Struggling leaders and unlikely goal kings
It was a mixed weekend for leading clubs across Asia as Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors and Bunyodkor were all defeated, while Vegalta Sendai returned to the top in Japan despite only drawing. Arbil claimed another title in Iraq, while it is still early days in Iran and Saudi Arabia. There was also a host of goalscoring headline-makers across the continent, with Didier Drogba, Cristian Danalache and, most notably, Marcus Tulio Tanaka all prominent.
Japan’s J.League: Tanaka stars amid struggling leaders
Vegalta Sendai reclaimed top spot with a 2-2 come-from-behind draw against Yokohama F Marinos. It was the third draw on the trot for the Miyagi club, but Sanfrecce Hiroshima relinquished their claim to pole position by crashing to a 3-1 defeat against Shimizu S-Pulse, giving their opponents their first win in ten games.
Big game: Kashiwa Reysol’s mid-season revival hit a snag as the reigning champions were held 1-1 on the road at Albirex Niigata to slip to fourth.
Headline-grabber: Always a threat in the opposition penalty box, Nagaya Grampus Eight stalwart Marcus Tulio Tanaka broke new ground by becoming the first defender to score four goals in the J.League, as Dragan Stojkovic’s side moved into third with a 5-1 trouncing of Vissel Kobe.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Seoul close in on leaders Jeonbuk
FC Seoul came from behind to beat Gangwon 3-2 at home to move within a point behind of leaders Jeonbuk Motors, whose 15-match unbeaten streak came to a halt with a 1-0 defeat by bottom club Daejeon Citizen. Ulsan Horangi leapfrogged into third place by beating Suwon Bluewings 3-2, while Jeju United slumped to a 2-1 reverse at Sangju Sangmu for whom former Jeju forward Lee Sang-Hyup netted a quickfire brace in the second half.
Big game: In a high-profile match between former AFC Champions League winners, 2010 Asian champions Seongnam Chunma drew first blood through new-signing Jael. But 2009 kings Pohang Steelers staged a storming fightback after the hour, as Park Sung-Ho set up an equaliser for No Byung-Jun, before scoring twice for the hosts to make it 3-1.
Headline-grabber: Brazilian striker Caique Silva struck three times, including two from the spot, in a 4-1 victory at home over Daegu to send struggling Gyeongnam into the top half of the table.
Saudi Arabia’s Pro League: Duo make early surge
Al Shabab and Al Ahli resumed where they left off last season, with each recording emphatic victories as the new league season opened with five draws across the eight matches. Michel Preud’homme’s Shabab stormed past Najran on the back of a Marcelo Camacho double. Despite the hefty winning margin, the champions were outdone by Ahli, who outgunned Al Shoala with five unanswered goals to take hold of top spot
Big game: Jeddah giants Al Ittihad needed an equaliser deep into injury time from Saud Kariri to avoid defeat on Thursday’s opening day.
Headline-grabber: Remarkably, it was a similar tale a day later as perennial favourites Al Hilal were also forced to rely on a goal in added time, delivered by Saudi icon Yasser Al Qahtani, to record the same 2-2 scoreline as Ittihad.
In China PR, leaders Guangzhou Evergrande suffered a 2-1 reverse at the hands of third-placed Guizhou Renhe. However, Jiangsu Sainty missed the chance to go top with a 3-3 draw at home against Shandong Luneng, despite Cristian Danalache’s hat-trick for the hosts. Star signing Didier Drogba hit his first goals since arriving in China by bagging a double for Shanghai Shenhua as they overpowered Hangzhou Greentown 5-1.
In Iran, Fajr-Sepasi have taken a surprise lead at the top and their 2-0 victory over Sanat Naft left them as the only side with a perfect record after three matches. Champions Sepahan were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw against the visiting Rah Ahan, while last season’s runners-up Esteghlal edged a 1-0 win against Zob Ahan with a goal two minutes from full time.
The season resumed in Uzbekistan following the mid-season break, with Bunyodkor’s lead at the top trimmed to three points as the normally free-scoring champions fired blanks at home in a scoreless draw against second-from-bottom Andijan. Nasaf and Pakhtakor took full advantage by recording wins on the road to move to within three and four points of the summit respectively.
Arbil claimed their fourth league crown in Iraq with three matches remaining by playing out a scoreless with Al Taji. Second-placed Duhok remain eight points off the pace with two matches to play. Arbil are also still in the running for continental glory, with the AFC Cup to resume next month at the quarter-final stage.