Contrasting fortunes for frontrunners
The weekend provided vastly divergent experiences for the leaders in east Asia’s major leagues.
Reigning Korea Republic champions Jeonbuk Motors continued their outstanding form, having now stretched their winning streak to 12 matches.
However, long-term leaders Vegalta Sendai were finally toppled from top spot in Japan, while defending Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande suffered a surprise defeat as Shanghai Shenhua’s high-profile recruit Didier Drogba again remained on the sidelines.
Japan’s J.League: Sanfrecce shine as Vegalta stumble
Vegalta Sendai were finally toppled from the summit just past the halfway mark of the season with Sanfrecce Hiroshima claiming top spot, albeit only by virtue of goals scored. In-form striker Hisato Sato hit a double as Sanfrecce cruised to a 3-0 victory over Kawasaki Frontale, with all the goals scored inside the opening 20 minutes. Despite just two losses in their 18 matches, Vegalta were overhauled from pole position after being held to a goalless draw by 2010 champions Nagoya Grampus Eight. Urawa Red Diamonds maintained their hold on third despite being held to a scoreless draw at Albirex Niigata.
Big game: Last season’s champions Kashiwa Reysol continued their steady climb up the table with a drama-charged 5-3 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse to sit fifth behind Jubilo Iwata on goal difference. The 2011 FIFA Club World Cup participants equalised at nine-man Shimizu with two minutes remaining, before hitting two more goals during injury time.
Headline-grabber: While Kashiwa continue to shine, fellow 2011 title rivals Gamba Osaka maintained their slide. The J.League foundation club lost at home against Yokohama F Marinos, with Manabu Saito’s winner coming deep into injury time and leaving Gamba second-from-bottom, ahead of only newly-promoted Consadole Sapporo.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Jeonbuk extend lead, Seoul and Suwon stumble
Reigning champions Jeonbuk Motors extended their unbeaten streak to 12 matches with a 3-0 win at Suwon Bluewings, while second-placed FC Seoul slumped to a 3-2 defeat at Incheon United. Ulsan Horangi spoiled coach Kim Hak-Beom’s debut at Gangwon by defeating the hosts 2-1 to stay in fourth. Elsewhere, Busan I’Park came from behind to beat Chunnam Dragons 3-2, and Pohang Steelers edged Gyeongnam 1-0.
Big game: Struggling Suwon desperately needed to get back on track after two heavy defeats, coming into the crucial home encounter against leaders Jeonbuk. However, it was the visitors that drew first blood with a penalty from former Bluewings man Eninho. Substitute Lee Sung-Hyun then doubled his side’s lead midway through the second half, before turning provider for another ex-Suwon midfielder Luiz Henrique to seal the victory.
Headline-grabber: Jeju United midfielder Song Jin-Hyung struck twice in a 4-1 victory over Daejeon Citizen, having scored a last-gasp equaliser to hold Ulsan to a 2-2 draw on Thursday. The former Newcastle Jets playmaker has established himself since his move from French outfit Tours FC earlier this year, scoring six goals and setting up four in his 19 outings.
China PR's Super League: Shock defeats for top sides
The latest action in the globe’s most populace nation saw last season's top two sides both defeated, with defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande falling 1-0 to city rivals Guangzhou R&F, while Beijing Guoan stumbled 3-1 at Shanghai Shenhua. The results allowed Jiangsu Sainty to cement their hold on second with a 2-1 defeat of Hangzhou Greentown, reducing the gap on Evergrande to four points and taking a lead of the same margin over Beijing. R&F, meanwhile, climbed to fifth, level with Guizhou Renhe on 27 points.
Big match: Shanghai Shenhua's new signing Didier Drogba and injured fellow striker Nicolas Anelka watched from the stands as their side routed Beijing Guoan at home. Song Boxuan opened the scoring for the hosts on 19 minutes before Cao Yunding doubled the lead six minutes after the restart. Moises put the game beyond doubt with a quarter-hour remaining, leaving Wang Xiaolong's late penalty nothing more than a consolation.
Headline-grabber: Marcello Lippi was dealt his first defeat in charge of Evergrande as his side again lost to R&F, having been stunned 2-0 in the two sides' first meeting in the season opener. The re-match proved to be an interesting debut for eye-catching imports Lucas Barrios and Yakubu Aiyegbeni. The former may have rocked the woodwork as Evergrande missed the opener. However, it was the latter that stole the show, acrobatically netting the match-winner four minutes from time.
Kelantan celebrated last week’s Malaysian Super League title in style with an action-packed 3-1 home win against Sarawak in the final round of the season. A double from Mohd Norfarhan Muhammad ensured Kelantan remained undefeated at home as the Red Warriors finished ten points ahead of Singapore LionsXII and a whopping 17 clear of third-placed Selangor. Kelantan are now eyeing a unique treble, with the AFC Cup quarter-finalists having also clinched the Malaysia Cup in May.
In Thailand, Chonburi United lost ground on leaders Muang Thong United after third-from-bottom Samut Songkhram recorded a stunning 2-1 comeback win on Saturday. Muang Thong took full advantage a day later by stretching the margin to eight points, with national team star Teerasil Dangda hitting a double in a 3-0 home win against TTM Phichit.
Arbil remain well placed to claim their fourth Iraq league title despite suffering a surprise 1-0 loss against struggling Karbala. Second-placed Duhok remain six points off the pace after losing by the same scoreline against 16th-placed Al Masaf, having played three games more than Arbil.