Riyadh, September 18, 2023 – Brazilian superstar Neymar’s Asian Champions League debut turned sour as Al Hilal struggled to secure a 1-1 draw against Uzbekistan’s Navbahor deep into injury time at King Fahd International Stadium.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Neymar, recently acquired for a reported €90 million from Paris Saint-Germain, made his first start for the reigning Asian champions. He had initially debuted as a substitute during the Saudi Pro League victory against Al Riyadh on the previous Friday.
Last year’s Champions League runners-up, Hilal, found themselves in a precarious position after conceding a goal in the 52nd minute, courtesy of Toma Tabatadze’s expert finish. Navbahor, newcomers to the Champions League, posed a significant challenge.
However, Hilal’s defender, Ali Al Bulaihi, emerged as the savior in the 100th minute, rising unmarked in the Navbahor area to head home Michael’s corner.
Neymar, the all-time leading goalscorer for Brazil, experienced a tough night, enduring robust challenges from Navbahor players. His frustration boiled over just before the hour mark when he was trodden upon after being dragged down. Moments later, Neymar received a booking for pushing an opponent and angrily kicking the ball at him while he lay on the ground.
In the dying minutes of the game, Neymar had an opportunity to level the score, but his close-range header went straight to Navbahor goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov. Yusupov then made a spectacular save in injury time to deny Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. However, he couldn’t prevent Al Bulaihi’s crucial equalizer.
In Group D, Iranian debutants Nassaji Mazandaran secured a 2-0 away win against India’s Mumbai City.
In another match, Saudi champions Al Ittihad started their quest for a third Champions League title with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Uzbekistan’s AGMK in Jeddah. Despite missing Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema due to injury, Ittihad secured the win with goals from Haroune Camara and Romarinho.
The group stage this year returned to a home-and-away format for the first time since early 2020, running until mid-December. The top pool winners and the six best second-placed teams will advance to the knockout rounds, scheduled to begin in February, with the final taking place across two legs in May.