March 10, 2018

March Madness

 The first three rounds of J.League action this year have thrown up a lot of surprises -- in particular, the unusual number of 1-1 draws that have been registered every week (including three such results on Saturday. None of the preseason favourites have managed to find their rhythm yet, though there is a stark contrast between those that are just sputtering at the start (Kashima, Kashiwa and Kawasaki) and those that are mired deep in the mud (Urawa and both Osaka clubs). The surprise leader after three weeks is Sanfrecce Hiroshima, though Nagoya Grampus could join them as the only unbeaten teams, depending on the result of their match tomorrow.

 Lets get started with our weekly rundown, by looking at some of the strugglers.


  1 - 2   

Though he certainly is not the first foreigner to suffer this fate, former Australia NT coach Ange Postecoglou is quickly coming to terms with the frustrating fact that the football played in Japan is different, in many ways, from the game played elsewhere around the world, and the J.League is not particularly welcoming to outsiders. Sure, if a person from outside the country manages to endear himself to the local fan base wit a combination of respectful, patronizing comments and fresh, interesting ideas, they often earn nearly Godlike status at their new teams.

But for every Zico, Dunga, Buchwald, Bare or Nelsinho, there are at least two or three others who arrive with brash confidence and high expectations, but leave with their tails between their legs. Ange certainly has time to turn things around, despite a rough start to his stint at the helm of Yokohama F.Marinos. But despite some recent signs of sincere effort on his part, the Australian gaffer is still struggling to overcome the overblown media coverage (in Australia, in particular) that accompanied his appointment. His opposing number on Saturday, Massimo Ficcadenti, can probably commiserate with Ange on this point. Ficcadenti also had to overcome some excessive hype when he took over at FC Tokyo, four years ago. In time, he managed to prove himself as a competent and intelligent leader, and he has been achieving results in this, his second season at Sagan Tosu.

But neither he, nor Ange, can be expected to work magic. The Marinos organization had a lot of problems before Ange arrived. Dealing with the preexisting problems is enough of a challenge. Excessive expectations of title runs and Golden Eras will only make things harder. First, the Marinos need to negotiate a tricky transition to a younger generation of players. The youth contingent in Yokohama looks promising, but they will need time to step into the shoes of the players they are pushing out, many of whom are icons of the Marinos organization. Under the circumstances, Yokohama's one-draw, one-loss record is hardly surprising. The question is how the team will adapt over a period of months, to what will be a very different system than what they are accustomed to.

The Marinos were very fortunate to avoid a serious setback just a minute after kickoff, when Cho Dong-Geon's chip from just outside the box bounded off the crossbar and was scrambled desperately away by the Yokohama defense. The next few minutes of play were very scrappy, with both teams pushing and jostling about, forcing Mr Shu Kawamata to distribute some cautionary plastic rectangles. The physicality would intensify as the contest progressed. But in the 11th minute a defensive miscommunication between Yokohama veterans Yuji Nakazawa and Amano gifted Cho with the ball at the edge of the Yokohama box. This time the Korean ace made his shot count, drilling it inside the left post.

As the first half progressed both teams got more and more fractious, and Mr. Kawamata's failure to lay down the law only made matters worse. By the end of the first half four players were in Mr. Kawamata's book. Just after the restart another defensive blunder by Amano dug the hole even deeper for Yokohama. Rushing in to try to pressure a Sagan player as he received a pass, Amano inadvertently handled the ball just inside the Marinos box, handing Sagan a penalty kick. Victor Ibarbo drilled his spot kick and the visitors had a two-goal advantage.

Ange responded with three early substitutions, adding David Babunshi, Ippei Shinozuka and Sho Ito to the attack. The changes seemed to have the desired result, as the Marinos began to create more scoring opportunities. But luck simply wasnt on the home side this day. In the 70th minute Keita Endo's drive from just outside the six-yard box bounded straight back off the right post, and a few minutes later Shinozuka's cross from the right corner just eluded the head of Ito. It was not until four minutes from full time that the home team finally found the net, on a late strike by Hugo Viera.

Tosu rode out a desperate surge by the Marinos in the final minutes of play, and collected their first win of the season, following two draws. The Marinos and coach Postecoglou are still looking for their first victory, and have just a single point from three contests. 

