March 31, 2018

Out Like a Lamb

  The 2018 J.League season got off to a frigid start at the beginning of March, with snowy weather and icy winds discouraging fans at many of the matches earlier in the month. The weather was not the only thing that was cold -- teams seemed to still be carrying a coat of frost, as the first three weekends of play featured a number of low-scoring draws that was extremely atypical of the J.League. But as the old saying goes, if March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb . . . and not a docile one, but a brash and energetic one. This week the weather was balmy across the country, and though a few teams still seem to be ice cold, the majority have broken out of their winter slumber. This weekend included several fierce battles that were decided in the final minutes of play. There are only two teams still undefeated, and nobody retains a perfect record. However, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vegalta Sendai are setting the pace in the early going. 


 

   2 -  1  

Week five kicked off on Friday evening with a match between two teams that are trying to battle their way into the ranks of the contenders, but have not gotten off to a particularly good start this season. Kashiwa Reysol has one league title in their trophy cabinet, secured in 2011 under the supervision of Nelson "Nelsinho" Baptista Junior -- one of the most successful, and well-traveled coaches in J.League history. The four-year stretch from 2010 to 2013 was a period of shining brilliance for the Sun-Kings that included a J2 title (2010) a J1 crown, an Emperor's Cup (2012), and a Nabisco Cup trophy (2013).

But after running off the full contingent of domestic trophies, Reysol turned their focus to the ACL, and experienced the setback that often accompanies such efforts. After a tenth-place finish in 2014 Nelsinho was sent packing, and the team has been unable to win any silverware since his departure. The history of Nelsinho's success in Kashiwa is pertinent to this week's match because three years ago, in a bid to launch their own "Golden Age", Vissel Kobe also hired the Brazilian tactician, and gave him a fairly substantial budget with which to build a team.

Some would say that this was a wise move. After finishing 12th in 2015, Nelsinho's first year at the helm, Kobe managed a seventh-place finish in 2016 -- the best performance ever for the Crimson Cows. But apparently someone in the Vissel front office was impatient for more immediate success. The team started off the year at about the same pace as in 2016, but in early summer the team managed to convince Lucas Podolski to sign a three-year deal to come to Japan. Perhaps believing that this one international star would be enough to turn Kobe into a potential champion, the team's largest shareholder Hiroshi Mikitani pulled out his bankroll and signed not only Podolski but also former Japan NT striker Mike Havenaar.

We do not have time to spend the time and lengthy paragraphs necessary to detail all that happened in the latter half of the 2017 season. Suffice it to say that fans in Kobe learned the same difficult lesson that many others across the league have learned in recent years: No one player -- regardless of how talented they may be -- can produce success singlehandedly. Whether it be Diego Forlan, Freddie Ljungberg, Dwight Yorke, Bebeto, or any of the other international "superstars" who have arrived in Japan to great fanfare and departed soon afterward in ignominious circumstances, the old saying "pride comes before a fall" sums up the whole story.

Even before he arrived in Japan, there were clear signs that Podolski might be underestimating the difficulty of adapting to Japanese football. More importantly, he seemed to expect fans and teammates alike to give him star treatment. In his first few months at Vissel, he often berated teammates for not passing him the ball when he called for it, or failed to track back in support of the defense when he was dispossessed. Worst of all, there are rumours that friction between him and Nelsinho contributed to Vissel's decision to terminate the coach's contract just a few weeks after Podolski arrived. Regardless of whether Nelsinho's departure was related to the German international's presence, or not, the team's performance after Takayuki Yoshida took over control of the team (and Podolski joined) was worse than in the first half of the season.

This year, Podolski seems to be making a more genuine effort to fit in, support his teammates, and contribute to team success rather than chase personal glory. But there are still signs of conflict and incohesion in the Vissel attack. Perhaps the best way to appraise his performance is by comparing his contributions to Vissel with the efforts of Reysol target man Cristiano. Though both are clearly talented players with a good set of offensive skills and a clear talent for scoring goals, the Brazilian is visibly more at home in the J.League, better integrated into his team's overall concept of play, and far more committed to team success. Cristiano never stops running, contributing as much to the defense as he does to attack, whereas the German rarely tracks back into his own half of the pitch. While this is partly just a reflection of their characters and styles of play, there is little question who neutral J.League fans would say is the greater asset to his team.

