July 12, 2020

The Fans Are BACK!

That title says it all. This weekend, the J.League began to allow small crowds to attend league matches. Although most of the teams (both J1 and J2) drew crowds of just 2-5,000, there is an enormous difference between playing in an empty stadium, and playing for the home fans. Efforts to maintain social distancing were in place, and in most cases were rigidly respected. At Kofu's Kose Sports Stadium, fans in the back stands presented a perfect and unbroken checkerboard pattern, with exactly one seat between each fan. At Jubilo Iwata's Yamaha Stadium, a halftime video feed showed a family of four spaced out across eight seats -- the kids in the middle -- and each time the little girl tried to move next to her mother or brother, they would sternly lecture her on the concept of social distancing!.

The crowd had been asked NOT to chant or sing, but to support the team by applauding good plays. It was a bit surreal, with an audio atmosphere that sounded far more like a mid-tier contest in the English Championship rather than a J.League game. But it certainly is a big improvement on empty stadiums.

Anyway, for those of you who were not able to get out to support your local team this week, we have a full roundup of the main match results. Let's start with reports on the Frontale-Reysol and Trinita-Vissel clashes on Saturday, with more to be added after Sunday's action.


 

3 - 1    

Though it has been less than ten days since league play resumed, there are already indications of which teams may vie for the title this season. However, a lot of the early contests have been decided by just one or two incidents, sometimes notably against the run of play, so the general content of each team's performance is probably more instructive than actual won/lost records. Kawasaki Frontale is one team whose ranking in the table does indeed reflect the quality of its performances. After 2-0 victory over Kashima Antlers last weekend, the Blue Dolphins confirmed their status as an early leader by drubbing FC Tokyo by four goals, in the high-profile "Tamagawa Derby" clash Wednesday night. FC Tokyo created more chances than the score line suggests, but they were decidedly the second-best team at Ajinomoto Stadium on Wednesday.

Frontale may struggle to maintain success for the length of the season, since their squad is not that deep and a lot of key players are in their thirties. But they do have one of the most prolific and smoothly operating offensive units in the league - one which has remained largely the same for the past four or five seasons. Both Kashima and Tokyo showed the Frontale attack too much respect -- forming a tight block and trying to deny Frontale penetration space, rather than trying to pressure the ball and keep a high line. This was clearly a mistake, as the well-drilled Blue Dolphins patiently moved the ball around -- sometimes with 30 to 40 touches before launching the final thrust -- and picked their defenses to bits.

Reysol's results have not been quite as flattering, but the content of their play suggests that they could be a contender if coach Nelson Baptista Junior (Nelsinho) is able to find the right balance between veteran and younger players. Part of the problem for the Sun Kings is the fact that one of the team's best attacking weapons, Cristiano, is out with injury, while his likely partner in attacking midfield, Richardson, got sent off in last weekend's contest and thus didnt play on Wednesday. To make matters worse, Olunga was taken off at half time on Saturday, and Richardson had to be stretchered off in the late second half, depleting the Kashiwa attack further.

Frontale have always been a team that finishes off a large percentage of its chances. If you want to beat them, you need to limit those chances. Reysol did a pretty good job of that, keeping the Dolphins offshore for almost the entire first half. But all Frontale needed to break the logjam was one set play opportunity. In the 41st minute, Kawasaki won a corner kick on the right side, and veteran Akihiro Iemoto rose at the far post to put Frontale in front. The Sun Kings were still trying to shake off the sting when a quick trap by Shintaro Kurumaya and Tatsuya Hasegawa, on their left sideline, poked the ball into space near the top of the arc. Finding himself with the ball again, in a familiar spot, Iemoto decided to try the same trick, and this time sent an outside-booter slicing just inside the right post. In just two minutes Reysol's efforts had been entirely undone.

Coach Nelsinho tried to pick the Sun Kings up off the canvas at the break, replacing Michael Olunga, Kengo Kitazume and Tachiro Toshima with Hiromu Mitsumaru, Hayato Nakama and Taisho Goya. But before the changes could have any effect, Leandro Damiao delivered the knockout punch in typical Frontale style, on a corner kick, charging the near post to deflect Yasuto Wakizaka's line-drive delivery past the keeper.

In the 55th minute Reysol restored a bit of pride, as Goya shuffled home a cross from Someya, but this just prompted Kawasaki to close up shop, and turn out the lights to conserve power. The visitors created a few more chances than they had in the first half, but Frontale were always in control. The victory takes the Blue Dolphins temporarily into first place, with most teams playing tomorrow.

Date: 
11 July, 2020
Attendance: 
4,724
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  3

2 1H 0
1 2H 1

1  

Akihiro Ienaga (41')
Akihiro Ienaga (42')
Leandro Damiao (52')

 Scoring

Taisho Goya (62')  
Yasuto Wakazaki
Shintaro Kurumaya
Hidemasa Morita
Cautions Yuta Someya
Yusuke Segawa

Jung Sung-Ryong ; Miki Yamane, Jesiel (Kyohei Noborizato 61'), Shogo Taniguchi, Shintaro Kurumaya; Hidemasa Morita, Hokuto Shimoda; Yasuto Wakizaka (Ryota Oshima 61'), Akihiro Ienaga (Reo Hatate 61'), Tatsuya Hasegawa (Manabu Saito 86'), Leandro Damiao (Taisei Miyashiro 86').

