Silverware and stuttering leaders
It proved a contrasting weekend for frontrunners across Asia as some long-term leaders slipped up, while champions were crowned in the west half of the continent. Vegalta Sendai finally saw their unbeaten run ended in Japan, Sepahan stumbled in the penultimate round in Iran, while there was a change at the top in Korea Republic. It was more of the same in China PR as leaders Guangzhou Evergrande continued on their merry way, while new champions were crowned in Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon.
FIFA.com’s weekly review of club action in Asia and Oceania also takes in the latest from the OFC O-League as Polynesian clubs enjoy a rare moment in the spotlight.
Japan’s J.League: Sendai’s run finally ended
On a weekend of wild weather in Japan, leaders Vegalta Sendai saw their unbeaten start to the season finally ended after Shimizu S-Pulse claimed a 1-0 win over the frontrunners. Genki Omae scored the all-important goal which lifted Shimizu to within two points of the summit on the back of an impressive 3-0 midweek victory against seven-time champions Kashima Antlers. Reinvigorated big guns Urawa Red Diamonds are six points off the top with newly promoted Sagan Tosu and Kawasaki Frontale a further point away.
Big game: Kawasaki defeated Nagoya Grampus 3-2 with Takuro Yajima scoring what proved to be the winner in the final moments of a four-goal opening half.
Headline-grabber: Japan striker Hisato Sato scored twice to lead Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a 5-2 victory over struggling defending champions Kashiwa Reysol.
Iran’s Pro League: Treble in sight
Sepahan have one hand on a third successive title despite being held to a scoreless draw at Zob Ahan in the penultimate round. While victory would have wrapped up the title, second-placed Teraktor-Sazi spurned the opportunity to heap pressure on the leaders as they were also held 0-0 at Mes Sarcheshmeh to remain three points off the pace heading into next Friday’s final round. Esteghlal will also have the chance to snatch the title off Sepahan although they must not only make up three points but a six-goal difference.
Big game: Despite an Eamon Zayed hat-trick Persepolis crashed 4-3 at against Rah Ahan, leaving the Tehran giants a single place above the drop zone, albeit safe from an unthinkable relegation.
Headline-grabber: Defender Meysam Hosseini scored a rare but crucial goal as Esteghlal kept their championship hopes alive by edging Sanat Naft 2-1 thanks to the 24-year-old’s second-half winner.
China PR’s Super League: Rampant Guangzhou extend lead
The weekend's round saw Guangzhou Evergrande cement their place at the top with a 2-1 home win over newly-promoted Dalian Aerbin. The victory moves the defending champions four points clear of Jiangsu Sainty and Guangzhou R&F, whom both missed the chance to reduce the gap on the leaders after suffering defeats.
Big match: Zlatan Muslimovic scored one and set up another as Guizhou Renhe defeated Jiangsu Sainty 3-1 at home to move fifth. The big Bosnian forward set up Dino Djulbic to open the scoring after five minutes and sealed the contest in the second half by bundling home Yang Hao's back-heeled pass, with the result ending Jiangsu's unbeaten run.
Headline-grabber: Hosts Guangzhou edged Harbin despite missing playmaker Dario Conca, who is serving a nine-game suspension following internal disciplinary action. Top-striker Muriqui put the hosts ahead before the break and even though Yin Lu pulled the visitors on level terms shortly after the interval, Cleo scored the match-winner through a penalty 12 minutes from time.
Ulsan Hyundai took full advantage of their stumbling rivals to take spot in Korea Republic thanks to a 1-0 win against Chunnam Dragons, although it took a late winner from Ko Seul-Ki to settle the contest. Suwon Bluewings dropped to second on the back of a 2-1 loss at Daejeon Citizen, while two points off the pace are Jeju United with the islanders held 1-1 at 2010 champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
Al Faysali are the new champions in Jordan although the nation’s most successful club needed a play-off on Sunday before finally ending the hopes of Al Ramtha. Faysali and Ramtha were locked on 51 points after the 22-match season concluded on Thursday, with last year’s winners Al Wehdat a distant 11 points from the top. Bahaa Abdel Rahman scored the opener early on to set Faysali on their way to a 3-0 victory in the title decider.
Al Qadsia secured their fourth successive Kuwaiti league title after defeating Al Arabi 4-2 on Saturday. Qadsia, who dropped just seven points in their 17 matches, hold a 12 point margin over Kuwait SC but are assured of the title on a head-to-head countback, while Al Arabi occupy third spot with 26 points. Al Arabi still hold the most leagues titles with 16, while Qadsia have now claimed 15.
Safa have been crowned Lebanon champions for the first time after an epic final round pitted the two contenders together. Safa, who needed just a draw against Al Nijmeh, ground out a 1-0 win courtesy of a lone goal from striker Muhammad Tahhan. Last year’s champions Al Ahed finished third, seven points off the pace.
While the 2012 Oceania champions will be determined next weekend, qualifying for next season’s competition commenced with the inaugural edition of OFC O-League preliminary qualifiers featuring a quartet of Polynesian nations. Cook Islands side Tupapa Maraeranga, coached by national team goalkeeper Tony Jamieson, won the four-nation tournament in Tonga on goal difference to set up a meeting with New Caledonia’s AS Mont Dore. The victor of Tuesday’s play-off will take their place in the eight-team field for the next edition of the tournament which commences later this year.