Asia/Oceania Leagues review
FIFA.com reviews the action in both Asia and Oceania on a weekend when many major competitions were inactive due to international matches. It mostly proved a good weekend for leading teams in those leagues that did take to the field, notably in Qatar where Lekhwiya continue to defy the odds, and also in United Arab Emirates as Al Jazira maintained their unbeaten streak.
In Thailand, Buriram PEA continue to set the early pace, while Iran has seen a change at the top as the finish line begins to come into view. Two familiar names are set to do battle for championship success in New Zealand, while Vanuatu can taste local glory ahead of their upcoming appointment in the OFC O-League final.
United Arab Emirates National League: Al Jazira remain undefeated
Front-runners Al Jazira continued their unbeaten run just past the halfway point of the season although they were forced to share the spoils with city rivals Al Wahda in a 2-2 draw. The point saw them maintain their seven-point lead over Bani Yas who were held to a goalless draw by fifth-placed Al Wasl. At the other end of the table, Al Ittihad Kalba remained rooted to the bottom after drawing against Al Ahli 2-2, while one-time Asian champions Al Ain fell 2-1 at Sharjah to stay second from the bottom.
Big game: Despite languishing in eighth, defending champions Al Wahda entered Friday's all-Abu Dhabi encounter with Al Jazira seeking to revive their fortunes with victory over the leaders. Al Wahda broke the deadlock just after the interval courtesy of forward Mohammed Al Shehi, but the visitors drew level soon afterwards through Brazilian striker Bare before Ricardo Oliveira put them ahead. Al Jazira's lead proved short-lived as UAE icon Ismaeil Matar headed home a minute later to give Al Wahda a share of the spoils.
Headline-grabber: With four of this week's seven games ending in stalemate, Al Shabab stole the show by leapfrogging Al Ahli to third place after overcoming hosts Al Dhafra 1-0. Playmaker Ali Mohammad Rashid emerged the hero for the visitors, scoring the only goal after the half-hour mark.
Qatar Stars League: Lekhwiya close in on maiden success
Lekhwiya maintained their stunning form with a 3-1 home win over Al Khor to remain seven points clear of second-placed Al Rayyan, who fired four unanswered goals past hosts Al Arabi. With three rounds left, the newly-promoted side look well on the course to clinch their first title in the top league. Holders Al Gharafa remains third after coming from behind to win 3-2 at Umm Salal.
Big game: Under Frenchman Bruno Metsu, who took over midway through the month, Al Gharafa have gradually rediscovered their winning form. Hosts Umm Salal were in the driving seat against Metsu's charges on the weekend after Nigerian forward Toshoka Derbek Ohio was twice on target for a 2-1 lead in the second half. However the visitors restored parity through Fahid Al-Shammari, before Ivorian striker Amara Diane sealed a dramatic victory two minutes from time.
Headline-grabber: Seven-time winners Al Rayyan produced the round's biggest win by crushing Al Arabi 4-0 but it was the manner of victory that created headlines. After an evenly contested opening half, the balance was tilted in the visitors' favour following a four-goal burst within the space of 17 minutes. Brazilians Itamar and Rodrigo Tabata, as well as Hamid Ismail and Jaralla Al Marri all featured on the scoresheet.
Thailand Premier League: Status quo remains
Buriram PEA remain three points clear at the top five rounds in after grounding out a 1-0 victory at Pattaya United. Cameroon forward Franck Ohandza scored the game’s only goal 11 minutes from full time. The team they conquered last week – Chonburi FC – returned to the winner’s circle with a 2-1 victory over TTM Phichit to lift themselves to second.
Big game: Two-time defending champions Muang Thong United recovered from a stunning 5-1 defeat at Osotspa M-150 last week to secure a 2-0 home win over bottom side TOT-CAT. With two defeats from their opening four matches, the ambitious Kirins were made to work hard for the points, with the match not sealed until injury time when Dagno Siaka scored from the penalty spot following Christian Kouakou’s first-half opener.
Headline-grabber: Thailand striker Ronnachai Rangsiyo scored the only goal of the match to lift BEC Tero Sasana alongside Chonburi on ten points after edging Sri Racha.
In New Zealand, Auckland City’s thumping win in their semi-final second-leg has virtually guaranteed another meeting with city rivals Waitakere United. The pair have met in the championship decider in three of the last six seasons, with the OFC O-League finalists securing passage on the weekend with a 5-1 win over Team Wellington. All White Jacob Spoonley started in goal for Auckland after jetting in from China only a few hours earlier but David Mulligan and Ivan Vicelich, who both played 90 minutes for New Zealand against China, watched from the sidelines. Despite their absence, City never looked like being headed with Daniel Koprivcic bagging a double. Their opponents will be confirmed next Sunday, when Waitakere – leading 6-2 after the first leg against Canterbury United – travel to Christchurch.
In Iran, Sepahan took full advantage of their catch-up match with their 2-0 defeat of Sanat Naft enough to leapfrog long-term leaders, and fellow Isfahan-based club, Zob Ahan. Senegalese striker Ibrahim Toure continued his prolific goalscoring form with a second-half double ensuring a two-point buffer at the summit. Midweek will see attention return to the capital as the latest instalment of the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis is played out, with the former in third and still harbouring hopes of chasing down top spot.
In Vanuatu, Amicale warmed up for next weekend’s OFC O-League final with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Spirit 08 to stay level at the top of the ladder. Holding down top spot on goal difference are Tafea, who beat Tupuji Imere 2-1, although Amicale have a match in hand. With Tafea having now completed their fixtures, Amicale can claim the crown for the second successive year if they secure a point against Yatel in their final match.