 Kim Seung-Gyu; Kengo Kitazume (Hiromu Mitsumaru 45') Yuta Someya (Yuji Takahashi 64'), Jiro Kamata, Taiyo Koga; Tachiro Toshima (Hayato Nakama 45'), Richardson, Yusuke Segawa; Ataru Esaka, Michael Olunga (Taisho Goya 45'), Yuta Kamiya (Matheus Savio 68').

 


 

  1 - 1

Oita Trinita are the early "surprise package", this year, sitting in fifth place despite being widely tipped to vie with Yokohama FC to be the first relegated. The Terrible Turtles of eastern Kyushu shocked Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday with two goals in the final five minutes, and a thrilling comeback victory. Together with their defeat of Sagan Tosu last week, this offered proof that Trinita are determined to stay up, this year, and hopefully collect even more high-profile scalps. Their Turtles' counterattacking style and fleet-footed wide players can pose a real danger to a team like Vissel Kobe, which overflows with international talent and high-profile players, but tends to be just a bit complacent and slow of foot.

Vissel's opening three contests include a draw with Yokohama FC on opening day, a complete hiding at the hands of Sanfrecce, last week, and a narrow 1-0 victory over Sagan Tosu on Wednesday - certainly not the sort of results that one would expect from a team with championship intentions. On Wednesday evening, Andres Iniesta and Douglas demonstrated the technical brilliance that Kobe's players are capable of (albeit in momentary flashes), with an exchange of sublime one-touch volleys that shredded the Tosu defense like lettuce beneath a weed-whacker. But that lone goal was one of just two or three such chances over the entire 90 minutes - not the sort of efficiency that a team needs if they hope to vie for the J1 championship.

The problem -- as most long-time J.League fans understand -- is that you cannot just go out and "Buy" a successful team, no matter how much money you have to spend. The Urawa Reds surely proved this point at least nine or ten times this past decade, so why would Vissel fans expect any better results? Certainly, a top-calibre finisher or a world-class playmaker can be a valuable addition to a strong, competitive J.League club ... but only if that player can fit into the club's overall football philosophy, and add their own special skills to the mix WITHOUT it detracting from the team's existing strengths.

Over the years we have seen countless "big-name players" sign for a team that was beginning to view themselves as a championship contender, and in all but one or two cases the result was both competitive and financial disaster for the team. Whether it be Dwight Yorke, Bebeto, Hristo Stoichkov, Freddy Ljungberg, Diego Forlan, Fernando Torres or Lucas Podolski, every single effort to "instantaneously" transform a team into a top contender by buying an aging mercenary from overseas has ended in disappointment for everyone involved.

In all fairness, I should give team owner Hiroshi Mikitani credit for what seems like a genuine desire to help his home town and its sports teams. While I may not agree with the approach he has taken, you have to start somewhere, and the raw material he had to work with was pretty limited. The key to turning Vissel (or any second-rate J1 team) into a contender lies in building for the long term. Some of Kobe's more recent acquisitions, such as Daigo Nishi, Gotoku Sakai and perhaps Hotaru Yamaguchi, are likely to have a positive impact over the longer term, by giving young Kobe players a guide and a role model.

Despite my long-held skepticism about the value of aging, formerly-great European players, the signing of Andres Iniesta could also be a positive step for the Crimson . . . but only if he completely buys into the role as a "Club ambassador," who will continue to serve Vissel for years or even decades after his playing career is over, in the same way that Zico has served Kashima, Dragan Stojkovic contributed to Nagoya Grampus, or Carlos Dunga helped build Jubilo during the 1990s. Talented as he may be, Iniesta no longer can beat opponents with his speed, strength and reflexes. Therefore he can only maximize his value if he is fully integrated into an overall team strategy. Based on the first few weeks of the 2020 season, Vissel still plays like eleven separate individuals tossed onto the pitch for a Sunday pick-up league, with no past experience of playing together. No matter how great the individual players might be, they are bound to lose to any opponent that knows how to really play as a team.

The only way to overcome this type of problem, in the SHORT term, is for one or more of the "individual players" to do something spectacular, score a goal, and conjure up victory in the way that Iniesta and Douglas did last Wednesday. . . .

So Kyogo Furuhashi stepped out onto the pitch and immediately did just that. On the first trip up the pitch, Tatsuya Yasui took a speculative shot as he approached the top of the Oita penalty arc, but drove the ball straight into his defender. The ball deflected high in the air, on a looping trajectory in the general direction of Furuhashi. The Vissel sparkplug patiently lined himself up and waited for it to drop, then launched a VOL-e missile into the top right corner. The clock read "00:16".

