Asia: Season begins in Saudi Arabia; Leagues round-up
The new Saudi football season began and a new champion was crowned in Vietnam this weekend. In the meantime each of the three big Asian leagues in China, Japan and South Korea are now past the halfway point of their domestic championship seasons. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the latest developments from Asia.
The new 2010-11 season began in Saudi Arabia this weekend with everybody hoping to catch Al Hilal who won the league at a canter last season sealing the title by eleven points from nearest challengers Al Ittihad. Champions Al Hilal began their campaign of Sunday with a slender 1-0 win against newly promoted Al Taawon with Abdullatif Al Ghannam getting on the scoresheet. On Saturday night Al Ittihad were amongst the eight teams kicking off the new season and began with a 2-1 home win against Al Ittifaq who just survived a relegation battle last season and could find themselves involved at the bottom again this time. There were also wins for Al Quadisiya, Al Raed, Al Nasr and Al Ahli whilst the final game of the weekend saw a thrilling 3-3 draw between Al Wehda and Al Faysali.
T&T Hanoi are the new Vietnamese champions after securing the point they needed from their Matchday 25 game against already relegated Saigon. With two rounds of matches remaining T&T knew that one point from six would be enough to give them the championship and for coach Phan Thanh Hung, who took over from previous coach Nguyen Huu Thang at the start of the season, it was a fantastic way to end his first season at the helm and, as a result of the title success, T&T will get the chance to participate in the 2011 AFC Champions League qualifiers.
In China’s Super League Shandong Luneng remain in pole position (played 17, points 35) following a 2-1 win away at Chongqing Lifan with Deng Zhuoxiang and Julio César de León getting on the scoresheet to help the league leaders come from behind after Johnny Woodly Lambert had given the home side the lead. Shanghai Shenhua dropped two precious points in the title race and could only manage a 1-1 draw at Hangzhou Lucheng. After Duvier Riascos had given Shanghai the lead early in the second half Australian Adam Griffiths restored parity for the home side who drop from third to fourth place on the back of this result. Taking their place in third are Beijing Guo’an, the defending champions lie six points behind the league leaders after another Aussie international Ryan Griffiths, the aforementioned Adam’s brother, scored both goals in their 2-1 home win against Changchun Yatai.
Japan’s J-League remains very tight at the top with just six points separating the top four teams. League leaders Nagoya Grampus Eight (played 18, points 38) saw off the challenge of Urawa Red Diamonds by three goals to one with Keiji Tamada scoring twice for Dragan Stojković’s men. This win allowed Nagoya to climb above Shimuzu S-Pulse into first place as the latter went down to a 2-1 reverse at home to Yokohama F Marinos. Third place Kashima Antlers were three minutes away from gaining all three points against FC Tokyo but the visitors equalized in the 87th minute to prevent the defending J-League champions from claiming second spot in the table. Two goals in the second half from Yusuke Tasaka and Kengo Nakamura gifted three points to fourth place Kawasaki Frontale in their 2-0 home win against Sanfreece Hiroshima to leave them six points behind the league leaders.
In the South Korean K-League a top of the table clash saw Gyeongnam win a pulsating game against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors by three goals to two. After Gyeongnam had gone three goals to the good just after the hour mark they began to get nervous as the match entered its closing stages and allowed visiting Jeonbuk to pull back two goals in the space of sixty seconds but Gyeongnam managed to hold out and secure three points which takes them clear at the top (played 16, points 34). Jeonbuk are three points further behind along with second place Jeju United, who have the better goal difference, despite losing 4-2 away at Chunnam Dragons. Asian champions Pohang Steelers are still recovering from a dreadful start on the domestic front and won their second consecutive game this weekend away at bottom team Daegu FC by two goals to nil with both strikes coming in stoppage time. The win lifts the Steelers to eleventh in the fifteen team league.