February 23, 2020

The J.League is Back! ... uh ... Kinda.

The J.League 2020 season kicked off just over four months ago (on February 23, to be exact), yet there is still only one match in the books for J1 and J2 teams, and J3 teams have yet to begin 2020 play. Nobody needs me to explain the reason for this long hiatus. Our world has changed tectonically in the hundred-odd days since Opening Day, and though Japan has thankfully been spared the full force of the medical, economic and social typhoons that have swept the planet, and some are still talking "realistically" about the prospect of holding the Olympic Games next summer. Whether or not that proves to be possible, it is not a stretch to say that children born after January 2020 may grow up hearing about, but never able to experience the sort of massive rock concerts and sporting tournaments that we considered "normal", just six months ago. /p>

And yet ... football goes on. The celebrations in Liverpool following a Man City collapse against Chelsea were certainly not the sort of public event we used to consider "normal" ... particularly for a team that hasnt won it in 30 years. But the joy inspired by the occasion is not diminished in the slightest. If anything, it shows how collective efforts and dreams can still be pursued, even in whatever we decide to call the "Post-2020 Era."

The J1 will not resume until next weekend, but J2 and J3 teams got back under way on Saturday and Sunday, with a lineup of local and regional derbies that couldnt have been more enticing if they had planned it that way. Oh wait . . . that's right, they changed the schedule. So ... I guess that explains why so many second-division teams faced off against their fiercest traditional rival, this week. Contrived or not, the weekend's significance for sports fans in Japan is massive, even if all contests were played in empty stadiums. Watching football on a video screen can never compare to the experience of watching it up close, and in person. But for those who have been cooped up in their homes for a couple months, most people are desperate for any opportunity to run about, jump, kick, tussle, get into shouting matches . . . ( No? Well that's what happens at MY house ...) It might seem counterintuitive to schedule high-profile "derbies" at a time when fans are excluded from the stadia, but at least the scheduling should get casual fans to pay some attention.

So sit back, and I will fill you in on everything that transpired in the J2 this week (and some comments on J3).


 

1 - 1

As I noted at the start of this season (it seems like a lifetime ago), there have been some important changes to the J.League "pecking order" in recent years, with relegation eliminating many of the traditional Kanto-area derbies. The Saitama Derby (Reds - Ardija) was last played in 2017, Chiba's derby (Reysol - JEF Utd.) was revived briefly last season, as an all-J2 affair, but the two have not met in J1 since 2009. And Tokyo's last FCT - Verdy derby took place way back in 2008. Meanwhile, Kanagawa's teams have been advancing steadily, with four teams from the Prefecture taking part in the J1 this season. But while few tipsters expect Verdy to rejoin the J1 any time soon, the once-powerful Green Buzzards are now facing a local challenge from a much newer rival. Machida Zelvia's home stadium is based quite close to the old training grounds where Verdy originated (actually just across the prefectural boundary line, in Kawasaki). If there is any true measure of how far Verdy has fallen since their glory days, it is the fact that the fledgling Kingfishers are now consistently finding a perch higher up the rankings than the once-mighty Buzzards, despite reaching the J2 a mere five years ago. Under the management of former FC Tokyo coach Ranko Popovic, Zelvia hopes to advance even further, this season, though the advanced age of many key players may be a hurdle, given how taxing the schedule will be this season.

In their first match of the season, Zelvia demonstrated that they are likely to be a stubborn opponent, stifling Ventforet Kofu despite playing in their own end for much of the contest, securing a scoreless draw. This week they were handed a valuable advantage just three minutes into the contest, when Daiki Hirato suddenly let fly with a speculative right-footer, from the above the top left corner of the box. The shot was letter-perfect, swerving into the top right corner while keeper Takahiro Shibasaki could only watch in futility.

