Though only at the half-way point of the AFC Champions League group stage, the picture is already becoming much clearer. Kashima Antlers, Seongnam Ilhwa and Adelaide United all celebrated a third straight victory on Matchday 3 to close in on qualification for the knockout stage, while at the opposite end of the spectrum four teams are staring at early elimination having yet to collect a single point.
Korea Republic clubs dominated their much-hyped meetings against neighbouring Chinese clubs with all four of their teams emerging victors. However, the Chinese, as with all those vanquished on Matchday 3, will not have to wait long to seek their revenge with the return meetings to take place next week.
On the other side of the continent, there were mixed results in the Uzbek-Iranian affairs with Pakhtakor edging Sepahan 2-1 to stay atop of Group C. However Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Bunyodkor conceded their position atop Group B with a surprise 3-0 defeat against Zob Ahan.
Elsewhere, UAE’s Al Ain, 2008 champions Gamba Osaka and two-time winners Al Ittihad, all returned to the winners circle for the first time this campaign. Reigning champions Pohang Steelers overcame Shandong Luneng 1-0 for their second win on the trot to maintain pressure on Group H leaders Adelaide United.
The big game
Seongnam Ilhwa 3-1 Beijing Guoan
Goals: Song Ho-Young 78, Radoncic 87, Jo Jae-Chol 90+3 pen; Maurice Ross 17
Both sides entered the top-of-the-table contest of Group E seeking their third win but it was South Koreans Seongnam Ilhwa who came out on top with a 3-1 home win to maintain their 100 per cent record. The visitors took the lead after 17 minutes when former Scotland international Maurice Ross unleashed a powerful low drive past Jung Sung-Ryong. The Chinese champions held on until 12 minutes remaining when second-half substitute Song Ho-Young latched onto Molina's through pass to equalise. The 22-year-old Song then turned provider crossing perfectly for Dzenan Radoncic to finish, with Jo Jae-Chol comfortably tucking away a late penalty.
Despite the defeat, Beijing remain second, three points clear of Japanese big guns Kawasaki Frontale, whose 4-0 home win over Melbourne Victory gained them a lifeline but almost certainly spelled the end of the road for the Australian club.
Zob Ahan 3-0 Bunyodkor
Goals: Mohammed Hosseini 38, Mohammad Ghazi 54, Mohammad Khalabari 80
With two opening wins Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor stated their intentions but their ambitions of winning their first Asian title were dealt a blow following a heavy 3-0 loss at Iran’s Zob Ahan. Bunyodkor had an early sight of goal but Denilson's shot was tipped away and it was the hosts who broke the deadlock seven minutes from the break when Hassan Ashjari set Mohammed Hosseini up for the opener. Mohammad Ghazi doubled the lead nine minutes into the second period with a 30-yard stunner and Mohammad Khalabari sealed the game with ten minutes remaining. The win saw Zob Ahan move up top of Group B, a point clear of the Tashkent giants. In the other group match Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad kept their hopes alive after recording a 2-0 away win against UAE’s Al Wahda.
It proved a good week for Iranian clubs with Tehran-based Esteghlal also collecting maximum points by defeating Qatar’s Al Gharafa 3-0 at home to move top of Group A. Forward Farhad Majidi scored in either half to give the hosts a 2-0 lead before Pejman Montazeri headed home late on to put the result beyond doubt. In the other match, Saudis Al Ahli finally picked up their first points with a 5-1 home triumph against Al Jazira to claw themselves back into contention.
High-flying Riyadh club Al Hilal saw their winning streak brought to an unexpected end after being held to a 1-1 draw by Al Ahli of UAE. Despite the disappointment, Al Hilal remains at the top of Group D, a point clear of Al Sadd, who surprised Iran’s Mes Kerman with a 4-1 home win.
In Group F, Japanese champions Kashima Antlers showed Persipura Jayapura no mercy by firing five unanswered goals past their Indonesian visitors. The win cemented Kashima’s place at the top, three points clear of Jeonbuk Motors, who came from a goal down to beat hosts Changchun Yatai courtesy of Lee Dong-Gook's last-gasp strike.
A hat-trick from Shoki Hirai helped Group G’s Gamba Osaka to their first win; a 4-2 victory over resilient hosts Singapore Armed Forces. With five points from three matches, the J.league giants remain two points adrift of Korea Republic’s Suwon Bluewings, who lead the section following a deserved 2-0 victory in China against Henan Jianye.
Group H leaders Adelaide survived a second-half scare to beat ten-man Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2. The Reds took an early lead through Travis Dodd but two second-half strikes saw the Japanese come from behind to take the lead, only for Robert Cornthwaite to equalise with Cassio sealing the win eight minutes from time. The win allowed the 2008 finalists to maintain their three-point margin over Pohang.
Player to watch
With 5 goals from two games, Al Sadd’s Leandro stands out in the continental goalscoring stakes. After completing a superb hat-trick to steer his side to a 5-0 win against Al Ahli two weeks ago, the 25-year-old Brazilian striker contributed a brace against Mes Kerman to top the tournament scoring chart.
18 - The number of goals Indonesia’s Persipura Jayapura have conceded in just three group matches to date.
What they said
"It was only luck that deprived us of full points in the previous two matches but the victory today will push our players forward to better performance and results." Al Ahli coach Sergio Farias
2010 AFC Champions League Matchday 3 results
Group A: Esteghlal (IRN) 3-0 Al Gharafa (QAT); Al Ahli (KSA) 5-1 Al Jazira (UAE)
Group B: Al Wahda (UAE) 0-2 Al Ittihad (KSA); Zob Ahan (IRN) 3-0 Bunyodkor (UZB)
Group C: Pakhtakor (UZB) 2-1 Sepahan (IRN); Al Ain (UAE) 2-1 Al Shabab (KSA)
Group D: Al Hilal (KSA) 1-1 Al Ahli (UAE); Al Sadd (QAT) 4-1 Mes Kerman (Iran)
Group E: Seongnam Ilhwa (KOR) 3-1 Beijing Guoan (CHN); Kawasaki Frontale (JPN) 4-0 Melbourne Victory (AUS)
Group F: Changchun Yatai (CHN) 1-2 Jeonbuk Motors (KOR); Kashima Antlers (JPN) 5-0 Persipura Jayapura (IDN)
Group G: Armed Forces (SIN) 2-4 Gamba Osaka (JPN); Henan Jianye (CHN) 0-2 Suwon Bluewings (KOR)
Group H: Pohang Steelers (KOR) 1-0 Shandong Luneng; Adelaide United (AUS) 3-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima (JPN)