July 5, 2020

Let's Try This Again . . .

About four months ago, this writer announced with much fanfare that the J.League had kicked off its 2020 season, and reported on what looked like the start of yet another closely fought and wildly unpredictable campaign. After a brief attempt to rewatch that first week of matches, played back on February 22 and 23, I realised that nothing about those contests was relevant. So much has changed -- not only in the J.League, or even football in general -- but in our entire paradigm of daily life. The true 2020 season kicked off on July the Fourth, and it is likely to be one of the most chaotic campaigns ever. While leagues in Europe also went through an agonizing 3-4 month interruption, all were approaching the end of the campaign, and few domestic titles were in any doubt. For the likes of Bayern Munchen, Liverpool, Juventus . . . even Real Madrid (assuming they can)maintain their edge on Barcelona, it was just a matter of playing out the final few chapters.

But for the J.League, the 2020 campaign will be characterized almost entirely by the changes necessitated by the Coronavirus outbreak. It is not yet certain whether fans will be allowed back before the season ends, but we can be fairly certain that games will continue to be played in empty stadiums until at least September (covering the first half of the home-away round robin). An even bigger impact, though, is likely to arise from the intense pace of scheduling this year. In the J1, teams will play an average of three games every fortnight, from now through the end of December, while J2 clubs will spend?much of September and October playing two matches every week. Squad depth, the quality of reserve players, the average age of the starting eleven . . . these and many other factors are going to have an even greater impact on outcomes than ever before ...

Well, that might not be QUITE true. In 1995, the J.League's 14 teams played a 52-match season (a double round-robin) between early March and the first week of December, with a break in July. Those who can recall the '95 campaign -- when matches were played on Saturdays and Wednesday nights almost every week of the season, and about a third of them were carried live on free-to-air TV -- know what that sort of schedule can do to players. Yet the 95 campaign (won by Yokohama Marinos after a 2-0 aggregate victory over the mighty Verdy Kawasaki in the Suntory Championship tie) was also one of the most entertaining, with some of the most striking upsets and changes of fortune I can recall in ANY league, anywhere on the planet (for example, newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol finished dead last in the first stage, but vaulted to fifth in the second stage, and were leading the league at one point). We can only hope that the same is true in 2020.

One thing is certain - the unpredictability which epitomizes the J.League will be as prominent as ever. There should be many opportunities to get a look at the newest generation of Japanese players. The brutal schedule will ensure that teams either use their entire roster, or suffer from fatigue-induced slumps when their top players run out of gas. This will be even more true in the J2 and J3, where rosters tend to be thinner and the number of true "stars" per team is inadequate to carry them through a full season.

So without any further ado, lets get right to the action:


 

  1 - 2  

The Osaka Derby match was one of the highlights of this weekend. As one of the oldest and most continuous derbies in the J.League (the two teams have played 38 times, with Gamba holding roughly a two-to-one edge in victories), it was an appropriate choice to top the marquee on Match Day 2. Gamba kicked off the season with an entertaining 2-1 victory over the defending champion Yokohama Marinos, thanks in part to contributions from a number of recent returnees from Europe. Both Yosuke Ideguchi and Takashi Usami rejoined the Naniwa Nerazzuri late in the 2019 season (from Leeds and Augsburg, respectively), but were not re-integrated sufficiently to have much of an impact on last year's results. But they were important offensive contributors in the Yokohama contest, and will carry much of the burden for team performance this year. Also joining the squad is former Toulouse defender Gen Shoji.

The Pink half of Osaka also counts a large number of players with European experience, including Hiroshi Kiyotake, Yoichiro Kakitani and Yuta Toyokawa. But the Pink Wolfpack is starting to shift the focus to younger players, who have been establishing themselves at Cerezo's U-23 satellite team, which plays in J3. A 1-0 victory over recently promoted Oita Trinita, back in February, did not really flatter the hosts. But as we have already noted ... this is an entirely new season

The opening stages of the contest were played at a high pace, dictated by constant Pink pressure on the ball. Ken Tokura, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Leandro Sabato took the lead roles in attack, but it was the quick reaction to, and pressure on the ball by all Cerezo players which allowed them to dictate the run of play. Tokura had one or two chances to pursue balls over the top, but in general the Gamba defense stood firm. Their chances on offense, however, were limited up until the first water break.

