August 25, 2018

Chasing the Snitch

The 2018 J.League season has been one of the most unusual in league memory. Unusual, because it has followed a pattern that would be far more familiar to European football fans than those who call the J.League their spectator sport of choice. In 25 seasons, the J.League title has gone down to the final match of the season on 21 occasions, and twice been decided on the penultimate weekend. Only once has the winner been decided early, but at the outset of the season there were signs that this year might become the second exception to the rule. Sanfrecce Hiroshima burst out of the starting gate and by the time the action was interrupted by the World Cup international break, the Purple Archers had built a daunting ten-point lead at the top of the table.

There have been many past examples of a team breaking out of the pack for an early lead, and every year the pattern repeats in which teams that struggled early on start to rein in the leaders. Urawa Reds famously squandered a ten-point lead atop the table in the final five weeks of play, only to lose on the last match day of 2007. Similarly, Kashima Antlers had a lead of as much as 12 points last summer, but were eventually reined in by Kawasaki Frontale (among others) and finished second.

But this year somehow seems different. As impressive as Sanfrecce's early performance may have been, there was never a sense that they were playing above themselves. In fact, over the month of August the Purple Archers have maintained a healthy cushion while seeming to struggle with form. Ace scorer Patric Oliveira is in a goal slump (by his standards) yet Sanfrecce remain in the clear. 

Several teams -- most notably Vissel Kobe, but also FC Tokyo (with Lins and Lipe Veloso) -- have made recent acquisitions in the hope of reeling in the league leaders, but so far the only team that has managed to keep pace has been Frontale . . . and they are on a five-game winning streak.. Only time will tell whether the title chase reverts to form, and the competition goes right to the wire. At the moment, however, the other teams in J1 seem to be chasing the snitch -- that swift and elusive target that keeps slipping away just when you think you have it in your sights.


   1 - 1

Friday evening's clash between Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata has a long and glorious history, though both teams are currently in what could be described as "transitional phases. The Antlers are perennial challengers who have been through several phases of rejuvenation, followed by a return to success. Last year they narrowly missed out on their ninth league title, missing out on the final day of the season as Kawasaki Frontale snuck past them into first place. This year they are still in the fight for the Asian Champions League title, but it was apparent quite early in the year that they were unlikely to vie for league honours.

As they have done repeatedly, over the past quarter-century, the Antlers seized the opportunity to rejuvenate the team and start building for the future -- a plan confirmed by the sale of veteran Mu Kanazaki to Sagan Tosu, last month. Together with the departure of national team centre back Naomichi Ueda for Europe (as well as a number of key injuries), the sale of Kanazaki all but confirms that Kashima have given up on the league title this year. The strong performances of youngsters like Yuma Suzuki, Hiroki Abe and Kento Misao has boosted the Golden Herd of Ibaraki back towards the top of the pack, since the World Cup break. They might even be in contention for an ACL berth. But as early as May, it was apparent that the team recognized the need to transfer the responsibility for team leadership to a younger group of players. Whatever the outcome this season, the Antlers have given young prospects like Abe (19), Toshiya Tanaka (20), Misao (22) and Suzuki (22) the experience needed to take over as regular starters next season. Friday night's starting unit was even a bit younger than usual, as Coach Go Oiwa rested key members ahead of the resumption of ACL play, next week.

Jubilo's situation is a bit less optimistic, despite a solid sixth-place finish last year. Following a phase of brilliant success at the turn of the century, which saw them capture three league titles, Jubilo slipped into a decade of rapid decline, partly due to some bad organizational decisions that prevented a new generation of players from really establishing themselves as core members in a "team concept". The deterioration reached its peak in 2014-15, when the team dropped into the J2 for two years, and most of the young talent fled for more competitive rivals. The man who turned the team back towards success was former Jubilo midfielder Hiroshi Nanami, who took over in 2015 and immediately led the Blue Budgies back to J1. The momentum continued as Jubilo followed a 13th-place finish in 2016 with their sixth-place finish last year.

But this rebound can only continue if Jubilo can break away from the habit of handing the heaviest burden to veteran players, and neglecting the younger generation. Most of the team's starters are nearing their 30s, if not already there. The signing of Yoshito Okubo (36) last month shows that this is a hard habit for the Jubilo management to break. While Okubo is certainly a useful addition to the front line this season, he is clearly not a long-term solution. The starting lineup Iwata sent out against Kashima illustrates this problem. Coach Nanami has a handful of promising youngsters in the fold, yet the only real "youth" in the starting lineup on Friday was Masaya Matsumoto, a 23-year-old midfielder who looks like a potential heir to the position Nanami himself once played, as the midfield lynchpin. But 27-year-old Taishi Taguchi and Taiki Ogawa were the only other players with less than a decade of J.League experience. Without an influx of new blood, Jubilo will struggle to remain in the top half of the table.