It would be a bit excessive to suggest that Verdy controlled ALL of the next 90 minutes, but Machida certainly made no bones about their intention to simply protect the lead. The Zelvia back line was well organized, and limited Verdy to mostly long-range efforts. But in the end, the Green Buzzards managed to create too many chances to be held scoreless. Two minutes into additional time, Ryoya Yamashita was tripped up as he slashed into the penalty area, and the referee pointed at the spot. Kanya Fujimoto sent the spot kick into the low left corner, and the two teams settled for a draw.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Tokyo Ajinomoto Stadium

1

0 1H 1
1 2H 0

1

Kanya Fujimoto (90'+2)

Scoring

Daiki Hirato (03')
  Cautions Masayuki Okuyama

 


 

3 - 3

Though Ventforet Kofu and Albirex Niigata are based some 250 km apart, further than the distance from Shimizu to Osaka, Japanese history has provided the backdrop for a fierce rivalry between the two Central-Japan-based clubs. Way back in the 1500s, two of the country's most colourful and combative warlords fought a series of battles for control of the mountainous region that now makes up Nagano prefecture. Takeda Shingen - based near Kofu - is generally viewed as the more successful of the two, but if not for the toll exacted by Uesugi Kenshin - based near Niigata - in the key clashes known as "the Battle(s) of Kawanakajima", Takeda might have managed to extend his control to the vicinity of Kyoto before Oda Nobunaga got there, and Japan's history might have been very different indeed.

Drawing upon this history, Ventforet and Albirex have promoted their head-to-head matchup as the "Kawanakajima Derby." Over the years, this contest has grown in importance, and even helped decide the promotion/relegation of one team or the other, on several occasions. Albirex and Ventforet have seen their fortunes ebb in recent years, yet both are still viewed as potential challengers for promotion to J1, this year. Albirex kicked off their season with a resounding 3-0 victory, while Ventforet were held to a scoreless draw at Machida, setting the stage for a combative Derby contest on Saturday evening.

The Wine and Blue of Yamanashi have a long and established reputation as a defense-oriented team, and despite this year's shift to a 4-3-3 alignment, the basic structure is still oriented towards defense. Albirex apparently knew what to expect, and made little effort to get the ball into the corners for a cross. Instead, clever exchanges and drop passes at the top of the box were used to good effect, earning the Mighty Swans the lead in the 19th minute. Romero Frank collected a pass at the edge of the penalty arc with his back to goal, and one-timed it back to Arata Watanabe, unmarked a few meters further out. Watanabe steered his shot into the low left corner, just beyond the reach of the keeper.

Ventforet responded with a surge of pressure, and held the initiative for the next 15 minutes, until they claimed the equaliser. Picking up the ball on the left sideline, Jun Izumisawa played a well-timed lob behind the Albirex back line. Dudu timed his run perfectly, bursting through to head the ball past the keeper. Just moments later Dudu struck again when a lapse in Niigata's defensive concentration allowed Junior Barros to get past his man on the left flank. As the Albirex defenders tried to scramble back, he quickly rolled the ball across the face of goal and Dudu was once more on hand to lash his shot home.

Now it waas the Mighty Swans' turn to go on the attack, and as half time approached Watanabe claimed the equaliser with a lovely right-footed volley as he burst down the right channel to meet Hiroki Akiyama's long diagonal cross. The two teams went in at the break on level terms

The second half was a bit cagier, as both teams seemed to be setting themselves for a strong finish. While Kofu seemed to be in the driver's seat, they hit a speed bump in the 82nd minute, when Fabio appeared to shove over Kenta Uchida with a push in the back, just outside the Ventforet box. The Kofu players roared with indignation, but the referee waved play on, and Fabio quickly picked out Silvinho for the counterattacking finish.

Though the home team was now searching for the equaliser, rather than the winner, they seemed to shrug off the goal and quickly resume the effort to barrage the Niigata goal with high balls to substitutes Mike Havenaar and Hidetaka Kanazono. The equaliser finally arrived just after the 90:00 mark, on a corner kick that was headed down by Kanazono and chested across the line by Kosuke Ota. Both teams launched scrambling counterattacks over the final five minutes, but neither was able to break the deadlock. Like the true battle of Kawanakajima, the two contestants both showed their prowess yet neither one was able to claim victory.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Kose ("Yamanashi Chugin") Stadium

