Late goals and star power
The leading pair in Japan both spurned gilt-edged opportunities to make headway, as did one of the leading competitors in Korea Republic. China PR’s rapidly increasing galaxy of stars continued to claim the lion’s share of the headlines, while a returning hero experienced a muted comeback to the domestic scene in Iran. FIFA.com’s weekly review of club football across Asia also takes in the latest from Iraq and Thailand.
Japan’s J.League: Leading duo stumble
Sanfrecce Hiroshima continue to hold a slender grip at the top by virtue of goals scored, just ahead of long-term leaders Vegalta Sendai. Sanfrecce were held to a 2-2 draw by Kashima Antlers, who twice came from behind to earn a share of the spoils thanks to a double from young forward Yuya Osako. Sanfrecce's nearest challengers Vegalta also played out a draw, with the Miyagi-based club sure to see it as a case of two points dropped after being held 1-1 at home by newly-promoted Sagan Tosu. Last season’s strugglers Urawa Red Diamonds closed the gap on the leading pair to just three points with a 2-0 win over Jubilo Iwata.
Big game: Bottom side Consadole Sapporo caused one of the upsets of the season in defeating Nagoya Grampus Eight 2-1 with a last-minute strike from Shinya Uehara. Just the second win of the campaign for the Sapporo club leaves the 2010 champions eight points off the summit.
Headline-grabber: Kashiwa Reysol’s revival continued unabated and the champions are now just four points from the top on the back of a 4-1 victory over Cerezo Osaka. Young forward Masato Kudo grabbed a hat-trick for the home side, his first at senior level.
China PR's Super League: Differing fortunes for imported stars
Imported stars have become a major attraction in the Chinese Super League recently, with the big names endured differing fortunes over the weekend. Didier Drogba's and Nicolas Anelka’s Shanghai Shenhua were twice forced to come from behind to draw 2-2 against leaders Guangzhou Evergrande. Former Barcelona star Seydou Keita had a disappointing debut as his Dalian Aerbin fell to Liaoning Whowin in a 5-3 thriller. Meanwhile, leading goalscorer Cristian Danalache netted once and set up another as his Jiangsu Sainty won 3-1 at Dalian Shide to reduce the gap on Guangzhou to two points.
Big game: Tianjin Teda ended their ten-game winless streak against Beijing Guoan with a 2-1 victory at home. The visitors' new signing Frederic Kanoute struck on 79 minutes to cancel out Sjoerd Ars' opener. However, Du Zhenyu scored from an acute angle a minute later to seal a spirited triumph for the hosts.
Headline-grabber: Drogba made his first start for Shenhua, with the Ivorian forming a formidable front-line alongside former Chelsea team-mate Anelka. However, neither could find the target on the back of some close marking as Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou earned a share of the spoils.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Jeonbuk march on as Seoul stumble
The top two teams experienced mixed results on the road: Jeonbuk Motors came from behind to defeat Chunnam Dragons 3-2 thanks to a last-gasp winner from Lee Sung-Hyun, while FC Seoul were held to a 3-3 draw by Jeju United. Ten-man Suwon Bluewings put their winless streak to an end with a 3-1 victory at home over Gangwon, as Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma made the best of their numerical advantage in a 2-1 defeat of Daegu.
Big game: Jeju were eager to set the record straight against their nemesis Seoul in a rematch of the 2010 championship final in Seogwipo, and took an unlikely two-goal lead through Santos and Bae Il-Hwan. But the visitors fought back through Mauricio Molina and Dejan Damjanovic before half-time, and then the latter put the Seoulites ahead shortly after the interval. However, the islanders managed to restore parity midway through the second half as Jair made it 3-3.
Headline-grabber: A former Jeonbuk duo proved key to Sangju Sangmu’s escape from the bottom, as goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-Tae kept a clean sheet, while full-back Choi Chul-Soon scored the only goal of the match against Gyeongnam with just two minutes remaining.
Just three teams have a perfect record after two rounds of the new season in Iran. Saba Battery retained top spot on goal difference, with Milad Noori bagging his second successive double for a last-gasp 2-1 win at Zob Ahan.
Fajr-Sepasi are next after a spectacular 3-2 win against Persepolis in Tehran, while champions Sepahan are third thanks to a 3-1 victory at Foolad. Esteghlal fell to a 2-1 defeat, with Saeid Daghighi hitting a late winner for Saipa, while national team captain Javad Nekounam had a low-key debut for the Blues following his recent move from Osasuna.
In Iraq, Arbil now require just one win from their remaining four matches to wrap up their fourth league crown. A 5-1 win on the road at Al Shurta means only fourth-placed Al Quwa Al Jawiya can haul them in thanks to their two matches in hand.
It was a positive weekend for Thailand league leaders Muang Thong United, who cruised to a 3-0 victory at TTM to take their leading margin to eight points. Former Hearts striker Christian Nade hit a last-minute penalty to seal an upset 1-0 win for Samut Songkhram over second-placed Chonburi, while Buriram United’s erratic form continued with a scoreless draw at Police United to sit a further six points adrift.