Kashiwa edge closer, silverware polished
The J.League is heading for a stunning finale after unfancied Kashiwa Reysol inched a step closer to an unlikely title with just a fortnight of the season remaining. The season climax is also approaching in Korea Republic, where FC Seoul's hopes of defending their title were ended over the weekend.
Australia's reigning champions are, however, enjoying vastly different fortunes, with Brisbane Roar stretching their lead at the top and knocking off another milestone in the process. Silverware was handed out in China PR and Singapore, while further afield New Zealand clubs are already building up a head of steam in the new OFC O-League season.
Japan’s J.League: Kashiwa continue to defy odds
Kashiwa Reysol are now within touching distance of a stunning title claim as the newly-promoted club moved three points clear with two rounds of matches remaining. Leandro Domingues scored a crucial winner five minutes from time to sink Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 as Kashiwa claimed their seventh comeback victory of the season. It was a similar scenario in Yokohama as Nagoya Grampus downed the home team by the same scoreline, with Josh Kennedy scoring the winner seven minutes from the end. The victory saw Nagoya leapfrog Gamba Osaka, who were held 2-2 at Albirex Niigata, with the top three having now all secured AFC Champions League qualification.
Big game: Urawa Red Diamonds continue to inch their way towards safety after battling to a scoreless draw against Vegalta Sendai to move three points clear of the relegation zone. However, this struggling giant must still meet leaders Kashiwa in the final round as they seek to avoid the drop.
Headline-grabber: Substitute Shota Kawanishi was the unlikely hero for Gamba with a double in the latter stages to secure a draw at Albirex, although the result left the former Asian champions four points off the summit.
Australia’s A-League: Roar tick off another milestone
Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 comeback win at Newcastle Jets provided a fruitful return for the league champions, who stretched their lead to six points, while also equalling the Australian sporting record for most matches undefeated. Goals from Henrique and James Meyer overturned a half-time deficit and ensured the Roar remained unbeaten for a 35th match. Last year’s losing finalists Central Coast Mariners scored an impressive 3-2 win at Sydney FC to move ahead of their opponents into second.
Big game: A record New Zealand regular season crowd of just over 20,000 turned out in Auckland as Wellington Phoenix took a one-off home match to the nation’s biggest city. The Phoenix lived up to their name in claiming a late share of the points after Adelaide United’s Nigel Boogaard headed into his own net.
Headline-grabber: Ten-man Perth Glory came from 2-0 down against Melbourne Victory to take home a point thanks to a Shane Smeltz equaliser. The star-studded Victory continue to struggle, having won just one of their seven matches thus far.
Korea Republic's K-League: Champions dethroned, Bluewings march on
FC Seoul's title defence came to an abrupt end as the capital outfit lost 3-1 at home against Ulsan Horangi in the first round of the play-offs. Ulsan will now take on Suwon Bluewings, who edged Busan I'Park 1-0 thanks to a solitary goal from Ha Tae-Goon, in Wednesday's second round to decide who will face regular season runners-up Pohang Steelers. Also up for grabs in midweek will be the final ticket to next year's AFC Champions League.
Big game: Underestimated and widely written off ahead of the showdown against the reigning champions, Ulsan dealt more than adequately with their opponent’s superior firepower. The Tigers capitalised on their aerial advantage, with captain Kwak Tae-Hwi and striker Kim Shin-Wook giving the visitors an unlikely two-goal lead at the break. Seoul cut the deficit through Dejan Damjanovic but, against the run of play, Go Seul-Ki finished off a classic counter-attack to put the result beyond doubt.
Headline-grabber: Suwon's Ha Tae-Goon not only filled the gap left by suspended striker Stevica Ristic but rose to the occasion when it mattered most. The towering forward headed home the winner from captain Yeom Ki-Hun's free-kick on the stroke of half-time.
New Zealand’s two representatives continued their winning form in the OFC O-League, with both Waitakere United and Auckland City moving to six points at the top of their respective groups. Waitakere overpowered Fiji visitors Ba with four unanswered second-half goals, while 2011 FIFA Club World Cup participants Auckland were 2-0 victors over 2010 continental champions Hekari United of Papua New Guinea. In the other match played over the weekend, last season’s runners-up Amicale of Vanuatu edged Solomon Islands’ Koloale thanks to a Joachim Waroi brace.
In China PR, Tianjin Teda ended their 31-year wait for domestic silverware by defeating Shandong Luneng 2-1 in Saturday's Chinese FA Cup final. Wang Xinxin struck on 12 minutes to cancel out Han Peng's early goal for Shandong, before Yu Dabao headed home the match-winner on the hour-mark. Despite impressing in this year’s AFC Champions League as the only Chinese side to progress beyond the group stage, Tianjin underperformed on the domestic front, finishing tenth. However, this cup success has enabled the club to secure a second successive appearance in the continental arena.
Home United ended a six-year trophy drought by picking up the Singapore Cup with an extra-time victory against Albirex Niigata (Singapore). Frederick Mendy's goal, scored with just two minutes of the additional 30 remaining, saw the current league leaders claim the first of what they hope will be a rare double.