Late drama and title parties abound
Trophy wins and late strikes proved a theme across Asia over the weekend with Qatar’s Lekhwiya and Australia’s Central Coast Mariners the big winners. A couple of late goals saved the day for some of Korea Republic’s foremost clubs, while it was a similar story in Japan, notably for stumbling champions Kashiwa Reysol. FIFA.com’s weekly review also visits China PR, United Arab Emirates and Thailand.
Australia’s A-League: Mariners land silverware
After a heartbreaking grand final loss last season, Central Coast Mariners redeemed themselves by finishing the league season at the top of the ladder, enabling the Mariners to be crowned Premiers and also earn passage to next year’s AFC Champions League. A first goal at the club for Scot John Sutton was followed by Bernie Ibini’s winner as Graham Arnold’s survived a tense finale for a 2-1 victory at Wellington Phoenix. Brisbane Roar, who will have the chance to retain their tag as champions during the looming play-offs, fell two points shy despite a 2-1 win against Gold Coast United, having at one stage been 11 points off the pace.
Big game: Sydney FC sewed up the remaining finals berth with a heart-stopping 3-2 win against Newcastle Jets. Star midfielder Brett Emerton laid on two goals and youngster Joel Chianese scored a brace as the 2010 champions leapfrogged their opponents in a winner-takes-all meeting.
Headline-grabber: Shane Smeltz hit all four goals as Perth Glory overpowered Melbourne Victory 4-2. Smeltz had once previously hit four in an A-League match, while Archie Thompson, the only other player to achieve the feat – having famously scored five in the 2007 grand final – watched from the other end of the pitch in a fruitless trip to Perth.
Korea Republic's K-League: Seoul late-show lifts capital club to summit
High-flying Suwon Bluewings fell to a 2-1 defeat at Jeju United, with former Suwon marksman Seo Dong-Hyeon netting a superb volley for the islanders in the final minute. Ulsan Horangi also lost 1-0 away to Daegu, while FC Seoul left it late to defeat Jeonbuk Motors 2-1 at home and leapfrog into first. Hot on their heels are in-form Gwangju, who are level with the capital club on ten points after a 2-1 win at Busan I'Park. Elsewhere, struggling Seongnam Chunma bounced back with a 2-1 victory at Gangwon, as Brazilian forward Everton grabbed a brace.
Big game: 2010 champions Seoul took on reigning champions Jeonbuk with the sides evenly poised on seven points before the showdown in the capital. The two exchanged first half goals with Lee Dong-Gook striking for the visitors and Seoul replying through captain Ha Dae-Sung. However, just as the match seemed to be heading for a 1-1 draw, Mauricio Molina dribbled through three defenders to fire home the winner with only a minute remaining.
Headline-grabber: Substitute Ianis Zicu snatched a last-gasp winner deep into added time as Pohang Steelers came from behind to beat Sangju Sangmu 2-1. With the result, the Steelers became the second club, after Ulsan, to have won 400 matches in the South Korean top flight.
Qatar’s Stars League: Lekhwiya prove themselves over again
Lekhwiya retained the league title with their 1-1 draw against Al Arabi giving Djamel Belmadi’s side a seven-point margin with two rounds remaining. It was the Doha-based club’s second top flight title, having also won last term in their first season following promotion. Al Jaish moved into second with an impressive 4-1 win against Al Gharafa, thanks in part to a double from Abdulkader Elias.
Big game: Traditional elite Al Saad and Al Rayyan were forced to make do with a goalless draw in a result was of little to use to either club. Reigning Asian champions Sadd are fourth, nine points off the pace, while Rayyan are firmly entrenched in mid-table.
Headline-grabber: With a modest goal tally to his name this season, star Iraq forward Younis Mahmoud returned to form by hitting a double as Al Wakra were 3-2 victors at Al Ahli.
The upsets continued in Japan with humble Vegalta Sendai and newly promoted FC Tokyo the only team with perfect records after three rounds. The former were impressive 4-1 home winners against Omiya Ardija, while the latter returned from Vissel Kobe with a 2-0 winning margin. Champions Kashiwa Reysol belatedly kick-started their campaign with a maiden win - a 2-1 comeback victory against Shimizu S-Pulse - secured only thanks to a late double from Tatsuya Masushima. There were defeats, however, for 2008 Asian champions Gamba Osaka and seven-time J.League champions Kashima Antlers who are both yet to accrue a single point.
Top spot in China PR is shared by Guangzhou’s two representatives, with newly-promoted R&F maintaining their foothold at the summit despite losing out 1-0 at Shanghai Shenhua, while defending champions Evergrande put aside their stunning AFC Champions League defeat against Thailand’s Buriram United in midweek to overwhelm bottom side Henan Construction 3-0 at home. Trailing the leading duo are Jiangsu Sainty, who shared the spoils with Tianjin Teda in a goalless stalemate, while Takeshi Okada's Hangzhou Greentown registered their opening victory by downing Beijing Guoan 1-0 with Wang Song scoring the only goal.
In the United Arab Emirates, Saudi international Yasser Al Qahtani struck twice as runaway leaders Al Ain crushed Sharjah 4-1 to maintain a seven-point cushion at the top. Second-placed Al Jazira continued their hunt of a second successive title by defeating Ajman 1-0 at home. Meanwhile, a solitary-goal victory for Al Shabab against fellow AFC Champions League participants Bani Yas saw the former leapfrog Al Nasr to third, while Diego Maradona's Al Wasl moved to fifth place with a 4-1 demolition of Emirates.
Pre-season predictions of a two-horse race in Thailand are already showing signs of coming to fruition with Muang Thong United and Buriram United the only teams with 100 per cent records after two rounds. Muang Thong routed Thai Port 5-1, while Buriram showed no ill-effects of their epic midweek win at big-spending Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande, by cruising past BBCU with three unanswered goals.