Brazil’s Neymar had a forgettable Asian Champions League start on Monday, as Al Hilal needed a late goal to beat Uzbekistan’s Navbahor 1-1 at home in Riyadh.
After joining the record Asian champions last month for an alleged €90 million from Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar made his debut on Friday as a substitute in the Saudi Pro League triumph over Al Riyadh at home. This was Neymar’s first start for the team.
Hilal, the runners-up in the Champions League the previous year, were lucky to win their Group B opening at King Fahd International Stadium after falling down to a masterful finish by Toma Tabatadze on minute 52. The 2022 Uzbekistan Super League runners-up, Navbahor, were making their Champions League debut.
But in the 100th minute, Hilal defender Ali Al Bulaihi came up unmarked in the Navbahor area and headed home Michael’s corner to salvage a draw for the four-time winners.
Neymar, who just this month broke the record for most goals scored by Brazil, had a rather forgettable evening. Navbahor gave the forward some very rough treatment, and he became enraged just before the hour when he was trampled after being hauled to the ground.
Neymar was booked a few moments later for violently kicking the ball towards a player who was down on the field after shoving over an opponent.
Three minutes from time, Neymar had an opportunity to bring Hilal back into the match, but his header from close range went straight at Navbahor goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov. Then, in injury time, Yusupov produced a stunning save to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic of Serbia, but he was unable to stop Al Bulaihi’s equalizer.
Iranian debutants Nassaji Mazandaran defeated Mumbai City, India, 2-0 on the road, also in Group D.
AGMK of Uzbekistan was soundly defeated 3-0 at home by Saudi champions Al Ittihad, who started their chase for a third Champions League crown.
Champions of both 2004 and 2005, Ittihad, started the Group C match without injured Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema but scored twice in six minutes early in the first half.
At the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium, Haroune Camara scored the first goal ten minutes in Haroune Camara’s place, and Romarinho quickly extended the lead for the home team.
Four minutes before halftime, the Brazilian scored his second of the evening as Nuno Espirito-Santo’s team comfortably won by three points.
In the other match of the group, Iraq’s Air Force Club played Iranian runners-up Sepahan to a 2-2 draw in Erbil.
In Group B, Jordan’s Al Faisaly lost 1-0 in injury time to Uzbekistan’s Nasaf in Amman, while Algeria’s Baghdad Bounedjah missed a penalty in the second half for the hosts. Two-time Asian champions Al Sadd and UAE side Sharjah drew 0-0 at home.
The group stage, which goes until mid-December and features 10 pool winners and the top six second-place teams moving on to the knockout stages, is back this year and will be home-and-away for the first time since early 2020. It kicks off in February. In May, there are two legs to the final.