Neymar scores first Al Hilal goal in victory over Nassaji in AFC Champions League

Both sides reduced to 10 men as Brazil star gets off the mark for SPL club

Al Hilal's Neymar, right, and FC Nassaji Mazandaran's Esmaeil Babaei, left, challenge for the ball. AP
Powered by automated translation

Neymar scored his first goal for Al Hilal as the Saudi Pro League side collected an easy 3-0 win over Iran's Nassaji Mazandaran in the AFC Champions League at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on Tuesday night.

The Brazil star, who had drawn a blank in five Hilal games across all competitions, made it 2-0 on the hour mark with a classy finish across the keeper from the edge of the box. Almost immediately from the restart he ran through the home defence again but this time his dinked finish came back off the foot of the post and was scrambled clear.

Aleksandar Mitrovic earlier opened the scoring with a trademark header and Saleh Al Shehri struck a third late on in a win that elevates Hilal to second place in Group D, level on four points with Navbahor, who beat Mumbai City 3-0 earlier in the day.

There had been considerable doubt about the game going ahead throughout most of Tuesday following Monday night's incident in Iran before the abandoned tie involving Hilal's SPL rivals Al Ittihad and their hosts Sepahan.

The Group C match was called off at the last minute as players from the Saudi club reportedly refused to enter the pitch due to a statue of assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani being at the end of the tunnel in proximity to the playing surface.

The Asian Football Confederation said the game, which was due to be played in Isfahan's Naghsh-e Jahan Stadium, had been “cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances”.

However, Hilal did take to the pitch at the same Azadi Stadium that had hosted Cristiano Ronaldo and Al Nassr last month – and it didn't take them long to have the ball in the net.

Neymar unlocked the home defence and Mitrovic bundled in a low cross only to be flagged for offside.

The Serbian striker was in the thick of the action and wasn't in the mood to be denied as his towering header then did break the deadlock.

Soon the game became a 10-a-side match with a red card for either side after a scuffle involving a large number of players. Hilal's Salman Al Faraj and Nassaji's Amir Mohammad Houshmand were both guilty of raising their hands and dismissed after a VAR check.

Elsewhere, Al Ain took control of Group A with a dominant 4-2 victory over Turkmenistan's Ahal FC at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.

Erik's fourth minute goal set the tone for the UAE team who then opened up a 3-0 lead by half-time with Soufiane Rahimi and Kodjo Laba also on target. The visitors pulled a couple of goals back either side of a fourth for Al Ain courtesy of Kouame Kouadio.

The win means the Boss have six points from two games and sit three clear of Ahal and the SPL's Al Fayha who were 3-0 winners over Pakhtakor in the group's other game.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 4:05 AM