3

2 1H 2
1 2H 1

3

Dudu (33')
Dudu (35')
Kosuke Ota (90'+2)

Scoring

Arata Watanabe (19')
Arata Watanabe (45+1')
Silvinho (81')
  Cautions Mauro
Silvinho
Gonzales

 


 

0 - 1

JEF United Chiba and Omiya Ardija have both enjoyed extended runs in the top-flight division, and both have the underlying potential to succeed at the top level. But both have fallen on hard times more recently. An out-of-touch club management tore JEF United asunder in the early 00s, and since their relegation in 2009, the Dogpack has never really shown enough cohesion and strategic vision to make a real run at promotion. Last year the team finished an appalling 17th in the second tier, prompting some much-needed soul-searching over the winter break. JEF signaled the intention -- at least -- to try to change their fortunes, appointing Yoon Jung-Hwan as head coach. The former Cerezo Osaka and Korean international has demonstrated his ability to lead a small club to success, both at Sagan Tosu and at Cerezo Osaka. But he also has a reputation for demanding full control of the club, and resisting interference from the front office. If management gives Yoon free rein, perhaps the Chiba Dogs will finally turn things around. But past experience suggests that this may be too much to ask of a club that is notorious for feuding with its own coaches, players and fans.

Omiya Ardija has done a better job of remaining competitive, despite being the "Number Two Team" in Saitama with a budget barely a third the size of Urawa Reds. But following their relegation in 2017, nearly all of Omiya's top players negotiated moves to another J1 club, and the handful of Squirrels who remained loyal have drifted away over the subsequent three seasons. Coach Takuya Takagi will face an uphill battle in the quest to return to the J1.

Although first impressions can be deceptive, neither team will be particularly flattered by their performance in this contest. In terms of "watchability", it probably rivals the Zweigen Kanazawa - Matsumoto Yamaga scoreless draw as one of the least entertaining spectacles of the week (that includes J3 contests). It may simply be a reflection of the fact that Ardija and JEF play more technically demanding football than other J2 clubs, but it was hard to overlook the rusty performances of these two teams, in general. As one half-baked offensive exchange after another went astray due to an over-hit pass or a stumbling dribble, this writer switched live feeds to watch Nagasaki vs Kita-Kyushu. When I did go back to rewatch, I fast forwarded through most of the second half. On paper, both of these teams seem good enough to take part in the promotion battle this year. But they will need to up their game considerably, to do so.

Omiya claimed the only goal of the contest in first-half stoppage time, after JEF conceded a free kick just outside the box. Keisuke Nishimura's low, hard drive into the crowd hit at least three players before bounding across the line, and though Masashi Ono was given the credit, it appeared to be a Chiba player who made the critical deflection.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Chiba "Fukuari" Stadium

0

0 1H 1
0 2H 0

1

 

Scoring

Masashi Ono (45'+4)
Kleber
Yuki Horigome
Cautions Keisuke Nishimura

 


 

4 - 3

The Battle of Shikoku, between Ehime FC and Tokushima Vortis, has been a relatively one-sided affair in recent years, Tokushima has developed steadily, and even had a brief stint in the J1, in 2014. Ehime, meanwhile, has languished toward the bottom of J2, both in results and in fan support. But the gap in quality has clearly narrowed, as we saw on Saturday evening. Vortis cruised to a comfortable lead in the opening half, only to suffer a truly dramatic collapse with some inattentive play in the second half.

Vortis had two good chances to score before finally taking the lead in the 10th minute, on a corner kick. The initial ball into the box was not handled cleanly, and dropped in front of goal for Ken Iwao to stab into the net. Vortis doubled the lead five minutes later on another corner kick, this time headed home by Kakita. On the stroke of half time Kakita made it 3-0 on yet another corner kick, this time finishing with his right foot.

While the lead seemed daunting as the second half began, the Terrible Tangerines were handed a lifeline almost immediately after the restart, when a clumsy foul gave Ehime a free kick right at the apex of the penalty arc. Takanori Maeno's shot slammed into the wall, but the deflection dropped right onto the boot of former Gamba midfielder Shigeru Yokotani, who poked it into the net and trimmed the deficit to 3-1.