This did not discourage the Turtles one bit. Kobe was playing a largely Japanese starting lineup, as veteran players were given some rest. But even with younger legs on the pitch, the Crimson Cows simply could not keep up with the fleet-footed Turtles. After a slow start, they began to show the offensive creativity and intensity of play that kept them clear of relegation last year. Applying a full-pitch press, Trinita repeatedly won the ball in dangerous position, then launched multipronged charges at the Kobe goal. The Oita offense is managed brilliantly by two experienced journeymen -- Kei Chinen and Tatsuya Tanaka -- operating out of the two channels and feeding the ball to charging teammates. The Turtles adopt a very "fluid" midfield when on the attack (the formation lines up in a 5-4-1, but when they have the ball any one of seven players can find themselves in the point of attack. This makes it difficult for defenses to anticipate where the thrust will come from.

Oita's superior effort and energy level allowed them to dominate the run of play for most of the first half. Vissel were in an unusual 3-4-3 position, with Hotaru Yamaguchi playing as the centre back, while the front line consisted of Furuhashi, Fujimoto and Junya Tanaka. Though the lineup appeared attack-oriented on paper, the home team had far more genuine scoring chances. In the 29th minute, Tomoki Iwata (nominally a defender) dashed into a passing lane to steal the ball at midfield, then burst down the right channel to collect a return ball from Chinen and slide it past the keeper, leveling the score line and putting Trinita on the front foot as the teams retired for intermission.

As the second half began, Kobe's on-field pace-setter, Furuhashi, tried to spark some intensity from his teammates with intense pressure on the ball and a sequence of blistring runs into attack. The momentum was beginning to shift when, on the hour mark, Fujimoto lashed out a high boot and caught Trinita defender Yuki Kagawa right in the forehead, cleats-first. Kagawa had to be stretchered off with blood pouring from his head, yet Fujimoto escaped without even so much as a caution. When play resumed, a fired-up Trinita squad swarmed at the ball like angry Murder Hornets ( no wait ... that's a different Kyushu-based club, isnt it?) and almost took the lead immediately. Only a fine save by Hiroki Iikura kept the match level, after Tatsuya Tanaka was sent through on goal by a pinpoint Chinen pass.

Desperate to reverse the momentum, coach Thorsten Fink went to the bench, bringing on four substitutes at once -- Douglas, Yutaro Oda, Hirofumi Watanabe and Daiju Sasaki. It was an interesting idea, but it seemed to create disruption and uncertainty in Kobe's play, more than offsetting any boost to the team's energy level. On the other hand, this did take some of the sting out of Trinita's counterattacks, and ensured that both would claim a share of the points. Kobe had one last chance to score, as a Trinita defensive blunder created a rolling counterattack in the 93rd minute. But the inability to finish off the opportunity cost Vissel in the end. A point on the road is not unwelcome, especially when it is secured by the "shadow squad". But if Vissel really want to chase the league crown, theyre going to have to set their sights a bit higher. Oita are in a much better position to put a positive shine on the stalemate.

Date: 
11 July, 2018
Attendance: 
4,263
Location: 
Oita "Showaden" Dome

  1

1 1H 1
0 2H 0

1  

Tomoki Iwata (29')

 Scoring

Kyogo Furuhashi (01')  
  Cautions  

Shun Takagi; Toshio Shimakawa (Ryosuke Maeda 65'), Yuki Kagawa (Kenta Inoue 65'), Ryosuke Tone (Yuto Misao 65'), Yoshinori Suzuki, Tomoki Iwata ; Rei Matsumoto, Tatsuya Tanaka, Kei Chinen (Yuya Takazawa 89'), Yushi Hasegawa; Kazushi Mitsuhira (Daiki Watari 56').

Hiroki Iikura; Ryoho Kikuchi (Hirofumi Watabe 75'), Hotaru Yamaguchi, Reo Oosaki; So Fujitani, Takuya Yasui (Daiki Sasaki 75'), Yuta Goke, Gotoku Sakai; Kyogo Furuhashi, Noriaki Fujimoto (Douglas 75'), Junya Tanaka (Yutaro Oda 75') .

 


  0 - 2  

Cerezo Osaka entered the weekend in first place, as the only team to secure three wins in three attempts. In recent years the Pink Wolves have earned a reputation worldwide for the quality of the attacking midfielders cultivated in Cerezo youth programs. These include international stars such as Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Yoichiro Kakitani and Takumi Minamino. With both Kiyotake and Kakitani back in Southern Osaka, Yuta Toyokawa joining the Cerezo attack after three years in Belgium (Eupen) and new prospects like Tatsuhiro Sakamoto and Jun Nishikawa emerging, Cerezo has more than enough scoring potential to succeed this year.