Experience does have its benefits, though, and the importance of experience would be illustrated clearly by the end of this contest. The Antlers enjoyed an edge in the run of play throughout the first half, but repeatedly came up just short in their quest for an opening goal, due in part to the tendency of players like Suzuki, Misao and recent acquisition Serginho to try to force the ball into the final third, rather than patiently waiting to find an opening in the well-marshalled Jubilo defence. The handful of long-distance efforts that the Antlers produced in the first half were not any real threat to a skillful goalkeeper like Kryzstov Kaminski.

After the break, the Antlers began to pressure Jubilo more and more regularly, with slicing runs through the channels and a sharp, intricate short passing game that gradually wore down the Iwata defense. Only Kaminski's heroic work between the posts kept the contest on level terms. Jubilo's best opportunities came from set plays, as the physically robust Yoshito Okubo and Kengo Kawamata used direct dribbling attacks to draw fouls in dangerous positions. But the physical exchanges were far from one-sided. Hiroki Yamada was fortunate not to earn an early shower with a very clumsy tackle of Nagaki in the 60th minute, after having already picked up a yellow in the first half.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 70th minute when Kashima won a corner kick on the left side. Daigo Nishi rose at the near post to head the ball past the keeper, but it was Tomoya Inukai, a 24-year old who is deputizing for the injured Gen Shoji, chested the ball across the line from close range. The goal was awarded to Nishi, but replays suggest that Inukai got the last touch.

The Antlers nearly extended their lead immediately, as only a lunging deflection by Yoshiaki Fujita prevented Suzuki from finishing off a four-on-three break. The next ten minutes produced several more counterattacking rushes for the home team, but the Antlers -- and Suzuki in particular -- squandered clear chances to put the match to bed. This failure to finish off an opponent when they were down would prove to be a fatal error. As the contest moved into injury time a last-ditch lob into the penalty box by Jubilo was inadvertently handled by Koki Anzai, earning Jubilo a penalty kick, which Yoshito Okubo converted. The final result flattered Jubilo enormously, as they had not created any danger at all from the run of play over 90 minutes. However, it also provided an indication of the inexperience that still is a concern for this Antlers team.


24 August, 2018
Kashima Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 1


Daigo Nishi (71')


Yoshito Okubo (90'+4)  
  Cautions Hiroki Yamada

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Daigo Nishi, Jung Seung-Hyun, Naomichi Ueda, Tomoya Inukai, Yuto Misao (Shuto Yamamoto 80'); Ryota Nagaki, Leo Silva, Shoma Doi (Takeshi Kanamori 73'), Toshiya Tanaka (Koki Anzai 56'); Serginho, Yuma Suzuki.   

  Krysztov Kaminski; Kentaro Oi, Daiki Ogawa, Yoshiaki Fujita, Shohei Takahashi; Taishi Taguchi, Takuya Matsuura (Rikiya Uehara 80'), Hiroki Yamada, Masaya Matsumoto (Daigo Araki 73'); Yoshito Okubo, Kengo Kawamata (Seiya Nakano 67') .

  0 -  1  

For the first half of this season, the big story was the dominant performance of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who dashed off the starting line and left the rest of the teams in J1 choking on the clouds of dust. Since taking the helm at Hiroshima, Coach Hiroshi Jofuku has transformed the team into a force to be reckoned with, boasting by far the best defense, as well as enough scoring prowess to leave all other contenders far behind. Some people were surprised at how quickly Sanfrecce found their rhythm, under a brand new coach. However, Coach Jofuku was able to implement his basic football concept almost immediately, because four of the regular Sanfrecce starters (Yoshifumi Kashiwa, Sho Sasaki, Sho Inagaki and Patric Oliveira) had played for him for two or more seasons, at Ventforet Kofu. Most of the others are experienced veterans who also had the advantage of playing a similar style under current NT coach Hajime Moriyasu.