10 March, 2018
Mitsuzawa Stadium


0 1H 1
1 2H 1


Hugo Vieira (87') 


Cho Dong-Geon (12')
Victor Ibarbo (57')

Milos Degenek
Jun Amano
Ken Matsubara

Hideto Takahashi
Victor Ibarbo
Chong Sun-Byung

 Hiroki Iikura; Ken Matsubara, Yuji Nakazawa, Milos Degenek, Ryosuke Yamanaka; Takahiro Ogihara, Kosuke Nakamachi (David Babunski 45'), Jun Amano (Sho Ito 63'); Keita Endo, Hugo Vieira, Yun Il-Lok (Ippei Shinozuka 63').

 Yuichi Gonda; Yuzo Kobayashi, Kim Min-Hyeok, Jun Seung-Hyun, Yutaka Yoshida; Hideto Takahashi, Riki Harakawa, Akito Fukuta; Cho Dong-Geon (Yoshiki Takahashi 73'), Yuji Ono (Yuji Takahashi 90'), Victor Ibarbo.



   2 - 0   

As disappointing as Yokohama's early form has been for incoming coach Ange Postecoglou, the early performance of reigning league champions Kawasaki Frontale has been an even greater concern for coach Toru Oniki. Though most observers were aware of the difficulty Frontale would face in their bid to defend the title, few expected the run of disappointment that Frontale experienced in their first month of play. After losing the Xerox Super Cup to Cerezo, the Blue Dolphins allowed ACL opponents to come back twice from early Frontale leads and deny Kawasaki victory in their continental competition. The first two league contests followed the same disappointing pattern -- after a blazing offensive display last season, this year Frontale is struggling to make connections on attack, while allowing far too many counterattacking strikes.

This week, though, Frontale were Fortunate to face a team that is having even greater difficulties getting off the mark. Four years ago, I wrote a preseason prognostication that compared the actions of two top competitors - Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers - in dealing with the ravages of father time. Both teams still had a large number of players left over from their "Golden Age," but whereas Kashima was shifting as many as possible onto the rosters of other clubs, while cultivating youth, Gamba continued to place a great deal of weight on the shoulders of players like Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno. A 4-0 loss to a young and decidedly "second-string" Sanfrecce on Wednesday evening just emphasized the difficulties that the Naniwa Nerazzuri face, if they do not push the responsibility onto the shoulders of younger players

Both teams still have two "uber-veterans" on the roster, but at Kashima, one is keeper Hitoshi Sogahata (who has been playing less and less frequently) and the other is Mitsuo Ogasawara, who played only occasional stints last season, and is mainly valued for his influence as an experienced voice in the locker room. At Gamba, Endo's declining influence is clearly visible, yet he remains a central player on the pitch, every week. Konno's minutes are being reduced somewhat, but other central contributors are also getting up in years. By the end of the season, Higashiguchi, Fujiharu, Kurata, Yonekura, Nagasawa and Fujimoto will all be over 30.

Gamba is bringing in talent from the youth ranks, but many of these young stars seem to depart for Europe at the first opportunity, leaving Gamba in the same situation. Though they probably have enough experience to remain near midtable this year, it will be at least a couple years before the likes of Ryo Hatsuse, Genta Miura, Akito Takagi and Keito Nakamura can really take over as team leaders. Since the problem was visible four years ago, even to a "non-insider" like myself, one can only blame the Gamba front office for the situation they find themselves in. Coach Levir Culpi was the force behind a dramatic rejuvenation at Cerezo Osaka, about a decade ago. Gamba's prospects for the future will depend a lot on whether he can achieve similar results in the northern part of town.

Frontale got out of the blocks quickly, opening their account just eight minutes after kickoff, when Eduardo Neto chested down a short corner kick near the top the box, and drilled a right-footed shot into the far corner. This handed the early momentum to Frontale, and they nearly managed to double their advantage a few minutes later on a slashing run by Yu Kobayashi, but Gamba held on doggedly and by intermission the contest was more closely balanced.

Frontale started the second half with a surge of attacking pressure, tightening up the formation and adding numbers to the attack. With crisp, short passes the Blue Dolphins began to dominate possession and tightened their pressure around the Osaka penalty area, perhaps hoping to take advantage of the relative youngsters manning the Gamba back line. The pressure achieved its desired effect in the 55th minute, when former Gamba winger Akihiro Ienaga slipped unnoticed behind the defense into a pocket of open space at the right post. Hiroyuki Abe, another former Gamba player, spotted him and chipped the ball in front of Ienaga, who stabbed the ball into the net and gave Frontale a comfortable cushion. Thereafter the home team sat back in a defensive posture and conserved energy while Gamba struggled to create meaningful chances. Frontale claimed their first league victory of the season, while Gamba registered their third straight loss.

