Leaders trip up in Australia, UAE
It was a poor weekend for the frontrunners in Australia and United Arab Emirates where the seemingly invincible Brisbane Roar and Al Jazira are suddenly wobbling despite clinging to the top. Meanwhile in Thailand, a former king seems certain to lose their crown, while in Iran the latest chapter of the Tehran derby saw more pain for embattled giants Persepolis. FIFA.com’s weekly review also takes in the latest from Oceania with the OFC O-League and the New Zealand national competition in focus.
Australia’s A-League: Mariners set sail for summit
Until last weekend it seemed Brisbane Roar didn’t know how to lose, now it seems they have forgotten how to win. Having seen their 36 match unbeaten run come to an end eight days ago, the champions, unthinkably, suffered a second consecutive defeat. This time the loss was at home – their first for 23 months – as Melbourne Heart came away deserved 2-1 victors. Central Coast Mariners made the most of the slip-up to draw level at the top - albeit second on goal difference – with a 2-0 derby win over Newcastle Jets. That result sets up an epic grand final rematch next weekend in Brisbane between the two frontrunners.
Big game: One of the keenest rivalries in the league saw out-of-form Adelaide United grab a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Melbourne Victory. The Melbourne side are struggling to live up to their name with just two wins from ten matches.
Headline-grabber: Melbourne Heart’s young brigade overcame the odds to claim a win at Brisbane Roar’s home fortress. Towering 19-year-old forward Eli Babalj hit the net, while young team-mate Mate Dugandzic set up both of the Heart’s goals in the 2-1 win.
UAE's Pro-League: Champs slump to first defeat
In United Arab Emirates, the weekend saw disappointment for defending champions Al Jazira, who crashed to their first defeat of the season with a 3-2 loss at Al Shabab, a result which cut their lead to just two points. Diego Maradona's Al Wasl, meanwhile, slipped to sixth after falling 2-0 at Al Ain, who moved second on a congested ladder.
Big game: Brazilian Ciel was the two-goal hero as hosts Al Shabab recorded a spirited home win over Al Jazira. Both sides entered the meeting undefeated and it appeared as if the status quo would remain with scores locked at 2-2, only for the journeyman attacking midfielder to secure a last minute winner for Shabab.
Headline-grabber: Despite narrowly escaping relegation last season, Al Ain have emerged a different side this term. Star Ghanaian import Asamoah Gyan opened the scoring with a penalty on 11 minutes, before Ignacio Scocco doubled the advantage as the nine-time UAE champions prevailed.
The battle between former OFC O-League finalists ended in favour of home side Hekari United who revitalised their campaign, and at the same time virtually ended the hopes of Koloale. The PNG club showed the kind of form that won them the continental title in 2010 in their comfortable 3-1 win against the Solomon Islanders, themselves finalists three years ago. A buoyant crowd of 6,000 in Port Moresby saw Hekari in charge throughout with Solomon Islands international and beach soccer star James Naka pulling a goal back late on. The only O-League match of the weekend allowed Hekari to move second alongside Amicale in Group B behind leaders Auckland City.
In New Zealand, Waitakere United took full advantage of Auckland City’s absence at the FIFA Club World Cup by joining their rivals at the summit after goals by Jake Butler and Allan Pearce sealed a 2-1 comeback triumph over Team Wellington. Auckland stay top courtesy of a superior goal difference and the Oceania champions also boast a game in hand. Otago United scored a 1-0 win over playoff rivals Canterbury United to leapfrog their opponents into third place, two points behind the big two.
In Iran, the much-anticipated Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis in the Hafzi Cup quarter-finals ended in favour of the former, who ran out 3-0 victors for their fourth consecutive win against their city rivals. Neither side found the back of the net during regular time at the famed Azadi stadium but Esteghlal, who are currently leading the domestic league, came to life during extra time with Mojtaba Jabbari bagging a double before Esmaeil Sharifat beat the offside trap to seal the triumph.
The two-year reign of Thailand champions Muang Thong United is almost over after Buriram PEA extended their lead over Robbie Fowler’s second-placed side to a remarkable 16 points. Buriram won 1-0 at Sriracha with Cameroonian Franck Ohandza hitting the lone goal. Muang, who still have two matches in hand, were denied all three points after Khonkaen sensationally scored twice during injury time for a 2-2 draw.