As the first half progressed, and Cerezo's press started to drop off, Gamba created a few more opportunities, albeit mainly in the form of set pieces. The slow, patient exchanges of short passing around the perimeter could look slick, at times, but it began to remind me of the Japan National Team under Ivica Osim - where they could pass the ball 120 times in succession, but struggled to even put shots on target, much less hit the back of the net. Cerezo's counterattacking chances looked much more dangerous.

The critical play that unlocked Gamba's defense arrived in the first minute of stoppage time. Yusuke Maruhashi - as he has done so many times over the years, slipped free down the left sideline and collected a long feed into the corner from Kiyotake. Maruhashi spotted Hiroaki Okuno charging the goal, and sent his first touch bounding towards the penalty spot. Okuno met the cross with his left boot and sent a bounding shot past Masaaki Higashiguchi, to give Cerezo the lead going into the break.

Cerezo continud to create the more dangerous chances after the restart, while Gamba continued to look like the sort of team that Japan was in the mid-00s: great at controlling the ball around the perimeter but rarely capable of producing a truly dangerous shot. The Pink Wolfpack doubled their lead at the hour mark, following a long (almost 10 minute) stretch of Gamba possession that resulted in only one actual shot on goal. On the stroke of the hour the Nerazzuri won a corner kick, but following a weak shot by Patric, Cerezo won possession and began working the ball down the right sideline. Riku Matsuda collapsed the defense with a nice chipped pass to Katayama, racing for the end line. Katayama cut the ball back for an open Kiyotake, just inside the box. The former Hanover playmaker was completely unmarked, but could not see a clear line to goal, so he unselfishly dished the ball off to Maruhashi, charging forward through the left channel, and Maruhashi drilled his first touch inside the right post, to put Cerezo in a solid 2-0 advantage.

Gamba tried to up the intensity with a raft of changes, and got a foot back inside the door five minutes later, when Kosuke Onose unleashed a long-distance shot that ricocheted off the arm of Yasuki Kimoto, inside the penalty box. Kimoto was lying on his back as the shot came in, and tried to convince the ref that the contact was inadvertent. But a penalty kick was awarded nonetheless, and Ademilson secured the tally with a gentle flick into the right corner, cutting the gap to 2-1.

But that was the only real offensive opportunity Gamba could muster, while Cerezo brought on a bunch of fresh legs and continued to threaten on the countrattack. The visitors preserved their advantage and claimed local bragging rights for at least a few months, while Gamba drop to midtable.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Suita (Panasonic) Stadium

  1

1 1H 2
0 2H 0

2  

Ademilson (68' PK)

 Scoring

Hiroaki Okuno (45'+2)
Yusuke Maruhashi (62')
 
  Cautions Yasuki Kimoto

 Masaaki Higashiguchi; Hiroki Fujiharu, Genta Miura, Shunki Suganuma (Yuki Yamamoto 81'), Kim Young-Gwon; Yasuhito Endo (Yosuke Ideguchi 54'), Kosuke Onose, Shu Kurata (Yuji Ono 69'), Shinya Yajima (Patric 54'); Ademilson (Kazuma Watanabe 81'), Takashi Usami.

  Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto, Matej Jonjic; Naoyuki Fujita, Leandro Desabato, Hiroshi Kiyotake (Yoichiro Kakitani 75'), Tatsuhiro Sakamoto (Eiichi Katayama 57'); Ken Tokura (Bruno Mendes 75'), Hiroaki Okuno (Yuta Toyokawa 87').



     0 - 3   

Sanfrecce Hiroshima entered the week as the nominal first-place team, thanks to a 3-0 victory over Kashima Antlers. The scale of the victory was a bit deceptive, but as they demonstrated in this week's contest, the Purple Archers are a genuine candidate for silverware this season. Coach Hiroshi Jofuku, in his third season at the helm, seems to have finally put together a squad that can implement his scrambling, high-energy, counterattacking style of play effectively.