Readers may wonder why I have spent four full paragraphs talking about just two players, in a report on a 90 minute contest between two entire teams. However, the critical play in this contest illustrated brilliantly the reason why Podolski's value to his team still falls well short of that contributed by other foreign stars. After a scoreless first half, in the 68th minute, Reysol broke out in a two-on-three counterattack, with Junya Ito carrying the ball towards the top of the penalty arc while Cristiano shadowed him up the right channel. With a burst of speed Cristiano surged into the box, drawing two defenders away from Ito. The young NT prospect surged into the open space left by the defense and drove a shot past the keeper and just inside the left post. Without even touching the ball, Cristiano helped his team opemn the scoring.

Vissel responded by bringing Mike Havenaar off the bench to add height and power to the attack. Almost immediately, Havenaar made a similar "contribution" by occupying the attentions of three Reysol defenders on a corner kick. Naoyuki Fujita's kick found Junya Tanaka at the near post, isolated one-on-one because the other Reysol players on the left side of the box were occupied with guarding Havenaar. Tanaka met the ball with a glancing header which caught the far post and bounded into the net.

But with five minutes remaining, Ryohei Yamazaki burst around the right flank of the Kobe defense and as the back line collapsed, he cut the ball back to Cristiano near the top of the penalty area. Cristiano's shot was batted away by keeper Kim Seung-Gyu, but Ito swept in from the left side to pop home the rebound and restore Reysol's lead.

Date: 
30 March, 2018
Attendance: 
9,642
Location: 
Kashiwa Stadium

  2

0 1H 0
2 2H 1

1  

Junya Ito (68') 
Junya Ito (86')

 Scoring

 Junya Tanaka (74')
Yun Seok-Young
Kei Koizumi
Shinnosuke Nakatani
Cautions

Masatoshi Mihara
Hirotaka Mita

 Kosuke Nakamura; Ryuta Koike, Park Jeong-Su, Shinnosuke Nakatani, Yun Suk-Young (Yuta Nakayama 81'); Kei Koizumi (Ryohei Yamasaki 68'), Kim Bo-Kyung, Hidekazu Otani; Junya Ito, Cristiano, Ataru Esaka (Masashi Kamekawa 89')

Kim Seung-Gyu; Masatoshi Mihara (Keijiro Ogawa 60'), Masahiko Inoha, Hirofumi Watanabe, Wataru Hashimoto (Yoshiki Matsushita 72'); Naoyuki Fujita, Hirotaka Mita, Yuta Goke; Lucas Podolski, Shuhei Otsuki (Mike Havenaar 72'). Junya Takana.


 1 - 0  

In Sendai, Vegalta played host to the J1 newcomers V.Varen Nagasaki. Although the home team had the best of the early action, it was a terrible defensive blunder that provided the Golden Eagles with their opening goal. A cross from the right corner cleared the head of its intended target, Takuma Nishimura. However, a Nagasaki defender stumbled as he blocked the cross to prevent it from bounding through to Naoki Ishihara on the opposite sideline. Nishimura sprang onto the loose ball as the defender tried to regain his feet, and tucked it into the net from point-blank range.

This would be the only goal of the contest, as Vegalta's tight marking and physical defending kept Nagasaki scoreless despite several dangerous chances by the duo of Musashi Suzuki and Juanma. Vegalta claimed all three points and advanced to second place in the league table, just two points behind Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
13,158
Location: 
Sendai (Yuasa) Stadium

  1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Takuma Nishimura (31')

 Scoring

 
Kentaro Seki Cautions

Juanma
Teppei Usui

  Kentaro Seki; Yasuhiro Hiraoka, Kazuki Oiwa, Ko Kim Jung-ya; Hiroaki Okuno, Gakuto Notsuda, Shota Kobayashi (Naoki Sugai 90+1'), Katsuya Nagato; Takuma Nishimura (Shingo Tomita 84'), Takuma Abe (Ryo Germain 66'), Naoki Ishihara.