Though the lineup card Sanfrecce presents each week is nominally a 4-4-2, any experienced observer can quickly note the differences, particularly in how Hiroshima plays defense. Despite the nominal use of four backs, the defense almost always resolves into a line of five (or sometimes six), as captain Toshihiro Aoyama joins the two centre-backs in a tight central cluster. This is followed almost immediately by three or four men playing level with the ball, and only Patric plays in a slightly advanced position, to collect the outlet pass for a possible counterattack. This tight defensive pack is extremely difficult to break down, while Patric's speed, strength, and impressive ability to maintain possession makes the Sanfrecce counterattack a dangerous offensive force.

Since play resumed after the World Cup, the story has shifted slightly, but the Purple Archers are still the main focus of interest. The question now is whether any of the wealthier, big-city teams (not only Tokyo and Kawasaki, but Kobe and Cerezo Osaka as well) can bring in enough firepower to close ground on Sanfrecce. Though the gap at the top of the table has narrowed slightly, Sanfrecce entered the week with a six-point cushion still separating them from second-place Frontale. This made the clash with fourth-place Cerezo a critical one for both teams.

Cerezo entered the season as one of the favourites to vie for the title, but they got off to a sluggish start, due in part to injuries to key players (Hiroshi Kiyotake in particular), and partly to the team's failure to work well as a unit. Since the break, the team has switched to a 4-4-2 alignment and brought in Spaniard Osmar Ibanez Barba to add teeth to the center of the formation. Though currently in fifth place, Cerezo entered this match thirteen points behind the league leaders, and clearly needing a victory if they hope to climb back into contention. The Pink Wolfpack has plenty of offensive weaponry (Kiyotake, Kenyu Sugimoto, Toshiyuki Takagi, Yoichiro Kakitani and Kota Mizunuma all have NT experience), allowing Coach Yoon Jung-Hwan to rotate his front line regularly. But while Cerezo has not lacked for goals even during Kiyotake's spell in the physio's room, the defense has not been consistent enough to keep them in the title chase.

Cerezo started off with a great deal of offensive pressure, but the well-organized Hiroshima defense has been the source of this team's success all season.  After soaking up the pressure for the opening 15 minutes, Hiroshima began to respond with some attacks of their own. After one cross that nearly found Patric Oliveira was cleared, a second foray down the right flank by Kosei Shibasaki was crossed into the box and again headed away by a Cerezo defender. But this time the ball fell right to Sho Inagaki at the top of the penalty arc. Inagaki drove the ball low and hard, through the crowd, and somehow it managed to slip between the legs of Matej Jonjic and into the low right corner.

The remainder of the contest was played entirely in the pattern that Hiroshima prefers -- with Cerezo forced to commit more and more men to the attack in an effort to break the tight Purple pack in front of goal, and Sanfrecce's counterattacks becoming more and more dangerous as the game progressed. Only truly heroic work between the posts, by Kim Jin-Hyeon, kept the deficit to a single goal. Patric alone had five breakaway shots on goal, all stymied by the Cerezo keeper. But despite a late flurry of pressure by the home team, in the end Sanfrecce's defensive solidity won the day, securing the three points and maintaining their large cushion at the top of the table

25 August, 2018
Nagai (Yanmar) Stadium


0 1H 1
0 2H 0




Sho Inagaki (19')  
Souza Cautions  

  Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto, Matej Jonjic; Hotaru Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Souza (Takaki Fukumitsu 89'), Osmar (Eiichi Katayama 87'); Kenyu Sugimoto, Toshiyuki Takagi Hirofumi Yamauchi 79').

 Takuto Hayashi; Takuya Wada, Yuki Nogami, Hiroki Mizumoto, Sho Sasaki; Kosei Shibasaki (Kyohei Yoshino 73'), Toshihiro Aoyama, Sho Inagaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa, Patric Oliveira, Daiki Watari (Teerasil Dangda 60').

1 -  0 

Sanfrecce's closest rivals at the moment are Kawasaki Frontale, who entered the weekend six points adrift of the leaders and on a run of almost continuous success since the resumption of play, after the World Cup. Last week they bypassed FC Tokyo to take over second play, but they still are struggling to close ground with Sanfrecce. This week they faced another team that burst out of the gates quickly, though Vegalta Sendai have a long history of starting well only to slip back into the pack as the season goes along.

The Golden Eagles are renowned for "punching above their weight." Supposedly, that idiom means that they often can outperform more talented, more fancied opponents. In Sendai's case, though, the idiom may often deserve to be taken more literally. Over the past two seasons they have finished dead last in the percentage of successful tackles in J1. That statistic usually suggests a team that is lunging in a lot, and not always worrying about making contact with the ball. And though Vegalta historically finishes close to the league average in terms of total fouls, more than a few observers have credited this more to the lenience of match officials than to Vegalta's style of play.

