Asia: Title showdowns bring tension in Japan and Korea
To coin a well-known footballing phrase, it’s squeaky bum time in two of Asia’s biggest leagues.
In Japan the title will go down to a last day showdown with any one from Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Gamba Osaka all capable of winning the championship. Kashiwa currently hold the advantage of topping the table with 69 points from 33 games whilst Nagoya and Osaka trail the leaders by just one and two points respectively with one round of matches to be played next weekend. The title race has become all the more tension filled due to Kashiwa’s inability to beat Cerezo Osaka at home today, both teams having to be satisfied with a point following a 1-1 draw. The slip allowed Kashiwa’s title rivals to reduce the gap at the top with defending champions Nagoya and third place Gamba Osaka enjoying wins against Yamagata (3-0) and Vegalta Sendai (1-0) respectively. Next weekend’s final round of fixtures sees all three title chasers on the road with Kashiwa away to Urawa Red Diamonds, Grampus Eight hosted by Albirex Niigata and Gamba Osaka travelling to Shimuzu S-Pulse. Not only will the team at the top of the table enjoy championship celebrations next weekend but they also have the added incentive of participating in the FIFA Club World Cup as representatives of the host nation from December 8th.
In South Korea the championship play-offs have brought about a surprise finalist as Ulsan Hyundai, who finished sixth in the regular season table, defeated experienced campaigners Pohang Steelers with a slender 1-0 score line in today’s semi-final. Seol Ki-Hyeon scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute of the game and managed to hold on to their precious lead despite a late flurry of attacks from the home side. The K-League enjoys a play-off system similar to the one used in the sport of rugby league at the end of its regular season, the system usually weighs heavily in favour of the top teams who play the fewest matches in order to claim the championship title. However Ulsan have surprised everybody by fighting their way through every round of the post-season tournament beating the likes of last season’s defending champions FC Seoul, Suwon Samsung Bluewings and today’s opponents Pohang to reach the final. They will play Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the two-legged showpiece with Ulsan hosting the opening leg on Wednesday, November 30th and Jeonbuk, who have rested throughout the play-offs up to this point, hosting the return fixture on December 4th.