 Kenta Tokushige; Shuhei Tokunaga, Choi Kyu-Baek, Ryota Takasugi; Ryutaro Iio (Takumi Magura 79'), Teppei Usui, Shogo Nakahara (Yusuke Maeda 64'), Hijiri Onaga, Takashi Sawada (Shunya Yoneda 58'), Musashi Suzuki: Juanma.


   0 - 1   

Former Australian NT coach Ange Postecoglou has needed several weeks to get accustomed to the style and character of J.League football, but he is learning quickly and introducing some tactics that -- regardless of whether or not they produce any silverware -- are already prompting rival teams to sit up and take notice. Last week the Marinos smothered the Urawa Reds' best attacking efforts by playing a very tight formation with keeper Hiroki Iikura spending much of the contest at the top of his own box to deal with chips over the pushed-up Marinos back line and into the vast green space left open by this tactic. Iikura is a very speedy player with excellent skill when playing the ball with his feet. Nevertheless, one wonders how long it will take for an opposing team to exploit this positioning, and score a long-distance goal with a long loop shot, immediately after gaining possession.

S-Pulse tried to deal with the Marino' tactics by applying a high press of their own, only to have it backfire just ten minutes into the contest. Following a steal by S-Pulse in the Marinos end, Yokohama won the ball back almost immediately and and blasted a long ball down the left sideline. Ryosuke Yamanaka chased it down and fired the ball into the box. Hugo Viera sprinted in and met the cross with a half-volley into the roof of the net, giving Yokohama the early advantage.

S-Pulse had some dangerous chances of their own, but the closest they came to scoring the equalizer came just before half time, when a cross from Ko Matsubara, on the left flank, found Mitchell Duke unmarked ar the far post. But Iikura responded quickly and managed to bat Duke's header around the post and preserve Yokohama's lead at the break.

The second half was closely contested but as the contest progressed, S-Pulse began to display their lack of experience with rushed passes and flusered,. impatient play that made Yokohama's defensive job easier. Several truly dangerous attacking thrusts were cut short by rushed passes. On virtually the last play of the contest S-Pulse won a free kick that was lobbed into the six yard box and eventually fired on net by Crislan. But once again Iikura came up with the critical play, swatting the ball into touch and preserving the Marinos victory.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
17,032
Location: 
Nihondaira Stadium

  0

0 1H 1
0 2H 0

1  

 

Scoring

 Hugo Vieira (11')
Hwang Seon-ho
Friere
Cautions Yuki Otsu
Kosuke Nakamachi
Hugo Vieira

  Yuji Rokutan; Yugo Tatsuta (Ryohei Shirasaki 79'), Hwang Seon-Ho, Friere, Ko Matsubara; Ryo Takeuchi Yosuke Kawai, Shota Kaneko, Hideki Ishige (Jumpei Kusukami 73'); Mitch Duke (Koya Kitagawa 67'), Crislan.

 Hiroki Iikura; Ken Matsubara, Yuji Nakazawa, Milos Degenek, Ryosuke Yamanaka; Takahiro Ogihara, Jun Amano, Yuki Otsu (Kaina Yoshio 72'); Olivier Buruma (Keita Endo 61'), Hugo Vieira, Yun Il-Lok (Kosuke Nakamachi 88').

 


 

  3 - 2  

At Tokyo's Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo's new head coach Kenta Hasegawa faced off for the first time against the team he coached for five seasons, in what would prove to be the most entertaining contest of the day. It did not take long for his new club, FC Tokyo, to provide hims some satisfaction. Just 90 seconds after kickoff a looping ball over the top was fired on net quickly by Kensuke Nagai, from about 30 meters. Although keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi parried the shot easily, the ball bounded right into the path of Keigo Higashi, slanting in from the left. He met the ball with a powerful left boot that rocketed past the keeper and into the back strings. Tokyo doubled its lead just ten minutes later, on a free kick from just over 30 meters. Defender Masato Morishige rose at the far post to meet Ryoya Ogawa's curling delivery, and headed it back across the face of goal into the right side netting.