But this week it would be the hosts who had reason to thank the officiating team for lenient interpretation of the rules, and Vegalta who had reason to argue after the final whistle. Frontale had the best of the opening exchanges, and as both teams settled into a rhythm, the Blue Dolphins narrowly missed the opening tally when Yu Kobayashi's bounding left footer rattled the left post. However, Sendai's defense settled down as the contest progressed, and established a pretty even balance, even creating some counterattacking chances as half time approached. The contest remained scoreless at the break.

As already noted Vegalta's hustle has kept them above midtable for most of the season, but as the campaign moves into the back stretch, their lack of true "star quality" is starting to show. The Golden Eagles signed some veteran talent over the summer, including former NT attacking players Mike Havenaar and Kunimitsu Sekiguchi. But they still are clearly at a disadvantage compared with the likes of Frontale, yet they managed to keep the potent Kawasaki offense at bay for most of the contest. The only goal of the match was one that will be debated for . . . . welllll . . . . less than a minute on Japanese TV, but probably a lot longer among those who understand the rules of the game.

Ten minutes after the break, following a prolonged spell of continuous pressure by Frontale, Kengo Nakamura chased back to put pressure on the keeper as he cleared the ball from his own goal mouth. The clearance was a bit weak, and was immediately headed back towards the box by Jumpei Noborizato. Kengo was still inside the box, and thus should have immediately been flagged offside. However, as Noborizato's looping ball approached him, Vegalta defender Kazuki Oiwa made a half-hearted effort to play it, and the ball bounded off him and towards Kengo. Rather than raising his flag, the linesman stood motionless, as Nakamura collected the ball and passed it into the net. Despite the angry appeals by Vegalta players, the goal was allowed, and Frontale took the lead.

Certainly it can be argued that Oiwa was foolish to even let the ball come near him, much less to try to trap it. But it was quite apparent that he was anticipating the offside flag, and just wanted to put the ball down and restart play quickly. Given the amount of "goodwill" Frontale received at the end of last season (several questionable calls kept them in the chase until the final week, when they edged past Kashima to win their first title), this generous call at a time when they are in a similar position relative to Sanfrecce is bound to revive questions about the quality of officiating in the J.League. For the present, however, it is clear that broadcasters do not want to create controversy. The DAZN announcers swept the matter under the carpet quickly, and did not even spend time discussing the issue at any length, following the match. The two teams played to a deadlock over the remaining 30 minutes, and Frontale emerged as the highly fortunate victors.

25 August, 2018
Todoroki Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 0


Kengo Nakamura (55') 



Jung Sung-Ryong ; Elsinho, Shogo Taniguchi, Shintaro Kurumaya, Jumpei Noborizato; Hidemasa Morita, Ryota Oshima; Kengo Nakamura (Manabu Saito 73'), Akihiro Iemoto Hiroyuki Abe (Yuto Suzuki 81'): Yu Kobayashi (Kei Chinen 90') .

  Daniel Schmidt; Yasuhiro Hiraoka, Kazuki Oiwa, Kim Jung-ya (Hiroaki Okuno 56'), Keiya Shiihashi; Shingo Tomita, Koji Hachisuka, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (Mike Havenaar 78'), Takuma Nishimura, Yoshihiro Nakano, Ryo Germain (Naoki Ishihara 45')


  1 - 2

As impressive as the performance of Sanfrecce has been, this season, another team with a brand new coach and a unique style of play may deserve to be recognised in advance of even the club from Hiroshima as this year's most impressive squad. When Mihailo Petrovic took the helm of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo this season, most people expected him to boost the team's fortunes with his implementation of the Petrovic 3-6-1 philosophy -- a game plan that never did produce results at Urawa, but which is clearly a useful way for less star-studded teams to boost their fortunes by controlling midfield play.

Petrovic actually pioneered his system at Sanfrecce, and Hiroshi Jofuku -- though he has introduced many important modifications to the underlying philosophy -- was one of the first domestic coaches to use Petrovic's scheme as a way to "change the rules" by which football is played these days in most international leagues. As we have discussed at length in past articles, the 3-6-1 concept (even when it is modified to employ different numerical alignments as Jofuku has done at Sanfrecce) is essentially designed as a way to compress the effective playing area of the pitch, create numerical superiority in the critical locations, and then seize opportunities to break out into the vacant areas of the pitch and hopefully score goals while the opponent off balance. One reason why the Reds never really achieved much with the system is that -- in its very design -- this is essentially a counterattacking system that works best against opponents of equal or greater quality.