Vissel, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw at home by the lowly Yokohama FC. Since the revised schedule also gave them a home fixture to restart the season, the Kobe Crimson definitely were under pressure to secure a victory, if only to justify all the money that team owner Hiroshi Mikitani has laid out in recent years to build the team. But on the basis of this week's result, they still look like a probable also-ran, with plenty of well-known names but no real team chemistry.

Hiroshima took the initiative early on, but suffered a setback in the 19th minute, when left winger Yoshifumi Kashiwa suddenly pulled up as he chased a long ball down the sideline. He immediately grabbed his hamstring, and the damage seemed severe as he had to be stretchered off the pitch. Hopefully the injury will not be as bad as it looked, but Kashiwa almost certainly will be out of action for a while.

Nevertheless, the Purple Archers opened the scoring on a corner kick, in the 33rd minute, though they had been knocking at the door for quite some time. The high ball delivered by Morishima was headed on by Leandro Perreira, dropping right onto the boots of Douglas Viera for an easy shuffle across the line.

The second goal was a thing of beauty, and much of the credit goes to young Yuya Asano, a former Hiroshima youth player who left the team to attend university, and only returned to the pros last season (on loan to Mito Hollyhock). Asano was forced into action following Asano's injury, and shortly after the break he proved that he has the quality to fill in for the veteran midfielder. In the 48th minute, following a surge by Kobe, the visitors broke out on the counter with Morishima leading the way, and feeding Leandro Perreira into the left corner. When his route to goal was cut off, he recirculated the ball across the top of the box, until it reached Hayao Kawabe at the top of the penalty arc. Kawabe spotted Asano revving his engines on the right side of the box, and played a perfect through pass to send the youngster behind the Vissel defence. Asano got to the ball a half-step ahead of the outrushing keeper and poked it into the open net, putting the visitors firmly in control.

Vissel spent the rest of the second half trying desperately to develop a rhythm on offence while occasionally scrambling to contain Sanfrecce counterattacks. Those who are familiar with Jofuku's approach to the game could see that Vissel's second-half dominance in possession was merely a reflection of Sanfrecce's willingness to play off the back foot, and use their defensive solidity and counterattacking speed to wear down the opponent. Nothing the Crimson Cows could do was enough to break down the Sanfrecce defense. With ten minutes remaining, Sanfrecce unleashed the killer third arrow, when Morishima broke away on a countrattack down the left side. Spotting Leandro Perreira on the opposite flank, Morishima flicked the ball into space for the Brazilian to pursue, and Leandro spun at the right post to fire over Iikura. The 3-0 away victory -- a mirror image of their opening-day victory at Kashima -- shows that Hiroshima will be one of the leading contenders this season. While the loss of Kashiwa could be a concern given the demanding schedule ahead, Hiroshima are deservedly atop the table after two solid victories.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium

  0

0 1H 1
0 2H 2

3  

 

 Scoring

Leandro Perreira (35')
Yuya Asano (48')
Leandro Perreira (81')  
Hirofumi Watabe Cautions Yuki Nogami
Tsukasa Morishima

Hiroki Iikura; Dankler, Reo Oosaki, Hirofumi Watabe (Keijiro Ogawa 55'); Daigo Nishi (Fujitani 87'), Sergi Samper (Junya Tanaka 65') Hotaru Yamaguchi, Andres Iniesta, Gotoku Sakai; Kyogo Furuhashi, Douglas (Noriaki Fujimoto 87') .

 Keisuke Osako; Yuki Nogami, Hayato Araki, Sho Sasaki; Rhayner, Toshihiro Aoyama (Kosei Shibasaki 86'), Hayao Kawabe, Yoshifumi Kashiwa (Yuki Asano 65'), Douglas (Shunki Higashi 61'), Tsukasa Morishima, Leandro Perreira.