Disappointing as the two early goals may have been for Gamba's defense, the real tragedy struck in the 25th minute when wingback Hiroki Fujiharu tried to make a sliding tackle and caught his foot, landing with his knee bent at an awkward angle. Fujiharu had to be carried off on a stretcher, and based on his visible anguish it appears that he may have damaged knee ligaments.

On the stroke of half time, though, Gamba got a break when Haruya Ide dribbled across the top of the box and threw himself across an attempted challenge by Yojiro Takahagi. Though the replay showed little or no contact and the deliberate lunge was probably worthy of a card for simulation, the referee pointed to the spot and allowed Hwang Ui-Jo to cut the halftime deficit with a PK.

Though their first half performance was disappointing, Gamba came out for the second act with all guns blazing, and after a barrage of shots over he first ten minutes of the half, they finally produced the equaliser. In the 58th minute a cross from Shu Kurata found Ui-Jo just six yards out from the right post. The big Korean twisted his body to meet the ball and headed it just underneath the crossbar. But Tokyo responded almost immediately, with a powerful header from their own ace. Youngster Ryoya Ogawa found space in the left corner to collect a slant pass and fire into the box. Diego Oliveira slipped free of his defender and nodded the ball past Higashiguchi to put Tokyo back in front.

Though Gamba showed some flashes of quality over the next ten minutes or so, Tokyo rode out the surge and eventually re-established the sort of control they enjoyed in the first half. The hosts were able to hang on for the victory, leaving Gamba at the foot of the table with just one point from five matches.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
21,940
Location: 
Ajinomoto Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Keigo Higashi (02') 
Masato Morishige (12') 
Diego Oliveira (87') 

 Scoring

 

Hwang Ui-Jo (45+2')
Hwang Ui-Jo (58')

 
  Cautions

  Akihiro Hayashi; Makoto Okazaki, Jang Hyun-Soo, Masato Morishige, Ryoya Ogawa; Kotaro Omori, Kento Hashimoto, Yojiro Takahagi, (Takuji Yonemoto 81') Keigo Higashi; Diego Oliveira (Cayman Togashui 87'), Kensuke Nagai (Ryoichi Maeda 60'').

 Masaaki Higashiguchi; Oh Jae-Suk, Genta Miura, Fabio, Hiroki Fujiharu (Ryo Hatsuse 31'); Yasuhito Endo, Mateus, Shu Kurata (Keito Nakamura 76'); Hwang Ui-Jo, Shun Nagasawa (Yuto Mori 66'), Haruya Ide .

 


 

0 -  1 

The marquee match of the afternoon was a head-to-head clash between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Kawasaki Frontale, who stood level on points at the top of the table. Although the two teams both came in with undefeated records and a decent haul of goals, the strategy adopted by both coaches seemed to be based on the idea that the key was to avoid conceding anything. For 85 minutes, the two teams played a very cautious and essentially uneventful match, with only a handful of significant half-chances.

It was only in the final ten minutes or so that either team really began to threaten. With five minutes remaining, Sanfrecce won a corner kick on the left side and after the initial delivery to the far post was headed back in front, Patric Oliveira pounced on the loose ball and drilled it into the back netting.

This finally provoked a fight-back from Frontale, an they appeared to scoer a perfectly good equaliser on the stroke of full time, when a cross in front was accidentally deflected on net by Hiroki Mizumoto. Hiroyuki Abe popped the rebound into the net and began to celebrate. But after discussion with his assistant, referee Minoru Tojo eventually decided to wave off the goal for offside, despite the fact that the "pass" that created an offside came from the Hiroshima defender. Even in their usual reluctance to criticise, the match announcers could not avoid admitting that Mr. Tojo blew it. The goal clearly should have counted.

Though they owe Mr. Tojo a hearty thank you, Sanfrecce claimed all three points and now find themselves atop the table.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
12,465
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 1

1   

 

 Scoring

 Patric Oliveira (86') 
Kengo Nakamura Cautions

Patric Oliveira

Jung Sung-Ryong; Elsinho, Shogo Taniguchi, Jumpei Noborizato, Shintaro Kurumaya (Tatsuya Hasegawa 78'); Eduardo Neto, Kentaro Moriya (Yu Kobayashi 60'), Kengo Nakamura; Akihiro Ienaga, Hiroyuki Abe (Hidemasa Morita 74') Yoshito Okubo.

