Asian pacesetters maintain momentum
It proved to be another positive weekend throughout Asia for the frontrunners across a variety of leagues, notably for Japan’s Gamba Osaka and Korea Republic’s Jeonbuk Motors, who both stayed on top. It was a similar story for Jordan’s Al Faysali and China PR’s runaway leaders Guangzhou Yiyao. Meanwhile, the new season got underway in Saudi Arabia, where champions Al Hilal were victorious, while arch-rivals Al Ittihad also prevailed.
It was, though, a mixed weekend for participants preparing for Wednesday’s AFC Champions League quarter-finals as the continental club tournament prepares to resume after a four-month hiatus. Japan’s lone remaining representatives, Cerezo Osaka, recorded a spectacular win, while Korea Republic’s Suwon also prevailed. However, Iran’s Sepahan and Zob Ahan were left to lament opportunities lost.
Japan’s J.League: Leaders stretch margin
Gamba Osaka opened up a three-point lead at the top thanks to a 2-0 win over in-form Omiya Ardija. A goal in each half for Gamba’s Lee Keun-Ho and Rafinha did the damage and meant Gamba took full advantage of Nagoya Grampus Eight’s defeat against Kashiwa Reysol. Also exacting maximum toll on Nagoya’s slip were Yokohama F Marinos, who won 1-0 to move second.
Big game: Newly-promoted Kashiwa Reysol continue to display their fortitude, this time defeating champions Nagoya Grampus to leapfrog their opponents into third, behind Yokohama on goal difference. Nagoya took the lead through Keiji Tamada's early free-kick but the hosts rallied and forward Junya Tanaka equalised before Masakatsu Sawa slotted home the winner.
Headline-grabber: Substitute forward Ryuji Bando scored a second-half hat-trick as Cerezo Osaka fought back from three goals down to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 5-4 at home. Cerezo coach Levir Culpi described the nine-goal thriller as the “most impressive” of the entire J.League this season.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Top six remains unchanged
Current leaders Jeonbuk Motors twice came from behind to defeat Incheon United 4-2 at home, with substitute Jeong Shung-Hoon scoring two goals in the second half. Pohang Steelers kept up the pressure with a 5-1 victory over ten-man Gwangju, while defending champions FC Seoul lost 2-1 at Daegu to remain third. Hot on their heels are Suwon Bluewings, Chunnam Dragons and Busan I’Park, all of whom claimed home wins and are level on 39 points.
Big game: In a dress rehearsal for the Korean FA Cup final next month, Stevo Ristic and Yeom Ki-Hun gave Suwon a two-goal lead after 24 minutes, before Sasa Ognenovski pulled one back for Seongnam early in the second half. The visitors then spurned a glorious opportunity to equalise with Cho Dong-Gun missing a penalty, and Oh Jang-Eun doubled his side’s lead with six minutes remaining. But despite Hong Chul’s subsequent expulsion, Ognenovski made sure of a nervy finish with a late strike deep into injury time.
Headline-grabber: It was a weekend of doubles as Jeonbuk’s Jeong Shung-Hoon and Kim Hyun-Sung of Daegu both struck twice to lead their sides to home wins on Friday, before a pair of Kwak Tae-Hwi headers helped Ulsan Horangi to a 2-1 victory at Jeju United. Mota and Ko Mu-Yeol then scored two goals apiece as Pohang crushed Gwangju 5-1, but Sasa Ognenovski’s brace was not enough to prevent Seongnam from going down 3-2 at Suwon.
Saudi Arabia's Professional League: Favourites open brightly
The opening round of the new Saudi League season belonged to the established giants, with 13-time and reigning champions Al Hilal beginning their title defence in style with a 2-1 comeback victory at Hajr, while arch-rivals Al Ittihad prevailed against Al Taawun in a 5-3 thriller. Last season's third-placed side Ittifaq outdid Al Qadisiyah 1-0 and Al Shabab emerged 3-1 victors against Al Faysali.
Big game: Al Ittihad will enter Wednesday’s AFC Champions League quarter-final against FC Seoul buoyed by their form in front of goal. The two-time Asian champions scored first half goals through Talal Asiri, Mohammed Noor and Al Taawun for a 3-1 half-time lead. With the contest locked at 3-3, Ittihad’s Wendel and Fahad Al-Enezi both scored to secure three points for the Jeddah-based club.
Headline-grabber: Having finished the previous season as the top-scorer with 17 goals, Al Shabab striker Nassir Al Shamrani has maintained his prolific form entering the new season. He scored his side’s second goal in their opening win.
In China PR, runaway leaders Guangzhou Yiyao continued their unbeaten run with a 2-0 home triumph over holders Shandong Luneng, a result which moved them 12 points clear of Beijing Guoan, who shared the spoils with third-placed Liaoning Whowin in a goalless draw. With eight matches left, Guangzhou look very much on course to make history by winning the Chinese title as a newly-promoted side.
In Iran, Sepahan and Zob Ahan failed to get the results they wanted going into Wednesday's AFC Champions League quarter-finals against Qatar’s Al Sadd and Suwon Bluewings of Korea Republic respectively. The former suffered a 3-2 loss at Fajr Sepasi, while the latter twice saw their lead pegged back to draw 2-2 against Persepolis at home. Attracting most attention, however, are surprise packages Teraktor Sazi, who moved to the top of the standings with a stunning 3-2 victory at Esteghlal.
In Jordan, 31-time winners Al Faysali maintained their unblemished record in the new season by seeing off Mansheyat Bani Hasan 1-0 at home. Sharing top spot are Al Buqaa, who also recorded their fourth consecutive win over Shabab Al Ordon, with Adnan Adoos grabbing the only goal through a penalty. Al Wahdat are trailing the leading duo by three points, although the reigning champions have a match in hand.