10 March, 2018
22, 520
Todoroki Stadium


1 1H 0
1 2H 0


Eduardo Neto (08') 
Akihiro Ienaga (55')


Ryota Oshima
Shintaro Kurumaya
Jung Sung-Ryong ; Elsinho (Hidemasa Morita 85'), Shogo Taniguchi, Jumpei Noborizato, Shintaro Kurumaya; Eduardo Neto (Kentaro Moriya 73'), Ryota Oshima; Kengo Nakamura (Tatsuya Hasegawa 75'), Akihiro Iemoto Hiroyuki Abe: Yu Kobayashi .
 Masaaki Higashiguchi; Koki Yonekura, Genta Miura, Fabio, Hiroki Fujiharu; Mizuki Ichimaru, Yasuhito Endo, Haruya Ide (Hwang Ui-Jo 58'), Keito Nakamura (Yuya Fukuda 72'); Shun Nagasawa (Jin Izumisawa 45'), Ademilson.


   1 - 1  

J1 newcomers V.Varen Nagasaki packed their home stadium for the first time, thanks to an overflow away crowd from Urawa, in V.Varen's first clash against the mighty Red Diamonds. The Urawa players were booed off the home pitch last weekend, after losing to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and the Saitama Red Army seems to be going through one of its frequent bouts of petulant rage, at the Reds' inability to achieve the results that the fans expect from the most expensive, star-studded roster in the league. The Reds players managed to calm the rabble somewhat, with a 4-0 victory in the Nabisco Cup on Wednesday, but the internal friction that has always been a problem for the Reds is far from cured.

V.Varen might just be the best example for the Reds to observe if they want to understand what their team is missing. Though Nagasaki has a fairly strong fan base of its won, the depth of talent (and price tag) on its roster is not even comparable to that of their Saturday opponents. Yet the Mighty Ducks managed to battle their way into the J1 this season thanks to tireless effort and unselfish dedication to the team. Whereas Reds players can often be accused of being selfish and trying to "do too much on their own", the Nagasaki players all know their role on the team, an perform it with dedication. This earned the Mighty Ducks their first J1 point last week, in a 2-2 draw with local rivals Sagan Tosu.

The Reds struggled to impose themselves on the match for most of the first half. Purists will point out that V.Varen adopted the most simplistic of strategies, playing tight defense and - when winning possession - hoofing long balls into space for the duo of Juanma and Musashi Suzuki to chase. However, this strategy was enough to keep Ventforet Kofu in the J1 for five seasons. No doubt Nagasaki fans will forgive their players for their negative football, if it produces reasonable results. In this contest it frustrated the Reds for most of the first half, but the key event of the opening act was a stroke of luck, more than anything. Just three minutes before the break, Hijiri Onaga made a surging run into the penalty box from the left side, and flopped over Wataru Endo's outstretched boot. Mr. Nishimura pointed to the spot. Musashi Suzuki stroked the spot kick past Yusaku Nishikawa, and the Mighty Ducks went into the locker room at the break with a 1-0 advantage!

The Reds charged out of the locker room for the second half and began banging on the door in search fan equaliser. But the Nagasaki defense stubbornly fought off the pressure until the 75th minute, when substitute striker Zlatan Ljubijankic managed to get on the end of a free kick from about 35 meters, on the left sideline. Zlatan's glancing header pulled the visitors level, but the hosts battled valiantly down the stretch and claimed a highly encouraging draw against the reigning Asian champions. Reds fans expressed their clear dissatisfaction after the final whistle, as the Reds dropped points for the third week in a row.

10 March, 2018
Nagasaki Stadium


1 1H 0
0 2H 1


Musashi Suzuki (44') 


 Zlatan Ljubijankic (76')
Juanma Cautions


 Takuya Masuda; Shuhei Tokunaga, Choi Kyu-Baek, Ryota Takasugi (Daichi Tagami 61'); Ryutaro Iio, Teppei Usui, Yuzuru Shimada (Keita Nakamura 84'), Hijiri Onaga, Takashi Sawada (Shogo Nakahara 79'); Musashi Suzuki, Juanma.

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Wataru Endo, Mauricio, Tomoaki Makino, Tomoya Ugajin (Daisuke Kikuchi 82'); Takuya Aoki, Yosuke Kashiwagi; Tomoki Nagasawa (Kosuke Taketomi 67'), Martinus (Zlatan Ljubijankic 71'); Shinzo Koroki, Yuki Muto.

