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Neymar’s Debut Stifled as Al-Hilal Snatch Late Draw

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Neymar’s Debut Stifled as Al-Hilal Snatch Late Draw

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In an age where football transfers often make more headlines than actual gameplay, Neymar’s move from Paris Saint-Germain to Al Hilal for a reported €90 million was arguably the most talked-about. The anticipation surrounding his debut in the Asian Champions League, however, quickly turned to suspense and eventually disappointment, as Al Hilal struggled to carve out a 1-1 draw against Uzbekistan’s Navbahor.

Monday’s clash at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium saw Neymar making his first ACL start, having just been introduced as a substitute in a prior Saudi Pro League match against Al Riyadh. The scene was set for a dazzling display, but Navbahor had other ideas.

By the 52nd minute, newcomer Navbahor, fresh from their runners-up position in the 2022 Uzbekistan Super League, showcased their intent. Toma Tabatadze’s expert finish gave them a lead, asserting that they were not just making up numbers in this elite competition. The twist in the tale came in injury time when Al Hilal’s Ali Al Bulaihi headed in the equalizer, following a corner by Michael. The relief was palpable, but the narrative had pivoted from Neymar’s debut to Al Hilal’s desperate search for an equalizer.

Throughout the night, Neymar seemed out of his element. After recently being crowned Brazil’s all-time lead goalscorer, much was expected of him. But Navbahor’s defense was relentless, meting out robust challenges, one of which saw Neymar being stepped on post a tackle. His subsequent reactions, including pushing an opponent and venting his frustration by kicking the ball, earned him a yellow card. While he had an opportunity to restore Al Hilal’s pride with a header late in the game, Navbahor’s goalkeeper Utkir Yusupov thwarted him.


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In other Group D events, Nassaji Mazandaran made a winning debut against Mumbai City with a 2-0 scoreline. The Saudi champions, Al Ittihad, sans their star player Karim Benzema, showcased their prowess with a 3-0 victory over AGMK from Uzbekistan. Haroune Camara and Romarinho led the charge in Benzema’s absence, with the latter bagging a brace.

Iraq’s Air Force Club drawing 2-2 with 2007’s runners-up Sepahan, Al Sadd’s goalless draw against UAE’s Sharjah, and Al Faisaly’s last-minute loss to Nasaf highlighted the evening’s unpredictability.

The Asian Champions League, reverting to a home-and-away format this year, promises a season full of twists till mid-December. The top 10 and six best second-placed teams will move into knockout rounds, culminating in a two-legged final come May.

Reflecting on the matches, the story wasn’t merely about Neymar’s disappointing debut or Al Hilal’s last-minute salvage. It’s about the essence of football — its inherent magic that captivates, its ability to remain unpredictable, to surprise, and to keep millions across the globe at the edge of their seats. These games remind us why we fell in love with the sport in the first place. The emotions, the roller-coaster rides of hope and despair, the unity it fosters among diverse fans. In this world of ACL, every team has its day, every player has a moment, and every match tells a story. As each game unfolds, it adds a new chapter to the grand narrative of football. The journey has just begun


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