For Yokotani the goal seemed to serve as the equivalent of Super Mario's power pills, as the midfield playmaker suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Together with Taishi Nishioka - a former Ryukyu defender who was used in a more advanced position than he was accustomed to in previous seasons - Ehime began to boss play in midfield much better than they had in the first half. Vortis retained their lead for the next 25 minutes, but the momentum had clearly shifted

The turning point came in the 78th minute, following a goal-mouth scramble that left Vortis keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto with a bloody nose. After the medics had patched him up, Ehime took the resulting corner kick, and immediately cut the deficit to 3-2, on Koki Arita's header.

Kamifukumoto was still trying to shake off the vertigo when Ehime claimed the equaliser. Despite a raft of substitutions (or perhaps because of them?), Vortis was unable to rediscover the ball control they had enjoyed in the first half. Ehime dominated possession for the next five minutes, while Vortis was barely able to string three passes together. Ehime earned another corner kick in the 83rd minute, and this time it was Nishioka who slipped in at the far post to volley the set piece into the strings.

It looked like both teams were prepared to settle for a share of the spoils, but with eight minutes of stoppage time to play, Vortis were unable to maintain their focus to the final whistle. On almost the final play, a horrendous back pass in the Vortis box was poked away from its intended target, and Kamifukumoto made a hash of the attempted save, spilling the ball right onto the foot of Shion Niwa. Niwa shuffled the ball off to Nishioka, who drove his shot into the untended net, giving Ehime a dramatic comeback victory.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Ehime "Ninjineer" Stadium

4

0 1H 3
4 2H 0

3

Shigeru Yokotani (53')
Koki Arita (78')
Taishi Nishioka (83')
Taishi Nishioka (90'+6)

Scoring

Ken Iwao (10')
Yuki Kakita (16')
Yuki Kakita (45+3' PK)
Taishi Nishioka Cautions Ishii
Kishimoto

 


 

1 - 3

Another "regional derby" that has lost some of its energy in recent years is the Northern Kanto rivalry between Mito Hollyhock, Thespakusatsu Gunma, and Tochigi SC. The former team has remained in the lower half of the J2 table for its entire 20-year existence, never rising above seventh place, but also avoiding relegation. Gunma and Tochigi, on the other hand, have both spent brief stints in the J3, and based on what we saw this weekend, neither one is in a position to dispute Mito's advantage in the so-called "North Kanto Derby".

The visitors controlled the run of play for most of the first half, but only managed to move in front in the 34th minute, on a set play. Masato Nakayama was inexplicably unmarked on Hollyhock's corner kick, and had only to stoop for an easy header at the edge of the six-yard box. Mito took this lead into the locker room at half time, but resumed their control of the contest in the second half. Nakayama had two or three excellent chances to extend the lead before finally completing his brace in the 71st minute. Following a sequence in which Mito held the ball up inside the Gunma box for the length of seven passes, Nakayama spotted a gap and fired off a spinning shot, which crept just inside the right post. Japanese-Nigerian defender Boniface Nduka added one more for Mito in the 84th minute, heading a home a corner kick.

Thespa managed to spoil Mito's clean sheet in the final minute of regular time, on a goal by Kohei Shin, but the one-sided nature of the victory was not diminished. Thespa narrowly avoided J3 relegation last season, and if they do not up their game they could face the same fate this season.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Gunma (Shoda Shoyu) Stadium

 1

 0 1H 1
 1 2H 2

3

Kohei Shin (89')

Scoring

Masato Nakayama (34')
Masato Nakayama (71')
Boniface Nduka (84')
Yuko Takase
Hayashi
Cautions  

 


 

0 - 0

The Hoku-Shinetsu derby contest between Matsumoto Yamaga and Zweigen Kanazawa was a bit more engaging than the final score might suggest, but neither team was able to find the net. Matsumoto lost some key players following their relegation, last year, and they will need to focus on rebuilding the attack if they hope to return to the top flight this season.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Ishikawa West Stadium

0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0

 

Scoring

 
  Cautions Morishita

 


