Star recruits excel as frontrunners eye glory
A fascinating weekend of club action across Asia was highlighted by numerous decisive clashes with exciting finales looming in China PR, Japan and Uzbekistan. Star power won the day in Australia, while FIFA.com also reviews the latest from Iraq, Iran and Korea Republic, where Pohang Steelers added more silverware to their burgeoning collection.
Australia’s A-League: Imports shine as big guns rebound
The fledgling A-League table remains congested after a weekend highlighted by the rebound of competition heavyweights Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. The pair were sitting last prior to the weekend, only for both to secure three hard-won points. A 2-1 come-from-behind win saw Melbourne end Adelaide United’s status as the lone team with a 100 per cent record, while the Sky Blues were made to work overtime before eventually subduing new club Western Sydney Wanderers in the city’s maiden derby. Last year’s finalists Perth Glory joined Adelaide at the summit with a 2-0 win over Melbourne Heart.
Big match: All eyes were on the sold-out Sydney derby, with Alessandro Del Piero proving the difference in a tense affair as the Italian firstly won, and then converted, a twice-taken penalty for the only goal of the contest.
Headline-grabber: Big names imports played a starring role with former England striker Emile Heskey brought down for a penalty, before securing what proved to the match-winner against Central Coast Mariners to ensure a three-way log-jam at the summit.
Japan’s J.League: Last drama draws Vegalta level
The title race has been blown wide open as Sanfrecce Hiroshima conceded late at home against Kashiwa Reysol for a 2-1 defeat. Vegalta Sendai took maximum advantage with a 3-2 win over third-placed Urawa Red Diamonds to draw level with five rounds remaining. Wilson’s second-half double for Vegalta seriously dented the hopes of the Sendai giants, who are now six point off the pace.
Big match: Gamba Osaka continued their late-season revival with a 3-2 win at Kawasaki Frontale, although the former Asian champions remain entrenched in the relegation zone.
Headline-grabber: Tatsuya Masushima may have played a defining role in the destiny of the 2012 title race, with his dramatic winner deep into injury time for reigning champions Kashiwa against leaders Sanfrecce.
China PR's Super League: Guangzhou remain three clear
A pulsating top-of the-table meeting between the two remaining title contenders - Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Sainty - ended in parity, leaving the former well placed with two rounds remaining. The 1-1 scoreline allowed Guangzhou to maintain a three-point cushion heading into their penultimate match against Liaoning Whowin. Beijing Guoan, meanwhile, return to the top three with a 2-0 win at Qingdao Jonoon. At the other end of the table, Henan Construction remain rooted to the bottom following a 1-1 draw at Tianjin Teda to trail Shanghai Shenxin by three points.
Big match: In what was potentially a season-deciding match-up, hosts Jiangsu got off to a dream start with Ji Xiang blasting home after only seven seconds – smashing the previous mark for the fastest goal in C-League history. Having survived that early setback, the visitors gradually exerted their authority on the proceedings, with Jiang Ning equalising shortly after the restart to earn Guangzhou a share of the spoils.
Headline-grabber: The highly-anticipated debutants derby between Guangzhou R&F and Dalian Aerbin saw the visitors inflict a second defeat of the campaign on their rivals, with the 2-1 result moving them into seventh - two places behind their rivals.
In Iraq, the season commenced with champions, and AFC Cup semi-finalists, Arbil opening in lacklustre fashion by being held to a scoreless draw by the improving Zakho. Duhok made an emphatic start to their campaign, with a 4-0 victory over Kirkuk leaving last season’s runners-up sitting at the top on goal difference.
Pohang Steelers won their third Korea Republic FA Cup with a 1-0 extra time victory over Gyeongnam, thanks to Po Sungho’s lone strike. In the league, FC Seoul extended their lead to seven points with a 2-1 win at Jeju United, with Dejan Damjanovic hitting a double to take his imposing goal tally for the season to 27. Another double from Ianis Zicu was enough to see Gangwon breeze past Daegu 3-0, while Seongnam Chunma twice came from behind to defeat Gwangju 3-2 with Javier Reina converting a last-minute penalty.
In Iran, all top three teams dropped points, with leaders Sepahan drawing 1-1 at tenth-placed Saba Battery, while second-placed Naft Tehran were held to a goalless draw by nearest challengers Fajr-Sepasi. In what proved to be a drama-charged finale, Omid Ebrahimi struck in the first minute of injury time to open the scoring for Sepahan, but the home side still found time to equalise through Milad Soleiman Fallah who equalised three minutes later. The result leaves the defending champions level with Naft Tehran on points, but ahead on goal difference.
A dramatic conclusion to the Uzbekistan title looms between the nation’s two most successful clubs of the modern era, after Tashkent rivals Bunyodkor and Pakhtakor both prevailed in their respective matches. Bunyodkor, having won the last four titles, saw their title hopes hanging by thread until a last-gasp Kamoliddin Murzoyev-winner ensured a 1-0 win over Nawbahor Namangan. Eight-time champions Pakhtakor had a far easier time with a 2-0 win at Nasaf, effectively ending the hopes of the third-placed side.