Fairytales, finales and failure
A jam-packed review of club matters across Asia and Oceania is highlighted by final day drama in Saudi Arabia as Al Shabab edged local powerhouse Al Ahli for the domestic title. FIFA.com’s weekly review also looks at the fast-approaching finales in United Arab Emirates, Australia and New Zealand, the continental finalists determined in Oceania, plus the latest from Japan, China PR and Korea Republic.
Saudi Arabia’s Pro League: Perfect Shabab crowned
Al Shabab completed an unbeaten campaign to end a six-year wait to reclaim the Saudi title ahead of Al Ahli, as the season ended with a drama-charged finale between the top two teams. Holding a two-point margin heading into the final round, Shabab needed just a point to stave off the challenge of the nation’s most successful club. Shabab were in the ascendency from the early stage thanks to an early goal, and although Ahli drew level with 15 minutes, the comeback proved short-lived as the Riyadh club were reduced to nine men. Al Hilal spurned the opportunity to leapfrog Ahli and claim second with Al Ittifaq scoring an injury-time equaliser to draw 3-3.
Big game: While all eyes were on the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium for the title decider, there were also crucial matches at the other end of the table. Al Qadisiyah tumbled out of the top flight with a 3-2 defeat against Al Nasr, meaning they failed to overhaul third-from-bottom Al Taawun who also lost.
Headline-grabber: Nasser Al Shamrani’s first-half goal for Al Shabab not only ultimately delivered the title, it ensured the prolific 28-year-old finished the league’s joint top scorer alongside Brazilian Victor Simoes with 21 goals.
Japan’s J.League: Fairytale continues for Sendai
Vegalta Sendai retained their three-point advantage at the top thanks to a 3-2 win against reigning champions Kashiwa Reysol, with striker Shingo Akamine bagging the winner 12 minutes from time. Last season’s runners-up Nagoya Grampus were comfortable in seeing off Consadole Sapporo 3-1, with Dragan Stojkovic’s side sharing second alongside Urawa Red Diamonds who continued their renaissance by recording a 2-0 victory against Vissel Kobe.
Big game: Gamba Osaka came from two goals down to beat Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 and finally earn their first win of the J.League win campaign. The 2008 Asian champions have now lost just once in four games under Masanobu Matsunami, who was appointed coach after Gamba suffered five straight defeats in all competitions under Brazilian Jose Carlos Serrao.
Headline-grabber: Last season’s MVP Leandro Domingues endured a bittersweet afternoon for Kashiwa Reysol as the Brazilian scored twice against Vegalta Sendai only to then receive a red card.
China PR's Super League: Trio receive timely boost
China's three AFC Champions League participants received a morale-boost heading into matchday 4 this week. Second-placed Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Guoan enjoyed home wins over Hangzhou Greentown (3-1) and Shandong Luneng (2-1) respectively, while Tianjin Teda recorded a spirited solitary-goal victory at Shanghai Shenhua to move into ninth. Retaining their hold at the top of the 16-strong field are newly-promoted Guangzhou R&F, who continued their inspired form by seeing off visiting Dalian Shide 1-0.
Big game: In what has long been regarded as one of the league's top derbies, four-time champions Shandong travelled to Beijing boasting a historic edge over 36 previous meetings. The visitors went in front early thanks to Brazilian Gilberto Macena, however, Reinaldo drew the hosts level with a clinical finish on the quarter-hour before Xu Liang pounced on a half-hit clearance to seal a hard-fought triumph 20 minutes from time.
Headline-grabber: Takeshi Okada's troubled start to his tenure at Hangzhou continued with a heavy loss against defending champions Evergrande. Only an injury-time goal provided any solace in a 3-1 loss, which left the former Japan coach's side equal bottom with just one win from their opening six outings.
Tahiti’s AS Tefana will face reigning champions Auckland City for the right to be crowned OFC O-League kings after winning through to the decider in emphatic fashion. Tefana needed victory against Fiji’s Ba to advance to their maiden continental final at the expense of former champions Waitakere United. The result was never in doubt once the deadlock was broken just before half-time, with the Tahitians running out 5-0 victors thanks in part to a double from Angelo Tchen. The match was played in neutral Auckland after originally being postponed following extensive flooding in Fiji a fortnight ago. The winner of the two-legged final will secure qualification to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.
In New Zealand, Canterbury United and Team Wellington have put one foot in the grand final after semi-final first-leg wins against traditional powerhouses Waitakere United and Auckland City. Wellington scored a 1-0 win thanks to Johnny Raj’s first-half header to provide a set-back to the Oceania champions, who are hunting a sixth grand final berth over eight seasons. Canterbury saw off reigning champions Waitakere by the same scoreline thanks to Russell Kamo’s early goal in a drama-charged match in which both teams were reduced to ten men.
In Australia, Perth Glory are through to their first A-League grand final after surprisingly overcoming Central Coast Mariners on penalties. With scores locked 1-1 after 120 minutes, captain Jacob Burns hit the winning penalty to end prospects of a repeat of last year’s decider between the Mariners and champions Brisbane Roar. Ian Ferguson’s Perth side, a giant of the old national league competition, will now travel to Brisbane for next Sunday’s decider.
Suwon Bluewings needed a late Stevica Ristica winner to stay top in Korea Republic, two points clear of Jeju United. The Macedonian converted from the penalty spot with two minutes remaining for a 1-0 triumph against Daegu FC. Jeju United were denied a share of top spot despite a hard-fought 3-2 win at Pohang Steelers, while further afield Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma scored a much-needed 1-0 win at Daejeon Citizen to consolidate their mid-table position.
Al Ain are now just one victory away from winning the United Arab Emirates league for a record tenth time despite being held 2-2 at Al Wasl. It took a double from the league’s top goalscorer Asamoah Gyan for the southern club to come from behind to earn a share of the points against Diego Maradona’s charges. Champions Al Jazira are, alongside Al Shabab and Al Nasr, the best placed of three other title aspirants and after seeing off Shabab 2-0 on the weekend, will have the chance to cut into Al Ain’s eight point lead when the pair meet in the next round.