Mixed fortunes for leaders in the east
Action resumed in the major leagues of east Asia following a break for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifiers. It was a positive return to action for Vegalta Sendai in Japan and Guangzhou Evergrande in China PR, but Korea Republic leaders Seoul FC hit a speed-bump as second-placed Jeonbuk Motors continued their momentum. FIFA.com’s weekly review of club action across Asia also takes in the latest from Uzbekistan and Malaysia, plus a disappointing end to the season for Diego Maradona’s Al Wasl.
Japan’s J.League: Leading duo resume battle
Vegalta Sendai and Sanfrecce Hiroshima maintained their battle for supremacy, with both again coming up trumps on Saturday. Vegalta retained their two-point advantage by overpowering newly promoted Consadole Sapporo 4-1, Atsushi Yanagisawa setting the home team on their way by scoring either side of half-time. Sanfrecce Hiroshima were equally impressive in winning by the same margin over Cerezo Osaka, with the league’s leading goalscorer Hisato Sato again on target, while Naoki Ishihara bagged a second-half brace. Urawa Red Diamonds and Kawasaki Frontale are a further three points adrift, and Jubilo Iwata and Shimizu S-Pulse both lost ground on the top four after defeats.
Big game: Last year, Gamba Osaka at home to Urawa Red Diamonds was very much a case of title-chasers hosting relegation-battlers. This season, the roles are reversed, although the Saitama club needed an injury-time winner from Tsukasa Umesaki to inflict more pain on the embattled Gamba.
Headline-grabber: Nagoya Grampus Eight, another 2011 contender struggling for consistency this term, returned to winning ways with a 3-2 comeback victory at Kashima Antlers, with Kensuke Nagai their two-goal hero.
Korea Republic's K-League: Motors in top gear, Seoul falter on the road
Jeonbuk Motors claimed their fifth straight victory, a 5-1 win at Daegu, to close the gap to one point on leaders FC Seoul, who lost 1-0 against Pohang Steelers. Suwon Bluewings were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Jeju United, while Ulsan Horangi lost 3-2 at Gyeongnam. Struggling Sangju Sangmu came from behind to defeat Gangwon 2-1 thanks to a last-gasp brace from Park Sang-Hee. Elsewhere, Chunnam Dragons and Busan I'Park beat Daejeon Citizen and Seongnam Chunma 1-0 respectively as the south-coast sides returned to the winner’s circle.
Big game: In a duel between the heroes of Korea/Japan 2002, Hwang Sun-Hong's Pohang beat Choi Yong-Soo's Seoul by a single goal at the Steelyard. Defender Kim Dae-Ho scored his first goal for the Steelers early in the first half, heading home a Hwang Jin-Sung corner from the right.
Headline-grabber: It was a day to remember for another rookie, as substitute Park Sang-Hee broke his duck in just his 12th appearance in three seasons in the South Korean top flight. The Sangju midfielder scored the equaliser against Gangwon in the 90th minute before firing home the winner three minutes into added time.
China PR’s Super League: Rampant Guangzhou consolidate lead
The C-League recommenced over the weekend after its hiatus but the break did little to diminish the form of the league’s giants. Not surprisingly, Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande continued their fine form in thrashing fourth-placed Jiangsu Sainty 5-1 at home to extend their lead to four points. Among the chasing pack, Beijing Guoan edged into second, a point clear of Guangzhou R&F, despite being held to a goalless draw by visiting Qingdao Jonoon. Meanwhile, a 5-0 home demolition of Hangzhou Greentown saw Guizhou Renhe move into the top six and join the title contenders.
Big match: With the recent signing of former Borussia Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, who is expected to make his debut for Guangzhou Evergrande in July, the pressure is on the current forward line-up to prove their worth. And the team’s pair of South Americans in attack duly delivered, with Brazilian Muriqui completing a hat-trick and Argentinian Dario Conca also on target as Guangzhou again hit form.
Headline-grabber: Guangzhou R&F's lacklustre away results continue to haunt them as they lost 2-1 at Dalian Aerbin in a meeting between the league's two newly promoted sides.
Bahrain’s Al Muharraq completed a remarkable comeback to win the Gulf Clubs Championship final and ensure Diego Maradona’s first season at Al Wasl ended trophyless. The Bahrainis reversed their 3-1 home defeat to force extra time in Dubai before eventually prevailing in a penalty shoot-out against an opponent reduced to nine men.
In Uzbekistan, the top-of-the-table contest between Bunyodkor and Nasaf Qarsi ended in a goalless stalemate, a result which maintains the former’s two-point cushion at the top. Under Uzbekistan coach Mirdjalal Kasimov, the defending champions are aiming for double success on both the Asian and domestic front, having stormed into the knockout stage in this year's AFC Champions League. Third-placed Pakhtakor threw away a 1-0 lead early in the second half to lose 3-1 at Nefchi Fergana.
Singapore LionsXII maintained their impressive form in the Malaysia Super League, cementing their place at the summit with a 9-0 dismantling of struggling Sabah. Hariss Harun netted a treble while Shahdan Sulaiman struck twice as the debutants recorded their 14th victory from 23 outings. The leaders, who feature mainly Singaporean U-23 players, now enjoy a six-point lead over defending champions Kelantan, who - with five games in hand - maintained the pressure with a 2-1 win against Kedah.