Drogba shines as new season dawns in Iran
Didier Drogba’s much-hyped debut stole all the headlines in China with the Ivorian setting up the equaliser for Shanghai Shenhua in what was his first outing since hitting Chelsea's winner in the UEFA Champions League final. The new league season kicked off in Iran and while Sepahan commenced in winning fashion, there are early signs the club will have numerous challengers as they hunt a fourth crown on the trot. The status quo remained in Korea Republic and Thailand on another good weekend for the leading clubs. while FIFA.com also reviews news from Iraq and Yemen.
China PR's Super League: Guangzhou recover as Drogba steps into spotlight
Despite suffering their third defeat this season last week, Marcello Lippi's high-flying Guangzhou Evergrande bounced back to form with a 2-1 win at Henan Construction. New Paraguayan signing Lucas Barrios broke his duck in timely fashion with the winner as Guangzhou maintained their four-point cushion at the summit. Spearheading the chasing pack are Jiangsu Sainty, who cemented second with a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Tianjin Teda. Guizhou Renhe rose to third following a 3-1 comeback win over Shanghai Shenxin, while Beijing Guoan fell 2-0 to Hangzhou Greentown to slip to fourth place.
Big game: Dalian Aerbin made a rare appearance in the headlines by producing the biggest win of the round, with the newly-promoted side conquering traditional heavyweights Shandong Luneng. Nigerian Peter Utaka completed a treble as the home side overpowered Shandong 5-2 in a result which moved Aerbin to tenth level on points with their opponents and also Shanghai and Tianjin.
Headline-grabber: The much-anticipated debut by Didier Drogba at Shanghai Shenhua came with expected fanfare on Sunday in a home game against R&F, with the Ivorian striker entering the fray to a rapturous ovation as a second-half substitute. And the former Chelsea marksman didn't disappoint, setting up Cao Yunding to cancel out Moises' first-half own goal as the home side earned a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw.
Iran Pro League: Slim margins for title favourites
Sepahan commenced their title defence with a hard-fought 1-0 home victory over Mes Kerman. The Esfahan club, eyeing a fourth successive title, relied on a lone strike from defender Hadi Ta'mini just past the interval to secure maximum points. Saba Battery are making the early running after commencing their campaign with a one-sided 4-0 win against Peykan. Saba's Milad Noori has the lead at the top of the goalscorers chart thanks to his brace against last year’s second division champions.
Big game: Following several disappointing seasons Persepolis’ enormous fan base breathed a sigh of relief as the Tehran giants edged a late win to open their season with three points. A goal from Javad Kazemian a minute from time proved the difference as Manuel Jose’s side edged past Sanat Naft.
Headline-grabber: Esteghlal, the last club to claim the title prior to Sepahan’s recent dominance, have firmly stated their intentions with the recruitment of national team star Javad Nekounam. The 31-year Iran skipper, who returns home after several years at Osasuna, watched from the sidelines as his new club battled to a 1-0 win against newly promoted Aluminum Hormozgan.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Goals galore as the chase begins
It was business as usual for the pace-setters as Jeonbuk Motors beat Gangwon 2-1 at home to stay top. FC Seoul and Jeju United warmed up for their meeting this weekend with comprehensive victories at home against Busan I’Park and Chunnam Dragons by an identical 6-0 scoreline. Ulsan Horangi moved into third place with a 2-1 victory over Gwangju thanks to captain Kwak Tae-Hwi’s last-gasp header, while Suwon Bluewings were held to a goalless draw by Daegu.
Big game: In-form Incheon United arrived at the Steelyard on the back of a two-game winning streak, and drew first blood early on with Nam Jun-Jae’s first goal of the season. However, former Korea Republic veterans showed their true mettle after the hour, as Shin Hyung-Min restored parity from the spot before No Byung-Jun volleyed home the winner just before the final whistle.
Headline-grabber: Seo Dong-Hyun scored his first career hat-trick in the K-League in a 6-0 demolition of Chunnam, after also setting up two goals early in the first half. In fact, the Jeju United striker was just one assist shy of the milestone reached by Seoul midfielder Mauricio Molina, who found the net three times and set up as many goals against Gangwon last August.
In Thailand, Buriram United’s hunt of leaders Muang Thong United hit another snag with the champions forced to make do with a 1-1 draw at Esan United. At the halfway point of the season Muang Thong have a five point margin over Chonburi with the pair both recording 2-1 wins on the road, while Buriram sit a further five points adrift. The leading pair both relied on second-half winners with Chonburi securing their three points thanks to a headed goal from France-born Togo international Thomas Dossevi with ten minutes remaining.
Arbil continue to inch towards a fourth Iraq league title following a comfortable 3-0 home win against Minaa. Victory keeps the Yellow Castle six points clear of second-placed Duhok and needing just two wins from their remaining six matches to claim their first title for three seasons.
In Yemen, a play-off to decide the league champions has been confirmed for Thursday after the leading duo remained deadlocked on 48 points following completion of the 26-round campaign last weekend. Al Sha´ab Ibb, who topped the league title on goal difference by edging Al Tilal 2-1, are hunting their first title since 2004. However, Al Ittihad Ibb ensured a title decider would be required after they defeated Al Urooba 1-0 to maintain their hopes of a maiden crown.