  1 -  1   

Though many teams have struggled in the first few weeks of the J1 campaign, and some -- like Urawa -- have been subjected to criticism from their fans, few have as many reasons to fret as the crimson-clad fans of Vissel Kobe. Last year the team made several high-profile acquisitions and spoke boldly about their plans to ride the coattails of German superstar Lucas Podolski to a title. This year the expectations are far more subdued, yet the team still seems to believe that Podolski and former Japan international Mike Havenaar can turn the team into a title competitor.

It has not happened. On the contrary, the Crimson crowd sank swiftly into mid-table mediocrity last season, while bombastuous claims about Podolski's prowess quickly gave way to concern and questions about the prolific striker's commitment to the team. In this week's match, he seemed to resume the plodding pace that was criticised heavily over his first month or two in Japan. While I have not seen data on how much ground he covered in the course of the contest, one wonders if he even made the top ten among Kobe players. Apart from a brief spurt of effort immediately following the team's opening goal, he spent most of his time plodding from one side of the centre circle to the other. Clearly he has the raw skill and experience to contribute to the team as much as any other player on the roster, but unless he can be convinced to exert a bit more effort, one wonders if perhaps the team might perform better with him on the bench.

If Vissel represents the fate of a team that lacks energy and intensity, This week's opponent Vegalta Sendai demonstrates that even a team with few star players and an aging roster can achieve success if they all put in 100% effort, and play effectively as a team. Vegalta opened the season with two consecutive wins, and they looked to be the better unit over the majority of this contests. Unfortunately, the lack of top-level players is a limiting factor on the Golden Eagles' hopes this season. They may have outplayed Vissel for much of the contest, but they were unable to make their scoring opportunities count. Strikers Takuma Abe and Naoki Ishihara are two of the most hardworking players in the league. But neither one was a proficient goalscorer even when they were young . . . . and that was a LOOOOONNG time ago.

Vegalta had the majority of the scoring opportunities in the first half, but Vissel made their chances count. In the 27th minute Podolski received the ball iin the left corner and sent in a cross that was blocked just outside the six yard box. But as the defender tried to clear, Hirotaka Mita charged in to pressure the ball, and may have even deflected the clearance. The weak ball rolled out to Masatoshi Mihara just inside the area, straight out from the left post. Mihara measured the keeper and curled a soft shot into the top far corner, just beyond his reach, to give Kobe the lead.

For all their hustle and a series of scoring chances, the Vegalta offense just couldnt breach the Vissel defense, and the match remained in the visitor's favour until the final five minutes of the contest. But persistence finally paid off in the 86th minute, as Yasuhiro Hiraoka charged into the right corner and crossed in front of goal. Substitute striker Ryo Germain swung at the ball wildly and made only weak contact, but the ball bounded to Ishihara directly in front of net, and the veteran popped it into the back strings to keep Vegalta undefeated on the season, and extend Vissel's winless streak.

10 March, 2018
Sendai (Yuasa) Stadium


0 1H 1
1 2H 0


Naoki Ishihara (86') 


 Masatoshi Mihara (27')
Shota Kobayashi Cautions

Junya Tanaka
Jung Woo-Young

  Kentaro Seki; Yasuhiro Hiraoka, Kazuki Oiwa, Ko Itakura; Shingo Tomita(Takuma Nishimura 70'), Hiroaki Okuno, Shota Kobayashi (Naoki Sugai 73'), Katsuya Nagato; Gakuto Notsuda, Takuma Abe (Ryo Germain 68'), Naoki Ishihara

Kim Seung-Gyu; Masahiko Inoha, Jung Woo-Young, Hirofumi Watanabe, Teeraton Bunmathon; Masatoshi Mihara, Hirotaka Mita; Asahi Masuyama (Keijiro Ogawa 59'), Lucas Podolski (Wellington 87'), Junya Takana; Mike Havenaar (Kazuma Watanabe 63').


  1 -  1   

At Kashiwa Stadium, two ACL teams went head to head in an early test of whether Reysol or Cerezo Osaka are likely to be title challengers this season. Both were hampered by slow starts last season, but Cerezo recovered to claim both Cup titles -- their first silverware in the professional era -- and Reysol made a late run to finish third. Both teams have a good mix of youth and experience, as well as proven goal-scorers. If they can put the pieces together effectively, they may be in the title chase this year as well. Reysol got out to the fastest start, and needed almosat no time to open the scoring. Just four minutes after kickoff Junya Ito slashed through the right chanel and crossed for Cristiano to poke home. But the Sun Kings are not yet shining at full brightness, and over the remainder of the contest they spurned numerous opportunities to put the contest on safe ground.

