20 minutes remaining, Farshid Esmaeili also hit the woodwork but that was the closest that Nassaji, making their debut in the competition, would come.
It was Hilal’s night and there was still time for them to add a third. After a corner was cleared, Al-Dawsari fired toward goal from the edge of the area and the ball was turned into the net by Saleh Al-Shehri.
Meanwhile, Al-Fayha made it three wins out of three for Saudi teams on matchday two, with a 2-0 victory over Pakhtakor.
Abdelhamid Sabiri opened the scoring after 10 minutes and the Moroccan midfielder added a second with 19 minutes remaining to seal the win against the Uzbek side. It means that after an opening-game defeat to Ahal of Turkmenistan, the 2022 King’s Cup winners are back in the hunt.
Al-Nassr defeated Tajik side Istiklol 3-1 on Monday night, with Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing his first Asian Champions League goal in the process.
Al-Ittihad’s game against Sepahan in Iran on Monday was called off at the last minute, after the Saudi side refused to leave the dressing room because a monument to an assassinated Iranian general had been placed beside the pitch.
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