Silverware polished across two continents
Al Ain ended a long drought in United Arab Emirates, while it was a different scenario for the champions of New Zealand as Waitakere United retained their crown. The OFC O-League remains delicately poised after the opening leg of the final with perennial challengers Auckland City facing a resolute challenge from AS Tefana as the Tahitians hunt a breakthrough win. There is a look at cup glory in Jordan, Iran’s title aspirants edge closer to their goal, while FIFA.com also reviews the latest from Japan, Korea Republic and China PR.
UAE’s Pro-League: Al Ain return to former glory
Al Ain secured their first league crown for eight years in style with victory over last year’s champions Al Jazira. A 2-0 win saw Cosmin Olaroiu’s side move ten points clear of second-placed Al Shabab, while Al Jazira sit a further point back with three games to play. The title was the southern club’s tenth title overall with Al Wasl having won seven. Al Shabab edged relegation threatened Emirates 1-0 to leave the beaten side second last behind Dubai on goal difference.
Big game: A crucial relegation contest saw Dubai overpower Sharjah 3-0 with the latter now four points from safety with three rounds remaining.
Headline grabber: Al Ain’s Yasser Al Qahtani netted twice inside the opening 20 minutes with what proved to be title-winning goals. The Saudi Arabia star, who recently announced his international retirement, is currently on loan at the UAE club from Al Hilal.
Japan’s J.League: Vegalta stays clear of logjam
Vegalta Sendai maintained their dream start to the campaign with a seventh win from eight starts to remain six points clear. Vegalta though needed a hotly-disputed last-minute penalty to see off Albirex Niigata with Brazilian Wilson coolly converting amid the tumult. The chasing pack remains hugely congested with just two points separating second and seventh. Sanfrecce Hiroshima sit second on goal difference with a Hisato Sato brace helping Hajime Moriyasu’s side to an impressive 4-1 win at Kawasaki Frontale.
Big game: 2010 champions Nagoya Grampus hosted Urawa Red Diamonds, with the visitors earning a 2-1 win thanks to Marcinho’s double. After only narrowly avoiding relegation last year the Saitama club are now sitting third behind Sanfrecce.
Headline-grabber: Kashiwa Reysol veteran Hideaki Kitajima scored in the champions 1-1 draw against Sagan Tosu to get on the scoresheet for an unprecedented 15th straight season.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Motors run riot, trio remain on top
Reigning champions Jeonbuk Motors warmed up for Tuesday’s AFC Champions League clash at Guangzhou Evergrande by drubbing south-west rivals Gwangju 5-2 to move into fifth place. Meanwhile, Suwon Bluewings, Jeju United and Ulsan Horangi all prevailed at home against Seongnam Chunma, Gyeongnam and Daejeon Citizen respectively to maintain their hold on the top three positions. Hot on their heels are FC Seoul, for whom Dejan Damjanovic scored a last-gasp winner to snatch a 2-1 win at Gangwon.
Big game:Seongnam drew first blood at Suwon with Hevertinho firing home after just two minutes. But with the Brazilian forward stretchered off, Suwon regrouped and Everton Cardoso restored parity with an acrobatic volley 30 seconds into the second half, before turning provider for Stevica Ristic’s winner.
Headline-grabber: Jeju United midfielder Song Jin-Hyung scored a belated first goal in the South Korea top flight, eight years after he made his professional debut for FC Seoul in 2004. The versatile playmaker opened the scoring in a 3-1 victory over Gyeongnam on Sunday, celebrating his return from a four-year stint in Australia and France.
The OFC O-League crown remains in the balance after the opening leg of the 2012 final with New Zealand’s Auckland City securing a 2-1 home victory against Tahiti’s AS Tefana to set up a mouth-watering finale in Papeete in a fortnight. Second-half goals from David Mulligan and Daniel Koprivcic had the home side firmly on target to repeat last year’s continental triumph, however substitute Axel Williams struck a crucial away goal with 20 minutes remaining. Despite the defeat Tefana defied recent history with their narrow loss, having conceded 15 goals on their last two away matches against New Zealand opposition. Tefana will now seek to become just the second team, following Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United, to break the Auckland City-Waitakere United dominance over the competition’s six-year history.
Waitakere United cruised to their third New Zealand championship in four years with a 4-1 grand final victory against Team Wellington. Fijian striker Roy Krishna proved the star-turn by scoring in the dying moments of each half, with Solomon Islander Henry Fa’Arodo hitting little more than a consolation late on for Wellington who by then were 3-0 down. The result completed a roller-coaster season for Waitakere who seemed certain to lose their crown at the midway point, only to recover in the final stages of the season and again secure a berth in the O-League, alongside traditional rivals Auckland City.
In Iran, defending champions Sepahan edged closer to their third consecutive league title with a 2-0 home win against second-from-bottom Shahin to maintain a three-point lead over Teraktor Sazi, who thrashed Persepolis 4-1. Despite the result, however, the Iranian leaders were made to work overtime with only stoppage-time goals by Mehdi Karimian and Moharram Navidkia securing a dramatic victory.
In China PR, holders Guangzhou Evergrande continued their impressive form by edging hosts Tianjin Teda 1-0. The game’s pivotal moment arrived with five minutes remaining as in-form Brazilian attacker Muriqui capitalising on a poor clearance to score the winner. The victory leaves Guangzhou a point clear of Jiangsu Sainty who overwhelmed Henan Construction 5-1, with Cristian Danalache completing a hat-trick to move top of the league's scoring chart with six goals.
Al Faysali edged Mansheyat 1-0 to lift the Jordan Cup for a record 17th time. The lone goal came after just six minutes from player of the match Ibrahim Al Zwahrh at the Amman International Stadium. Faysali can make it an impressive league and cup double this week as they hold down a two-point lead over second-placed Al Ramtha with one match remaining.