Ten-man Al Ahli and Guangzhou Evergrande ended the first leg of the AFC Champions League final with honours even at a packed home ground on Saturday.
Coached by Brazilian World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari, it was the visitors who held the upper hand while exerting a lot of pressure on the Al Ahli defence especially in the opening quarter. But the Red Knights did well to keep their poise and gradually come back as the match progressed.
With the home side creating a better share of chances in the second half it looked like they would manage a goal, but they were reduced to ten men in the 84th minute after Abdul Aziz Haikal got his marching orders for an off-the-ball swing at a rival striker.
As expected it was Guangzhou who had the early say with former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho’s first-time shot flying past the Al Ahli goal as early as in the sixth minute. Twelve minutes later the Brazil star was once again in the thick of the action as his shot from the top of the box whizzed past the post.
Ahmad Mahmoud Dida made a brilliant save in the 25th minute off a long range effort from skipper Zheng Zhi. The Red Knights responded well with Zeng Cheng flying to his left to keep out an Esmail Hammadi effort in the 33rd minute.
On resumption, the home team had a narrow escape in the very first minute as Huang Bowen’s shot from the right struck the framework and bounced into play. Once again, Al Ahli responded when Zeng tipped away a long ball from Abdul Aziz Sanqour a minute before the hour mark.
In the 69th minute, Dida was called to the rescue yet again, this time flinging himself to his left to keep a Yu Hanchao strike away.
Scolari was then forced to pull out playmaker Ricardo Goulart for a minor niggle on his ankle during a tackle. Seeing their chances of a goal lessen, the visitors seemed happy with playing for a goalless draw.
However, six minutes from the end Guangzhou suddenly saw a ray of hope after Haikal was shown a straight red for foolishly swinging his arm at Huang.
Al Ahli are aiming to become the first west Asian team since 2011 to win the AFC Champions League, while their opponents from China are chasing a second title following their triumph in 2013 against FC Seoul.
The last team from West Asia to win the competition was Al Sadd of Qatar, on the away goals rule after drawing 2-2 with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of Korea.
Everything will now boil down to the second leg scheduled to be played at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou on November 21.
Al Ahli 0 Guangzhou Evergrande 0
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