In the wake of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, the continental focal point has switched to the rapidly approaching 2011 AFC Champions League which commences on 1 March. With participants from east Asia busy in pre-season mode, west Asian contenders have been able to sharpen form in their respective domestic competitions. In Iran, the past weekend saw all four qualifiers emerging triumphant with Zob Ahan back in winning form, while holders Sepahan, plus Tehran duo Esteghlal and Persepolis, all prevailing in their respective fixtures. But it was a different story for the United Arab Emirates champions Al Wahda, who were humbled by bottom side Al Ittihad Kalba, while fellow participants Al Jazira strengthened their leading place with a win over Al Sharjah.
In Australia, the A-League season is fast approaching its finale with two more teams eliminated over the weekend, while Brisbane Roar maintained their remarkable unbeaten streak to move a step closer to the championship decider. FIFA.com’s review of domestic football across Asia/Oceania also this week takes in the latest from Kuwait and New Zealand.
Iran: No change in the top three
2011 AFC Champions League finalists Zob Ahan produced the biggest win of the weekend round with a 6-0 dismantling of Sanat Naft. With the home win, the frontrunners cemented their place at the top of the standings, two points clear of second-placed Esteghlal who dispatched visiting Naft Tehran 3-1. Trailing by a point in third place are champions Sepahan, who recorded a solitary-goal win at Pas Hamadan.
Big game: Despite the drastic drop of form midway through the campaign, Tehran giants Persepolis continue to claw their way back up the table registering their third win in four outings after overcoming hosts Shahin 2-1. Sepehr Heidari put the visitors in front after five minutes and although the home side leveled soon after courtesy of Emad Mohammed Ridha, it was Persepolis that had the final say with Gholam Reza Arza scoring the match-winner just past the hour-mark.
Headline-grabber: Having suffered a 2-0 blow against Sepahan a week ago for a fourth defeat this season, Zob Ahan bounced back in spectacular fashion registering three points and half a dozen goals at the expense of mid-table Sanat Naft. Mohammad Ghazi Najafabadi opened the scoring for the hosts after 21 minutes before Seyed Mohammad Hosseini doubled the lead with his ninth goal of the season. Zob Ahan went on to put the visitors to the sword after interval with Jalal Rafkhaei, Igor José Marigo de Castro and Mehdi Rajabzadeh each on target within the space of seven minutes, before Farshid Talebi struck in added time to seal the triumph.
United Arab Emirates: Holders stunned by strugglers
Runaway leaders Al Jazira maintained their eight-point cushion ahead of second-placed Bani Yas as the Abu Dhabi giants continued their unbeaten run after thirteen rounds with a 3-0 home win over Al Sharjah. Bani Yas, for their part, came away with a 2-0 victory at Al Dhafra, while Al Shabab routed Dubai by an identical scoreline to move up to fourth place.
Big game: 2009 winners Al Ahli remained in third place despite losing to city rivals Al Wasl 2-0. The former may have entered the Dubai derby as slight favourites but it was the home side that emerged victors courtesy of goals from Saaed Al Kas and Omran Abdulrahman. The defeat left Al Ahli just a point clear of Al Shabab, while Al Wasl climb to fifth with their sixth win of the campaign.
Headline-grabber: Defending champions Al Wahda were on the losing end of a 5-3 thriller against minnows Al Ittihad Kalba who remain languishing at the bottom despite recording a famous win. Ismaeil Matar was the only Al Wahda player to impress as the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup adidas Golden Ball winner netted a hat-trick but his individual efforts did little to prevent his out-of-form side from conceding their fifth loss.
Australia: Roar a step away from championship decider
Brisbane Roar, having recently claimed the premiership after finishing top of the league ladder, took a giant stride towards a berth in the grand final in the opening week of the A-League finals series. Ange Postecoglou’s side rode their luck to extend their unbeaten run to 26 matches with a 2-0 first-leg win at Central Coast Mariners. The home side hit the frame for the goal on three occasions but Brisbane prevailed with impressive goals from Kiwi youngster Kosta Barbarouses and captain Matt McKay. The Roar will be defending an unbeaten home record this season when the Mariners visit next weekend.
Big game: Ricki Herbert’s Wellington Phoenix saw their season come to an end with a 1-0 defeat at Adelaide United. Despite a poor record on the road the New Zealand side were undone only by a lone Travis Dodd strike midway through the second period.
Headline-grabber: Central defender Dino Djulbic was the unlikely hero with his towering injury-time header lifting Gold Coast United to a 1-0 win against experienced finals campaigners Melbourne Victory. The club’s first ever finals defeat in regulation time ended their campaign while United earned themselves a trip to Adelaide.
The top-of-the-table meeting in Kuwait saw runners-up Kuwait SC down pacesetters Al Qadissiyah 3-0 to reduce the gap on their rivals to merely a point. Meanwhile, 16-time winners Al Arabi fell further off the pace although remain in third place after losing 1-0 at the hands of Kazma, who now trail just a point behind their rivals.
In New Zealand, Waitakere United returned to the winners circle with an overwhelming 6-1 defeat of Waikato FC, after the perennial title challengers had suffered two recent defeats which had seen their lead at the summit trimmed back from a seemingly unassailable gap. Former New Zealand youth international Allan Pearce bagged a brace in the home team's win to extend his lead at the top of the goalscoring charts. Waitakere are now six points clear after second-placed Auckland City had the weekend off due to OFC O-League commitments.