Asia/Oceania Leagues review
It proved to be a miserable weekend for reigning champions in the major leagues across the Asian continent. In the east, fans from Japan and Korea Republic spent the weekend celebrating the commencement of their respective leagues but they were each treated to a surprising opening round of fixtures, with both defending champions beginning poorly. In the continent's west, Saudi giants Al Hilal dropped points after being held 1-1 by Al Ahli, while Qatari champions Al Gharafa suffered their second consecutive defeat as they were stunned 3-0 by Al Khor.
FIFA.com’s weekly review of club football across Asia and Oceania also looks at the action in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.
Japan: Mixed starts for heavyweights
It was by no means the start Nagoya Grampus had wanted as the defending J.League champions just salvaged a 1-1 draw against Yokohama F Marinos, having lost their 2011 AFC Champions League opener against Chinese Hangzhou Greentown on Tuesday. The holders fell behind to a Shingo Hyodo strike on the hour-mark but Josh Kennedy saved their blushes with an injury-time spot-kick. Also escaping with a point were seven-time champions Kashima Antlers, who held Omiya Ardija 3-3, equalising only through Shusuke Tsubouchi's own goal.
Big game: Both Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka entered their meeting buoyed by their respective opening wins in the AFC Champions League but it was the former that went one better. After a goalless opening half, the match sprang to life with a three-goal burst in the space of 11 second-half minutes. Takashi Usami put Gamba ahead on 65 minutes and although Shu Kurata drew Cerezo level eight minutes later, Hayato Sasaki struck 14 minutes from time to seal the win for the hosts.
Headline-grabber: Former Iran coach Afshin Ghotbi was left rueing a disappointing debut with Shimizu S-Pulse after seeing his side fall 3-0 at Kashiwa Reysol. Adding to their woes was the loss of defender Eddy Bosnar, who was red-carded in the 79th minute.
Korea Republic: Big guns open up
Despite boasting a proud recent record on the Asian stage, the K-League's three AFC Champions League winners failed to get their domestic campaign off to an ideal start with 2006 winners Jeonbuk Motors shocked 1-0 by Chunnam Dragons. Reigning Asian title-holders Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma fared only marginally better in sharing a 1-1 stalemate with the 2009 champions Pohang Steelers.
Big game: Despite their failure to qualify for this year's AFC Champions League, Seongnam's opener was one of a number of highly-anticipated opening round contests. Hosts Pohang went into the lead after three minutes courtesy of Mota, but Seongnam rallied to draw level after the restart with Kim Jin-Yong striking to earn a share of the spoils.
Headline-grabber: A largely-reshuffled Suwon line-up proved they have settled quickly by recording an opening-day victory at champions FC Seoul, The visitors had new import Alexander Geynrikh to thank, with the Uzbekistan striker breaking his K-League duck on debut to set Suwon on the way to a 2-0 win.
Saudi Arabia: Al Hilal dropped crucial points
Having suffered a 2-1 home defeat to Sepahan last Tuesday in the 2011 AFC Champions League opening round, Al Hilal's usual winning form was again missing as they were held to a 1-1 draw by hosts Al Ahli to drop important points in their title defense. Al Ittihad currently sit second nine points off the pace, while Al Ittifaq are a further point adrift.
Big game: This season's surprise packages Al Ittifaq moved up to third following a 3-0 victory over Al Wehda for their 11th win in 19 outings. After two first-half goals, Argentinean midfielder Sebastian Tegali sealed the win for the home side midway through the second period.
Headline-grabber: Al Faisaly’s Albanian striker Migen Memelli was twice on target as his side ran out 3-0 winners over Al Hazm. The brace sees him move to second in the scoring chart with 12 goals, one shy of current top-scorer, Al Shabab's Nassir Al Shamrani.
The Australian A-League championship race is down to its final two contenders after Central Coast Mariners edged past Gold Coast United with a lone second-half strike from Adam Kwasnik. The Mariners will now face Brisbane Roar in next Sunday’s season finale, when a new name will be etched onto the trophy as the A-League reaches the conclusion of its sixth season.
Across the Tasman Sea, the final round of the New Zealand Football Championship took place with Waitakere United claiming first place with a 2-1 victory at Otago United. Allan Pearce scored both goals to finish well clear the top of the goalscorers list with 13 goals. Making up the top-four finals contenders are Auckland City and Team Wellington, while Canterbury United can still bump Hawke’s Bay United from fourth should they win their catch-up match.
In the Qatar Stars League, holders Al Gharafa were stunned 3-0 by Al Khor while runaway leaders Lekhwiya continued their surprising form this season by edging Qatar SC 1-0. The only goal of the match was scored by Ghanaian striker Mohammed Razak, with his tenth strike of the campaign lifting him to second in the scoring chart.
Finally in Thailand, despite opening their AFC Cup campaign brightly with a midweek 4-0 win over Hanoi T&T, champions Muang Thong United conceded three second-half goals in quick succession to lose 3-0 to arch-rivals Royal Thai Army. The victors were left clear at the top of the ladder as the only team with a perfect record after two rounds.