 Takuto Hayashi; Takuya Wada, Yuki Nogami, Hiroki Mizumoto, Sho Sasaki; Kosei Shibasaki, Toshihiro Aoyama; Sho Inagaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa (Kyohei Yoshino 87'); Patric Oliveira, Masato Kudo (Shun Kawabe 60').


 

  0 -  0 

The match between Kashima Antlers and Consadole Sapporo was an even greater disappointment than the Sanfrecce-Frontale contest. Though the Antlers' defense has proven itself to be one of the best in the league, so far this year, the lack of offensive production is beginning to disturb Antlers fans. It does not help that they have suffered several key injuries in the early weeks, but a more serious problem is the indecisive linkup play of midfielders Leo Silva and Ryota Nagaki. After their second scoreless draw in three weeks, coach Go Oiwa may face pressure to either adjust his strategy or find some more attack-minded players.

For their part, Consadole put on a pretty solid show, especially on defense, but they could not break down the defense, anchored by NT candidates Gen Shoji and Naomichi Ueda. The contest ended with neither team able to hit the opposing net. .

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
19,629
Location: 
Kashima Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

 

 Scoring

 
Hiroki Abe Cautions Koji Miyoshi
Daiki Suga

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Yukitoshi Ito, Naomichi Ueda, Gen Shoji, Shuto Yamamoto; Ryota Nagaki (Daigo Nishi 90+1'), Leo Silva, Hiroki Abe (Leandro 74'), Shoma Doi (Pedro Junior 84'), Yuma Suzuki, Mu Kanazaki.  

Gu Sung-Yun; Ryosuke Shindo, Kim Min-Tae, Akito Fukumori; Yoshiaki Komai, Hiroki Miyazawa, Kazuki Fukai (Takuma Arano 79'), Daiki Suga, Koji Miyoshi (Reis 83'), Chanathip Songkran (Ryota Hayasaka 90'); Ken Tokura.



  2 - 1    

After a rather dull afternoon, the two evening contests turned into wild see-saw battles with some edge-of-the-seat suspense, At Osaka's Nagai "Kincho" Stadium, Cerezo got off to a quick start in this contest, when Kota Mizunuma made a surging run down the right flank and flicked a heel pass to Yang Dong-Hyen as the two neared the box. Yang cut inside and curled a brilliant left-footed shot around the keeper and just inside the far post.

The Flaming Pinks seemed to be in control for the next 20 minutes, and indeed, maintained 63% of possession in the first half. But just as the home team was threatening to extend their advantage Shonan suddenly and unexpectedly snatched the equaliser. A long cross from Kazunari Ono on the left sideline found Takuya Okamoto just inside the top right corner of the penalty box. Rather than bring the ball down, and allow defenders to close him down, Okamoto met the ball on the full volley and it bounded through a group of astonished Osaka players and into the left side netting.

Cerezo's dominance of play continued into the second half, but try as they might, they could not break down the stubborn Bellmare defense. But with five minutes remaining, the visitors' tough shell finally cracked. Kenyu Sugimoto dribbled around the right flank and as he surged towards the goal mouth, all the Bellmare players waited for the pass to a teammate, while nobody challenged Sugimoto. At the last second Andre Bahia lunged out to challenge but Sugimoto fired right between his calves and past the visually obstructed keeper. Bellmare tried to stage a late comeback but after sitting on their heels for 45 minutes they simply could not get any traction. Cerezo coasted to the final whistle, and secured their first victory of the season.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
13,882
Location: 
"Kincho" Stadium

  2

1 1H 1
1 2H 0

1  

Yang Dong-Hyen (13')
Kenyu Sugimoto (86') 

 Scoring

 Takuya Okamoto (36')
Kota Mizunuma Cautions Tenma Matsuda
Shunki Ishikawa
Takuya Okamoto

  Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto, Matej Jonjic; Hotaru Yamaguchi, Kota Mizunuma, Osmar; Yoichiro Kakitani (Takaki Fukumitsu 85') Toshiyuki Takagi (Kenyu Sugimoto 76'), Yang Dong-Hyen (Tatsuya Yamashita 90+2').