 

2 - 2

One of the newest "Derby" rivalries in the J.League is the so-called "Sanyo Derby", between two teams from the far western tip of Honshu. While Shikoku and Kyushu have both been fertile regions for the growth of football in Japan, over the past two decades, the area west of Kansai lagged far behind the rest of the country, with significant cities like Okayama, Yamaguchi, Ube, Tokuyama and Shimonoseki not developing any independent club teams until the early 20-teens. Until recently the only J.League team in this entire area has been Hiroshima, with Fagiano Okuyama only entering the pro ranks in 2010 and Renofa Yamaguchi joining them in J2 four years ago. The rivalry between the two has been fairly balanced up to now, with Okuyama holding a record of four wins and two draws to Yamaguchi's two victories.

Fagiano got off to the stronger start in this contest, controlling the lion pheasant's share of possession over the opening 15 minutes. But an impressive play by Renofa striker Iury de Castilho upset the apple cart. Racing forward to pressure a Fagiano defender on the ball, in the 15th minute, Iury hemmed him in against the sideline, pried the ball loose, then fired a pinpoint centering pass for Kazama Takai to side-foot past the keeper.  

Renofa maintained the lead until half time, though Fagiano regained control of the run of play and had a handful of chances to get the equaliser. The Pheasants would rue their poor finishing, shortly after the break, as once again Yamaguchi scored against the run of play. Once again it was Iury's individual skills that made the play -- the big Brazilian held off a defender as he collected a diagonal pass on the left side of the box, and spun into space with a lovely first touch. With a sudden sweep of the right boot, Iury drove the ball low and hard into the left corner, just eluding the fingertips of William Popp.

The second goal gave Okayama the wake-up call they needed, and for the next five minutes they laid siege to the Renofa goal. In the 55th minute wingback Shuhei Tokumoto took the ball into the left corner, on the overlap, and sidestepped his marker before delivering a line-drive cross that Shintaro Shimizu headed home from the edge of the six-yard box. 

Play swung back and forth over the next 15 minutes, as Fagiano intensified their pressure, while Renofa counterattacked aggressively in search of a goal to nail down the victory. The Pheasants finally pulled level in the 73rd minute following a corner kick that was cleared to the right sideline, but carried back around the flank by the kick-taker Satoki Ueda. Ueda tightroped along the end line before flicking a cross to former Nantes midfielder Lee Yong-Jae at the near post, who headed the ball on into the opposite side netting. 

As both teams unloaded their benches, the action began to break down into a lot of long long aimless balls into attack, and scrambling exchanges near midfield. Renofa came closest to claiming the go-ahead goal, as Iury continued to create trouble with individual counterattacking runs. But in the end the Okayama defense held up, and secured a share of the points. 

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Okayama "Momotaro" Stadium

2

0 1H 1
2 2H 1

2

Shintaro Shimizu (56')
Lee Yong-Jae (74')

Scoring

Kazama Takai (15')
Iury de Castillo (52')
Paulinho Cautions Kazuki Anzai

 


 

1 - 0

In one of the least eventful matches of the day, Montedio Yamagata edged Tochigi SC on a first-half strike by Ryoma Watanabe. The goal came from nowhere, as a deflected cross bounded towards Watanabe just outside the Tochigi penalty area, and the former Ingolstadt midfielder lashed the ball into the top left corner, on the half-volley.

Date:
22 February, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Yamagata (ND Soft) Stadium

1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0

Ryoma Watanabe (18')

Scoring

 
Shuhei Otsuki Cautions  

2 - 1

The battle for pre-eminence in Northern Kyushu has been as fiercely fought as any of Japan's traditional regional rivalries, as four of the five teams that hail from the region have spent at least one season in the top-flight division. This year, both Oita Trinita and Sagan Tosu have secured spots in the J1, while V.Varen Nagasaki, Avispa Fukuoka and Giravanz Kitakyushu are left to duke it out for bragging rights in the J2. On Saturday, V.Varen played host to the only northern Kyushu team that has yet to play in the J1 - Giravanz Kitakyushu. Based on their performance in this contest, it may be some time yet before the Sunflowers bloom, though the gap between them and the Mighty Ducks is starting to narrow.