Kota Mizunuma nearly levelled the match in the 35th minute, but a magnificent reaction save by Kosuke Nakamura kept Cerezo scoreless at the break. The two teams battled back and forth with no real advantage until the stroke of the hour, when Souza suddenly let fly from over 30 meters and drilled a swerving bullet into the top right corner. Keeper Nakamura was caught completely by surprise, and by the time he got back to his goal line, the ball was already rolling around in the back netting

With just over ten minutes remaining, some controversy erupted behind the Cerezo goal, as keeper Kim Jin-Hyeon refused to take a goal kick and seemed to be suggesting that he was receiving racial abuse from the Reysol home fans just a few meters behind the net. The Kashiwa faithful predictably responded by shooting even louder. and only some words from Reysol captain Hidekazu Otani managed to calm things down. Neither team was able to find the winner in the final minutes, so the two settled for yet another 1-1 draw.

10 March, 2018
Kashiwa Stadium


1 1H 0
0 2H 1


Cristiano (04') 


 Souza (60')
Hajime Hosogai
Yun Suk-Young
Cautions Riku Matsuda

 Kosuke Nakamura; Ryuta Koike, Park Jeong-Su, Yuta Nakayama, Yun Suk-Young; Kim Bo-Kyung, Kei Koizumi (Ryohei Yamasaki 89'), Hajime Hosogai (Hidekazu Otani 61'); Junya Ito, Cristiano, Ataru Esaka (Yusuke Segawa 79')

  Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto (Tatsuya Yamashita 78'), Matej Jonjic; Hotaru Yamaguchi, Kota Mizunuma, Souza; Yoichiro Kakitani (Yang Dong-Hyen 45'), Kenyu Sugimoto, Toshiyuki Takagi (Atom Tanaka 89').


    2 - 0  

Both Tokyo and Jubilo stumbled out of the gate this year, and both entered this match in nominal relegation territory. After a scoreless first half, Jubilo opened the scoring just after the break as Shunsuke Nakamura chased down a long lead pass into the right corner and delivered a pinpoint cross that was headed home by Adailton from the edge of the six yard box..

As the minutes ticked away on Tokyo's hopes of reversing the result, Adailton popped up for another key play, charging into the right corner to collect a loose ball and looping it in front of net. Musaev swiveled his hips for a sidewinding right-footer, and drilled the ball inside the near post to put the contest out of reach.

10 March, 2018
Iwata Stadium


0 1H 0
2 2H 0


Adailton (52') 
Musaev (89')


Ryo Shinzato Cautions Diego Oliveira

  Krysztov Kaminski; Kentaro Oi, Ryo Shinzato, Nagisa Sakurauchi, Guilherme, Shohei Takahashi; Taishi Taguchi, Shunsuke Nakamura (Hiroki Yamada 80'), Adailton (Masaya Matsumoto 90'), Rikiya Uehara (Fosil Musaev 83'); Kengo Kawamoto.

  Akihiro Hayashi; Sei Muroya, Jang Hyun-Soo, Masato Morishige, Kosuke Ota; Kotaro Omori (Kento Hashimoto 76'), Takuji Yonemoto (Takefusa Kubo 82') Yojiro Takahagi, Keigo Higashi; Ryoichi Maeda, Diego Oliveira (Kensuke Nagai 65').


 0 - 1    

Over the first two weeks of the season, the most impressive team has been the Purple Archers of Hiroshima. Sanfrecce got off to a brilliant start, winning both of its league contests and then drubbing Gamba Osaka on Wednesday evening in the Levain Cup.  The attacking duo of Patric Oliveira Aguiar and Teerasil Dangda provided the sharp tip of attack, but the entire team seems to be playing with energy and precision under incoming coach Hiroshi Jofuku. Jofuku failed to achieve results in his second coaching stint at FC Tokyo, in 2016, but his reunion with his former Ventfore Kofu prodigies Sho Sasaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Sho Inagaki has given this trio, and indeed the entire Sanfrecce team, a boost of energy.