Yota Akimoto; Miki Yamane, Andre Bahia, Kazunari Ono; Takuya Okamoto, Toshiki Ishikawa, Hiroki Akino (Jin Hanato 60'), Kaoru Takayama (Daiki Sugioka 45'); Tenma Matsuda (Yusuke Kobayashi 77'), Shunsuke Kikuchi, Ryunosuke Noda.

 


  3 - 2

In the late match on Saturday, Sagan Tosu got themselves in trouble early on, when Kim Min-Hyeok gave Nagoya Grampus midfielder Gabriel Xavier a tug as the Brazilian broke into the box, and was called for a foul. Though the replay showed that the defender had released Gabriel before he crossed into the penalty area, the referee pointed at the spot and awarded a PK. For a moment it appeared that the Magenta Magpies had dodged a bullet, as keeper Yuichi Gonda blocked Jo's spot kick. But two minutes later Nagoya won another free kick, this time about 30 meters out from goal on the right side. Gabriel sent his kick into the wall, but he snatched up the rebound and began dribbling into the box. Cutting between two defenders he drove a low, hard shot that ricocheted off Gonda and into the roof of the net to give Nagoya the early lead.

After a slow start, Tosu began to battle back as the first half progressed, but the officiating team seemed unwilling to call anything in their favour. Offside calls disallowed one goal and prematurely terminated another play that looked like it would produce a goal. Both calls were close enough to infuriate the home crowd, and even on video looked like they could have gone either way. Despite taking control of the run of play over the final 20 minutes of the half, Tosu went in at the break with nothing to show for it.

Tosu took charge of the contest in the second half, and created several dangerous chances to score the equaliser. But nothing seemed to go right for the home team. The most telling example of how their luck was running came in the 63rd minute when Victor Ibarbo swung and missed completely on what should have been a tap-in at the left post. In the 69th minute the Red Orcas finally got their first significant chance of the second half, when Xavier intercepted a back-pass at midfield and dashed away on goal, with two defenders in pursuit. Holding off the defensive challenge as he dribbled through the left channel, he waited until the keeper broke off his line and fired a low-angle shot that curled just inside the right post.

Tosu finally broke the spell with a goal of their own just a few minutes later when a free kick was headed just underneath the crossbar by Hideto Takahashi, cutting the deficit back to a single goal. Suddenly the breaks began falling in their favour, as moments later a deflected cross bounded high into the air and dropped right in front of Ibarbo as he charged the goal mouth. This time he made sure he made contact, flicking the ball past Mitch Langerak and pulling Tosu level with Grampus at last.

It looked as if the contest would end with the scores still level, but three minutes deep into injury time, substitute midfielder Kyosuke Tagawa Burst through the left flank of the Grampus defense, played a one-two exchange with Ibarbo and sent the return pass streaking into the low right corner. The stadium exploded in celebration, and a few short minutes later the Magenta Magpies had secured their first victory of the young season.

Date: 
31 March, 2018
Attendance: 
12,957
Location: 
Tosu "Best Amenity" Std.

  3

0 1H 1
3 2H 1

2  

Hideto Takahashi (74')
Victor Ibarbo (77')
Kyosuke Tagawa (74')

 Scoring

Gabriel Xavier (14')
Gabriel Xavier (69')

Yutaka Yoshida Cautions Kazuki Kushibiki
Yosuke Akiyama

 Yuichi Gonda; Yuzo Kobayashi, Kim Min-Hyeok, Jun Seung-Hyun, Yutaka Yoshida; Hideto Takahashi, Riki Harakawa, Akito Fukuta (Kyosuke Tagawa 77'); Yuji Ono, Victor Ibarbo, Cho Dong-Geon (Yoshiki Takahashi 89').

  Mitch Langerak; Kazuya Miyahara, Yukinari Sugawara, William Rocha (Yuki Oshitani 45'), Kazuki Kushibiki; Ryota Aoki (Shumpei Fukahori 81'), Ariajasuru Hasegawa, Yuki Kobayashi, Yosuke Akiyama; Gabriel Xavier, Joao Alves "Jo" Silva.