Nagasaki got things started early, as wingback Hiroshi Futami took the ball down the right flank and sent in what seemed like an innocuous, bounding cross. But for some reason the entire Kitakyushu defense simply let the ball bound through, only noticing at the last second that Futami's fellow wingback, Masashi Kamekawa, was sprinting forward on the opposite flank. Kamekawa caught up to the ball at the left side of the box, and quickly cut inside toward the left post. Kamekawa hit a rising drive that scraped paint off the underside of the crossbar, and nestled into the back strings.

As rain began to cascade down, making the footing more difficult, Nagasaki was able to retain an edge in possession but were unable to create any more major scoring chances until after intermission. Giravanz looked competitive over most of the pitch, despite the deteriorating conditions, but were unable to put any dangerous shots on net.

The rain let up a bit after the break, and the flow of offense on both sides of the ball improved, but most of the shooting opportunities were from distance. Solid work in net by both keepers kept the contest at 1-0 until the 65th minute, when newcomer Luan Madson de Paiva broke out on a three-on-two counterattack, with Victor Ibarbo on his right and Takumi Nagura on his left. Luan fed Ibarbo down the flank, then raced towards the box to collect the return pass, and slot it into the low left corner for his first J.Leauge goal.

To their credit, the Sunflowers refused to wilt, and managed to pull a goal back about 15 minutes later on a long-range shot by Shintaro Kokubu which somehow managed to sneak just inside the left upright. But Nagasaki picked up the pace in the final quarter of the contest, with both Ibarbo and Luan spurning chances to finish off Giravanz completely. The Mighty Ducks held on to secure their second win of the season, and a share of first place (level with Omiya Ardija).

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Nagasaki (Trans Cosmos) Stadium

2

1 1H 0
1 2H 1

1

Masashi Kamekawa (05')
Luan (65')

Scoring

Shintaro Kokubu (79')
Friere Cautions Jin Ikoma

 


 

2 - 0

The weekend's marquee match kicked off on a late Sunday afternoon, as Kyoto Sanga hosted Jubilo Iwata at their brand-spanking-new stadium - a football-only facility with the pleasantly branded name of "Sanga Stadium (by Kyocera)." It is a moral felony that this match had to be played to a crowd of just two dozen ... but such are the times we live in. The two combatants are widely viewed as the top candidates for promotion, this season, and it took no more than ten minutes to see why. The level of play was a visible cut above anything that we witnessed on Saturday. Though signs of rust were visible on many occasions, the general quality on both sides of the ball suggests that these are the teams to beat, for anyone else that fancies promotion.

Kyoto has not seen the top-flight in a decade, and the construction of a new stadium was part of a concerted effort to revive the team's fortunes. Kyoto raided a number of other teams' veteran ranks over the winter, padding out an already solid team by signing the likes of Ryota Moriwaki (from Reds), Tadanari Lee (from Yokohama), Ryunosuke Noda (from Bellmare) and Jordy Buijs (from Vortis).

But the most immediate impact on Kyoto's bottom line was provided by Peter Utaka, whom Sanga lured away from Ventforet Kofu with a larger bankroll. Utaka remains the same player he was in earlier years, at Sanfrecce and FC Tokyo -- a relentless, physically imposing presence and an extremely opportunistic goal poacher. Utaka got the scoring started in the 28th minute, when Jun Kanakubo picked him out with a looping pass between two defenders. Utaka let the ball bounce, and then used his speed to chase it down, arriving a step before his marker and before the keeper could get off the line. He followed that up with an audacious bicycle kick which might have been dangerous if not straight at the keeper.

Jubilo Iwata had an appalling season last year, returning to J2 after just a single year. But the team's superannuated roster and poor team chemistry was visible even when they narrowly escaped relegation in 2018. A major change of generations was needed, and the club seems to have done a good job of hanging on to key veterans while injecting lots of new blood. It might take some time for incoming coach Fernando Juberto to adjust the fine-tuning, with so many new faces in the lineup. But based on their overall play against a clearly sharp Kyoto Sanga, Jubilo deserve their preseason rating as a favourite to rebound to J1. Following Kyoto's opener, Jubilo buckled down and began to work the ball forward with care and precision, controlling a predominance of possession from the initial goal until half time.