But if youre looking for reasons why the Pinks were quickest out of the gate, turn your attention to the blossoming back-line partnership between Matej Jonjic and Ayumu Seko. With support from veteran midfield anchor Naoyuki Fujita and wingbacks Yusuke Maruhashi and Riku Matsuda, the Cerezo defense has allowed just a single goal thus far in 2020. Their midweek match against S-Pulse was a good example. Though Cerezo dictated the run of play for most of the contest, their finishing was not quite sharp enough. But every time S-Pulse won possession, the Cerezo defense smothered the ball and quickly regained control. After 70 minutes of play that all ran in the same direction, S-Pulse were utterly disspirited, and the only question was how long they could keep Cerezo from scoring.

Their visitors on Sunday, Nagoya Grampus, posed a sterner test than any team the Pink Wolves have faced thus far. The Red Orcas also came into this match undefeated in 2020, with a win and two draws. Last season Nagoya were a bit too one-dimensional , depending on Joao "Jo" Alves and Gabriel Xavier for a preponderance of their goals. But a look at the overall roster suggests that Grampus could be quite competitive over the length of this marathon season. The team signed several veteran journeymen-type players over the past 12 months, including Yutaka Yoshida, Ryogo Yamazaki, Sho Inagaki, Hiroyuki Abe and Kazuhiko Chiba ... while not losing any truly important contributors. As a result, the Red Whales now have about 25 players with 8-10 years of experience as J1 regulars. The torrid schedule for the next six months is going to tax the stamina of all teams; but those who have two solid players for every position (such as Nagoya) may benefit over the long haul.

Cerezo's early success has been built on goal-scoring, so naturally the first objective for Nagoya was to limit the Pinks' scoring opportunities. Cerezo certainly had the dominant share of possession, but most of it was used in repetitive circulation of the ball, from one sideline to another ... into the corner, pull it back ... center and feed quickly to the opposite wing ... into the corner ... wash ... rinse ... disinfect and repeat.

By contrast, the visitors used their possession cleverly, with lightning counterattacks and runs from Yuki Soma or Mu Kanazaki.

The opening goal came from a set play, as a Grampus corner kick was placed perfectly between the keeper and the defenders, causing a logjam. Matej Jonjic got tangled with his own keeper and bungled the ball into the net. This was a big tactical boost to Nagoya, who could now tighten the defense further, shorten the pitch as much as possible, and launch counterattacks that rumbled down the wings like 18-wheelers on the Tomei Expressway. The developing partnership between veteran wingback Yutaka Yoshida and young Yuki Soma, on the left side, can be truly thrilling to watch. If only Grampus could find a talented, highly efficient finisher to play up top .... ? (^c,^)

As the contest progressed and Cerezo felt the rising urgency to score, Nagoya's counterattacks became more and more dangerous. Hiroaki Okuno did have a blistering shot from long range skid milimetres outside the left post, but most of Cerezo's time on the ball was squandered with an excessively elaborate buildup. Grampus deserve credit for their constant pressure from every direction, with the likes of Soma and Kanazaki making as many challenges as the midfielders. Yoshida and his opposite wingback Shumpei Naruse are showing impressive stamina this season, running up and down the wings all day long, to serve as important contributors at both ends.

The knockout punch was landed in the 61st minute. Cerezo had just completed a substitution aimed at sharpening up the attack, but quickly after restarting play, they lost possession near midfield to a fine steal by Takuji Yonemoto. The former FC Tokyo pitbull fired the ball down the left wing to Soma, and the entire Grampus Pack swam forward into attack as the new Cerezo players scrambled to identify their assignments. Soma centred for Sho Inagaki, who had to pull up and beat a challenge from Lucas Mineiro. But veteran Hiroyuki Abe slanted off Inagaki's right shoulder to provide support, collected the pass and took the ball across the top of the arc. With a sudden sweep of the right boot, Abe drilled a shot low into the right corner, well beyond the reach of Kim Jin-Hyeon.

That was basically all she wrote, as the Red Orcas bunched tightly and chased off every attempt by Cerezo to find a way back into the game. This leaves Nagoya still undefeated, but in fourth place.

Date: 
12 July, 2020
Attendance: 
4,026
Location: 
Nagai (Yanmar) Stadium

  0

1 1H 0
0 2H 1

2  

 

 Scoring

Own Goal (38')
Hiroyuki Abe (61')
 
Lucas Mineiro
Tatsuhiro Sakamoto
Cautions Yuichi Maruyama

 


 

 1 - 1 

In my first article of the season, back in February, I expressed my deep reservations about the prospects for Yokohama FC's first sojourn in the J1 since 2007 ... when the Fulie was a far different team from what it is today. As long-time readers of the Rising Sun News will know, my first and most beloved J.League team was the Yokohama Flugels, who I supported from the J.League's foundation right up to that historic day when they won the Emperor's Cup in the afternoon, and ceased to exist at midnight. For people like myself (and there are still a fair number around), it is almost impossible to separate our feelings toward Yokohama FC from the club on whose ashes it was founded. [for more on the Flugels saga, check out our J.League History section]