 


 

  2 - 1    

The lone J1 match played on Sunday featured two teams that are both badly in need of a victory, or ANYTHING that can boots the spirits of players while calming the distress of fans. The Reds, in particular, have a revolt brewing in the ranks of the Saitama Red Army. Despite shelling out cash for high profile players like Martinus, Takuya Iwanami and Kosuke Taketomi, Urawa entered this week's contest in relegation territory, and still in search of their first win. Though Jubilo managed a victory over FC Tokyo in mid-March, they too are struggling to find their rhythm, and entered week 5 just one spot above the Reds, in 15th place.

Although the match was played at Shizuoka "Ecopa" Stadium, the former World Cup Venue about 40km from Iwata, the massive Reds travelling support made this seem like an Urawa home match. Just minutes into the contest the influence of crowd backing had an impact on the contest as referee Itaru Hirose awarded a penalty kick when Kentaro Oi was called for a hand ball offense.  Oi slid in front of Yuki Muto as he tried to cross into the box, and the ball hit his hand. Though clearly not deliberate, and his arm was arguably within the "body mass" area that officials are supposed to consider not a hand ball offense, Mr. Hirose pointed to the spot.  Shinzo Koroki stroked the spot kick inside the left post to put Urawa in the early lead. Jubilo almost respomnded immediately on a corner kick, but Kengo Kawamoto's shot came back off the crossbar.

After this early flurry of action the two teams settled into a fairly consistent pattern of thrust and parry, with Jubilo seeking to trap the ball in midfield and move it quickly to Kawamata and shadow striker Hiroki Yamada, while the reds focused on working the ball into the corners and sending in low crosses for the experienced target men, including Koroki, Taketomi and Yuki Muto. On the stroke of half time Jubilo finally pulled level when Nagisa Sakurauchi found some space on the right sideline and chipped the ball into the box for Shohei Takahashi, at a spot just to the right of the six yard box. Rather than trp the ball on his chest, Takahashi stooped and headed the ball onward into the centre of the area, catching the Reds defenders by surprise. But Kawamata read his teamate's intentions perfectly, swooped in to collect the ball at the near post and fire it into the roof of the net.

Urawa had the first big chance of the secone act, as Muto and Koroki teamed up for a quick thrust through the middle. But Krysztov Kaminski palmed Koroki's drive around the left post to relieve the pressure. As the contest moved towards the hour mark the pace of play seemed to stall, as the Blue Budgies sagged back into a counterattacking posture and the Reds began moving the ball very cautiously around the perimeter, seeking an open passing lane put cautious not to give Jubilo a chance to launch the ball into space for Kawamata to chase.

In the 64th minute a bit of controversy erupted when Jublo took a quick throw-in and seemed to have a clear chance to score, only for Reds defender Mauricio to catch the ball, inside his own penalty area. The Jubilo players shouted wildly for a PK. However, the referee eventually ruled that he had signalled for a substitution to take place before Iwata took the throw, and therefore the ball was not in play. At this point Urawa made its bid for the go-ahead goal, bringing Andrew Nabbout off the bench and shifting to a 4-4-2. Jubilo responded by bringing on veteran Shunsuke Nakamura to orchestrate play in the centre of the pitch. Nakamura wqas the first to create danger, curling a free kick from the right side into the goal mouth. where keeper Shusaku Nishikawa just barely managed to scramble it away. Moments later Kawamata took advantage of some lax concentration by Urawa, burst through the Reds defense on the dribble, and held off the challenge of two defenders before chipping a shot over Nishikawa's fingertips, and into the empty net.

This seemed to be a knockout punch, as the Reds suddenly lost their bearings and struggled to even string passes together, while Jubilo used the momentum, to secure possession and steadily wind out the clock. When the final whistle sounded the cheers of Jubilo's home support were drowned out by a thunderous deluge of booing from the Reds fans. With only two points from five matches, the Reds now drop to 17th place, and the future of coach Hori may be limited.

