Former Bayern Munich and Juventus star Medhi Benatia struck a 56th-minute goal as Qatar giants Al Duhail powered to a 3-0 win over Iran's Esteghlal in their Asian Champions League Group C opener on Tuesday.
The French-born Moroccan international, who along with Japan’s Shoya Nakajima were the key signings for Al Duhail earlier this year, made a memorable debut on the Asian stage, heading home a cross from Murad Naji to put his side ahead.
Youssef El Arabi consolidated for Al Duhail with a 73rd-minute goal off a Nakajima pass and Ali Hassan Afif completed the tally in added time to give Rui Faria’s side three points at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha.
Al Duhail had an amazing run in last year’s tournament, reaching the quarter-finals with nine victories in as many matches before falling to Iran’s Persepolis 3-2 on aggregate despite winning the first leg 1-0 at home.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal edged past Emirati side Al Ain 1-0, with Mohammad al-Shalhoub scoring the winning goal in the 65th minute.
The Saudis held the upper hand from the outset, Brazilian Carlos Eduardo forcing a save from Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa as early as in the third minute of the Group C clash.
After Al Hilal failed to score from a couple of half-chances in the first half, Eduardo found himself in the thick of the action five minutes after resumption, but much to his agony his shot crashed against the upright.
But Al Hilal's constant pressure eventually paid off when captain Al-Shalhoub profited from a cross from Mohammed al-Buraik and blasted home to seal an invaluable away win.
In Group D, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor couldn't hold on to their early lead and split the points with Persepolis after a 1-1 draw at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Pakhtakor went ahead in the fifth minute after Dragan Ceran’s header bounced off the upright and Marat Bikmaev found himself in perfect position to score off the rebound.
Persepolis, the runners-up last year, however equalised in the 25th minute with Croatian Mario Budimir scoring from close following a pass from Bashar Resan.
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