 

 

2 - 1    

As already noted, the lone league match played back in February is so far removed from the current reality that we may as well just forget about it. Surely no team is more eager to forget than Kashima Antlers, who were hammered 0-3 at home by Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The score may have been a bit flattering to the Purple Archers, but incoming coach Zago noted with concern that the Antlers still lack structure and coordination. Kashima has made dramatic changes to the squad in recent years, bringing in a lot of young players with clear potential but little experience. Of the unit that drew Real Madrid 2-2 over 90 minutes, at the Club World Cup, only Ryota Nagaki, Shoma Doi, Yasushi Endo and the two keepers (Sogahata and Jung) remain. The others have either moved to Europe, retired, or transferred to less demanding clubs as they near the close of their careers.

Yet there is still plenty of talent in the squad ... particularly young talent. Koki Machida looks like he could be the best big centre-half to enter the league since Maya Yoshida, while offense-oriented players like Kento Misao and Ayase Ueda are getting looks into the National Team. The question will be how long it will take a new coach (with no J.League experience) to build them into a coherent unit. Even Ange Postecoglou, at Yokohama Marinos, needed the better part of a year to "find his bearings." Only time will tell how soon the Antlers resume their pursuit of silverware.

Kawasaki Frontale may also be eager to forget the first week of the season. Their scoreless draw against Sagan Tosu was almost unwatchable. For an early-season contest, it wasnt that surprising to see so much disarray in the vaunted Frontale attack. But there have been signs . . . as early as last season . . . that the team which secured back-to-back titles in 2017 and 1918, and a League Cup in 2019 is reaching the end of its golden era. Players like Yu Kobayashi, Kengo Nakamura, Akihiro Ienaga and Manabu Saito all still have the talent to be impact players, but it remains to be seen whether they can continue to carry the team as the main sources offense. It will be particularly difficult for aging players like these to cope with the intense schedule that they face over the next six months. Both of these teams look like they will have important parts to play, but it is at least one year too late (for Frontale) or too early (for Antlers) to view them as likely champions.

Kashima looked fairly comfortable in the early going, but as was the case in their first match of the season, they lack the sort of team chemistry and coordination that is usually key to the Antlers' success. Frontale, meanwhile, demonstrated a good ability to finish off opportunities despite having less of the ball and fewer real opportunities. The scoring was opened a mere two minutes after kickoff, on the first corner kick of the contest. Yasuto Wakizaka played the ball short, to veteran Akihiro Ienaga, who looped a pass to the far post. Shogo Taniguchi appeared to be offside as he bundled the ball home from point-blank range, but a defensive blunder by young Kashima defender Katsuya Nagato -- who remained near the goal line on the opposite side of the pitch -- kept Taniguchi narrowly onside. 

Kashima recovered from the early goal, and started to develop a bit of a rhythm on offense. But in the 30th minute Ienaga again picked out a teammate with an inch-perfect lob to the far post. Tatsuya Hasegawa pulled the ball down and skipped past his defender, then lashed a shot across the face of goal and into the right side netting.

The Antlers responded almost immediately, on a perfectly-delivered corner kick from Juan Alano which caught the keeper cheating off his line. By the time Jung Sung-Ryong and Miki Yamane scrambled back, neither one was able to keep the ball from crossing the goal line. Though scored as an own goal, Alano's set piece was worthy of a goal.

The Antlers grew into the contest as the second half began, and by the 70 minute mark the hosts were pinned back and desperately defending their lead. But as happens so often to the league's most successful team, Kashima could get no help at all from the referee. In the 80th minute Everaldo was flattened as he dashed between two defenders, into the box. But despite clear contact, and a probable penalty kick, the man in black waved play on, allowing Frontale off the hook. The loss drops Kashima into last place, with a goal difference of -4 after just two contests.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  2

2 1H 1
0 2H 0

1  

Shogo Taniguchi (02')
Tatsuya Hasegawa (30')

 Scoring

Own Goal (32')  
Akihiro Ienaga
Yamane
Cautions Atsuto Uchida
Koki Machida
Ryota Nagaki

Jung Sung-Ryong ; Yamane, Jesiel, Shogo Taniguchi, Jumpei Noborizato (Shintaro Kurumaya 83'); Ao Tanaka, Ryota Oshima (Hokuto Shimoda 82')); Yasuto Wakizaka (Reo Hatate 62'), Akihiro Ienaga (Hidemasa Morita 74'), Tatsuya Hasegawa (Manabu Saito 74'), Leandro Damiao.