Date: 
1 April, 2018
Attendance: 
21,700
Location: 
Shizuoka (Ecopa) Stadium

  2

1 1H 1
1 2H 0

1  

Shinzo Koroki (07') 

 Scoring

Kengo Kawamata (44') 
Kengo Kawamata (81') 
 
Nagisa Sakurauchi Cautions  

  Krysztov Kaminski; Kentaro Oi, Ryo Shinzato, Nagisa Sakurauchi, Shohei Takahashi; Taishi Taguchi, Takuya Matsuura (Seiya Nakano 66'), Tomohiko Miyazaki; Hiroki Yamada Shunsuke Nakamura 75'), Rikiya Uehara; Kengo Kawamata.

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Wataru Endo, Yuki Abe, Mauricio Tomoaki Makino; Takuya Aoki, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Tomoki Nagasawa (Tadanari Lee 77'); Kosuke Taketomi (Andrew Nabbout 70'), Shinzo Koroki, Yuki Muto.

Hits: 403

J1 Standings

 

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Sanfrecce 41 13 2 2 26 8 18
2 FC Tokyo 34 10 4 3 27 15 12
3 Frontale 33 10 3 4 25 13 12
4 Consadole 27 7 6 4 21 19 2
5 Cerezo 27 7 6 4 21 20 1
6 Vissel 25 7 4 6 24 20 4
7 Antlers 25 7 4 6 23 21 2
8 Vegalta 25 7 4 6 20 26 -6
9 S-Pulse 24 7 3 7 24 22 2
10 Jubilo 23 6 5 6 18 18 0
11 Bellmare 22 6 4 7 21 23 -2
12 Urawa Reds 21 5 6 6 16 15 1
13 F.Marinos 20 5 5 7 33 31 2
14 Reysol 20 6 2 9 21 26 -5
15 V.Varen 17 5 2 10 21 28 -7
16 Gamba 15 4 3 10 15 25 -10
17 Sagan Tosu 14 3 5 9 15 23 -8
18 Grampus 10 2 4 11 15 33 -18

J2 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Fagiano 16 5 1 1 8 2 +6
2 Zelvia 15 4 3 0 11 6 +5
3 Trinita 14 4 2 1 15 7 +8
4 Renofa 14 4 2 1 15 10 +5
5 Verdy 13 3 4 0 9 3 +6
6 Roasso 12 4 0 3 11 11 0
7 Hollyhock 11 3 2 2 9 5 +4
8 Albirex 11 3 2 2 8 6 +2
9 Avispa 11 3 2 2 9 8 +1
10 YokohamaFC 11 3 2 2 7 9 -2
11 Zweigen 9 2 3 2 10 7 +3
12 Vortis 9 3 0 4 7 9 -2
13 Ventforet 8 2 2 3 7 7 0
14 Yamaga 7 1 4 2 9 10 -1
15 JEF United 7 2 1 4 12 14 -2
16 FCGifu 7 2 1 4 11 13 -2
17 Ardija 7 2 1 4 10 12 -2
18 TochigiSC 7 2 1 4 8 15 -7
19 Montedio 6 1 3 3 8 12 -4
20 Sanga 6 1 3 3 6 10 -4
21 EhimeFC 6 2 0 5 5 11 -6
22 Kamatamare 4 1 1 5 5 13 -8

J3 Standings

. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Gainare 13 5 4 1 0 11 5 +6
2 AzulClaro 12 4 4 0 0 8 0 +8
3 FCRyukyu 10 5 3 1 1 11 8 +3
4 Gamba U23 10 5 3 1 1 10 8 +2
5 Fukushima 10 5 3 1 1 6 4 +2
6 Cerezo U23 9 4 3 0 1 6 3 +3
7 Blaublitz 6 5 2 0 3 4 4 0
8 Fujieda 6 5 2 0 3 6 9 -3
9 Parceiro 5 4 1 2 1 4 4 0
10 YSCC 5 5 1 2 2 7 8 -1
11 Kagoshima 4 4 1 1 2 5 5 0
12 Grulla 4 5 1 1 3 6 8 -2
13 Giravanz 4 4 1 1 2 4 6 -2
14 Thespa 4 4 1 1 2 3 5 -2
15 Tokyo U23 3 5 1 0 4 4 9 -5
16 Kataller 3 5 1 0 4 6 12 -6
17 Sagamihara 2 4 0 2 2 7 10 -3