Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s hopes of a maiden J.League title are looking brighter after the weekend results, while conversely high-flying Guangzhou Evergrande hit turbulence in their quest for back-to-back titles in China PR.
FIFA.com also reviews the latest from Korea Republic, plus early-season action from Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, as well as Pacific Island nation Vanuatu.
Japan's J.League: Key results see table taking clear shape
It was a potentially pivotal round as Vegalta Sendai suffered a damaging blow to their title hopes, champions Kashiwa Reysol saw their feint hopes of retaining their crown ended, while Consadole Sapporo became the first team to be relegated. Leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima maintained their recent form to go five points clear on the back of a comfortable 4-1 win over in-form Sagan Tosu, with the league’s leading scorer Hisato Sato bagging a double. Vegalta, however, saw their half-time lead overturned as Shimizu S-Pulse banged home three second-half goals.
Big match: Urawa Red Diamonds left it late but Popo’s winner deep into injury time against Kashiwa Reysol hauled the Saitama giants level with second-placed Vegalta. It was an impressive return to form for Urawa, who had crashed to a 5-0 defeat against struggling Gamba Osaka the week before.
Headline-grabber: Shimizu’s young guns claimed the spotlight following last week’s departure of Alex Brosque and Shinji Ono to Al Ain and Western Sydney Wanderers respectively. Their 3-1 win against Reysol was forged on goals from Kim Hyunsung, his first since joining the club in August, and debutant Yuji Senuma.
China PR's Super League: Jiangsu edge Guangzhou from summit
Guangzhou Evergrande's hopes of a successful title defence were dealt a major blow over the weekend after falling 2-1 at Qingdao Jonoon. The upset result allowed chief rivals Jiangsu Sainty to edge ahead on goal difference with a 3-2 home win over Dalian Aerbin, with just four rounds to go. Also on the receiving end of a shock defeat were Beijing Guoan, who conceded four unanswered goals against Changchun Yatai at home. The biggest beneficiary were Guangzhou R&F, who saw off Guizhou Renhe 1-0 to cement their hold on third, three points clear of the capital side.
Big match: The round witnessed the derby between two of the league's most successful sides, with eight-time champions Dalian Shide entertaining four-time winners Shandong Luneng. The pair played out a 1-1 draw, having drawn 2-2 earlier in the campaign.
Headline-grabber: Bruno Meneghel and Zheng Long were on target as Qingdao produced the round's biggest surprise by downing nine-man Guangzhou at home. The spirited triumph moved struggling Qingdao out of the relegation zone.
The United Arab Emirates league season will be keenly fought if early results are any indication, with no team managing to retain a perfect record after two rounds. A double on debut from Uruguayan Emiliano Alfaro helped Al Wasl to a 2-2 draw at Al Nasr and a narrow lead atop the fledgling standings on goal difference, ahead of their rivals as well as Dhafra and Dubai. Ghana star Asamoah Gyan also hit a brace as former Asian champions Al Ain secured their first win of the new season with a 4-1 away triumph over Ajman.
The fledging Qatar season saw a trio of contenders stay perfect after the opening three games, but it was Al Rayyan that hold down top spot ahead of both Al Sadd and Al Wakra on goal difference. Al Rayyan toppled defending champions Lekhwiya 3-1 at home, while Al Sadd overcame Umm Salal 2-0 at home, with Spanish star Raul opening the scoring before initiating the move which led to the match-winning goal.
There was no weekend action in Korea Republic, with a full round taking place in midweek. Leaders FC Seoul maintained their impressive form with a 2-1 win at Ulsan Hyundai Horangi on Wednesday, denting the home side’s confidence ahead of their AFC Champions League meeting with Al Hilal. Second-placed Jeonbuk Motors maintained their slim hopes of making up the five-point margin on the leaders thanks to a 3-1 victory against Suwon Bluewings, with evergreen striker Lee Donggook bagging a brace.
In Lebanon, the new season saw champions Safa commence their title defence in disappointing fashion with a 1-0 loss at Al Akha Ahly. It was also a modest opening for Al Ansar, with the record-breaking 13-time champions held 1-1 at Tripoli SC. The early frontrunners are Shabab Al Ghazieh, who cruised to a 7-1 rout of Al Nijmeh.
In Vanuatu, reigning champions Amicale continued their return to form ahead of their looming OFC O-League campaign with a 1-0 triumph over Erakor Golden Star. After losing the season opener, the 2010 O-League finalists have now won consecutive matches, but still trail Spirit 08, who were 2-1 victors over the team that defeated Amicale a fortnight ago, Shepherds United.