Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates remained on track to advance in the Asian Champions League with an impressive 2-1 win Tuesday over Iranian club Esteghlal, while Australian A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners held 2010 tournament winners Seongnam Ilhwa to a 1-1 draw despite finishing with 10 men.
UAE league champions Al Jazira, who are undefeated in their three Group A matches, opened the scoring when Jumaa Abdullah headed home from close range in the sixth minute.
Two-time Asian champions Esteghalal drew level in the 68th minute when Ferydoon Zandi scored from long range. But three minutes later, Al Jazira striker Bare scored the winner when the Esteghalal defence gifted him the ball.
Esteghalal suffered a setback ahead of the match when goalkeeper Mahdi Rahmati - who had clean sheets in his two previous tournament matches - was ruled out with an injury.
In Australia, Adam Dwasnik hit the post with a powerful strike and then minutes later scored in the 50th minute when he finished off an attacking movement started by Daniel McBreen.
Seongnam equalised quickly with Everton Santos exposing some weaknesses in the Mariners defence, and missed a chance to take the lead when Heverton Alves hit the crossbar with his penalty shot after Josh Rose was red-carded for what appeared to be a rugby tackle on an attacker inside the area.
Both teams have three points from three draws in the group.
In Group E matches, 2008 champions Gamba Osaka ended a two-match ACL losing streak with a convincing 3-1 win over Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor, and Korean powerhouse Pohang Steelers ended Adelaide United's two-match winning run with a 1-0 victory at home.
A 68th-minute goalkeeping blunder by Eugene Galekovic, who fumbled a free kick, cost Adelaide, who now share the lead with Pohang halfway through the group stage.
Skipper Yusuhito Endo scored with a long-range strike in the 14th minute for Gamba and Rafinha converted penalties in the 58th and 77th to ensure the result for the J-League club.
Anvarjon Soliev scored a late consolation goal in the 88th minute to reduce the margin.
In Tianjin, Nagoya Grampus posted their first win in Group G with a 3-0 victory over Tianjin Teda and moved top of the table. Jungo Fijimoto opened the scoring with a superb chip midway through the first half, and after Keiji Tamada's left-footed volley doubled the visitors' lead four minutes after halftime.
Kensuke Nagai sealed the win with a goal in the 73rd minute.
Al Rayyan win
In the other Group A match, Al Rayyan of Qatar got their campaign on track with a 3-1 victory over winless Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan. Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo Barbosa Tabata opened the scoring in the sixth minute before Ilkhom Shomurodov levelled the match in the 58th minute.
But Daniel Goumou gave Al Rayyan the lead seven minutes later and Alaaeldin Ahmed secured the team's first win in the competition with an 88th-minute goal.
Fooland Sepahan of Iran remained top of Group C with a 2-1 win over tournament newcomers Lekhwiya of Qatar. Jalal Hosseini opened the scoring for the 2007 finalist in the 10th minute when he converted a penalty. Ali Hassan Afif Yahya drew Lekhwiya level in the 55th minute before Bruno Cesar scored from close range to secure the club's second win in the tournament.
In the other Group C match, Al Alhi of Saudi Arabia beat Al Nasr of the United Arab Emirates 2-1 to remain in second.
Brazilian striker Victor Simoes opened the scoring for Al Alhi and Taisir al-Jassem doubled the lead in the 50th minute. Ivorian striker Amara Diane pulled one back two minutes later for the home side but the Dubai club could not find the equaliser.
While the East Asian clubs are starting their seasons, the A-League has already entered the playoff stage.
The Mariners took a full-strength team into the continental match despite losing to Brisbane Roar in the first playoff match in the A-League last weekend.
The Mariners will be hoping to overturn the deficit at home to the Roar this weekend in a bid to gain direct entry to the grand final.
The Mariners' next Asian match is a rematch with Seongnam on April 18.
"It was a brilliant effort. The short turnaround was made even tougher by the send off, but I'm proud of the way we went for the win,'' Mariners coach Graham Arnold said.
"We've kept ourselves in the competition.''
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|Liaquat Ali Khan|