Fourteen games, 13 victories - Matchday 3 of the AFC Asian Champions League 2007 certainly provided its thrills across the continent. Al Ahly and Al Wahda were the only sides to return a point, their first of the campaign apiece, as a quintet of teams retained pole position in their respective pools.
Among them were Kashima Antlers, who remain the only team with a 100 per cent record following a defeat of Beijing Guoan in Group F. Danilo scored the only goal for the Japanese champions in the 53rd minute, although their Chinese visitors, who had been down to ten men following Zhou Ting's 33rd-minute dismissal, spurned a great chance to equalise when Tiago's penalty was saved by Hitoshi Sogahata.
"We still have to play Beijing once again [on 23 April in China PR] and we have to do what we've got to do," said Kashima coach Oswaldo de Oliveira, whose side now sit three points above their rivals in the race for the section's only ticket to the next phase. "Today they (Beijing) played defensively on purpose with the help of their experienced players but in our next match they can be more aggressive in an attack. That, I think, can produce more goals from both sides."
Saipa also stayed in control of their group, winning 1-0 over Al Quwa Al Jawiya in Iraq courtesy of Amir Vaziri's header on the stroke of half-time. The result moved the Iranians, who played the last 30 minutes at a numerical disadvantage, three points clear of their second-placed opponents.
"I would like to thank our players as they played well especially in the second half," said Saipa tactician Ali Daei. " ."
Al Karama and Al Qadsia also enjoy three-point cushions atop of Groups C and D respectively. The former beat Al Sadd 2-0 on their travels, while the Kuwaiti giants edged Al Gharafa 1-0 at home.
Adelaide United maintained their unbeaten run with a 2-1 reverse of Binh Duong in Vietnam, Diego Walsh and Richie Alagich finding the target for the Australian A-Leaguers. "Binh Duong played technically and tactically good football," said United boss Aurelio Vidmar afterwards.
"It was hard to take the ball forward, especially when we got the opening goal because whenever my players got the ball they were always surrounded by three Binh Duong players. But I am happy with the three points. This will help us reach our target this season," he concluded.
Adelaide continue to lead Group C on goal difference after Changchun Yatai kept pace with an impressive 1-0 win over Pohang Steelers.
Duo fall from pole
Two section leaders going into the round were, nevertheless, unable to stay in the driving seat. Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad slipped from the Group A summit after losing 2-1 to Sepahan, who closed to within three points of the pace.
Uzbekistan's Kuruvchi outstripped the Saudi heavyweights on goal difference after beating their Syrian namesakes 2-0. "This victory wasn't a gift. We had a lot of chances to score and we could have even have sealed the win early in the first half," said Kuruvchi coach Mirdjalol Kasimov.
"Al Ittihad are a good team but they were missing two of their key players. They didn't play well and hopefully we can repeat this win in our next game in Tashkent."
Chonburi also slid from the top of their pool. Kim Mung-Woon was the solitary marksman as Chunnam Dragons relegated the Thai outfit into second place in Group G. Replacing them out front were Gamba Osaka, who snatched a pulsating 4-3 victory over Melbourne Victory thanks to Lucas' last-gasp header.
" ," said the Japanese side's coach Akira Nishino. "Even in an away game like this we don't think a draw is good enough. Every team member knows that no matter what happens, we have to keep attacking."
AFC Champions League 2008, Matchday 3;
Wednesday 9 April
Group C: Al Ahly (Saudi Arabia) 0-0 Al Wahda (UAE); Al Sadd (Qatar) 0-2 Al Karama (Syria)
Group D: Al Qadsia (Kuwait) 1-0 Al Gharafa (Qatar); Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan) 2-0 Arbil (Iraq)
Group E: Binh Duong (Vietnam) 1-2 Adelaide United (Australia); Changchun Yatai (China) 1-0 Pohang Steelers (Korea Republic)
Group F: Kashima Antlers (Japan) 1-0 Beijing Guoan (China); Krung Thai Bank (Thailand) 9-1 Nam Dinh (Vietnam)