By Michael Church
April 8 (Reuters) – Former finalists Sepahan handed Pakhtakor from Uzbekistan a 3-1 defeat in Saudi Arabia as the Iranians fought back from a goal behind to claim all three points in their Asian Champions League opener on Thursday.
A pair of volleys in six second-half minutes from Shahriyar Moghanlou and Mohammed Reza Hosseini’s 70th-minute curler earned Sepahan victory in the Group D opener in Buraidah.
Dragan Ceran had given Pakhtakor a 28th-minute lead when he scored from close range following a clever backheel by Khojimat Erkinov but the Iranians rallied after the restart.
Moghanlou’s side-footed volley at a corner four minutes into the second half was followed up by a strike from Mohammad Nejadmahdi’s cross six minutes later.
Hosseini put the seal on the win for Moharram Navidkia’s side 20 minutes from time when he bent a right-footed effort beyond Eldorbek Suyunov.
The win put Sepahan, who reached the final of the competition in 2007, on top of the group standings with Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun following their 2-1 win over Al Duhail from Qatar.
Leandre Tawamba cancelled out Edmilson Junior’s seventh- minute opener for Al Duhail before Alvaro Medran struck four minutes from time to earn Al Taawoun the win.
In Group C, a penalty from Uzbekistan international Azizjon Ganiev earned Shabab Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates a 1-1 draw with group stage debutants Ahal of Turkmenistan in Jeddah.
Abdy Basimow slid in at the far post to give Ahal a surprise lead after Serdar Galdiyev flicked on Arslanmyrat Amanov’s corner but Ganiev scored from the spot four minutes later to salvage a draw for Mahdi Ali’s side.
Iran‘s Foolad were held to a 0-0 draw by Qatar’s Al Gharafa to leave all four teams in the group level on one point.
The winners of the five groups being played in the western half of the competition will advance to the last 16, where they will be joined by the three best runners-up.
The group phase of the competition is being hosted in biosecure centralised venues in Saudi Arabia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with games involving teams in the east of Asia due to kick off on April 15.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Ed Osmond)