TEHRAN: Neymar scored his first goal since his move to Saudi Arabia as Al-Hilal beat Iran’s Nassaji Mazandaran 3-0 in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium in the group phase of the Asian Champions League.

The Brazilian, who moved to the Saudi Pro League side from Paris St Germain in the summer for $94m was on target in an incident-filled clash that saw both teams reduced to 10 men with seven minutes remaining in the first half.

Aleksandar Mitrovic had headed the Saudi outfit in front in the 18th minute before referee Ma Ning sent off Al-Hilal’s Salman Al Faraj and Nassaji’s Amir Houshmand after consulting the pitchside monitor following an on-field melee.

Neymar doubled Al-Hilal’s lead with a perfectly timed left-foot strike in the 58th minute and substitute Saleh Al Shehri put the seal on a comfortable win in injury time.

The victory was Al-Hilal’s first in the group phase of the continental competition this season after the four-times champions started their campaign with a draw against Navbahor last month.

The Uzbek side backed up that result with a 3-0 win over Mumbai City on Tuesday to join Al-Hilal on top of Group D with four points after goals from Jamshid Iskanderov, Jasurbek Yakhshiboev and Doniyor Abdumannopov secured victory.

Al Ain from the United Arab Emirates moved into sole possession of top spot in Group A with a 4-2 win over Turkmenistan’s Ahal as Uzbek outfit Pakhtakor slipped to a 2-0 loss against Al Fayha from Saudi Arabia.

Al Ain backed up their opening round win over Pakhtakor with an impressive attacking performance in front of their own fans as Brazilian midfielder Erik put the former champions ahead in the fourth minute with a clinical finish.

Soufiane Rahimi and Kodjo Laba ensured Al Ain had a three-goal lead at the break and, while Elman Tagayew pulled one back in the 58th minute, Kouame Kouadio netted a fourth for the hosts that meant Dayanch Meredow’s late strike was only a consolation.

Al Ain now have a three-point cushion over Ahal and Al Fayha, who had a goal in each half from Abdelhamid Sabiri to thank for their 2-0 win at home over Pakhtakor.

The winners in each of the 10 four-team groups are guaranteed to progress to the last 16, with the remaining places filled by the three teams from the east and west of the continent with the best runners-up records.

Statue row

An Asian Champions League match involving the former Premier League players N’Golo Kanté and Fabinho was called off because of a pitch-side statue of the assassinated Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani.

The Saudi Arabian team Al-Ittihad refused to leave their dressing room to take on the Iranian side Sepahan due to the bust being placed at the entrance to the pitch, at the Naghsh-e Jahan Stadium in Isfahan, central Iran. Photographs on social media showed that the statue had been placed pitch-side and would have been in full view of the players as they exited the tunnel.

Some 60,000 fans had turned out to see the cup match. In Al-Ittihad’s expected starting line-up were Kanté, formerly of Leicester City and Chelsea, and Fabinho, who left Liverpool this summer.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said the game had been “cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances”.

Soleimani, a prominent general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed near Baghdad airport in a United States drone strike in January 2020. He is viewed as a martyr by the country’s ruling regime.