Japan bounce back in Asia

Japan's J-League teams earn valuable draws in the Asian Champions League.

    Kashima Antlers midfielder Nozawa Takuya takes a free kick at the Bluewings wall [AFP]

    Japan's J-League teams got back on track after last month's earthquake to grind out valuable draws in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday.

    Kashima Antlers, whose stadium was damaged in the disaster, earned a crucial away point with a 1-1 draw against Group H table-toppers Suwon Bluewings from South Korea.

    J-League champions Nagoya Grampus also held FC Seoul 1-1 to cost the Group F pace-setters their first points of the campaign. On Tuesday, Japan's Cerezo Osaka beat 2006 champions Jeonbuk Motors of Korea 1-0.

    Elsewhere China's Shanghai Shenhua and Sydney FC scored within the first 12 minutes then held on for a draw in an entertaining clash at Sydney Football Stadium which leaves both teams winless in Group H.

    Hangzhou Greentown of China and Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates played to a scoreless draw.

    Back in form

    The results for the Japanese teams come despite a suspension of the J-League until mid-April, to avoid using electricity from the crippled national grid, while Japan have provisionally withdrawn from their guest spot at South America's Copa America.

    In Suwon, Yeom Ki-Hoon put the Bluewings ahead on 67 minutes only for veteran Koji Nakata, whose "Hand of Koji" handballed goal controversially helped Japan win the 2004 Asian Cup title, to equalise four minutes later.

    Elsewhere, Nagoya coach Dragan Stojkovic enjoyed a sweet debut goal by Kensuke Nagai which put the home team one-up against FC Seoul at Mizuho Athletic Stadium.

    The 22-year-old striker picked up a long clearance, beat two defenders and finished beyond the out-of-position goalkeeper on 14 minutes. But Seoul's Choi Hyun-Tae pounced on a rebound in the second half to make it honours even.

    Results & fixtures

    Tuesday April 5

    Group A
    Sepahan 2-0 Al Gharafa
    Al Hilal 3-1 Al Jazira
    Group B
    Al Sadd 1-0 Al Nassr
    Group C
    Bunyodkor 0-0 Piroozi
    Al Wahda 0-3 Al Ittihad
    Group E
    Jeju 2-1 Gamba Osaka 
    Tianjin Teda 1-1 Melbourne
    Group G
    Arema 1-1 Shandong Luneng Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Jeonbuk

    Wednesday April 6

    Group B
    Esteghlal 4-2 Pakhtakor
    Group D
    Al Rayyan 1-3 Zobahan
    Al Shabab 4-1 Emirates
    Group F
    Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Seoul
    Hangzhou 0-0 Al Ain
    Group H
    Suwon 1-1 Kashima Antlers
    Sydney FC 1-1 Shanghai

    "It was a very good combination, very good counter-attack. He shot with speed and very good concentration to score a beautiful goal," Stojkovic said of Nagai's goal, adding that the result had buoyed Nagoya's title quest.

    "We will try to win, to win this competition. It will be very difficult, but we have to continue and keep on working and wait for a good result," said the coach.

    A moment of silence was observed at the stadium before kickoff.

    Sydney draw

    Meanwhile Australia's Sydney FC had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Shanghai Shenhua in Sydney.

    Shanghai attacked from the start in the match and Riascos found himself on the end of a long pass to move past Sydney's Stephan Keller and deflect his shot off defender Sebastian Ryall into the back of the net.

    Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka lamented his side's missed opportunities after Carle's equaliser.

    "Most of the game we kept possession,'' he said.

    "We did plenty of crossing in both halves but there just wasn't good enough quality to penetrate them. We created chances and of course we expected more than one point.''

    Sydney had not played in over a month after their March 16 match against Kashima was postponed following the country's earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that killed as many as 25,000 people.

    "It's a strange situation to not play a regular game for five weeks but what happened, happened,'' Lavicka said.

    "It caused trouble for us, but for the people of Japan, there is much more trouble there so we can't complain.''

    China's Hangzhou Greentown drew 0-0 with Al Ain of UAE but remained second in Group F behind FC Seoul.

    Among Wednesday's later matches, In Group B, Esteghlal of Iran beat Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan 4-2.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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