Finales and faltering frontrunners
Stumbles at the top proved the theme running throughout East Asia’s major leagues over the weekend as top spot changed hands in Korea Republic, while Japan’s Vegalta Sendai and China PR’s Guangzhou Evergrande saw their advantage trimmed. There was a stunning finale to the season in Oman, important cup glory in Tahiti, while United Arab Emirates champions Al Ain ended their campaign in fitting fashion.
Japan’s J.League: Tables turn on leaders Vegalta
Both Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata reduced the gap at the top after leaders Vegalta Sendai threw away a lead to be beaten 3-2 by Kawasaki Frontale. Vegalta, who last week had overturned a deficit for a last-gasp win, were left floundering as Takuro Yajima headed home a stoppage-time winner to take injury-ravaged Frontale to within five points of the summit. Sanfrecce beat bottom-placed Consadole Sapporo 3-1 to move two points shy of Vegalta, while Ryoichi Maeda scored a brace as Jubilo hammered Omiya Ardija 4-0 to sit a further point back.
Big game: It was a tale of late goals as two of the league’s best supported clubs came together. Urawa Red Diamonds appeared set for victory at FC Tokyo thanks to Marchino’s goal two minutes from time, only for Masato Morishigo to score an injury-time equaliser for the capital club.
Headline-grabber: Hisato Sato’s rich vein of goalscoring form has continued with the national team forward hitting his tenth of the campaign for Sanfrecce to have a handy lead at the top of the scoring chart.
China PR’s Super League: Leaders Guangzhou lose ground
The title race picked up pace after 12 rounds, with pace-setters and defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande held to a 1-1 draw at Shandong Luneng, allowing both Guangzhou R&F and Beijing Guoan to reduce the gap to a mere two points. R&F thrashed Changchun Yatai 5-1 at home, while a solitary-goal victory was enough for Beijing against Dalian Aerbin. Hot on the duo's heels are Jiangsu Sainty, who scored their first win in four outings after seeing off bottom side Qingdao Jonoon.
Big match: Despite losing 3-0 at Guizhou Renhe in their last outing, R&F bounced back in style with a 5-1 home win over 2007 champions Changchun Yatai. Rafael Coelho scored a hat-trick while Davi Rodrigues de Jesus was twice on target as the newly-promoted side maintained their stunning home form to have a 100 per cent record after seven home matches.
Headline-grabber: Forced to sit on the sidelines due to suspension, Nicolas Anelka demonstrated his ability as player/coach by guiding Shanghai Shenhua to a spirited 2-1 win against Guizhou. With the two sides level, the French star sent on Cao Yunding just past the hour-mark and his tactical change paid immediate dividends, with the substitute scoring the match-winner shortly afterwards.
UAE’s Pro-League: Al Ain confirm their dominance
The league season came to a conclusion this weekend, coming a month after Al Ain broke an eight-year drought by becoming champions. Focus remained on the battle for second as the contenders met in the final round, with Al Nasr holding off nearest challengers Al Shabab in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Al Ain finished the season with a flourish overwhelming Ajman 4-0 to secure a 14-point margin over their rivals at the conclusion of the 22-round season. Diego Maradona’s Al Wasl continued their recent poor form with a 6-2 capitulation at home against Al Ahli. Wasl’s third loss on the trot saw them finish eighth.
Big match: Dubai finished three points above the relegation zone with a 2-0 win at dethroned champions Al Jazira, leaving Emirates relegated along with Sharjah.
Headline-grabber: Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan cruised to the leading goalscorers crown with a brace for Al Ain taking his season tally to 22. The on-loan Sunderland striker finished well clear of his nearest competitors in a field which included Grafite, Ricardo Olivera and Bare.
In Oman, Fanja ended a 21-year championship drought last Monday with the newly-promoted side crowned in sensational circumstances. Fanja defeated Al Shabab 7-6 on penalties, following a 3-3 draw and extra time, in a championship play-off that was necessitated by the two clubs finishing equal on points in the league. The new champions, promoted after an 11-year absence from the top flight, had to come from behind three times in the decider, with their final equaliser coming three minutes into added time at the end of the second period of extra time.
FC Seoul took full advantage of Suwon Bluewings’ stumble to take top spot ahead of a two-week break in Korea Republic for the looming FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. The capital club were comfortable 3-1 winners over Incheon United, while Chilean midfielder Hugo Droguett scored twice as Suwon suffered an emphatic 3-0 defeat at Jeonbuk Motors.
In Thailand, Buriram United bagged an important 2-1 win at third-placed Bangkok Glass to nullify the win gained by leaders Muang Thong United, who were 2-0 victors over Chonburi. Fourth-placed Buriram are ten points from the summit but have four matches in hand as a result of their AFC Champions League campaign.
OFC O-League runners-up AS Tefana have gone some way towards making up for missing out on the continental title by lifting the Tahiti Cup. The Papeete-based club beat Tamarii Faa'a 2-1 in the final, with the vanquished left to also lament a second-place finish in the league. Tefana now qualify for the Coupe de France, with positions allocated to teams based in the overseas French departments and territories.