Level in Japan, Motors drive ahead
The majority of Asia’s leagues are midway through a break to allow the continent’s national teams to compete in the second round of qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with the second leg of these contests being held on Thursday 28 July.
FIFA.com’s regular round-up is therefore focused on Japan and Korea Republic, countries that have secured automatic places in the final round of qualifiers. The atmosphere in the two leagues could not be more different. While K-League leaders Jeonbuk Motors calmly moved further clear of nearest rivals Pohang Steelers, the battle for top spot in the J.League has reached fever pitch with Yokohama F Marinos and Kashiwa Reysol on level pegging with 37 points apiece.
Japan J.League: Yokohama still top but Kashiwa hold firm
With a 1-0 win over stubborn Vissel Kobe, Yokohama F Marinos maintained their top spot in the league for another week. Against opponents lying 15th in the table, only one place above the relegation zone, Yokohama met stiff resistance until Shingo Hyodo found a way through with a 63rd-minute strike to earn the win for his side and take their tally to 37 points.
Big game: Following last week’s loss to Kawasaki Frontale, Kashiwa Reysol could not afford to let any more points slip through their grasp, and the tension ahead of their home contest with 14th-placed Kashima Antlers was palpable. Kashima’s Yuso Tashiro replied to Hideaki Kitajima’s 33rd-minute opener shortly after the break, and it wasn’t until the 73rd minute that Kashiwa’s Leandro Domingues finally broke the deadlock, grabbing three morale-boosting points that lifted his side to second in the table.
Headline-grabber: Nagoya Grampus made the third-place berth their own with a hard fought 3-2 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Taking a two-goal lead into the final ten minutes, victory looked assured for the hosts, but when Toshihiro Aoyama pulled one back in the 85th minute, Nagoya were forced to defend fiercely through the closing seconds to keep their hold on a win that left them with 30 points, three clear of their nearest rivals.
Korea Republic K-League: Jeonbuk move clear of the fray
There is no change at the top of the K-League as Jeonbuk Motors coasted to an easy 2-0 win over Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, while chasers Pohang Steelers slipped further behind with a 1-1 draw against lowly Daegu. But while the front-runners remained relatively unruffled, the middle of the table has been hotly contested, with only four points separating third place from the two teams in seventh.
Big game: Busan I’Park sustained their charge up the table by beating Suwon Bluewings 4-3 in an action-packed contest at home. The first act in this enthralling drama belonged to the visitors, whose Macedonian striker Stevica Ristic slotted home a penalty in the 22nd minute. The home side’s response was crushing, three successive strikes leaving their opponents reeling, but if Busan thought they were home and dry they were mistaken. Bluewings levelled the scores with two goals in the 81st and 84th minutes, but Busan’s Brazilian star Fagner was hungry for more and he knocked in his second goal of the night just four minutes from time to record a famous victory for the home side, who went two points clear of their nearest rivals to take third place on 32 points.
Headline-grabber: After going down 2-1 against FC Seoul last week, second-placed Pohang Steelers were looking to restore some confidence with an away game against Daegu. In the event, the match did not go quite as planned. The visitors were sitting pretty after taking a lead just before the break but received a surprise when the home team equalised in the 90th minute to rob them of what seemed like two certain points. Though they keep second spot, Pohang now find themselves on 34 points, six adrift of leaders Jeonbuk and just two clear of third-placed Busan I’Park.