Keen contests continue across Asia
The contest for supremacy in Japan, Korea Republic and China PR remains hotly disputed with the top half of the respective league ladders all jam-packed. Elsewhere, FIFA.com’s weekly review of Asian club football takes in Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, where Al Jazira celebrated last week’s title win in style, and India, where championship glory remains tantalisingly close for three contenders.
Japan’s J.League: Summit remains congested
Vegalta Sendai continued their unbeaten record with a 1-0 win over Montedio Yamagata on Sunday to close in on J.League leaders Kashiwa Reysol. Midfielder Naoki Sugai converted a rebound following Ryang Yong-Gi's free-kick just the interval in the decisive moment of the contest. The earthquake-hit Sendai moved to within a point of leaders Kashiwa Reysol, who played out a scoreless draw at the home of reigning league champions Nagoya Grampus.
Big game: One of the highlights of the J.League calendar took place as seven-times champions Kashima Antlers visited the league’s best supported club, Urawa Red Diamonds. A typically large crowd at the Saitama Stadium saw Urawa recover from two goals down to draw 2-2, with substitutes Hiroyuki Takasaki and Mazzolla on the scoresheet although the home side remain winless in their last five outings.
Headline-grabber: Gamba Osaka’s Brazilian striker Adriano took outright control at the top of the league’s goalscorers list with a double in the 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata. Adriano’s late winner lifted him to five goals for the season, and, more importantly, also proved a major boost for the team ahead of their midweek AFC Champions League meeting with neighbours Cerezo.
Korea Republic's K-League: Jeonbuk survive the days of underdogs
Jeonbuk Motors climbed top of the table after beating Gangwon 1-0 at home, as Pohang Steelers were held to a goalless draw at Daejeon Citizen. Jeonbuk and Pohang are now level on 22 points from 11 matches, with the Motors taking a slender lead on goal difference. The round also saw no fewer than five teams lose at home - big guns FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings fell at the hands of minnows Daegu and Busan I'Park, while Jeju United, Gyeongnam and Gwangju all went down by a single goal against Chunnam Dragons, Sangju Sangmu and Incheon United respectively.
Big game: Ulsan Horangi were desperate to shake off their run of poor results going into the crucial encounter with Seongnam Chunma at home. Seol Ki-Hyeon scored his first goal for the Tigers from the spot and set up another in the first half, while the reigning Asian champions restored parity with Cho Dong-Gun equalising on both occasions. However, the hosts had the last laugh as captain Kwak Tae-Hwi fired home to make it 3-2 with ten minutes remaining.
Headline-grabber: Wolfsburg starlet Koo Ja-Cheol made a surprise visit to his former club Jeju United, who were seeking their 333rd victory in the South Korean top flight against Chunnam Dragons. But with the Golden Boot winner at the AFC Asian Cup commentating for a local broadcaster at the stadium, Ji Dong-Won - Koo's strike partner during Qatar 2011 - stole the show as the Dragons No10 struck the winner just after the hour mark.
China's Super League: No change at the top
There was no change in the top four standings, with the leading quartet all forced to share the spoils with their respective rivals. A goalless draw with holders Shandong Luneng saw Guangzhou Yiyao maintain their solitary-point lead ahead of runners-up Hangzhou Greentown, who came from behind to draw hosts Changchun Yatai 1-1. Among the chasing pack, third-placed Beijing Guoan missed on the chance to climb to the summit as they were held to a goalless draw at Liaoning Whowin, while Shaanxi Chanba moved up to fifth place with a solitary-goal victory over Shanghai Shenhua at home.
Big game: Two-time winners Shanghai entered the game against Shaanxi with a clear lead in head-to-head record, having won four and drawn two of their eight previous meetings. However, it was the home side that emerged 1-0 victors, courtesy of defender Milos Bajalica who headed home off Zhao Xuri's free-kick on ten minutes. The result saw the two sides swap places in the table.
Headline-grabber: In a relatively quiet weekend during which five of the eight matches ended in stalemates, struggling Shenzhen Ruby stole the show as they registered their opening win of the season by dispatching Nanchang Hengyuan 2-1 at home. Li Yang opened the scoring for the hosts on the quarter-hour mark, and although Diego Vera drew the visitors level before the break, Huang Fengtao struck the winners 18 minutes from time.
Champions Al Jazira continued to dominate in United Arab Emirates, extending their lead to 15 points over nearest challengers Bani Yas. The Abu-Dhabi-based club won the league the previous weekend with four matches to spare, and they again underlined their superiority with a one-sided 5-2 win over Al Ittihad Kalba. Bani Yas fell 1-0 at Al Nasr but still have a five point margin over Al Shabab.
Only two matches were played over the weekend in India but it was enough for the list of I-League title contenders to reduce from four to three. East Bengal’s championship aspirations were all but extinguished with a 2-1 defeat at Churchill Brothers. With just one round remaining Salgaocar remain top, three clear of Churchill, with both East Bengal and Dempo a further three points adrift, although maintaining one and two matches in hand respectively.
In Uzbekistan, Bunyodkor took full advantage of a slip by Nasaf to extend their lead to three points, with the Tashkent giants recording a morale-boosting 4-1 victory over Almalyk, ahead of their midweek AFC Champions League meeting against Iran’s Sepahan. Nasaf slipped to third after being held 1-1 by Navabhor, while Pakhtakor are now second, three points off the summit, thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win at Metallurg Bekabad.