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Atsuto Uchida (Rikuto Hirose 60'), Tomoya Inukai, Koki Machida, Katsuya Nagato; Yuto Misao, Leo Silva (Ryota Nagaki 72'); Juan Alano (Yasushi Endo 67'), Ryuji Izumi (Itsuki Someno 72'), Shoma Doi (Sho Ito 60'), Everaldo.   



   0 - 1    

Last season, FC Tokyo roared out of the gates and built a huge lead over the first half of the year, thanks in large part to the contributions of Takefusa Kubo - a young man who needs no introduction from me, no matter how new you are to the J.League. Unfortunately, the loss of Kubo, as well as injuries to some other key players, severely disrupted Tokyo's performance, and they ended up falling short of a title, to next-door neighbors Yokohama Marinos.

The Tokyo Tanuki have made some major acquisitions this year in the hopes of finally securing their maiden league title. Their roster of hired hit-men now includes Adailton (picked up from Jubilo) and Leandro (on loan from Kashima), not to mention former Vissel defender Joao Oumari. All in all, coach Kenta Hasegawa seems to have assembled the largest group of players (=the deepest roster) of any J1 team. Hasegawa certainly knows how to lead a team to success, and the team got out of the gate with a 3-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse, back in February.

The only problem Tokyo will face is the unfortunate fact that several other teams are also very strong this year. Saturday's opponent, for example, once claimed back-to-back J2 and J1 titles. They won the second division, and earned promotion in 2010, then won the J1 title in 2011. This year, returning coach Nelson Baptista Junior (Nelsinho) is openly boasting that he aims to repeat the same feat this year. Though Reysol were relegated to J2 last season, following an awful collapse in 2018, they claimed the second division title in record time. The sheer power of their multipronged offense was illustrated in the final game of last season, when Michael Olunga scored a record seven goals in a nine-goal explosion by one of the most well-balanced units in the country. Only a few new faces were added over the winter, but this Reysol squad is likely to be just as competitive in the top-flight. Nelsinho is one of the few J.League coaches who has helmed more clubs, more effectively than Hasegawa. To top things off, Reysol have TWO of the top keepers in J1, acquiring former Vissel netminder Kim Seung-Gyu to share duties with Kosuke Nakamura. Winning the J1 may be a bit too much to aim for, but after a 4-2 win over Consadole in February, Reysol are at least off to a strong start.

The upward momentum Reysol have shown in the past year was visible from the outset, in the match against Tokyo. The emergence of Ataru Esaka as an effective playmaker and field general certainly has been a big factor, but the steadily improving chemistry between Reysol's second line and the swift, speedy, powerful finishers Michael Olunga and Cristiano is the real key. Unfortunately, their midfield attack-dog, Richardson Fernandes dos Santos, got a bit carried away in this contest, picking up a yellow card after just seven minutes, and then receiving a second -- and his ticket to an early shower -- shortly after the break. In a low-scoring game of few clear-cut chances, this was fatal. Tokyo scored just two minutes after Reysol had been reduced to ten men, and though the hosts fought back valiantly, the extra man was enough to secure a victory for Tokyo.

The lone goal was scored just after the hour mark. Reysol had been pressing for a goal for the early moments of the second half, but Richardson was caught making a sliding challenge on Adailton, as the Tokyo striker made a surging run through the middle. The contact was minimal, and Adailton clearly went down of his own accord. But there was enough contact for the referee to view it as a cardable offense. On a subsequent corner kick - taken before coach Nelsinho could even adjust his formation - Massato Morishige rose between two defenders at the far post to head the ball back in front of net, and Tsuyoshi Watanabe poked it across the line.

Despite being a man down, Reysol gave a good account of themselves down the stretch, and actually had the better scoring chances. But Tokyo held on for the victory, and joins two other teams atop the table with two wins.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Kashiwa (Sankyo) Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 1

1  

 

 Scoring

Tsuyoshi Watanabe (62')  
Richardson
Richardson
Someya
Cautions Masato Morishige
Richardson Sent Off  

 Kim Seung-Gyu; Yuji Takahashi, Yuta Someya, Jiro Kamata, Taiyo Koga; Matheus Savio (Sachiro Toshima 63'), Richardson; Hidekazu Otani (Yuta Kamiya 70'), Ataru Esaka, Yusuke Segawa (Hayato Nakama 78'), Michael Olunga.