This energy posed a real problem for the Antlers, who have only just returned from an exhausting trip to Australia for ACL action. Kashima leads its group in the Asian competition, and some Antlers fans are wondering if maybe this will be the year that their team finally decides to put a full effort into achieving continental glory, to match their domestic success. For Kashima veterans Hitoshi Sogahata and Mitsuo Ogasawara, the Asia Champions League represents the only title (apart from the World Cup) that they have never won. A continental crown might be the perfect capstone to the careers of the two most decorated players in Japanese football history. But as everyone who follows the J.League understands, it is nearly impossible to do well in the domestic championship if you play your top players and exert a full effort in the ACL. Ten-hour plane flights and fierce physical play take too much out of a team.

Hiroshima demonstrated that they were the fresher unit, with a surge of intensity over the opening ten minutes. Though both teams had excellent scoring chances over the opening quarter of the contest, it was Sanfrecce who dominated possession. It was not until the 25th minute or thereabouts that the Antlers began to find their usual rhythm, and start to create opportunities through patient buildup rather than long balls and quick counters. As the first half moved into its final five minutes both teams threw themselves forward in search of a critical tally before the break. But despite some wild scenes at both ends the contest remained scoreless at intermission.

Seven minutes after the break, the Purple Archers broke the contest open, thanks to a poor play from defender Shuto Yamamoto, who attempted to play the ball out of his own box and ended up passing the ball right to Takaya Wada at the top of the penalty area. Wada's shot slipped underneath the dive of Kwoun Sun-Tae and the visitors were in front.

Coach Go Oiwa went to the bench, bringing on Yuma Suzuki in place of Pedro Junior, who had already squandered several golden chances. Suzuki immediately went to work, and within five minutes he had won a penalty kick, after being toppled as he drove along the goal line and into the area. But Takuto Hayashi smothered Mu Kanazaki's spot kick, and Sanfrecce maintained their lead. Despite torrid pressure applied by Kashima over the waning minutes, the Antlers were unable to break down the Sanfrecce defense and the Purple Archers extended their perfect start to the season with a stirring away victory, and finished the day atop the table, with Nagoya Grampus playing tomorrow.


10 March, 2018
Kashima Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 0




 Takuya Wada (51')
Mu Kanazaki
Gen Shoji
Cautions Sho Sasaki

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Koki Anzai (Takeshi Kanamori 81'), Naomichi Ueda, Gen Shoji, Shuto Yamamoto; Yuto Misao, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Atsutaka Nakamura (Yukitoshi Ito 66'), Shoma Doi; PedroJunior (Yuma Suzuki 58'), Mu Kanazaki  

 Takuto Hayashi; Takuya Wada, Yuki Nogami, Hiroki Mizumoto, Sho Sasaki; Hayao Kawabe (Daiki Watari 84'), Toshihiro Aoyama, Sho Inagaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa (Kyohei Yoshino 69'); Patric Oliveira, Teerasil Dangda (Kosei Shibasaki 60').



1 -  3 

In the evening kickoff, Consadole Sapporo welcomed Shimizu S-Pulse to Sapporo Dome, and for the first time the Snow Owls opened up in an alignment that at least occasionally resembled coach Mihailo Petrovic's patented 3-6-1. Although the team played four backs in their first two contests this season, Consadole definitely has the personnel to use the Petrovic system effectively. Jay Bothroyd is an ideal target man to play at the lone striker position, and Chanathip Songkran and Koji Miyoshi have the penetrating skills and elusive speed to excel in the two "slots" behind the striker.

It took Consadole just 15 minutes to illustrate the possibilities, when some good buildup work by the six-man midfield suddenly launched itself into the S-Pulse end. Yoshiaki Komai collected the ball just to the right of the penalty box, and led Jay perfectly with a lob for the far post. Bothroyd pounded his header past Yuji Rokutan, and the home team had the early advantage

However, S-Pulse responded quickly with a very similar play. Shota Kaneko provided the inlet pass from the right side,and Crislan settled the ball with his back to goal, spun about and flicked a shot into the left side netting. 

Consadole had several chances to reclaim the lead over the remainder of the first half, but poor finishing let them down. It was the Wingheads who broke the deadlock, shortly after the restart, when Ko Matsubara took the ball around the left flank, dribbled along the end line and fired for Kaneko at the near post. The diminutive S-Pulse midfielder flicked the ball past the keeper and the visitors were in the lead. Midway through the second half S-Pulse extended their lead when a cross into the box was collected by Crislan and then dropped back to Yosuke Kawai, unguarded at the top of the box. The youngster met the ball with the outside of his right boot, and sent a swerving drive just inside the left post.