When it was first created, Yokohama FC represented the loyalty, pride, and determination of Flugels fans to hang onto something that the J.League stole from them, on false pretences and in violation of the League's own principles. It was the fans who funded, and organized, and turned out every week to support the newly created "Fulie" (the nickname for Yokohama FC which best reflects the loyalties of those who use it). But as we all know . . . football is a business. By the time it rejoined the J.League, in 2001, it was already apparent that the management of Yokohama FC cared more about advertisers, potential investors and "revenue streams " than they did about the fans who created it. Though I never transferred my loyalties to "Fulie", deciding to just move on and treasure the memories, I did follow them with interest right up until their "second resurrection" (the return to J1 in 07). But thereafter, Yokohama FC seemed to completely lose touch with their roots ... at least in this fan's eyes ... and started to pursue a course that ensured stable bottom lines and a lot of publicity, but no real ambition to reward the fans for their years of support.

I won't get into specifics or use individual names, lest people think I intend it as a personal slight on this or that aging star on the FC roster. But if you look at the ages of many Yokohama FC members, it is hard to avoid a sense of foreboding about what could happen if the team puts fame and seniority ahead of ability, when choosing a squad. Anyway ... given my personal history with the Fulie, readers will hopefully excuse me for fearing the worst.

Happily, coach Takahiro Shimotaira has exceeded all my expectations, and fielded his most physically competitive (if not necessarily his youngest) squad possible, in the first few weeks. Players like Daisuke Matsui and Shunsuke Nakamura still possess the guile and ball skills to manufacture a goal or two, if used as timely subs, but Jubilo Iwata's fate last season should tell you all you need to know about their ability to carry a team on their own aging backs.

Instead, Yokohama FC is getting much of its offensive contribution from players like Takaaki Shichi, Kazumi Ichimi, and the latest "New Teen Wonder Boy", Koki Saito. Joking aside, Saito has been slicing through defenses on the dribble in ways that are entirely comparable to the runs of Takefusa Kubo, at FC Tokyo last year. Yokohama started off strongly, controlling possession and moving the ball rapidly from one sideline to another to create space. Saito threaded a weaving pattern through the middle several times, stretching the Sendai defense this way and that, but was unable to burst the seams of a very patient and disciplined Golden Eagles defense. Sendai had a golden opportunity of their own to open the scorecard, on a 21st minute counterattack; but Alexandre Guedes sent his shot straight at the keeper. The only other significant offensive play for Sendai resulted in a collision that sent Yuji Rokutan off on a stretcher.

The constant probing by Saito and Ichimi finally unwravelled the Sendai defense in the 38th minute, thanks to some clever heads-up play by Kosuke Sato, after a foul by Vegalta at the midfield stripe stopped a budding counterattack. The Sendai players were trudging back slowly, expecting Yokohama to set up a careful set-piece. Sato spotted Ichimi, onside but moving towards goal ... and completely unmarked. Sato quickly touched the ball down and lofted a kick for the left post and found the lanky forward cutting through the left channel. Ichimi chested the ball down and pulled a shot across the face of goal that fooled the keeper, and slipped just inside the far post. Yokohama went in at the break with the 1-0 edge .

Sendai came out with renewed vigour after the break, and though Yokohama had quite a few chances themselves, it was the Golden Eagles who claimed the equaliser in the 57th minute, thanks mainly to the physical strength and finishing skill of Alexandre Guedes. The Portuguese point-man chased a long ball down the left channel, and thoroughly outmuscled Yuki Kobayashi to pry the ball away, skip towards goal and fire underneath Yuta Minami (in for the injured Rokutan).

Thereafter the two teams exchanged blows without result, so the honours were shared - the second draw in five weeks for both teams.

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

  1

1 1H 0
0 2H 1

 

Kazunari Ichimi (38')

 Scoring

Alexandre Guedes (57')
  Cautions Shun Nagasawa
Keiya Shiihashi

 


 

   1 - 3    

Last season, the Yokohama Marinos and FC Tokyo dominated the headlines throughout the season, and set the standard for quality from start to finish. The Capital City Coon-dogs raced out to an enormous lead in the first half of the season, only to stall after the departure of Takefumi Kubo for Real Madrid, while the Tricolore Seagulls' second-half dominance eventually reeled in FC Tokyo and carried them to their fourth J.League championship. Both teams remain largely intact from last year (apart from the departure of Kubo at midseason), so it stands to reason that both will be in the title chase this year, as well . . .

In the J.League, however, such assumptions can be risky to make. Certainly, Yokohama head coach Ange Postecoglou will have noted down a multitude of things that the team can improve on, this year, and past history shows that he is not one to rest on the laurels of last season. Likewise, Kenta Hasegawa knows from personal experience how to build title-winning teams in the J.League ... he has done so successfully at both Shimizu and Gamba Osaka. Followimng last year's late collapse, he will surely have done some tinkering to try to avoid similar problems in 2020.