  Akihiro Hayashi; Sei Muroya, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Masato Morishige, Ryoya Ogawa; Keigo Higashi, Shuto Abe, Yojiro Takahagi; Diego Oliveira (Kyosuke Tagawa 73'), Adailton (Kazuya Konno 78'), Leandro.

 

  1 - 2 

Last year's relegation of Jubilo Iwata leaves both Nagoya Grampus and Shimizu S-Pulse without a real "derby" partner, since Iwata is located right on the border between Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures. The history of rivalry between Nagoya and Shimizu is not as strong, but for the time being, the two teams are the only J1 clubs representing the populous southeastern seaboard between Yokohama and Osaka - once the heartland of Japanese football. Both teams are also in the midst of efforts to rebuild, following a period of stagnation. Grampus has been in disarray since their title run in 2010, and the slide culminated in relegation for the 2017 season. S-Pulse likewise has a history of relative success, including two cup titles in the League's first decade; but has struggled since their one-year relegation stint in 2016.

The game started off at a high pace, and S-Pulse opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a sudden counterattack. Shota Kaneko made a steal at midfield, poking the ball free to Yusuke Goto, to start a 2-on-2 break. Goto carried the ball through the middle until both defenders had committed, then laid the ball off to Kaneko in the right channel for a powerful drive past Mitch Langerak.

Parity was restored ten minutes later by Yuki Soma - a promising young player who could develop into a genuine star if he can just learn how to put in good crosses. Soma attracted attention as a rookie, in 2018, with the sort of dribbling prowess and penatrating initiative that troubles nearly any defense. But when signed on loan by Kashima Antlers, last season, his weaknesses also became common knowledge. After six months with the Antlers he was summarily returned to Nagoya, given his penchant for ballooning crosses, squandering dangerous scoring opportunities, and generally failing to demonstrate the sort of self-control that Kashima demands of its personnel. Soma would eventually display his shortcomings in this contest, too, picking up two yellow cards and being sent off late in the second half. But in the 32nd minute fans got a good look at his potential, popping up at te far post to volley home a deflection, after Carlinhos Junior had headed a pinpoint cross straight at the keeper, from the edge of the six-yard box. Soma fired the rebound into the roof of the net, and the score was level once again.

This triggered a period of dominance by the Red Whales, culminating in a dangerous cross from just outside the right post, by Naoki Maeda. Both Mateus and Soma were lined up at the far post with no defenders in the vicinity, forcing both the keeper Togo Umeda and defender Valdo to make desperate lunges to try to intervene. The result was a clumsy collision that sent the ball bounding off Valdo and into his own net.

S-Pulse brought an entire new attacking line in at the hour mark, but the front-three combination of Teerasil Dangda, Dutra and Kenta Nishizawa was actually a step backward from the Suzuki-Kaneko-Carlinhos line that had started the contest. Grampus coasted through the second half focused mainly on the defensive front, and this was enough to secure victory.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Shimizu "IAI" Stadium

  1

1 1H 2
0 2H 0

Shota Kaneko (18')

 Scoring

Yuki Soma (32')
Own Goal (40')
 
Takashi Kanei
Ryo Okui
Valdo
Cautions Yuki Soma
Yuki Soma
  Sent Off Yuki Soma

  Togo Umeda; Takashi Kanai, Valdo, Yugo Tatsuta, Ryo Okui; Makoto Okazaki, Ryo Takeuchi (Keita Nakamura 73'), Yuito Suzuki (Teerasil Dangda 61'), Shota Kaneko (Junior Dutra 61'), Goto, Carlinhos Junior (Kenta Nishizawa 61').

