Asia/Oceania leagues review
A little over a fortnight until the AFC Champions League commences for 2011, a host of Asian contenders emerged victorious in their respective leagues over the weekend as they seek momentum heading into the opening round of the continental finals. In Saudi Arabia, three of their four participants snatched full points with Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Al Shabab all prevailing while Iran’s Sepahan and Esteghlal also won their respective games. Meanwhile, in Australia, the final round of the regular season saw Wellington Phoenix reach the finals for the second successive year, while league winners Brisbane Roar set a new benchmark ahead of the finals series.
FIFA.com’s journey around the domestic competitions of Asia and Oceania also takes in the action in Qatar, New Zealand and the opening round of the Solomon Islands' new national competition.
Australia: Giants says farewell as Phoenix rise
Wellington Phoenix claimed the last finals berth in what was the only remaining issue to be decided in the final round of the Australian A-League regular-season. The sole New Zealand representatives cruised to a 3-1 home win over North Queensland Fury, having only needed a point to extinguish Newcastle Jets’ play-off ambitions. Brisbane Roar overwhelmed Gold Coast United 4-0 to complete the 27-match campaign undefeated becoming the first team to do so in Australia. They now face Central Coast Mariners next weekend with a berth in the grand final up for grabs.
Big game: Socceroo legends John Aloisi and Josip Skoko both hung up their boots for the final time following the Melbourne Heart’s 2-2 home draw against Sydney FC. With little at stake on the competition ladder, focus was on two players who had featured prominently for the national team during its steady rise over the past decade culminating in qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. Aloisi creating an iconic Australian sporting moment in scoring the winning penalty of a shoot-out against Uruguay that ended the Socceroos’ 32-year drought on the world stage. On Saturday, Aloisi scored one of the Heart’s goals only for Nick Carle to spoil the celebrations with a late equaliser for the Sky Blues.
Headline-grabber: Wellington Phoenix’s Danny Vukovic became the first goalkeeper to score in the six-year history of the A-League by comfortably converting a late penalty in rounding out his team's victory against North Queensland at Westpac Stadium.
Saudi Arabia: Al Hilal maintain rampant form
Runaway leaders Al Hilal continued their unbeaten run as they saw off tenth-placed Al Wahda 2-1 at home. The defending champions’ eleventh victory of the season saw Al Hilal maintain a five-point margin ahead of Al Ittihad, who fired three unanswered goals past bottom side Al Hazm.
Big game: Although the Riyadh derby is usually played between Al Hilal and Al Nasr, the match-up between Al Shabab and Al Nasr took on extra significance with the pair to represent their country in the forthcoming AFC Champions League season. Al Shabab's Guinean striker Alhassane Keita struck on 33 minutes before Al Nasr's Australian defender Jonathan McKain scored an own goal to seal a 2-0 scoreline.
Headline-grabber: Al Ahli's Brazilian striker Victor Simoes maintained his prolific season in front of goal, netting his eleventh of the campaign in a 2-1 defeat of Najran lifting his side into seventh.
Qatar: Al Gharafa rocked by new boys
The much-anticipated top-of-the-table meeting ended in unexpected fashion, with newly-promoted Lekhwiya stunning seven-time and defending champions Al Gharafa in a fiercely-contested game. Karim Boudiaf grabbed the only goal of the game 12 minutes from time to hand his side their tenth win from 13 starts. While Lekhwiya continue their drive towards a memorable championship title, Al Gharafa's defeat saw them concede second to Al Arabi, who came away from Al Khritiy with a 3-1 victory.
Big game: 2005 Qatar Crown Prince Cup champions Al Khor continued their lacklustre form as they suffered their eighth defeat at home, losing 3-1 to Qatar SC who climbed to fourth with the three points. The visitors went in front courtesy of Brazilian Marcinho on 20 minutes with Fadl Omar soon doubling the lead. Although Mosab Mahmoud pulled a goal back for Al Khor just prior to the interval, Qusai Munir struck in the final minute to seal an emphatic victory for Qatar SC.
Headline-grabber: Already hailed as one of the season's young players to watch, Al Rayyan striker Jaralla Al Marri continues to capture attention, this weekend bagging the lone goal which downed Al Ahli. His fifth of the campaign strengthened his status as one of the league's emerging stars.
Defending champions Sepahan defeated leaders Zob Ahan 2-0 to close the gap between the pair in the Iran Pro League to just three points. Remaining second are Esteghlal, who maintained second courtesy of a 3-1 victory at Peykan, a result which sees them trail two points behind Zob Ahan but a point clear of Sepahan.
The much-awaited Solomon Islands S-League kicked-off for the first time on Saturday with Malaita Kingz recording the league's maiden victory thanks to a 2-0 scoreline against Real Kakamora. Charles Irobina etching his name into the history books with a first-half opener. Solomon Islands’ OFC O-League participants Koloale showed they will be a force to be reckoned with on the domestic front with a comfortable 4-0 win against fellow Honiara club Hana.
The title race has been blown wide open in the New Zealand Football Championship with Hawke’s Bay United scoring a 2-1 victory over leaders Waitakere United thanks to a late winner from former All White Jarrod Smith. The two-time FIFA Club World Cup participants seeing their lead cut to three points following their second defeat in four matches, with perennial challengers Auckland City, who defeated Team Wellington 2-0, remaining second.