But the rest of the league has changed considerably, making the task far different from last year. For the Marinos, another hurdle lies in the fact that most are now familiar with the "Ange Philosophy" - both its strengths and its weaknesses. Last season the Marinos bubbled like a steaming pot of hot, spicy gumbo, constantly in motion and infectious in the gleeful intensity of their offense. But they were also punished frequently on defense, by teams that patiently sat in a shell waiting for opportunities to counterattack. At the risk of oversimplifying a fairly complex philosophy, Ange likes his team to play the ball out from the back line, to lure opposing midfielders forward and expand the active area of play. This can be risky, especially if the opponent is good at pressuring the ball with quick traps and challenges, but Ange views this as an acceptable risk, if it succeeds in opening up the midfield. If the Marinos attacking unit can build any momentum towards goal, with open greenspace in front of them, players like Marcos Junior, Teruhito Nakagawa, Keita Endo and Co. will produce goals. . .

But as we saw on Wednesday evening, the risk-taking stule can often backfire. In their Kanagawa Derby match, Wednesday, Shonan Bellmare scored twice off counterattacking opportunities that opened up when Marinos defenders got trapped and dispossessed in dangerous positions. Only a late header by newcomer Ado Onaiwu (who will be a valuable addition to the strike force) earned Yokohama all three points. No doubt coach Postecoglou accepts this risk. But just as clearly, the Marinos need to improve their concentration, avoid losing focus or panicking when under pressure, and developing the habit of just kicking balls out of play when caught in a trap, rather than risking a loss of possession and a dangerous counterattack.

The prolific Seagull attack got off to a good start, by by securing a goal after just 3 minutes of play. But thereafter they allowed FC Tokyo to exploit weaknesses and bounce back. Shortly after kickoff, the Marinos made a series of probing passes down the sidelines to test Tokyo's wide defense. A quickly taken free kick was followed up by a quick corner, leaving the Tokyo defense no time to get organized. After the corner was taken short, Kota Mizunuma collected the ball on the right sideline and sized up Ado Onaiwu, posting up at the edge of the six-yard box. Mizunuma sent a cross in for Onaiwu, but a defender on his back prevented Onaiwu from playing it. He let the ball bound through, and Keita Endo swept through the back door to slam it across the line.

But Tokyo quickly fought their way back to level terms. In the 15th minute Kyosuke Tagawa burst through the middle to chase a teasing diagonal pass from Nakagawa on the right wing. Thiago Martinez lunged to intervene, but Tagawa got a touch to the ball before bowling over into the penalty box. Diego Olivieira stroked home his PK and the teams were back on level terms.

Following the equaliser, the two teams settled down to the sort of patient, probing exchanges you might have anticipated between these two teams,and though there were some half-chances at both ends, the score line remained unchanged. But on FC Tokyo's final play of the half, the visitors won a a free kick just outside the box, on the top left corner. Leandro placed the ball perfectly into the top right corner, and the Coon-dogs were in front.

The opening shot of the second half was fired by FC Tokyo, who must have been given a brilliant halftime talk from Coach Hasegawa; they seemed to know exactly the way to hurt Yokohama the most. Tokyo's half-time goal would forced the Marinos to move forward with the ball more aggressively, and open up space in behind. Following Yokohama's first offensive thrust of the half, therefore, the Coon-dogs counterattacked quickly and in numbers. The speedy Kensuke Nagai beat the Marinos offside trap, and as the entire Tricolore structure collapsed, Nagai picked out Leandro on the opposite flank. The former Antlers wing rumbled in for an unopposed drive into the netting.

Thereafter, nothing the Tricolore tried could break down the FC Tokyo defense. The Coon-dogs climbed to midtable, while Marinos stumble to 13th.

Date: 
11 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Yokohama (Nissan) Stadium

  1

1 1H 2
0 2H 1

3  

Keita Endo (04')

 Scoring

Diego Oliveira (17')
Leandro (46')
Leandro (62')
Yuji Kajikawa
Shinnosuke Hatanaka
Ryuta Koike
Cautions Sei Muroya
Yojiro Takahagi

 


 

     0 - 0   

Sagan Tosu and Sanfrecce Hiroshima both suffered losses on Wednesday, and both may feel that they deserved at least a share of the points, if not for a moment's inattention. The Purple Archers Got off to a solid start, scored early, and held a lead for 70 minutes, only collapse in the final five minutes and allow Oita Trinita to score twice. Sagan expected to be the underdogs against Vissel Kobe, but they executed a perfect game plan and might well have been leading if they had finished off their opportunities. But with 15 minutes to go the Magenta Magpies defence failed to fully cover Andres Iniesta at the top of the box, and the former World Champion played a one-touch volley pass borrowed from one of his old highlight reels to shred the defense and set up Vissel's lone goal.

