FOOTBALL: Ulsan, Bunyodkor and Ittihad in box-seat
SINGAPORE: South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai eked out a narrow win and Uzbek champions Bunyodkor fought back to draw with Adelaide United 2-2 as the AFC Champions League quarter-finals got under way on Wednesday.
However, Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi's hopes of adding Asian Champions League glory to the European version he won as Juventus coach in 1996 dimmed as his expensively-assembled Guangzhou Evergrande side lost 4-2 away at Saudi outfit Al Ittihad.
Two headers from Saudi international striker Naif Hazazi gave the two-time Asian Champions League winners a useful advantage to take to China in a fortnight.
"We made some errors which weren't supposed to happen and that's why we lost," said Lippi.
"But this game will be decided over 180 minutes and hopefully when we play at home all of our players will be back."
Ulsan had Brazilian striker Rafinha's deflected shot to thank for their 1-0 first-leg victory over Al Hilal, while Bunyodkor will have the psychological edge for next month's return tie after rescuing a precious point in Adelaide.
Rafinha found the net after nine minutes with a shot which took a wicked deflection off Al Hilal captain Majed Al Marshadi on its way past goalkeeper Abdullah Mohammed.
The Saudi visitors had their chances to level and Ulsan were grateful to goalkeeper Kim Young Kwang, who made a fine save at the death to deny Abdulaziz Al Dosari.
Earlier in Adelaide, the Reds, finalists in 2008, had looked in command with a 2-0 lead after the first 18 minutes through goals by Iain Ramsay and Evan Kostopoulos.
But the match turned on an incident just before half-time, when Adelaide defender Nigel Boogaard was shown the red card for bringing down Kamoliddin Murzoev, who was through on goal with only keeper Eugene Galekovic to beat.
Jasur Khasanov scored directly from the resulting free kick with a brilliant left-foot strike to the top right-hand corner for the Uzbeks to trail 2-1 at half-time.
It was all Bunyodkor in the second half and they equalised in the 75th minute when Shavkat Salomov pounced on a missed clearance from defender Iain Fyfe to beat Galekovic from close range.
Bunyodkor could have taken a one-goal advantage to their home second leg in Tashkent on Oct 3, only to be denied by a brave block from defender Antony Golec at the near post in stoppage time.
Bunyodkor, who have yet to beat Adelaide United in three meetings in this season's competition, have two important away goals in their favour for the second leg to progress to the semi-finals of the Asian showpiece.
"We played them off the park for the first 30-40 minutes," Adelaide coach John Kosmina said. "But we did not take our chances and allowed them back into the game.
"We got a bit too complacent and comfortable at 2-0, but I am confident we can go over to Uzbekistan and get a result."
In Isfahan, Al Ahli, the third Saudi club still standing, were held to a 0-0 draw on their first appearance in the quarter-finals since 2005 by Iranian opponents Sepahan at the Foolad Shahr Stadium.
The second legs take place on Oct 2-3. AFP