But there is one thing Jubilo clearly lacks -- an offensive weapon the likes of Utaka. Last season Jubilo could call upon players like Adailton, Kengo Kawamata or Yoshito Okubo (not to mention Shunsuke Nakamura) to create chances with individual play. That role would seem to fall on the shoulders of Brazilian newcomer Lukian, but based on initial impressions he may need more help up front. The Blue Budgies did a good job of controlling possession and moving the ball into the attacking third, but there was never enough individual flair to create a shot.

The same could never be said of Peter Utaka. His energy level and sudden bursts of pace were a constant threat, Just two minutes after the restart he collected a ball inside the Jubilo box, using his body to shield the ball, then spun like a ballerina and lashed a shot underneath Naoki Hatta. To top off the performance, he brought the (nonexistent) crowd to its feet with a cleverly choreographed "bowling" celebration with teammates.

Jubilo went to the bench, bringing on Nagisa Sakurauchi and Takaaki Harigatani, and shifting to four backs, in an effort to create more space. This almost immediately resulted in a few more shots on net. But the Kyoto defense held firm, and the ever-present risk posed by Utaka and Takumi Miyayoshi, on the counterattack, prevented Jubilo from committing too many players forward. Utaka had a chance to complete his hat trick in the 64th minute, on a countreattacking breakaway, but was stymied by the keeper, and soon afterward Ryunosuke Noda replaced him in the front line. Kyoto used substitutions to increase the pressure on the ball, and Jubilo never did manage to finish off one of their opportunities.

Date:
28 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Sanga Stadium (by Kyocera)

2

1 1H 0
1 2H 0

0

Peter Utaka (28')
Peter Utaka (47')

Scoring

 
  Cautions Hiroki Yamada
Nagisa Sakurauchi

 


 

1 - 1

The final match of the weekend was played in the steamy twilight of Okinawa, as FC Ryukyu played host to Avispa Fukuoka. The team from Japan's southernmost prefecture made a solid J2 debut, last season, eventually finishing 14th and looking competitive almost every week. The only area of concern was in the stands, where they averaged just 4,000 fans a week. Now that all parts of our lives have been socially distanced, though, Ryukyu can focus on the football. Avispa - a far more established club which has been in the J1 as recently as 2016.

The Manta Rays got off to a solid start in this contest, snatching the first goal of the contest in the 32nd minute, by the seemingly ageless Takuma Abe (yup ... the same one who played for Vfr Aalen, way back in 2012. Though Avispa seemed to control the run of play for much of the half, the hosts used their counterattacking chances cleverly, and had at least as many opportunities to score. B ut Abe's individual effort to create the goal was the match's highlight-reel moment. The small and stocky striker collected a loose ball at the top of his own box, and set off upfield with three opponents in pursuit. Though he had only one teammate in support, Abe continued to press the pace, and as he neared the Avispa penalty area he shifted into an even higher gear, gained a half-step of space, and unleashed a rocket into the top right corner. Ryukyu retained the lead until half time.

However, the Yellowjackets (should I take my cue from the US press and start calling them "Murder Hornets???) came out of the locker room in a swarm, and quickly claimed the equaliser. Juanma Delgado displayed his own speed in the 50th minute, accelerating between two defenders to collect an inlet pass and stroke it into the back netting

As the clock ticked down towards full time, Ryukyu had the best chance to grab the victory. But their corner kick goal in the 82nd minute was disallowed, as Lee Yong-Jick got tangled up with the keeper -- off the ball -- and was called for a foul. The match ended level, along with five other J2 contests this weekend.

Date:
27 June, 2020
Attendance:
--
Location:
Hiyagon Stadium

1

1 1H 0
0 2H 1

1

Takuma Abe (32')

Scoring

Juanma (50')  
  Cautions  

 


 

 

J3 Results

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