Both teams are still searching for balance, after fairly substantial changes in personnel over the winter, and are trying to eliminate errors and achieve better consistency. In particular, they have been wasting a large percentage of the scoring chances they create. Coach Hiroshi Jofuku has spent the past two season trying to tailor Sanfrecce to his own footballing philosophy, but despite picking up several players who have played for him in the past Yoshifumi Kashiwa, Sho Sasaki and Douglas, for example), he was not able to adopt the sort of 3-6-1 style that he used at Ventforet Kofu or FC Tokyo. This year the emergence of Hayato Araki and Yuki Nogami, as players who can fill the demanding centre-back position, has finally allowed Jofuku to use the 3-6-1 as a default formation. But of course, it will take time for the team to refine their play and fully master the system.

Sagan Tosu is in even greater flux, after two seasons of chaos following the signing of Fernando Torres. The Spanish striker cannot be held personally responsible for this collapse, but following his retirement and the resignation of coach Lluis Carrera, the Magenta magpies have been forced to start all over, from scratch. Since last December there have been 14 departures (including many core contributors) and 13 additions. The new roster looks like it is a step in the right direction, though that direction may be backward. Under coach Kim Myung-Hwi, Sagan seems to be aiming for the sort of football that brought the team its greatest success (under coach Yoon Jung-Hwan back in 2011-14).

One newcomer who is definitely making an impact is veteran Vegalta midfielder and former North Korean national team member Ryan Yong-Gi, who joined Tosu this season after a 15-year career in Sendai. Ryan's playmaking skills are still sharp, as he demonstrated by feeding Thiago Alves and Yohei Toyoda into the box repeatedly. Hiroshima also constructed a lot of dangerous scoring opportunities, but neither had the sharpness to capitalize, and find te back of the net. The contest ended in a scoreless draw, albeit one that was not nearly as sterile as Consadole-Bellmare snoozefest.

Date: 
12 July, 2020
Attendance: 
--
Location: 
Tosu (Ekimae) Stadium

  0

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

 

 Scoring

 
  Cautions Ryu Nagai

 


 

1 - 0   

The Kashima Antlers are off to one of their worst starts ever, this year, with three straight losses and a lock on last place. But if you look at the team's general level of play, and consider the dearth of experience in the squad, a slow start is not at all surprising. Incoming coach Zago is tasked with completely rebuilding a squad that has been gutted by wealthy overseas clubs, responding to Kashima's impressive second-place finish in the 2017 Club World Cup (and a subsequent ACL title in 2018). Since then, center backs Gen Shoji and Naomichi Ueda were acquired by Toulouse and Cercle Brugge, respectively; midfield general Gaku Shibasaki moved to Spain (Tenerife, Getafe and now Deportivo), teenage winger Hiroki Abe joined Barcelona (and currently plays at Barca B), Koki Anzai moved to Portimonense, and Yuma Suzuki joined St. Trueden. Veterans Daigo Nishi and Mu Kanazaki were sold to other J.League clubs, leaving only Yasushi Endo, Kento Misao and the two goalkeepers as veterans of the 2017-18 title years.

But by far the biggest loss the Antlers have suffered in the two years since their peak was the retirement of Mitsuo Ogasawara, who spent all but six months of his 21-year career as the Chief Officer in the Antlers' engine room. The loss of leadership and experience associated with his departure from the squad is almost impossible to measure. Over his two decades at Kashima, Ogasawara contributed to seven J.League titles, six league cup titles, five Emperor's Cups, four Xerox Cup trophies, two Asian Cups with the national team, and an ACL crown. Add in a league MVP trophy and six years in the J.League's Best Eleven, and it goes without saying . . . the guy knew how to win.

While Kento Misao is an impressive all-round player and field general, very much in the Ogasawara mold, the 23-year-old has some enormous boots to fill as the team's on-field leader. You can't expect him to manage a contest, or organize his teammates, with the effectiveness of the league's "most decorated champion ever." To make matters worse, Misao is one of the most experienced Japanese players left. The roster this year is chock full of players with solid capabilities but only a year or two of experience. It is no surprise, then, that the Antlers got out of the gate slowly. But based on the underlying level of play against what has been a tough sequence of opponents (apart from the match in February), there is no reason for Antlers fans to panic yet.

The Urawa Reds, meanwhile, are about to confront their own generational problems, as the Petrovic-era stars like Tomoaki Makino, Yosuke Kashiwagi and Shinzo Koroki near the end of their careers. With only a handful of exceptions (like Kai Shibato and Takahiro Sekine), the Reds roster comprises players in their thirties, who have enjoyed a lot of fame but almost no silverware. Since the coaching duties are still held by Tsuyoshi Otsuki -- a long-time Reds front-office flack who epitomizes the sort of "Old-boy network" mentality that has prevailed in Urawa over the past decade -- there is little chance of a major shakeup in personnel, or philosophy. But this year probably represents the last chance that the Reds "Glitterati Generation" will have to win a title.

