Japanese teams shrugged off the chaos caused by last month's horrific earthquake to grind out valuable draws today, completing a successful week in the AFC Champions League.
Kashima Antlers, whose stadium was damaged in the disaster and who sent home foreign players as a nuclear crisis unfolded, earned a 1-1 draw away to Group H table-leaders Suwon Bluewings, while J.League champions Nagoya Grampus held FC Seoul by the same scoreline to cost the Group F pacesetters their first points of the campaign. Yesterday, Cerezo Osaka beat 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors 1-0.
The results came despite a suspension of the J.League until mid-April, to avoid sucking electricity from the crippled national grid, while Japan have provisionally withdrawn from their guest spot at this year's Copa America.
In Suwon, Yeom Ki-Hoon put the Bluewings ahead on 67 minutes only for veteran Koji Nakata to equalise four minutes later.
Elsewhere, Nagoya coach Dragan Stojkovic was left purring over a sweet debut goal for Kensuke Nagai, which put the hosts ahead against FC Seoul at Mizuho Athletic Stadium. The 22-year-old striker picked up a long clearance, beat two defenders, and finished past the out-of-position keeper on 14 minutes. But Seoul's Choi Hyun-Tae pounced on a rebound in the second half to make it honours even.
"It was a very good combination, very good counter-attack," Stojkovic said of Nagai's goal. "He shot with speed and very good concentration to score a beautiful goal."
The former Yugoslavia playmaker added that the result had buoyed Nagoya's title quest: "We will try to win this competition. It will be very difficult, but we have to continue working towards this goal."
Shanghai draw in Sydney
Meanwhile Sydney FC had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Shanghai Shenhua in an entertaining match in Australia. The result left both teams winless in Group H.
Colombian striker Duvier Riascos put Shanghai in front after six minutes, before Nick Carle cancelled out the opener just minutes later. Shanghai midfielder Feng Renliang hit the woodwork and Riascos continued to cause problems, while Sydney brought on young striker Dimitri Petratos, but neither side could break the deadlock.
"We created chances and, of course, we expected more than one point from this game," said Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka, whose team had not played in more than a month after their game with Kashima was postponed due to the earthquake. "It's a strange situation to not play a regular game for five weeks but what happened, happened. It caused trouble for us but for the people of Japan, there is much more trouble there, so we can't complain."
China's Hangzhou Greentown drew 0-0 with Al Ain of UAE but remained second in Group F behind FC Seoul.
Goals in the west
In Group B, Esteghlal recovered from the shock of conceding an early goal to see off Pakhtakor 4-2 at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
The Uzbeks silenced a boisterous home crowd with just three minutes on the clock when Dusan Savic collected Stanislav Andreev's pass on the left flank, cut inside and fired a shot from 25 yards that took a healthy deflection and flew past keeper Mohammad Mohammadi. Esteghlal, however, came back with goals from Khaki Makharadze, Farhad Majidi, Mehdi Seyed Salehi, and Aras Borhani.
Fellow Iranians Zob Ahan meanwhile took command of Group D after a 3-1 victory away to Qatari side Al Rayyan, who were reduced to ten men on the hour mark when Itamar Batista Da Sila was sent off for stamping.
Zob Ahan, last year's runners-up, took the lead through Mohamed Reza Khalatbari Limaki in the 11th minute, an advantage that lasted only until Jaralla Al Marri levelled two minutes later. Igor Jose Marigo De Castro put the visitors back in front on 24 minutes and Ghasem Hadadifar sealed the win with 20 minutes to play.
Saudi Arabians Al Shabab moved up to second place in Group D after bouncing back from an early opener by Nabil Daoudi of Emirates to run out 4-1 winners at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium.
Alhassane Keita was the inspiration, levelling in the fourth minute of first-half injury time and scoring his second five minutes after the restart. Hassan Fallatah reinforced the lead with a goal in the 74th minute, with substitute Abdullah Shuhail adding a fourth five minutes from time.
Thirty-two teams play home and away in eight groups to qualify for the knock-out stages. The event has recently been dominated by east Asia with no west Asian winners since Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad completed back-to-back wins in 2005.