Japan and Saudi Arabia demonstrated their class at club level with three teams from each nation coasting to comfortable wins in Matchday 3 of this year's AFC Champions League.
Title holders Gamba Osaka remain the only team to maintain a 100 per cent record as they crushed Indonesia's Sriwijaya 5-0 to go within touching distances of a berth in the last 16. An away win in the return leg against Sriwijaya in a fortnight will send them through with two games to spare, provided the result between FC Seoul and Shandong also goes their way.
At the same time, honors were even between China and Korea Republic after their derbies ended with each side claiming two home wins while it was a disappointing week for teams from Australia and United Arab Emirates, who could only manage to salvage a draw each.
Game of the day
Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) 2-1 Suwon Bluewings (KOR)
Suwon Bluewings' spirited run was brought to an end at Shanghai on Tuesday as the four-time Korean-league champions suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Shenhua. Vyacheslav Hleb proved his worth for the home side with the Belarusian striker having a hand in their two goals. The former Hamburg man firstly set up Yanko Valkanov for the opener on seventeen minutes, and after Li Weifeng pulled one back for the Bluewings, Hleb latched onto Wang Hongliang's through pass to seal the win fourteen minutes from time. The result, coupled with Kashima Antlers' 4-1 away victory over Singapore Armed Forces, leaves three teams level on six points after three games, with Bluewings holding a slender lead on goal difference.
Surprise of the day
Central Coast (AUS) 0-5 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)
With 65 goals scored in 34 matches in last year's J.League, Kawasaki Frontale proved to be the most prolific Japanese side in front of goal despite finishing behind champions Kashima Antlers. After a sluggish start to the domestic season they rediscovered their goalscoring form in fine style against Central Coast on Wednesday to, along with compatriots Gamba, record the biggest scoreline of Matchday 3. Kawasaki were three goals up within the opening half hour with DPR Korea striker Jong Tae-se, Hiroyuki Taniguchi and Brazilian Juninho on target. Kengo Nakamura volleyed home just after the break to put the game beyond doubt before Brazilian Renatinho capped a memorable win for the visiting team. The other match in the group saw hosts Pohang Steelers register a slender 1-0 win over Tianjin Teda to move into second spot two points behind Kawasaki.
The other headliner
Gamba Osaka (JPN) 5-0 Sriwijaya (IDN)
Gamba Osaka showed their visitors no mercy hammering Sriwijaya 5-0 at home. Brazilian striker Leandro scored twice in the space of four minutes just prior to the break to give the hosts a 2-0 half-time advantage. The visitors' woes soon compounded by an own goal from Ambrizal four minutes into the second stanza, with captain Yamagochi Satoshi scoring the fourth just two minules later, before Yasuda Michihiro sealed. In the other game, Shandong Luneng routed FC Seoul 2-0 to strengthen their grip on second place behind Gamba.
Two second half goals from siblings named Tadjiyev handed Uzbek giants Pakhtakor a crucial 2-0 win in Iran over a ten-man Saba Battery. Zaynitdin, the older of the two brothers, opened the scoring after 56 minutes before Farhod doubled the lead eight minutes later. The win saw Pakhtakor maintain pole position in Group A two points clear of Saudi outfits Al Hilal, who managed a 2-1 win against UAE's Al Ahli.
The contention in Group B looked more straightforward with Persepolis and Al Shabab each recording a 3-1 victory over Al Gharafa and Sharjah respectively to sit jointly atop the standings with seven points. In Group C, Saudi Al Ittihad could only manage to hold Al Jazira to a goalless draw in a game that was largely dominated by the UAE side. Despite the result, the two-time winners remain at the top of the ladder ahead of Qatari UMM-Salal, who stunned Iranian powerhouse Esteghlal with a solitary-goal victory at home.
In Group D, a 4-1 scoreline against visiting Al Arabi of UAE saw Saudi debutants Al Ettifaq move to the summit, leaving Uzbek's Bunyodkor and Iranian's Sepahan level in second place after the two sides drew 2-2 at Tashkent. Despite being the only Japanese side who failed to snatch maximum points in this round, a home 1-1 draw against Newcastle Jets is enough for Nagoya Grampus to maintain a slim one-point margin over Beijing Guoan, who lost 1-0 to hosts Ulsan Hyundai in the other match of Group E.
What they said
"I am hoping we can confirm our qualification early in the two matches so that we can relax more in the remaining games in May," Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino.
2009 AFC Champions League Matchday 3 fixtures:
Group A: Saba Battery (IRN) 0-2 Pakhtakor (UZB); Al Hilal (KSA) 2-1 Al Ahli (UAE)
Group B: Sharjah (UAE) 1-3 Al Shabab (KSA); Persepolis (IRN) 3-1 Al Gharafa (QAT)
Group C: UMM-Salal (QAT) 1-0 Esteghlal (IRN); Al Jazira (UAE) 0-0 Al Ittihad (KSA)
Group D: Ettifaq (KSA) 4-1 Al Arabi (UAE); Bunyodkor (UZB) 2-2 Sepahan (IRN)
Group E: Nagoya Grampus (JPN) 1-1Newcastle Jets (AUS); Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) 1-0 Beijing Guoan (CHN)
Group F: Shandong Luneng (CHN) 2-0 FC Seoul (KOR); Gamba Osaka (JPN) 5-0 Sriwijaya (IDN)
Group G: Singapore Armed Forces (SIN) 1-4 Kashima Antlers (JPN); Shanghai Shenhua (CHN) 2-1 Suwon Bluewings (KOR)
Group H: Pohang Steelers (KOR) 1-0 Tianjin Teda (CHN); Central Coast (AUS) 0-5 Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)