At Consadole, , Petrovic has found a perfect home at which to develop his strategies further. The Snow Owls returned to the J1 last season with a lot of veteran experience, but not enough depth (or organization) to climb out of the relegation battle. They actually finished above Sanfrecce, but few expected them to do much more than make up the numbers, this season. To everyone's surprise, they charged out of the gate shoulder-to-shoulder with Sanfrecce, and even at the two-thirds mark of the season they sit in fifth place, vying for an ACL berth alongside the likes of FC Tokyo, Vissel Kobe and Cerezo Osaka.

Shimizu S-Pulse, by contrast, is still in a phase of reorganization, and it is an open question whether they can turn a talented and highly promising collection of youngsters into a future challenger, or whether the best players will skip off to greener pastures, as they have for the past two generations. Players like Ko Matsubara, Shota Kaneko, Hideki Ishige and Ryohei Shirakawa all show promise. But the team as a whole continues to struggle, and many wonder how much longer these budding stars will be content to play for a team that hovers just above the relegation scrap.

Despite the fact that Consadole entered the contest well in front of the Wingheads, this was a very closely fought contest. So close, in fact, that both teams got their opening goals on set plays, and both were scored by the same individual. The opening tally came on a corner kick by S-Pulse that Consadole playmaker Hiroki Miyazawa accidentally deflected into his own net, in the 21st minute. But Miyazawa made amends at the opposite end, this time on a Consadole corner kick. The ball was played short and then crossed into a crowd of bodies, ricocheting about until Miyazawa finally managed to nod it in at the far (left) post. The half concluded with Miyazawa the only player on the score sheet (he also collected a yellow card to get his name inscribed for a third time), in a 1-1 deadlock.

The second half was similarly tight, with the home team working hard on the flanks to try to force the ball in for their main scoring threat, Douglas. Consadole had a large share of possession, but with Thai international Chanathip Songkran suspended for accumulated yellow cards, Petrovic tweaked his lineup and played two big targets, Jay Bothroyd and Ken Tokura, flanking a single playmaker (Yoshiaki Komai) rather than two set-up men and a big target, as usual. Though Jay and Matsubara saw a fair amount of the ball, the Snow Owls had difficulty working the ball into the danger zone for a dangerous shot.

Midway through the second half Petrovic made another adjustment, bringing on two Chanathip-type setup men --Takumi Miyayoshi and Shinji Ono -- in the second line and had Jay move out to a genuine wing position (while Tokura remained in the middle), in a 3-4-3.

This adjustment almost immediately produced the decisive goal. Ono drifted in behind the enormous post that Jay established, just to the left of the penalty arc, and the two played a delightful exchange of one-touch passes to draw the defense out. On the second return from Jay, Ono stroked the ball to Tokura, who had hooked back to the top of the penalty arc and completely escaped S-Pulse coverage. The big striker surged through the open space and fired a shot from the top of the arc that shot into the low left corner. That would prove to be the winner, as Consadole moved temporarily into fourth place, pending the outcome of Sunday's matches.

25 August, 2018
Shimizu "IAI" Stadium


1 1H 1
0 2H 1

Own Goal (21')


Hiroki Miyazawa (36')
Ken Tokura (74')
Freire Cautions Hiroki Miyazawa
Kazuki Fukai

  Yuji Rokutan; Takahiro Iida, Hwang Seon-Ho, Friere, Ko Matsubara; Ryohei Shirasaki Yosuke Kawai, Shota Kaneko, Hideki Ishige (Yu Hasegawa 88'); Koya Kitagawa (Crislan 72'), Douglas.

Takanori Sugeno; Ryosuke Shindo, Kim Min-Tae, Akito Fukumori; Ryota Hayasaka, Kazuki Fukai (Takumi Miyayoshi 64'), Hiroki Miyazawa, Kensuke Shirai, (Shinji Ono 73'); Yoshiaki Komai Ken Tokura (Takuma Arano 80'); Jay Bothroyd.


     0 - 2   

Since the league resumed action following the World Cup, it has been almost impossible to watch a J.League-related news programme or "wideshow" without hearing a constant refrain of cloying, fanboyish prattle about just two players -- Vissel Kobe's Andres Iniesta and Sagan Tosu's Fernando Torres. In all fairness, any observer would be forced to admit that the arrival of these two World Cup-winning players (along with former German NT ace Lucas Podolski) has brought a level of international attention to the J.League that it has not enjoyed since the glory days of the mid-90s. Also, even this writer admits that when choosing which match to watch live and which to view later, I almost always choose to watch Torres or Iniesta. It would be wrong to suggest that they do not deserve attention.

