Saudi Arabia defender Al-Bulaihi stepped up to cancel out Toma Tabatadze’s strike in the 52nd minute of a Group D encounter that looked set to give Samvel Babayan’s team an unlikely victory.
Neymar, who became one of Saudi Arabia’s top acquisitions in the summer, was included in the starting lineup for the first time since moving from Paris Saint-Germain for 90 million euros ($96 million) but was frustrated throughout the encounter.
The Brazilian looked as if he would end up as the underdog until Al-Bulaihi’s header, which followed more than 14 minutes of injury time, ended Nawbahor’s determined resistance against a costly opponent.
Only the winners of the 10 groups of 40 teams are guaranteed to qualify for the last 16, with Al-Hilal trailing debutants Mazandaran Nassaji at the top of the standings.
Iranians top the group after beating Nassaji Mazandaran. The 2-0 victory over India’sm Mumbai City in Pune thanks to goals from Ehsan Hossaini and Mohammad Reza Azadi in each half.
There were no such problems for Saudi Professional League champions Al Ittihad, who scored an emphatic 3-0 win over ASMK of Uzbekistan in Group C despite coach Nuno Espirito Santo omitting former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema from the squad.
Harun Kamara gave the former champions a great start in Jeddah in the 11th minute, scoring after a Botirali Ergashev strike, before Romarinho doubled the lead four minutes later with a classy shot from close range.
The Brazilian scored the third goal three minutes before the break from the penalty spot after Abderazak Hamdallah fouled Dilshodbek Akhmadaliyev.
Al-Ittihad lead the standings after the Air Force club played out a 2-2 draw with Iran’s Sepahan. Ali Jassim, 19, scored twice for the Iraqi team in Erbil.
Meanwhile, Nasaf of Uzbekistan.Tan, A late 1-0 victory over Jordan’s Al Faisali topped Group B ahead of Qatar’s Al Sadd and Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates, who drew 0-0.