Glory sighted, new landmarks set
The penultimate round of action in Japan has set up a stunning climax as long-term leaders Kashiwa Reysol continue their charge for the title. Brisbane Roar’s winning form has continued unabated to lift the club into the pantheon of Australian sporting greats.
In Korea Republic, Ulsan Horangi continued a remarkable run to be just 90 minutes away from K-League glory. Further afield, Auckland City are in irresistible domestic form ahead of their FIFA Club World Cup adventure, but the news is not so good for Asian champions Al Sadd as they also prepare to visit Japan next month.
Australian A-League: Brisbane roar into history books
Frontrunners Brisbane Roar claimed a slice of Australian sporting history with a one-sided 4-0 demolition of the visiting Perth Glory. Besart Berisha and Issey Nakajima-Farran both scored first-half doubles as the Roar made it 36 matches unbeaten; a new Australian professional sporting record. The Roar’s grand final opponents from last season, Central Coast Mariners, sit in second six points off the pace after their 3-1 victory against Melbourne Heart.
Big game: Under pressure Melbourne Victory produced a drama-charged 3-2 win against Gold Coast United as the nation’s best supported club moved third despite just two wins in eight starts. Carlos Hernandez’ late winner concluded a match that included three penalties, one red card, plus Harry Kewell’s first goal for the Victory.
Headline-grabber: Tim Brown has a new addition to his personal highlights reel after his winner for Wellington Phoenix against Sydney FC. The New Zealand midfielder crashed a 45 metre volley over the head of the opposing goalkeeper who had ventured slightly off his line.
Japanese J.League: Trio set up storybook finale
The title race will go down to the final weekend as the status quo remained unaltered following the penultimate round of matches. Kashiwa Reysol remain on course for a spectacular title claim in their first season back in J.1, although they spurned the opportunity to all but mathematically secure the title after being held by struggling Cerezo Osaka. Kashiwa in fact were forced to come from behind as Brazilian midfielder Leandro Domingues equalised midway through the second period. Nagoya Grampus eased past bottom side Montedio Yamagata 3-0, while Gamba Osaka had Korea Republic forward Lee Keun-Ho to thank for his strike in a 1-0 win over Vegalta Sendai. The weekend results leaves Kashiwa with a one-point lead over Nagoya, with Gamba a further point adrift.
Big game: Former Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds breathed a sigh of relief with their 2-1 win against Avispa Fukuoka after a long battle to avoid the drop. With Fukuoka and Yamagata already down, Ventforet Kofu sit third from bottom in the final relegation spot, three points and 14 goals shy of Urawa.
Headline-grabber: Two giants of the Nagoya side stole the spotlight in the champions’ crucial triumph over Montedio Yamagata. Powerfully built defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka hit a double, while lanky striker Josh Kennedy bagged the other to remain the competition’s top goalscorer.
In Korea Republic, Ulsan Horangi continued their stunning late season form by winning a third successive sudden-death match to secure a championship play-off against Jeonbuk Motors where the K-League title will be at stake. The Tigers somehow survived a tense encounter as opponents Pohang Steelers missed two first-half penalties, before Seol Ki-Hyeon showed them how it is done with a successful conversion 18 minutes from full time.
Just a fortnight out from their opening FIFA Club World Cup encounter with Tunisia’s Esperance, Al Sadd suffered their second defeat of the Qatar domestic season. A 1-0 defeat at Qatar SC saw the Asian champions concede second to Al Wakra who ran out 3-2 winners over hosts Al Khor. The round, however, was highlighted by a 4-4 draw between Al Rayyan and Al Jaish in a 4-4 thriller with Rodrigo Tabata completing a hat-trick for the former.
In Saudi Arabia, a resounding 6-1 demolition of visiting Hajr allowed in-form Al Shabab to move to the top of the standings two points clear of Al Ittifaq and Al Hilal, both of whom are level. Last season's top-scorer Nassir Al Shamrani netted a brace as the Saudi giants produced this round's biggest win. Meanwhile, Jeddah big guns Al Ittihad slipped to sixth after their 1-1 draw at Najran, a result which cost coach Dimitri Davidovic his job.
Finally to New Zealand where leaders Auckland City enjoyed the perfect send-off ahead of the looming FIFA Club World Cup in Japan after a 5-0 rout of YoungHeart Manawatu. Waitakere United’s 4-1 victory over winless Waikato FC keeps the west Aucklanders in second, narrowly clear of Canterbury on goal difference with the Christchurch club 1-0 victors over ten-man Team Wellington.