But football is a team sport, and the obsession with just two or three "personalities" risks detracting from the overall enjoyment of the game. This point was driven home two weeks ago, when highlight shows spend almost their entire show looping the video of Iniesta scoring his second goal for Vissel. While it was a well-taken strike, it did not even begin to compare with a truly stunning and world-class volley scored by V.Varen Nagasaki's Yuzuru Shimada, against Kashima Antlers. The point is that as much as we may enjoy watching players like Iniesta and Torres, they are not always going to be the key factor in matches, week by week, particularly when neither Vissel nor Sagan is in serious contention for a title. Thus, it was a bit of a relief on Sunday to see the media at the Vissel-Marinos match shift their attention briefly from Iniesta and Podolski, to discuss Yokohama's recent acquisition of teen starlet Takefusa Kubo. The media -- ever alert to the opportunity to build up a new "hero", spent a full year obsessing over Kubo when he was a rookie at FC Tokyo, at age 15. But after a while Kubo proved to be human, and not even a fully mature player, so the attention disappated. Two years on, Kubo -- now 17 -- is a bit more circumspect in his play, and has learned to work effectively with teammates in the midfield buildup rather than constantly trying to dribble a lonely path through opposing defenses. He still has some work to do before he can be described as a "complete" player, but Kubo is starting to blossom as a genuine prospect for the future, and not just a sideshow oddity.

Thus, the Vissel-Marinos clash was a good marquee contest for broadcasters on Sunday, as a matchup between the aging Spanish legend and the babyfaced Japanese prospect, each lining up in the engine room of their respective teams' offense. The first half was a very physical, defense-oriented affair which produced few dangerous shots at either end. However, as the second half began, Vissel adopted a more widely spread formation to deal with the hard-running, hard-pressing Marinos defense, and this gradually opened up the run of play. The Marinos gave as good as they took, however, and with more room to counterattack into, they created the opening goal in the 56th minute. Sho Ito collected a long outlet pass and carried it down the right sideline before crossing to Kubo, inside the penalty arc. Kubo took one touch to steady the ball, then steered a right-footed drive just inside the right post for his first goal in a Marinos uniform.

Ito was a bit unfortunate not to double the lead just moments later, but his goal was waved off for an offside infraction.

It took Kobe a while to recover from the opening punch, but by the hour mark they were back on the attack, with Wellington slicking towards the left post and demanding a good save by Hiroki Iikura. But as the second half progressed Vissel seemed to slip into the trap of playing the ball through Iniesta on almost every possession. Marinos coach Ange Postecoglou mad an adjustment, bringing on Hugo Vieira to provide the link between offense and defense, and assigning Takahiro Ogihara the task of marking the Spanish playmaker continuously, and making it difficult for him to find many passing lanes. As the Marinos defense tired the Crimson gradually extended their advantage in time of possession, but it would be the Seagulls who struck next, when Hugo Vieira pounced on a poor back-pass by the Vissel defense, and managed to pry it away from the keeper. The ball bounded into empty greenspace in the centre of the penalty box, and Nakagawa, who had replace Kubo earlier in the half, was the first to reach the loose ball, driving it into the back strings and securing all three points for the Marinos.

26 August, 2018
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium


0 1H 0
0 2H 2




Takefusa Kubo (56')
Teruhito Nakagawa (85')
  Cautions Takahiro Ogihara
Yuzo Kurihara

Kim Seung-Gyu; Masatoshi Mihara Reio Oosaki, Yasser, Wataru Hashimoto (Teerathon Dangda 45'); Naoyuki Fujita, Hirotaka Mita, Andres Iniesta; Yuta Goke, Lucas Podolski, Wellington (Shun Nagasawa 70') .

 Hiroki Iikura; , Yuzo Kurihara, Thiago Martinez, Dusan Ctevinovic; Ken Matsubara, Takuya Kida (Kosuke Nakamachi 89'), Takahiro Ogihara, Ryosuke Yamanaka; Takefusa Kubo (Teruhito Nakagawa 64'), Sho Ito (Hugo Vieira 65'), Jun Amano .

