It wasn't a good day for Asia at the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup as the tournament got underway in Qatar on Thursday. South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai FC and hosts Al Duhail SC both crashed out of the competition after defeats in their second-round fixtures.
Centre-back Kim Kee-hee had put Ulsan ahead in what was dubbed the "Tigers derby" that opened the 17th edition of the competition. But André-Pierre Gignac equalised and then found the winning goal for Tigres UANL before the interval at the Education City Stadium to send the CONCACAF Champions League winners through to the semifinals with a 2-1 win.
African champions Al Ahly SC of Egypt held on to a first-half goal from Hussein El-Shahat to eliminate defending Qatar Stars League champions Al Duhail 1-0. The nine-time CAF Champions League winners will now face European champions Bayern Munich in the last four on February 8 while Tigres take on Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras the day before. The two Asian sides will face each other on Sunday to decide the fifth place finish in the Club World Cup.
Ulsan show promise under new boss, but Tigres at a different level
The opening match pitted two teams at different stages of their season. While Tigres were evidently at a higher gear, thanks to the 2020-21 Liga MX kicking off in January, Ulsan are still in their preseason. Their players were still gelling ahead the K League 1 start later this month.
South Korean legend Hong Myung-bo, who replaced veteran manager Kim Do-hoon, has had a tough start trying to replace Lee Keun-ho, Bjorn Johnsen, Sin Jin-ho, and last season's top scorer, Junior Negrao.
Ulsan were also without Lee Chung-yong, Koh Myong-jin and Hong Chul who helped them top Persepolis at the AFC Champions League final in Qatar last December. Newcomer Kim Ji-hyun led their depleted attack while Lukas Hinterseer, signed from German side Hamburger SV, only made the bench. There were also debuts for new players Lee Dong-jun and Shin Hyung-min.
The Asian champions took the lead through a Kim header in the 24th minute only for former France international Gignac to equalise in the 38th minute. Tigres' all-time leading top scorer was on target again before the half-time break converting the penalty that put UANL through to the next round.
Ulsan continue to be winless in the Club World Cup having also lost their debut game in the tournament in 2012 to Mexico's CF Monterrey. Hong will now shift his focus to getting his team ready to mount a challenge for a domestic league title that has eluded them for 15 years.
Al Duhail cry foul as second-half resurgence not enough against Al Ahly
Having qualified as champions of the host nation, Al Duhail received a bye into the second round after their scheduled first-round opponents, Auckland City, withdrew from the tournament due to New Zealand's COVID-19 restrictions.
Al Duhail probed and probed for an equaliser in the second half after what was a forgettable first 45 minutes against the Egyptians. Al Ahly, almost a permanent fixture in this competition, had taken a contentious lead at the half-hour mark through El-Shahat after Qatar international Bassam Al-Rawi was robbed of the possession in the final third.
Walter Bwalya, picked ahead of the more-experienced Marwan Mohsen, closed down the 23-year-old and handed the ball back to El-Shahat who blasted his shot from the edge of the box past Salah Zakaria in Al Duhail goal for the opener. All the while, Al Duhail's French tactician, Sabri Lamouchi, was furious on the touchline demanding a free kick for what he deemed to be a foul in the build up.
Lacking creativity in the first period, Lamouchi introduced the talented Almoez Ali and the lanky Mohammed Muntari at half time to lead his side's attack. The changes did bring a change, but neither Ali's fierce shots nor Muntari's aerial prowess managed to find a way past Egypt international custodian Mohamed El-Shenawy.
With a fifth-place playoff against Ulsan coming up next, the Red Knights will be hoping to salvage some pride by finishing the tournament with a victory at home.