  Mitch Langerak; Shumpei Naruse (Yosuke Akiyama 74'), Shinnosuke Nakatani, Yuichi Maruyama, Yutaka Yoshida; Sho Inagaki, Hiroyuki Abe, Joao Schmidt (Takuji Yonemoto 62'), Matheus (Mu Kanazaki 62'); Naoki Maeda (Ryogo Yamazaki 90+1') Yuki Soma.

 


 

1 - 2  

When Yokohama FC earned promotion, at the end of last season, we were more than a little bit concerned about the team's prospects for 2020. The team that was built on the ashes of Yokohama Flugels has not really been a competitive unit since their last brief sojourn in the J1, way back in 2007. For reasons that are related mostly to commercial survival, and not on-field success, Yokohama has spent the last decade serving as a "Retirement Home" for aging former-National Team players who are well past their expiration date. Nobody epitomizes Yokohama FC better than Kazu Miura, who is certainly in good physical shape for a 51-year-old, but who has no business playing competitive matches against top-tier opponents less than half his age. If Kazu were the only old-timer on the squad, our concerns might not be as great. But the Yokohama FC squad also includes the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura (42), Yuta Minami (41), Daisuke Matsui (39), Leandro Domingues (37), Masahiko Inoha and Ibba (both 35). All of these players help to attract attention, press coverage, and support from sponsors, but clearly few of them (if any) will be able to remain competitive in a frenetic competition with an average of 1.8 matches a week. Accordingly, preseason prognostications listed Fulie as the most likely team to be relegated..

Fortunately, it looks like coach Takahiro Shimotaira has decided to leave most of his veterans on the sidelines, to gab with the media and attract attention from casual fans, while a far younger unit is employed in the actual matches. Yokohama fielded a starting lineup with an average of just 3-4 years experience, including two outright rookies. The oldest starting player was 31-year-old Takuya Matsuura. While not as formidable (or as experienced) as their Saturday opponents, Consadole Sapporo, this unit was able to hold their own for almost an hour, before collapsing in a rush of ill-advised substitutions.

Fulie got off to the worst start possible, as Consadole took the lead almost immediately. Just three minutes after kickoff, Chanathip Songkran broke free on the dribble down the left side, and crossed for Musashi Suzuki. Suzuki spun into the shot, but was stuffed by a sliding Yokohama defender. Keeping his balance, Suzuki chased down the bounding ball and sent his second attempt straight into the strings, giving the Snow Owls an advantage.

But Yokohama FC has some surprisingly efficient young players in the attack, led by the latest teen sensation in Japan, Koki Saito. Though the 19-year-old has captured the most attention of any in Yokohama's "youth contingent" in the run-up to this season, and was one of the home team's standouts in this match, it was his 23-year-old strike partner Kazumi Ichimi who grabbed the spotlight, in the 16th minute. As a forward pass was delivered to Ichimi in the front line, the former Gamba striker burst past his man with a clever spin move, and took off behind the final line of Sapporo defense. Ichimi finished off the play in style, dinking the ball over the keeper, and pulled Yokohama level.

Sapporo returned to business almost immediately, and by the midway mark of the first half were starting to take control of the contest. But the hard work of Ichimi, Saito, Takaaki Shichi and Tatsuki Seko kept the Sapporo midfield under pressure and the defense honest, with a hard ball press and good counterattacking instincts. It was only after the break that the Snow Owls began to really threaten, using the speed and size of Suzuki and Jay Bothroyd to put Yokohama's back line under consistent pressure. In the 53rd minute, following a Yokohama corner kick, Chanathip dropped deep to collect the ball in his own half, then played a perfect through ball that sent Suzuki sprinting down the right channel, a step ahead of his defender. Suzuki accelerated into the clear and stroked a right-footed shot into the low left corner while the keeper was still trying to get off his line.

Unfortunately for the home team, Coach Shimotaira responded with a poorly-considered slew of substitutions, taking off the hard-running youngsters who had kept Fulie in the contest for most of the first half, and replacing them with veterans, including Nakamura, Matsui, Yusuke Minagawa and Eijiro Takeda. The veterans simply could not keep up with the pacy play of Consadole, and though they did not concede any more goals, the hosts were never really in the contest following Suzuki's go-ahead goal.

