Neymar makes AFC Champions League debut as Al Hilal salvage late draw against Navbahor

Brazilian makes first start for Saudi Arabian club but it needed a goal 10 minutes into stoppage time from Al Bulaihi to spare blushes

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Ali Al Bulaihi's equaliser 10 minutes into stoppage time spared Al Hilal's blushes as Neymar made his first start for the Saudi Pro League side in a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan's Navbahor in the Asian Champions League in Riyadh on Monday.

Saudi Arabia international defender Al Bulaihi rose to meet Brazilian winger Michael's centre to cancel out a Toma Tabatadze strike in the 52nd minute of the Group D meeting that had looked set to earn Samvel Babayan's side an unlikely win.

Neymar, among the headline arrivals in Saudi Arabia over the summer, was included in the starting line-up for the first time since his €90 million move from Paris Saint-Germain but was frustrated throughout the encounter.

The Brazilian looked like he would end up on the losing side until Al Bulaihi's header, which came during more than 14 minutes of injury time, finally put an end to Navbahor's determined resistance against their expensively-assembled opponents.

Only the winners of the 10 groups in the 40-team competition are guaranteed to advance to last 16 and Al Hilal sit behind debutants Nassaji Mazandaran in the early standings.

The Iranians top the group after securing a 2-0 win over India's Mumbai City in Pune through a goal in each half from Ehsan Hosseini and Mohammad Reza Azadi.

Romarinho made the difference as Al Ittihad shrugged off the absence of star man Karim Benzema to cruise to a 3-0 win over Uzbekistan’s AGMK in Jeddah.

Benzema played the full 90 and scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 win over Al Okhdood in the Saudi Pro League last Thursday but missed out on the squad entirely on Monday night.

Romarinho filled the void, however, with two well-taken goals after Haroune Camara had opened the scoring with just 11 minutes on the clock.

Romarinho, centre, celebrates after scoring for Al Ittihad against AGMK, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. EPA

Dilshodbek Akhmadaliev coughed up possession cheaply and Camara tucked home the rebound after Muhannad Al Shanqiti’s shot was saved.

Just four minutes later the SPL champions doubled their advantage, Camara this time seeing his effort saved only for Romarinho to follow up.

Camara and Al Shanqiti both went close to adding a third before Akhmadaliev's evening got worse as he gave away a penalty which Romarinho converted to seal a 3-0 lead at half time.

The SPL side continued to dominate after the break with Camara shooting wide in the 75th minute and Saleh Al Amri hitting the crossbar in injury time.

Al Ittihad lead the table after Air Force Club shared a 2-2 draw with Sepahan from Iran, with 19-year-old Ali Jassim scoring twice for the Iraqi side in Erbil.

Meanwhile, Nasaf from Uzbekistan secured a late 1-0 win over Jordan's Al Faisaly to top Group B ahead of Qatar's Al Sadd and Sharjah of the UAE, who shared a 0-0 draw.

in Group C, Kuwait Premier League side Al Arabi got off to a winning start with a 2-1 win against hosts Al Zawraa at the Basra International Stadium.

Mamadou Thiam and Hamza Khabba were on target for the visitors, while Ali Mohsin replied for the Iraqi side.

In Group A, Lebanon’s Al Ahed fought back from a goal down to defeat Al Nahda of Oman 2-1 and Mohammed Yamin's goal gave Palestine's Jabal Al Mukaber a 1-0 win over Syria's Al Futuwa.

In Group D, ACL debutants Nassaji Mazandaran made a winning start as goals from Ehsan Hosseini and Mohammadreza Azadi earned Mehdi Rahmati’s side a 2-0 victory over Mumbai City in Pune.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 7:28 AM