The rivalry between the Reds and Antlers is probably the most intense of any in Japan. During the league's formative era, there was no "home" team in Tokyo, so a number of clubs from around Tokyo wrangled for the loyalties of newborn football fans. Kashima played many "home" games at Tokyo's National Stadium, as did the Reds, and they quickly became two of the three most popular clubs in the Capital City (Number one being Verdy Kawasaki). On the three or four occasions that Japan's most historic stadium hosted a Reds-Antlers match, the atmosphere tuly rivalled something from Schalke/Dortmund, with roaring anthems in the air and flags waving everywhere. To say that the two teams despise one another is understatement in extremis. So the largely veteran unit that Urawa sent out to greet the Saitama Red Army on Sunday evening had no mercy for their traditional foes, no matter how young and naieve the players wearing those hated Antler uniforms.

On balance, the Antlers performed quite well, but as has been true since the start of the year, the just dont have the team cohesion to finish off the chances they create. And while the defense is improving steadily, all it takes is one momentary lapse in focus for a clever opponent to stick in the knife. From start to finish, this was a hard-knocks / no-mercy affair, but any disparity between the two clubs in poise, intensity or skill was not noticable. Those who look at the Antlers' four-match losing streak and panic need to watch the second half of this contest, as a group of mainly first-third year players held their tempers and continued to just patiently turn the screws on attack, despite some five-star grassrolling by the Reds. Eventually, they are going to start winning. And when they do, the narrow-misses that abounded in this contest will become goals and assists.

When the Reds finally did manage to break the deadlock, seven minutes after imntermission, it was not surprisingly a set play ... and it was won on a very questionable call after Shinzo Koroki tried to run through three Antlers players lined up just beyond the edge of the area. Not surprisngly, he fell over. A bit more incongruously, the ref awarded a free kick.

The set play was well taken, though -- knocked down at the far post and then shuffled into the middle for Everton to drive into the back strings.

As noted above, the Antlers spent the rest of the contest patently trying to create an equaliser, with their efforts broken only by a rare few Urawa counterattacks. None of their efforts came off, against a very experienced Reds defense, but they did create the sort of steady stream of opportunities that one expects from a Kashima Antlers team. 

The Reds preserved their advantage, and claimed the victory, moving level with Kawasaki Frontale on points.

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

  1

1 1H 0
1 2H 0

0  

Ewerton (52')

 Scoring

   
Ewerton
Kai Shibato
Takahuiro Sekine
Takuya Iwanami
Cautions Ryota Nagaki
Koki Machida

 


 

  1 - 2

At beautiful Nihondaira Stadium, where the shadow of Fuji-san loomed under a fair sky, Gamba Osaka used their experience, guile and precision to snatch a narrow victory over Shimizu S-Pulse. S-Pulse's best chance of the first half came around the 30-minute mark, after Genta Miura was suckered into a lunging challenge at the edge of the box. But Carlinhos Junior drove his kick just inches over the crossbar.

In the 39th minute Gamba got their biggest chance of the half - a rolling counterattack led by Takashi Usami and Ademilson, then finished off by Kosuke Onose, rumbling through the middle to finish off the play. This gave the Naniwa Nerazzuri a big boost going into the locker room..

Shortly after the restart, Gamba keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi preserved his team's lead with a spectacular save, dashing off his line to snuff out a conterattack by snatching the ball off the boots of Carlinhos. Thereafter, though, it was mainly a Gamba show. The experienced attacking unit of Kurata, Ideguchi, Ademilson and Usami sketched up and implemented one play after another to probe and tire the Wingheads' defense. But Gamba took too much time to finish off their opponent, and by the 80th minute the Wingheads seemed to sniff a chance to snatch a point or three. With five minutes remaining, S-Pulse won a free kick on the left sideline, and the ball was quickly recycled to Keita Nakamura, sweeping around the left flank. nakamura launched a high, spinning drive for the far post, where defender Yugo Tatsuta was lurking. The U-23 national team prospect soared over everyone elsein front of goal, and thundered his header past Higashiguchi.

But Gamba bounced off the canvas and landed a haymaker of their own. With two minutes left to play Kazuma Watanabe snagged a loose pass deep in his own end, and took off on a ramble upfield. He fed it on to Patric, isolated one on one, forcing Tatsuta to foul the Brazilian deliberately, about 30 yards out from goal. Sevearl S-Pulse players grabbed at their calves, and the bench tried to line up some substitutes at the official's table. But Gamba insisted on taking the kick before the names could be registered -- a clever move, as it turns out. Hiroki Fujiharu quickly carried the ball to the end line, then dropped it back to the top of the penalty box for Kazuma Watanabe. Watanabe danced across the top of the penalty arc, then swept a right-footed shot back against the grain, and into the low left corner.

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

  1

0 1H 1
1 2H 1

2  

Yugo Tatsuta (84')

 Scoring

Kosuke Onose (39')
Kazama Watanabe (89')
 
Yugo Tatsuta Cautions Genta Miura

 


 

0 - 0 

Last, and most certainly least, Shonan and Sapporo played out a scoreless draw. Jay Bothroyd sent a screamer off the left post in the first half, but that was the closest either team came to scoring.

 

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

  0

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

 

 Scoring

   
Kazunari Ono Cautions  

 


 

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