Looking to the future, Consadole seem to be capable of remaining in the thick of the chase this year, while for Yokohama, the question is whether Coach Shimotaira can force through the change of generations that is so badly needed, if this team is to avoid an immediate return to J2.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Mitsuzawa (NGK Spring) Stadium

  1

1 1H 1
0 2H 1

2  

Kazumi Ichimi (16')

 Scoring

Musashi Suzuki (03')
Musashi Suzuki (53')

Eijiro Takeda Cautions  

 Yuji Rokutan; Kyowaan Hoshi, Masakazu Tashiro, Tomoki Kobayashi, Tatsuki Seko (Daisuke Matsui 74'), Kosuke Sato, Maughinho (Katsuhiro Nakayama 65'), Takaaki Shichi (Eijiro Takeda 65'), Takuya Matsuura (Shunsuke Nakamura 45'); Kazumi Ichimi (Yusuke Minagawa 65'), Koki Saito.

Takanori Sugeno; Ryosuke Shindo, Hiroki Miyazawa (Yoshiaki Komai 87'), Akito Fukumori; Kensuke Shirai, (Lucas Fernandes 87'), Takuma Arano (Takamine 73'), Kazuki Fukai (Shunta Tanaka 58'), Daiki Suga; Musashi Suzuki, Chanathip Songkran (Takuro Kaneko 87'); Jay Bothroyd.

 


 

0 - 1  

Shonan BMW Stadium hosted the most un-engaging match of the week, as heavy rain prevented Shonan Bellmare and Vegalta Sendai from really developing any sort of rhythm on offense. The only goal of the contest was scored just 2 minutes, 2 seconds after kickoff, when Ryo Germain carried the ball forward down the right channel, and continued to penetrate until the approaching goal line left him no exit. At the last second Germain chipped the ball in front of goal . . . . and it's skyrocketing course carried it over everyone, until it dropped just under the crossbar at the far post.

It was about as unlikely a goal as you could imagine, yet it was the only tally on an otherwise slow and slippery evening. Even the contest between Urawa Reds and Yokohama Marinos, which ended scoreless, contained more action and far more visible talent than that displayed by Bellmare and Vegalta.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Hiratsuka (Shonan BMW) Stadium

  0

0 1H 1
0 2H 0

1  

 

 Scoring

Ryo Germain (02')  
Tarik
Kazunari Ono
Cautions Shun Nagasawa

 


 

0 - 0   

The match between Urawa Reds and last year's champion Yokohama Marinos was a real disappointment, with far too much focus on defensive solidity. Both teams got off to a torrid start, with play swinging from end to end for about ten minutes. But thereafter the two teams settled into a rather predictable pattern, trying to craft scoring opportunities with pinpoint passes that never really came off, or long balls into space that seemed to ignore the fact that nobody is in top athletic form, at this point in the season. The visitors seemed to have a very slight edge, but the Reds were well organized on defense, preventing all but a few clear shots on goal. There were certainly opportunities, for both clubs. But in the end, the match petered out in a scoreless stalemate.

Date: 
4 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Saitama Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

 

 Scoring

   
Takuya Iwanami
Takahiro Sekine
Cautions  

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Daiki Hashioka, Thomas Deng, Takuya Iwanami, Ryosuke Yamanaka (Tokoya Ugajin 88'); Tomoki Nagasawa (Martinus 58'), ; Takuya Aoki, Kai Shibato, Yuki Muto; Koya Yuriki (Takahiro Sekine 58'); Shinzo Koroki (Yuki Muto 75'), Kenyu Sugimoto.

 Yuji Kajikawa; , Ryuta Koike, Tomoki Mito (Thiago Martinez 45'), Shinnosuke Hatanaka, Teerathon, Takahiro Ogihara, Takuya Kida, Jun Amano (Edigar Junio 62'), Teruhito Nakagawa (Kota Mizunuma 82'); Erik, Keita Endo (Marcos Junior 62').

 


 

  2 - 0

Full report will be posted shortly

Date: 
4 July, 2018
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Oita "Showaden" Dome

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Tatsuya Tanaka (66')
Tatsuya Tanaka (89') 

 Scoring

   
  Cautions  

 


 

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