  4 - 1   

Nagoya got off to one of the worst starts in team history this year, remaining dead last for almost the entire season up top the World Cup. However, since the break the Red Orcas have enjoyed a complete resurrection, thanks in part to the contributions of Joao "Jo" Alves Silva, who currently trails only Patric Oliveira in the list of top scorers. Although they remain just clear of the relegation zone, Grampus has been on a hot streak and they entered this week's clash against Urawa Reds in front of a huge crowd at Toyota Stadium, hoping to keep their string of five straight victories alive

The home team got off to a frustrating start when defender Yuichi Murayama headed a Reds cross right into his own net. But just a few minutes later the Reds defense returned the favour, upending Kazuya Miyahara as he dribbled into the Reds penalty box, and conceding a penalty kick. Keiji Tamada drilled the spot kick and the contest was back on level terms.

On the stroke of half time, Grampus surged into the lead on a set play, orchestrated by their veteran Brazilian duo. Gabriel Javier lobbed a free kick onto the head of Jo, and the tall Brazilian rose over the pack to power the ball inside the left post.

This would serve as an omen for the second half, which can be summarized as a clinical exhibition of Jo's scoring prowess, and little more. Grampus are playing well as a team, at last, but the team revolves almost entirely around the task of delivering the ball to Jo in dangerous positions. In the 70th minute substitute midfielder Yuki Soma broke around the left flank and delivered a line drive into the box. Jo stooped slightly as he sprinted for the near post, and sen the ball rocketing past Shusaku Nishikawa to give Grampus a 3-1 advantage. Eight minutes later the same two players linked up again, Soma lobbing a lead pass over the Reds defense and towards the right post. Jo extended his long right leg and met the ball on the volley, poking it just inside the upright for the final tally of the contest.

26 August, 2018
Toyota Stadium


2 1H 1
2 2H 0


Keiji Tamada (26')
Jo Alves Silva (44')
Jo Alves Silva (69')
Jo Alves Silva (78')


Own Goal (23')  

  Mitch Langerak; Kazuya Miyahara, Ikki Arai, Yuichi Maruyama Takashi Kanei; Naoki Maeda, Yuki Kobayashi, Eduardo Neto, Keiji Tamada; Gabriel Javier, Joao Alves "Jo" Silva.

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Takuya Iwanami, Mauricio, Tomoaki Makino; Daiki Hashioka, Tomoki Nagasawa; Takuya Aoki, Tokoya Ugajin, Yuki Muto; Fabricio; Shinzo Koroki, .


  3 - 0

In Tosu, a crowd of 20,000 turned out to watch Fernando Torres and the Magenta magpies take on Gamba Osaka. Torres scored his first goal in Japan last Wednesday, in an Emperor's Cup contest, but despite a relatively limited goal tally, Torres has actually done a much better job of settling in as a central part of his team than Iniesta has done at Kobe. In the first week or two he did tend to lurk in the front line expecting teammates to do the work of setting him up. But over the month of August he has developed a very good relationship with teammates, and with the people of Saga Prefecture, playing unselfishly and clearly doing everything he can to make the team more effective.

In this contest his first contribution was to serve as a set-up man for teammate Yuji Ono for the opening goal, just after halftime. Ono received the ball about 30 meters out, in the center of the pitch, and fed the ball in to Torres in the post. Torres fed the ball back to Ono with the lightest of touches, and the unmarked midfielder chipped the ball just over Masaaki Higashiguchi's fingertips.

Ten minutes later Torres got his second assist, heading on a long ball to strike partner Mu Kanazaki, and then exchanging passes with the former Kashima Antlers striker to carry the ball to the edge of the box.. After leaning in towards the end line to draw the defense, Torres flicked the ball back to the middle for Kanazaki, who curled his shot around the keeper and just inside the left post.

Over the next ten minutes the Sagan squad seemed to lift their game to a higher level as they strove to repay Torres by creating a chance for him to add his name to the scoring sheet. Two or three times they seemed to have broken down the Osaka defense, but somehow Torres just couldnt find a shooting lane. Finally . . . with less than five minutes remaining on the clock, Akito Fukuta intercepted a Gamba clearance pass near midfield and dribbled sharply down the right channel, looking for his target. Fukuta -- who also provided the assist on Torres' Emperor's Cup tally -- sent the cross low and hard, and Torres met it with a diving header that Higashiguchi had no chance of keeping out. Torres almost closed out the contest with a third assist, but after Torres' lead pass sent him off for a dash at goal, Kanazaki sent his shot off the base of the left post.