10 March, 2018
Sapporo Dome


1 1H 1
0 2H 2


Jay Bothroyd (15')


Crislan (24')
Shota Kaneko (48')
 Yosuke Kawai


Takanori Sugeno; Ryosuke Shindo, Kim Min-Tae, Akito Fukumori; Yoshiaki Komai, Shingo Hyodo (Takuma Arano 78'); Kazuki Fukai (Reis 66'), Daiki Suga (Tokura Ken 78'), Koji Miyoshi, Chanathip Songkran; Jay Bothroyd

  Yuji Rokutan; Yugo Tatsuta, Hwang Seon-Ho, Friere, Ko Matsubara; Ryo Takeuchi Yosuke Kawai, Shota Kaneko, Mitch Duke; Koya Kitagawa (Chong Tese 66'), Crislan.



0 -  0 

The only match played on Sunday was a battle of two teams that are both newly promoted to the J1 this season, yet it proved to be a very high-stakes affair, since oth teams also entered the contest unbeaten, and visitors Nagoya Grampus could have moved into first place with a convincuing win. Though some may express surpise at the fact that newly promoted teams are performing so well, early in the season, this is not at all unusual in the J.League, particularly for teams that win the J2. There are numerous examples of teams rebounding from the second division and then claiming the league title -- or at least challenging for it -- in their first season back in the top-flight.

The reasons for this are numerous, and though it is easy to identify them, no one can say which is the most critical factor. One point is the relative parity throughout the J.League as a whole. There are certainly disparities in competitiveness, but often the addition or removal of just two or three key contributors can make the difference between a midtable J2 club and a potential J1champion.

Another theme that has been replayed many times over the course of J.League history is the transformation of an aging, sclerotic club where a number of talented youngsters are struggling to get playing time because their club (like many Japanese organizations) gives too much deference to veterans. Upon falling into the J2, a club releases the older players, hands starting positions and responsibility to promising youngsters, and after a year of polishing their skills the energetic young unit returns to J1 more competitive than they have been in years.

. This descrption certainly matches the situation at Nagoya, where the team fell to relegation in 2016 with a squad filled with former National Team stars, none of whom retained even a shadow of the quality they possessed in their prime. Though some of the older players stuck around last year to provide experience and leadership, and to ensure a quick return to J1, this year coach Yahiro Kazama has turned over the reins to a VERY young unit. Excluding foreigners, the starting unit that took the pitch on Sunday had an average age of just 23, and even that number was skewed by the presence of 30-year-old Yuki Kobayashi, who entered the J.League after university and thus is only a seven-year veteran. In their first two matches this year, Grampus has used the youthful energy of its defensive and midfield unit to swarm opponents and keep them off balance, while making efficient use of attacking chances thanks to the talent and experience of foreign stars like William Rocha, Gabriel Javier and Joao "Jo" Silva

Bellmare, by contrast, is the most recent team to fill the role of "J.League Yo-yo", bouncing back and forth between divisions on a yearly basis. Since Coach Cho Kwi-jae took over the helm, in 2012, the team has switched divisions five times. Part of this reflects the fact that Coach Cho has coaxed such strong results from his young team. Both of the past two times they earned promotion, I commented that the team might actually have been better off spending another year in J2, and refining their skills. By climbing into the top-flight before they were fully ready, the team not only fell back down a year later, but the most talented young players also attracted so much attention from opponents that they were lured away when the team went back down. This time around, the core unit is a bit older and more experienced. If coach Cho can coax steady performances out of the entire unit, and avoid injuries, this might be the year that Bellmare puts away the yo-yo, and settles into the J1 for a longer stay.

Though the two teams gave fans a fairly exciting show, true scoring opportunities were at a premium. Nobody was surprised that the contest remained scoreless at the break. In the second half, Grampus gradually began to take the upper hand, but some fine work between the posts by Yota Akimoto kept Bellmare on level terms. Shortly after the hour mark Grampus received a setback when central defender William Rocha went down heavily in a collision at the top of the box, and had to limp off a few minutes later. This opened up the back line slightly for Bellmare counterattacks. Though the Red Whales continued to dominate, Grampus keeper Mitch Langerak was called upon to keep his own scoresheet clean with a pair of diving saves.

With 15 minutes remaining, Both coaches rolled the dice in hope of breaking the deadlock. Bellmare added penetrating quality on the wings by inserting former Reds winger Tsukasa Umesaki and former Sanfrecce veteran Mihale Mikic. Nagoya responded with midfield creator Yuki Oshitani and one-time J.League record goalscorer Hisato Sato. But neither team was able to break the deadlock, and the contest ernded with both teams still undefeated, yet disappointed.

