Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande roared to the top of their AFC Champions League group on Tuesday, with resurgent former winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in hot pursuit.
Argentinian midfielder Dario Conca and Brazilian import Muriqui were both on target as Guangzhou beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 at home. Guangzhou's second win in four Group H games was enough to supplant stumbling Thai champions Buriram United, who fell 3-2 to 2006 champions Jeonbuk.
The Chinese Super League title-holders smashed Jeonbuk 5-1 in their first game, but slipped up away against Buriram and drew against Kashiwa away last time around.
At Guangzhou Tianhe Sports Centre, they were ahead through Conca on 29 minutes before Hiroki Sakai levelled for the visitors five minutes after half-time. But within minutes Muriqui, Guangzhou's top-scorer last season, had the Chinese side back in front and added gloss to the scoreline six minutes from time.
Now Guangzhou will face Jeonbuk in their penultimate group match next month in a game which could decide the group. Jeonbuk have won their last two games to sit just one point behind the leaders.
Chinese football's profile has risen dramatically since Guangzhou began a trend of big-money signings, highlighted by Shanghai Shenhua's landmark capture of ex-Chelsea star Nicolas Anelka.
Tokyo maintain lead
In Group F, FC Tokyo maintained their narrow lead with a 3-0 win over Beijing Guoan inspired by forward Kazuma Watanabe, who headed the opener from a free-kick on seven minutes. Watanabe also provided the cross for Yohei Otake to make it 2-0 in first-half injury time. Substitute midfielder Tatsuya Yazawa dribbled into the box and fired the third after the break.
The win made up for Tokyo's disappointing 1-1 draw in Beijing last time around, and kept them ahead of Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai by virtue of their superior goal difference. "It was an important game. It was good result that we won it without several regular starting players from the J.League, but we made it," said Tokyo's coach Ranko Popovic.
Watanabe was delighted to get on the scoresheet after struggling to get into Tokyo's starting team. "It's a long time since I last started a game, so I really wanted to help the team win. I'm glad that I could," Watanabe said. "I received a nice ball and I'm happy that it went in. I tried to help the team win and I'm really happy that I did it."
Elsewhere, Ulsan's 2-1 away win all but ended Australian champions Brisbane Roar's chances in the competition. Ulsan captain Kwak Tae-Hwi scored a penalty with 18 minutes remaining to give the Korean club the win after the teams had gone into the break locked at one goal apiece.
"We made two mistakes and were punished," said Brisbane coach Ange Postecoglou, whose team is now six points off the Group F lead with two games remaining. "We also had a number of chances in the front third and didn't convert them, which cost us. At the end of the day, we just have to get better."
Tight contests in the west
A 41st-minute goal by Temurkhuja Abdukholiqov gave Pakhtakor a 1-0 win at Qatari outfit Al Arabi that allowed the Uzbek side to close to within three points of Group B leaders Al Ittihad, who drew 0-0 at Bani Yas.
Group D leaders Persepolis were prevented from recording a third straight win by an injury-time goal from Lawrence Quaye, which earned ten-man Al Gharafa a 1-1 draw at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.
Saudi giants Al Hilal are now two points behind the Iranians in second place after a brace from Moroccan international Youssef El Arabi secured a 2-1 win over Al Shabab Al Arabi in the other group game.