26 August, 2018
Tosu (BestAmenity) Stadium


0 1H 0
3 2H 0


Yuji Ono (48')
Mu Kanazaki (59')
Fernando Torres (86') 


  Cautions Takahiro Ko

 Yuichi Gonda; Yuzo Kobayashi (Masato Fujita 43'), Yuji Takahashi, Joao Oumari, Hiromu Mitsumaru; Hideto Takahashi, Riki Harakawa (Yoshiki Takahashi 77'), Akito Fukuta; Mu Kanazaki, Yuji Ono (Kazuki Anzai 82'), Fernando Torres .

 Masaaki Higashiguchi; Hiroki Fujiharu, Genta Miura, Shunki Suganuma, Koki Yonekura; Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata, Jungo Fujimoto (Kazunari Ichimi 66'), Takahiro Ko (Reo Takae 71'); Ademilson, Kazuma Watanabe (Kosuke Onose 77') .


   0 - 0    

Last, and least, FC Tokyo and Shonan Bellmare played out a scoreless draw at Hiratsuka (BMW) Stadium. By dropping points, Tokyo falls even further behind the league leaders and adds to the impression that the only team with real hope of reining in Sanfrecce is last year's champion, Kawasaki Frontale.

26 August, 2018

Hiratsuka (Shonan BMW) Stadium


0 1H 0
0 2H 0









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J1 Standings


. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Marinos 70 22 4 8 68 38 +30
2 FCTokyo 64 19 7 8 46 29 +17
3 Antlers 63 18 9 7 54 30 +24
4 Frontale 60 16 12 6 57 34 +23
5 Cerezo 59 18 5 11 39 25 +14
6 Sanfrecce 55 15 10 9 45 29 +16
7 Gamba 47 12 11 11 54 48 +6
8 Vissel 47 14 5 15 61 59 +2
9 Trinita 47 12 11 11 35 35 0
10 Consadole 46 13 7 14 54 49 +5
11 Vegalta 41 12 5 17 38 45 -7
12 S-Pulse 39 11 6 17 45 69 -24
13 Grampus 37 9 10 15 45 50 -5
14 Reds 37 9 10 15 34 50 -16
15 Sagan 36 10 6 18 32 53 -21
16 Bellmare 36 10 6 18 40 63 -23
17 Yamaga 31 6 13 15 21 40 -19
18 Jubilo 31 8 7 19 29 51 -22

J2 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Reysol 84 25 9 8 85 33 +52
2 Yoko FC 79 23 10 9 66 40 +26
4 Vortis 73 21 10 11 67 45 +22
3 Ardija 75 20 15 7 62 40 +22
5 Ventforet 71 20 11 11 64 40 +24
6 Montedio 70 20 10 12 59 40 +19
7 Hollyhock 70 19 13 10 56 37 +19
8 Sanga 68 19 11 12 59 56 +3
9 Fagiano 65 18 11 13 49 47 +2
10 Albirex 62 17 11 14 71 52 +19
11 Zweigen 61 15 16 11 58 46 +12
12 VVaren 56 17 5 20 57 61 -4
13 Verdy 55 14 13 15 59 59 0
14 FCRyukyu 49 13 10 19 57 80 -23
15 Renofa 47 13 8 21 54 70 -16
16 Avispa 44 12 8 22 39 62 -23
17 JEF United 43 10 13 19 46 64 -18
18 Zelvia 43 9 16 17 36 59 -23
19 Ehime FC 42 12 6 24 46 62 -16
20 Tochigi SC 40 8 16 18 33 53 -20
21 Kagoshima 40 11 7 24 41 73 -32
22 FCGifu 30 7 9 26 33 78 -45

J3 Standings

. Team Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif.
1 Giravanz 66 19 9 6 51 27 +24
2 Thespa 63 18 9 7 59 34 +25
3 Fujieda 63 18 9 7 42 31 +11
4 Kataller 58 16 10 8 54 31 23
5 Roasso 57 16 9 9 45 39 +6
6 Cerezo U23 52 16 4 14 49 56 -7
7 Gainare 50 14 8 12 49 59 -10
8 Blaublitz 49 13 10 11 45 35 +10
9 Parceiro 49 13 10 11 35 34 +1
10 Vanuraure 48 14 6 14 49 42 +7
11 Fukushima 43 13 4 17 45 53 -8
12 AzulClaro 39 11 6 17 35 43 -8
13 YSCC 39 12 3 19 53 65 -12
14 Kamatamare 39 10 9 15 33 49 -16
15 Sagamihara 38 10 8 16 36 45 -9
16 FCTokyo U23 36 9 9 16 43 52 -9
17 Gamba U23 35 9 8 17 54 55 -1
18 Grulla 26 7 5 22 36 63 -27