11 March, 2018
Hiratsuka (Shonan BMW) Stadium


0 1H 0
0 2H 0




Shunki Ishikawa
Shunsuke Kikuchi

Yuki Kobayashi

Yota Akimoto; Miki Yamane, Andre Bahia, Kazunari Ono; Kaoru Takayama, Toshiki Ishikawa, Hiroki Akino, Daiki Sugioka (Mihael Mikic 81), Tenma Matsuda (Tsukasa Umesaki 65'), Shunsuke Kikuchi; Lee Jeong-Hyeop (Ryunosuke Noda 71')

  Mitch Langerak; Kazuya Miyahara, Yukinari Sugawara, William Rocha (Kazuki Kuranuki 60'), Yosuke Akiyama; Ryota Aoki, Yuki Kobayashi, Kohei Hattanda (Hisato Sato 90'), Ryuji Izumi (Yuki Oshitani 76'); Gabriel Javier, Joao Alves "Jo" Silva.


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J1 Standings


. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 56 17 5 5 42 21 +21
2 Kawasaki Frontale 52 16 4 6 42 20 +22
3 FC Tokyo 43 12 7 8 34 25 +9
4 Kashima Antlers 42 12 6 9 37 34 +3
5 Cerezo Osaka 41 10 11 6 34 30 +4
6 Vegalta Sendai 41 12 5 10 36 38 -2
7 Consadole Sapporo 41 11 8 7 35 38 -3
8 Urawa Reds 38 10 8 9 37 27 +10
9 Vissel Kobe 36 10 6 11 33 35 -2
10 Shimizu S-Pulse 34 10 4 13 38 40 -2
11 Jubilo Iwata 33 8 9 10 29 37 -8
12 Yokohama Marinos 32 9 5 13 45 46 -1
13 Nagoya Grampus 31 9 4 13 43 48 -5
14 Shonan Bellmare 31 8 7 11 31 36 -5
15 Sagan Tosu 30 7 9 11 22 28 -6
16 Kashiwa Reysol 30 9 3 15 33 42 -9
17 Gamba Osaka 30 8 6 13 29 39 -10
18 V.Varen Nagasaki 27 8 3 16 32 48 -16

J2 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Yamaga 56 16 8 5 42 26 +16
2 Zelvia 53 15 8 5 48 34 +14
3 Trinita 51 15 6 8 50 35 +15
4 YokohamaFC 49 13 10 5 42 32 +10
5 Ardija 47 14 5 10 47 34 +13
6 Verdy 46 12 10 7 39 29 +10
7 Avispa 46 13 7 7 37 27 +10
8 Fagiano 44 12 8 9 31 27 +4
9 Renofa 43 11 10 7 47 46 +1
10 Vortis 41 12 5 12 35 29 +6
11 Montedio 40 11 7 10 34 35 -1
12 Hollyhock 39 11 6 12 34 32 +2
13 TochigiSC 38 10 8 11 29 33 -4
14 Ventforet 37 10 7 12 45 37 +8
15 Zweigen 36 9 9 11 36 37 -1
16 JEF United 35 10 5 14 49 56 -7
17 EhimeFC 33 9 6 14 24 38 -14
18 FC Gifu 32 9 5 15 36 43 -7
19 Albirex 29 8 5 16 30 45 -15
20 Roasso 26 7 5 17 37 55 -18
21 Sanga 25 7 4 17 25 41 -16
22 Kamatamare 24 6 6 16 23 49 -26

J3 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 FCRyukyu 35 10 5 3 35 20 +15
2 Azul Claro 32 9 5 3 19 9 +10
3 KagoshimaU 31 8 7 3 26 17 +9
4 FukushimaU 28 6 10 2 21 18 +3
5 Gainare 27 8 3 7 24 23 +1
6 Gamba U23 26 7 5 6 31 25 +6
7 Thespa 25 7 4 7 18 21 -3
8 Cerezo U23 24 6 6 6 24 23 +1
9 Blaublitz 24 7 3 8 17 16 +1
10 YSCC 23 5 8 5 26 22 +4
11 Sagamihara 23 6 5 6 29 27 +2
12 Grulla 23 7 2 9 22 30 -8
13 Parceiro 22 5 7 6 23 23 0
14 FujiedaMyFC 21 6 3 8 18 22 -4
15 Kataller 20 6 2 10 21 32 -11
16 Giravanz 14 3 5 9 13 27 -14
17 FCTokyo U23 13 3 4 11 18 30 -12