New sensations and shock results
The early season upsets continued in Japan, China PR and Korea Republic, where a host of new names continued to hit the headlines. It is a different story in Australia, however, where familiar faces are pushing for glory at the business end of the campaign. FIFA.com’s weekly review of Asian football also looks at goalscoring excellence in Saudi Arabia, while the new season is underway in Thailand.
Japan’s J.League: Early gridlock at the summit
Four clubs have a perfect record after two rounds of matches, with Vegalta Sendai narrowly heading the pack on goal difference. Sentimental favourites after the area suffered heavily in last year’s earthquake and tsunami, Vegalta are yet to concede a goal following their 2-0 win at Yokohama F Marinos. Also with 100 per cent records are surprise packets Vissel Kobe and Kawasaki Frontale. Vissel came from behind to beat Consadole Sapporo 2-1, with Gakuto Kondo and Ken Tokura netting for a comeback win. Renato scored the only goal on 45 minutes as Kawasaki won 1-0 at seven-time champions Kashima Antlers.
Big game: Rounding out the leading quartet are FC Tokyo, whose bid to emulate Kashiwa Reysol and win the title in their first season following promotion, continues to build momentum. The capital club maintained their perfect start with a 3-2 win against 2010 champions Nagoya Grampus as Naohiro Ishikawa bagged a double.
Headline-grabber: In contrast to Tokyo’s start to the season, Reysol’s title defence has begun poorly, with the champions winless after two rounds. Ranko Despotovic created the headlines with the only goal of the game to lift last season’s strugglers, Urawa Red Diamonds, to a win over the Sun Kings.
Australia’s A-League: All up for grabs
The penultimate round left much to play for on the final week of the regular season, with top spot yet to be secured and the remaining play-off berth still open. Central Coast Mariners maintained their grip at the summit with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Adelaide United, although champions Brisbane Roar maintained the pressure with a 2-1 victory at Newcastle Jets confirmed thanks only to a Mitch Nichols penalty four minutes from the end. Two points off the pace, but with the best goal difference in the league, the Roar can secure first place with a win against bottom side Gold Coast United, provided the Mariners fail to take all three points at Wellington Phoenix next weekend. At the other end of the ladder, Gold Coast snapped a 13-match winless run with a stunning 3-0 victory against ten-man Perth Glory.
Big game: Having failed to find the target all season, Sydney FC fullback Shannon Cole was the unlikely hero as his second-half double lifted the Sky Blues from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 at Melbourne Heart. Sydney meet Newcastle Jets next weekend with a place in the finals on offer to the victors, while the point proved enough for John van’t Schip’s Heart to book their maiden play-off appearance.
Headline-grabber: Besart Berisha’s 19th goal of the season equalled Shane Smeltz’ league record tally, with the Albanian nabbing a trademark poacher's effort to help Brisbane Roar to three crucial points.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Duo remain perfect on top
Suwon Bluewings and Ulsan Horangi kept up the momentum with their third consecutive victories, both secured by a 3-0 margin at home to Gangwon and Seongnam Chunma. Traditional elite Jeonbuk Motors and Pohang Steelers were held at home by Chunnam Dragons and Busan I’Park respectively. FC Seoul climbed to third place after a 2-0 win against Daejeon Citizen with Mauricio Molina twice on target, but a brace from Bae Il-Hwan was not enough for Jeju United to avoid a 3-2 defeat at Gwangju. Elsewhere, Sangju Sangmu beat Gyeongnam by the same scoreline to claim their first win of the season.
Big game: Gwangju got off to a perfect start against Jeju with Kim Dong-Sub putting his side ahead after just two minutes, before the visitors fought back through Bae Il-Hwan’s double. However, Joao Paulo restored parity from the spot with only three minutes remaining, and the scorer then turned provider for a dramatic Adriano Chuva injury-time winner.
Headline-grabber: Ulsan Horangi forward Lee Keun-Ho hit the first hat-trick of his career, scoring one with his right foot and another with his left, before a header sealed a perfect treble and a 3-0 win over Seongnam.
China PR's Super League: New boys send early warning
Newly-promoted Guangzhou R&F produced the biggest upset to date in the fledging campaign with a 2-0 shock win against city rivals and defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande. The result leaves them as the only side with a 100 per cent record and sitting atop the 16-strong standings, two points clear of second-placed Jiangsu Sainty, who thrashed Takeshi Okada's Hangzhou Greentown 3-0 at home.
Big game: Nicolas Anelka’s debut ensured the China Derby between Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua soaked up even more spotlight than normal. The Frenchman scored on his much-anticipated C-League bow, but still ended up on the losing side as former Shanghai forward Mao Jianqing came off the bench to score the match-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over his old club.
Headline-grabber: Having guided K-League giants Pohang Steelers to the Asian crown in 2009, Brazilian Sergio Farias has quickly moulded C-League new boys Guangzhou R&F into a formidable force. Their derby win against last season’s champions was preceded by an equally impressive 3-1 victory against Beijing Guoan.
In Saudi Arabia, Brazilian striker Victor Simoes continued his impressive goalscoring form for Al Ahli in their 4-3 home win against Hajr, to help keep his side in touch with Saudi Arabia leaders Al Shabab, who edged out Al Fath. The goal, his 19th from 22 appearances this season, cemented the former Flamengo forward's place at the top of the league's scoring chart, two clear of Al Shabab marksman Nassir Al Shamrani.
Chonburi are the early pace-setters after the Thailand season kicked off on Saturday. A 4-0 win over Thai Port left the former champions narrowly ahead of a host of teams on goal difference. Sitting second are last season’s runaway winners Buriram PEA, who eased past Chiangrai United 3-1.