Mixed experiences for title challengers
Campaigns continued to build momentum towards their respective finales in Australia and United Arab Emirates at the weekend, as some new faces pushed their claims for glory in the early-season running in Japan and Korea Republic. FIFA.com also reflects on the action in Hong Kong and Thailand, while the final round of action in the OFC O-League left several questions unanswered.
OFC O-League: Mother Nature has her say
The final round of Oceania’s premier club competition turned out to be an anti-climax as severe storms in Fiji forced the postponement of Ba’s decisive match against visiting Tahitians AS Tefana. In the other group, Auckland City suffered a surprise defeat, while Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United finished on a high by edging Koloale 2-1 thanks to a winner from Kema Jack.
Big game: New Zealand’s Waitakere United overpowered New Caledonian visitors AS Mont-Dore 4-0, but, having secured their part of the bargain, must now await the result of the outstanding match to see who will face reigning champions Auckland City in the decider. Ba require a massive victory to overhaul Waitakere but three points to Tefana would see the Tahitians progress.
Headline-grabber: A lone strike on the hour mark from Kensi Tangis, who starred for Vanuatu at the recent OFC Men’s Olympic Qualifiers, ensured continental champions Auckland suffered a rare loss as Amicale prevailed in Port Vila. The result ensured the home side secured a measure of revenge for defeat in last year’s decider against the same opponent.
Australia’s A-League: And then there were four
Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC have both seen their respective seasons ended, albeit in markedly different fashion. The Melburnians crashed 3-0 on the road at Perth Glory as John Van’t Schip’s two-year tenure in Australia ended in underwhelming fashion. Meanwhile, the Sky Blues recovered from a two-goal deficit against Wellington Phoenix thanks to a quickfire double from youngster Joel Chianese, only for Paul Ifill to almost immediately hit the winner from the penalty spot for the New Zealanders. The Phoenix will now make one of the longest away trips in world football next weekend when they visit Perth in a sudden-death play-off match.
Big game: Brisbane Roar have one foot in the season decider after taking a 2-0 first-leg advantage over rivals Central Cast Mariners. Erik Paartalu scored late on after the home side had taken an early lead in a remarkable sequence as Brazilian Henrique pushed home a loose ball from a corner, having missed a penalty barely 30 seconds earlier.
Headline-grabber: The scoreboard attendant will be wary next time Shane Smeltz visits Melbourne with the prolific New Zealand striker having bagged seven goals against the city’s two clubs within a week. A second-half treble against Melbourne Heart followed on from four against Melbourne Victory the previous weekend.
Japan’s J.League: Vegalta still shining
Vegalta Sendai continue to bring joy to a region hit hard by last year’s earthquake and tsunami with a 2-1 win at Cerezo Osaka, leaving them as the only team with a 100 per cent record after four rounds. Makoto Teguramori’s side – aiming for their first J.League crown – are now two points clear at the summit after newly promoted FC Tokyo fell to their first defeat. Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s 1-0 win in the capital, achieved despite wild winds that hit much of the country on Saturday, lifted them alongside their rivals on nine points. Jubilo Iwata climbed into second after Ryoichi Maeda’s lone first-half goal was enough to see off last year’s champions Kashiwa Reysol.
Big game: Two of Japan’s elite met as Urawa Red Diamonds hosted Kawasaki Frontale but a 1-1 stalemate left both teams in mid-table.
Headline-grabber: Kashima Antlers’ poor form continued with a scoreless draw against Yokohama F Marinos with the record seven-time champions sitting bottom having yet to score a goal.
In Korea Republic, first-half goals from Hyun-Beom Park and Stevica Ristic lifted Suwon Bluewings top with a 2-0 home victory over FC Seoul. The win lifted the Bluewings one point ahead of Gwangju after five games. Previous leaders Gwangju only managed to scramble a point against Gangwon thanks to Bogdan Milic's last-gasp equaliser. Meanwhile, a double from Dong-Hyun Seo helped Jeju United to a 3-0 triumph at bottom-of-the-table Daejeon Citizen to move third.
Al Ain are a step closer to securing their first United Arab Emirates title in eight years after cruising past Bani Yas 3-0, with Asamoah Gyan scoring twice. Reigning champions Al Jazira crashed to a 3-2 defeat against struggling Emirates allowing Al Shabab to move into second on the back of their 2-0 victory against Diego Maradona’s Al Wasl. Al Ain, hunting a tenth title, are now nine points clear with just five rounds remaining.
One of the annual fixture highlights in Hong Kong saw Kitchee concede two late goals and forced to settle for a 2-2 draw against fellow title contenders South China. The point was enough for Kitchee to stay clear of TSW Pegasus who were held 1-1 by Tuen Mun, with South China a further four points in arrears.
In Thailand, in-form Buriram United defeated Osotspa Saraburi 4-2 to maintain their 100 per cent record, which includes two wins in the AFC Champions League. Franck Ohandza bagged a double to keep the champions a point clear of Muang Thong United having played a game less. Muang Thong were held in an eight-goal thriller against Chainat FC who equalised in the final minute.