Bahrain’s Al Riffa got their AFC Cup 2023-24 campaign off to a flying start by defeating Lebanon’s Nejmeh SC 2-0 at the Khalifa Sports City Stadium last night.
The win takes Al Riffa top of Group C on goal difference, ahead of Kuwait’s Al Arabi SC who enjoyed a 2-1 win over Iraq’s Al Zawraa SC in the group’s other match.
Despite Nejmeh entering the match in a position of strength having played four rounds of domestic league matches, it was Al Riffa who dominated the opening proceedings.
Riffa opened the scoring in the 35th minute, when Jasim Alshaikh got hold of the ball at the edge of the box and with Nejmeh defenders backing off, he sent a thunderous shot past Mohamad Bechara.
Nejmeh were content to field crosses into the box to feed big target man Jose Embalo but their lack of accuracy left the team in red increasingly frustrated.
Instead, it was Al Riffa who increased their advantage in the 41st minute when Nejmeh failed to clear from a long throw, allowing Vinicius Vargas time to find Ali Hasan Saeed for the simplest of tap-ins.
Nejmeh improved after the half time break but had to wait until the 78th minute to force a meaningful save from Al Riffa.
From a free-kick, the ball fell kindly onto the path of Khalil Bader but his near post shot was instinctively saved by Mahmood Abdulghani, ensuring a clean sheet and an opening day success for Al Riffa.
Earlier, Kuwait Premier League side Al Arabi also got off to a flying start against hosts Al Zawraa at the Basra International Stadium.
Al Arabi missed three chances in quick succession when each of Nayef Al Shammari, Bader Al Fadhel and Abdulrahman Al Suwayt took turns firing wayward shots goalwards, although attempts to put pressure on the hosts were welcomed by head coach Thomas Brdaric.
The pressure eventually led to the opener which came minute before half-time, when Hamad Al Qallaf charged into the penalty area and put himself into space, before chipping the ball into Mamadou Thiam’s path with the Senegalese forward lashing home for his side’s opener.
Hossam El Badry’s men wasted no time getting the equaliser straight after the break, with a corner kick floated towards the far corner eluding several players before Maytham Jabbar played low into the six-yard box, leaving the task of tapping in for Ali Mohsin who made no mistake.
Thiam and Hamza Khabba combined close to the hour mark and produced a big chance for Al Arabi, when the Senegalese player controlled the ball and chipped Khabba into play ahead of the defence, but the Moroccan’s shot was blocked by the defence.
Khabba made amends late on though, when a throw in was received by Anayo Iwuala who attempted to take a shot himself but couldn’t get it off, spotting the unmarked Moroccan forward standing onside before putting the ball on a gold plate for him to finish off to make the score 2-1.