Leaders stumble while new stars shine in Qatar
The new Qatar season kicked off with an array of big-name signings as some familiar clubs made an early impression. It proved a tough weekend for the leading sides in Japan, China PR and Uzbekistan, while FIFA.com’s weekly round-up of Asian football also visits Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar's Stars League: Heavyweights open brightly
Star imports dominated Qatari football news during the pre-season and the much-hyped new season began with a bang, while a series of traditional big clubs made a winning start with the help of their new acquisitions. Notably, Lekhwiya opened their title-defence brightly with a 2-0 home defeat of Al Siliya, with new signing Sebastian Soria on the scoresheet. Al Rayyan, meanwhile, edged Qatar SC 2-1 with newly-imported Brazilian star Nilmar on target. Meanwhile, former Real Madrid icon Raul may have failed to find the target in his league debut with Al Sadd, but his side battled from behind to down Al Arabi by the same scoreline.
Big match: Welcoming Al Arabi seeking an opening win, Asian champions Al Sadd were dealt an early blow when the visitors went in front through a penalty by Moroccan skipper Hussain Kharja on ten minutes. However, Mohamed Kasoula headed home to draw the hosts level a quarter-hour later, before Senegal international Mamadou Niang struck just after restart to seal a comeback triumph.
Headline-grabber: Former Internacional and Villarreal hotshot Nilmar began his Qatari odyssey in goalscoring fashion with a close-range finish as his Al Rayyan side overcame Qatar SC.
China PR's Super League: Jiangsu close upon Guangzhou
A lacklustre goalless draw against a Seydou Keita-inspired Dalian Aerbin was by no means what leaders Guangzhou Evergrande had hoped for ahead of a much-anticipated 2012 AFC Champions League quarter-final meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad. Evergrande, under Marcello Lippi, have fixed their sights on a double success by defending their domestic title and winning the Asian crown for the first time. However, the draw allowed Jiangsu Sainty, who defeated Guizhou Renhe 2-0, to trim the champions’ margin to a point. Trailing Jiangsu by nine points are Guangzhou R&F, who returned to the top three after edging fellow newly-promoted side Shanghai Shenxin by the odd goal in five.
Big match: Shanghai Shenhua climbed to ninth after putting three unanswered goals past visiting Liaoning Whowin. Youngsters Zheng Kaimu and Bai Jiajun struck in each half to break their league duck and give the home side a 2-0 lead, before Didier Drogba sealed the victory with a stoppage-time volley.
Headline-grabber: Top-scorer Cristian Danalache set up Aleksandar Jevtic for the opener and was on target in stoppage-time as Jiangsu overcame Guizhou at home. Since losing 5-1 at Evergrande in June, Jiangsu now remain undefeated in their past 11 outings.
Korea Republic’s K-League: Leaders march on, Sangju go down
The first round of the split league got underway with two groups of eight clubs having all to play for in the remaining 14 matchdays. It proved to be the visitors’ weekend as both FC Seoul and Jeonbuk Motors came away with narrow wins on the road against Busan I’Park and Jeju United respectively to remain on top. Ulsan Horangi got their revenge for the Korean FA Cup semi-final defeat earlier this month by beating Gyeongnam 2-1 to move into third place, while Pohang Steelers continued their winning habit with a 2-1 victory at Suwon Bluewings.
Big game: Korea Republic midfielder Hwang Jin-Sung scored the winner after setting up the opening goal for No Byungjun, as the Steelers defeated the Bluewings 2-1 to extend their winning streak to five matches. Ha Taegoon pulled one back with nine minutes remaining but it was too little, too late, as the hosts dropped down to fourth place.
Headline-grabber: Sangju Sangmu Phoenix have been relegated to the second division only days before the 31st round, as the K-League’s board of directors decided that the military side failed to meet the criteria required by the AFC to maintain their status as a professional club. Following the decision, the Phoenix have withdrawn from the remaining fixtures to become the first of the two teams to be demoted from the top flight.
A much-anticipated top-of-the table clash in Japan went the way of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who claimed a two point lead at the summit thanks to a Takahagi Yojiro winner 12 minutes from time for a 2-1 victory over Vegalta Sendai. Urawa Red Diamonds joined Vegalta in second after a win by the same scoreline over Yokohama F Marinos, with Tomoaki Makino scoring the crucial goal. Jubilo Iwata and Nagoya Grampus Eight are a further four points adrift after victories over Vissel Kobe and Cerezo Osaka respectively.
In Saudi Arabia, Al Fath continued their surprise run cementing their place at the top with a solitary-goal win at Al Taawun. Hot on the heels are holders Al Shabab, who edged Al Ra'ed with Sebastian Tagliabue netting the only goal. Al Hilal, meanwhile, won comfortably 3-1 at Al Shoala to climb into third. The win leaves them level with AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al Ittihad on points, although the latter have a match in hand.
Uzbekistan giants Bunyodkor received a blow heading into their AFC Champions League quarter-final clash with Adelaide after suffering just their second defeat this season with a 2-1 loss at Olmaliq. Zafar Polvonov scored twice to give the hosts a 2-0 lead, leaving Lutfulla Turayev's late goal for the leaders as no more than a consolation. The result, coupled with Pakhtakor's 3-0 victory over Mash'al Mubarek, saw the margin between the two Tashkent rivals cut to a single point.