Lesser lights shine as leaders slip up
The A-League commenced with record crowds, despite a modest start for the league’s glamour signings. Meanwhile, the poor form of the leaders in China PR, Japan and Saudi Arabia proved to be a theme. FIFA.com’s weekly review of league action from Asia also looks at the latest in United Arab Emirates and Thailand.
Australia’s A-League: Spotlight dims for big names
All eyes were on international recruits Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono but the trio not only failed to find their back of the net, but so too did their respective teams. Del Piero’s Sydney FC turned in a lacklustre display in a 2-0 loss at Wellington Phoenix, while Heskey’s Jets succumbed by the same scoreline, despite the visiting Adelaide United having endured a 40 hour return trip from Uzbekistan following their midweek AFC Champions League adventure. Former Japan star Ono came on as a second-half substitute as new club Western Sydney Wanderers played out a tough scoreless draw against last year’s premiers Central Coast Mariners. Perth Glory gained a measure of revenge for defeat in last year’s championship decider by edging a last-gasp 1-0 win against Brisbane Roar.
Big match: Two-time championship-winning coach Ange Postecoglou commenced his Melbourne Victory career in disappointing fashion with a 2-1 defeat against Melbourne Heart, led by debutant coach John Aloisi. A record 42,000 crowd ensured the competition’s opening round enjoyed a record-breaking aggregate attendance.
Headline-grabber: Wellington Phoenix’s Louis Fenton had a debut to remember, kicking off his professional career with the sealing goal - a perfectly-executed diving header - and stealing the headlines from Del Piero.
Japan’s J.League: Top spot opens up again
In-form leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima stumbled on their trip to Yokohama F Marinos playing out a scoreless draw, and allowing Vegalta Sendai to move within three points. The Miyagi side claimed a 2-1 home win over a rejuvenated Gamba Osaka to close the gap to a single victory, with six matches remaining. Third-placed Urawa Red Diamonds, having gone on an impressive run to haul in Vegalta, suffered a 2-1 home loss against bottom side Consadole Sapporo. Hiroyuki Furuta scored a double in a stunning scoreline, just the Hokkaido team’s fourth win from 28 matches.
Big match: After some recent erratic form champions Kashiwa Reysol returned to the winners circle with a 1-0 win over seven-time champions Kawasaki Frontale.
Headline-grabber: Yoichirio Kakitani continues to figure prominently on the leading scorers list after his double for struggling Cerezo Osaka in a 3-2 victory against Sagan Tosu lifted the club closer to assuring their J.League survival.
China PR's Super League: Guangzhou return to summit
Marcello Lippi's Guangzhou Evergrande put their AFC Champions League quarter-final loss to Al Ittihad behind them by edging Shandong Luneng 3-2 at home. The victory, coupled with Jiangsu Sainty's surprising 1-0 defeat to Qingdao Jonoon, saw Guangzhou regain outright control of top spot. With three rounds remaining, both Guangzhou and Jiangsu have sealed their place in the top two and thus qualification for next year's AFC Champions League. Guangzhou R&F and Beijing Guoan, sharing third spot, fell at Changchun Yatai and Dalian Aerbin respectively, allowing Guizhou Renhe to reduce the gap to a point with a 4-2 triumph over Shanghai Shenhua.
Big match: Shandong twice came from behind to draw level at Guangzhou, however, Lucas Barrios headed home Gao Lin's looping pass to seal a hard-fought win for the hosts with 10 minutes remaining.
Headline-grabber: Arguably C-League's most successful side, eight-time champions Dalian Shide lost 3-2 at Liaoning Whowin to remaining languishing on the edge of the relegation zone.
In Saudi Arabia, both Al Ittihad and Al Ahli dropped points despite their victories in the AFC Champions League in midweek. The former threw away a two-goal lead in drawing 3-3 at Al Taawun to remain fourth, while the latter lost 2-0 at Najran to slip to seventh. In contrast Al Hilal edged Al Wahda 2-1 to climb to the top, having conceded four unanswered goals against Ulsan Hyundai last Wednesday.
Italian forward Giuseppe Mascara was twice on target as Al Nasr continued their undefeated run in the fledging United Arab Emirates season with a 4-2 victory at Al Shabab Al Arabi, a result which maintained their place at the top. Hot on the heels are reigning champions Al Ain, who routed Dhafra 7-0 with Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan completing a treble.
In Thailand, Muang Thong United moved closer to regaining their crown with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Esan United, on the back of a Paulo Rangel double. With five rounds remaining the win maintained Muang Thong’s near-unassailable 13-point margin over second-placed Chonburi, who cruised to a 4-1 win over BBCU.