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AFC Champions League is building momentum as matchday two saw some superstars playing some incredible football in Asia’s biggest tournament. Fans turned up to see the star-studded Saudi teams and they didn’t disappoint. Apart from Al-Ittihad vs Sepahan getting cancelled, it was a satisfying week in the AFC Champions League.
The heavyweights including Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Urawa Reds and Melbourne City FC all got their wins in a week where there weren’t many surprises. Here is a look at the highlights of the second match week of the AFC Champions League.
AFC Champions League Performance of the week: Urawa 6-0 Hanoi
This was an expected result in terms of the outcome, but not in terms of the margin of victory. The defending champions simply blew away their Vietnamese opposition despite there being a nearly equal share of ball possession at 51% for Urawa to Hanoi’s 49%.
The Japanese hosts however had 12 shots on target as compared to the visitors’ 4. Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the defending champions looked to attack right from the word go. Their wingers Toshiki Takahashi and Takahiro Sekine in particular looked threatening while running directly at opposition defenders.
🎥 HIGHLIGHTS | 🇯🇵 Urawa Red Diamonds 6️⃣-0️⃣ Hanoi FC 🇻🇳
🌧️ The holders cruise to victory at a rain-soaked Saitama Stadium 2002!
— #ACL (@TheAFCCL) October 4, 2023
However, the first goal came courtesy of an own goal from Hanoi defender Tuan Hai Pham in the ninth minute. The hosts didn’t take long to double their lead as Danish defender Alexander Scholz converted a penalty to make it 2-0. The excellent Takahashi got into act next and his 37th-minute goal made it 3-0 before half-time.
The Japanese giants took a while to get their rhythm back after the break but left winger Sekine headed their fourth in to take the scoreline into route territory. Striker José Kanté was yet to get on the scoresheet but a penalty awarded in the 70th minute offered the perfect opportunity.
The 33-year-old missed the initial spot kick but smashed in the rebound to make it 5-0. The game was over long ago, but substitute Eakkanit Punya wanted to leave his mark on the game. The 23-year-old did that as he wrapped up the game for good after scoring the game’s sixth goal in the 85th minute.
This was a statement of intent from the defending champions that while all eyes are on the big-spending Saudi clubs, they are still a force to be reckoned with in this wonderful tournament.
Star Man: Anderson Talisca (Al Nassr)
It was a player from Al Nassr who delivered perhaps the best individual performance of the week and surprisingly it wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo. Al Nassr defeated FC Istiklol 3-1 in what was quite an expected result. 29-year-old Anderson Talisca was the driving force behind Al Nassr’s domination.
Surprisingly, Al Nassr fell behind through a goal from Senin Sebai in the 44th minute. Ronaldo equalized in the 66th minute, but it looked like Istiklol could go home with a famous AFC Champions League point. That is when Talisca entered the frame and changed the complexion of the game.
He headed his first goal to give Al Nassr the lead in the 72nd minute. Then 5 minutes later the Brazilian put the game beyond any doubt by arrowing a left-footed shot into the bottom corner. In doing so, Talisca upstaged Ronaldo, one of the game’s all-time greats. Some performance indeed.
There was compelling drama in several games in the second week of the AFC Champions League. Neymar Jr‘s Al Hilal recorded a comprehensive victory despite going down to 1o and Uzbek side Nasaf upset Qatari giants Al Sadd, who had a player sent off.
Nassaji Mazandaran 0-3 Al Hilal
Last year’s runners-up Al Hilal were held to a draw by Navbahor in the first week of the AFC Champions League. Neymar and co. had a point to prove and did so emphatically. Goals from Aleksandar Mitrović, Neymar and Saleh Alshehri meant Al Hilal cruised to a victory despite both sides having a man sent off in the 38th minute.
Nasaf 3-1 Al Sadd
Perhaps the biggest upset of the week as Nasaf won against a more fancied opponent despite having just 32% of the ball. They were compact in defence and clinical in attack as a brace from Azizbek Amonov and a goal from Sukhrob Nurulloev saw the Uzbeks overcome Qatari heavyweights, Al Sadd.
The AFC Champions League is showing some serious promise as the second match week of the 2023/24 season threw up some great encounters. In a week that had everything including goals, red cards, routs and upsets, this was a glimpse into the future of the AFC Champions League.
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