Asian Leagues review
FIFA.com’s regular look at league action across Asia is this week highlighted by championships being claimed in the west half of the continent. Saudi Arabia and Oman crowned their respective league kings, while Iran’s long-running three-horse race has taken a late twist. Over in the east, it is a very different story where the respective league seasons in Korea Republic, Japan and China PR are just gathering momentum.
Saudi Arabia's Professional League: Al Hilal retain crown
Al Hilal cruised to a thirteenth league championship with two games to spare after prevailing 2-1 over Al Raed at home to create an 11-point margin over their nearest challengers. Second-placed Al Ittihad could only draw 2-2 against Al Qadisiyah, while wins saw Al Ittifaq and Al Shabab maintain a share of third place, a further five points adrift. In the relegation zone, Al Hazm have long lost their battle to avoid the drop, but Qadisiyah caught up with Al Wehda with their point at Ittihad.
Big game: Al Hilal entered the round needing just a point to clinch the title, but they were made to sweat in the opening stages when the visiting Al Raed took the lead courtesy of Abdu Hakimi after only three minutes. Spurred on by their vociferous home supporters, the holders drew themselves level nine minutes from the break through Mirel Radoi, before Mohammed Al Shalhoub struck the match and title winner midway through the second half.
Headline-grabber: A 2-1 win at Al Wehda meant that Al Shabab go into Tuesday's crucial AFC Champions League outing with Qatar’s Al Rayyan in winning form. Nassir Al Shamrani netted twice in the opening half to not only make sure of his side's triumph, but also cement his place at the top of the goalscoring chart with 15 goals.
Iran's Pro League: Sepahan on verge of title-defence
Holders Sepahan moved within a whisker of claiming the Iranian title with a solitary-goal victory at Sanat Naft. The win, coupled with Esteghlal's goalless draw with Shahin, saw Sepahan restore their six-point cushion ahead of the nearest contenders and a point against Persepolis in the penultimate match will be enough for them to win their third championship. Last year’s AFC Champions League finalists Zob Ahan saw their flickering hopes extinguished when they held 1-1 at home by Foolad.
Big game: In a round that saw five of the nine matches end in draws, including two goalless stalemates, Sepahan's 1-0 victory was a standout, particularly with the result putting them on the brink of winning the title. Hosts Sanat Naft pressed forward from the outset but they were caught out when Mehdi Karimian struck the only goal on 21 minutes.
Headline-grabber: Former Iran and Hamburg playmaker Mehdi Mahdavikia was on target as struggling Steel Azin recorded a spirited 1-0 triumph at midtable Malavan. Despite the three points, though, Azin remain languishing at the bottom, and must win the remaining two games and hope other results also go their way, if they are to retain their place in the top-flight.
Korea Republic's K-League: Champions recover, leaders held
Reigning champions FC Seoul came from behind to beat Jeju United 2-1, as caretaker coach Choi Yong-Soo made a winning debut at home. Current leaders Pohang Steelers were held to a goalless draw by bottom club Gangwon FC, while Jeonbuk Motors and Sangju Sangmu defeated Incheon United and Suwon Bluewings respectively to move within two points of the leaders.
Big game: In a rematch of last season's championship final in December, struggling Seoul welcomed Jeju to the capital. The visitors took an unlikely lead through Park Hyun-Bem in the first half, but the Seoulites restored parity with captain Park Yong-Ho heading home the equaliser just before the hour-mark. Ko Myong-Jin then stole the show with a late goal that earned the hosts just their second win in eight attempts.
Headline-grabber: Jeonbuk Motors are on top gear at the moment, having scored no fewer than 21 goals in their eight games this season. Two weeks after they had crushed local rivals Gwangju in a 6-1 victory at home, the Motors were in devastating fashion once again on Saturday beating hosts Incheon 6-2 with their leading marksman Lee Dong-Gook netting a brace.
In Japan, seven-time champions Kashima Antlers posted their long-awaited first win when they defeated Avispa Fukuoka 2-1 in their third outing of the season. Defender Daiki Iwamasa, who scored an own goal a week ago, nodded home a second-half winner. Vegalta Sendai, whose stadium was damaged by the earthquake which struck the country in March, made a winning return at home with a 1-0 victory over giants Urawa Red Diamonds. Kashiwa Reysol maintained their perfect start to remain top following a 2-1 win over Ventforet Kofu.
In-form Hangzhou Greentown moved to the top of standings in China PR with a 2-1 home win over pointless Shenzhen Ruby, while newly-promoted Guangzhou Yiyao dispatched Liaoning Whowin by an identical scoreline to go second. The much-anticipated champions clash between holders Shandong Luneng and two-time winners Shanghai Shenhua ended in the latter's favour, with last season's top-scorer Duvier Riascos scoring the only goal for the hosts.
Al Suwaiq defeated Al Nasr 3-0 on Saturday to retain the Oman League crown. Going into the final round, Al Suwaiq were leading by one point but second-placed Al Arouba’s goalless draw with third-placed Al Nahda meant the defending champions finished three points clear of their counterparts.