August 16, 2020

Kawasaki Revs its Engines

The J.League was the topic of numerous "headline news"-type stories, this week, ranging from the fountain of bombast that accompanied Kazu Miura's appearance in a Levain Cup match to the truly disturbing revelation that Sagan Tosu's entire coaching staff, along with several players, tested positive for Coronavirus. While there are valid reasons to question whether the 53-year-old striker really adds anything to the team in terms of on-field contributions, there is no denying the scale of this accomplishment. Of course, the folks at Guinness probably will not update their entries until he appears in a regular league contest (no doubt that will happen SOME time this year), but even so, King Kazu's participation in a top-flight professional contest broke the existing J.League record for "oldest professional player"by more than a decade.

Kazu is in remarkable shape for a 53-year-old, but it goes without saying that he lacks the speed and reaction time to truly perform WELL at this level. He does still have a very good passing touch, and excellent tactical vision, but it can be almost painful watching him try to defend a nimble opponent, or try to dribble past a defender. Hopefully, Yokohama FC's promotion to the J1 this season will allow Kazu to set a longevity record that will never be matched . . . but one also hopes that this achievement will allow King Kazu to abdicate the throne at last.

The truly big news, this week, involved players and coaches at Sagan Tosu. It appears that head coach Kim Myung-Hwi contracted the virus first, and by the time he was diagnosed with a positive PCR test, he had passed the disease on to at least three other coaches and six players. Since Covid-19 has an incubation period of 10-14 days, making it impossible to tell whether or not more players have contracted the coronavirus, the entire team will have to quarantine until around the end of August. More importantly, if any players or staff from other clubs came into contact with the sick Sagan players, the outbreak could spread further and threaten the J.League's plans for the entire season.

In announcing the postponement of Sagan Tosu's next three matches, J.League chairman Mitsuru Murai offered a glimpse of just how serious the Sagan situation might become. "The postponement of [two weeks worth of] matches is based on the time period for quarantine established by the Government [Ministry of Health & Welfare]. But these guidelines say "a minimum of" [two weeks], so there may be additional match cancellations." In response to a journalist's question, the Chairman indicated that rescheduling even just three matches will be "problematic", but he refused to speculate on whether a team like Tosu could be disqualified altogether. He did, however, make it clear that the League expects its teams and players to set an example for the public, and take steps to ensure that they do not contract or pass on the virus.

"I deeply apologise to all the fans and supporters, who will not be able to enjoy the matches [that were postponed]. When a J.League club allows this sort of cluster infection to happen, it creates concern, uncertainty and unnecessary risk not only for people in the team's home town, but for many throughout Japan. I can only express my deepest regrets. . . We take this very seriously, and view it not a just a problem for the club [Sagan Tosu], but for the entire League. Naturally we are going to have to revise our official guidelines, but the thing is, preventing further spread of the virus has to be our number one priority. We intend to put various new plans in place, and leave no stone unturned in trying to prevent further spread of the virus."

  Postponed 

Though some readers might view these comments as unnecessarily strident, it is not hard to understand the reasons for Mr. Murai's concern. With an average of 1.5 matches a week scheduled, for the entire period from now until the end of the season, it will be extremely difficult to reschedule the three Sagan Tosu games that have already been postponed. If any more fixtures have to be delayed, Sagan may be forced to forfeit one or more contests, which would not only complicate Tosu's effort to avoid relegation, but also could affect the title chase, depending on which matches are abandoned. If there are further outbreaks at other clubs, the entire campaign could be thrown into disarray.

For the time being, Kawasaki Frontale is outpacing all competition, thanks in part to the squad's depth and balance. Most of the other top candidates for J1 champion -- particularly the Marinos, Vissel and Sanfrecce -- have stumbled out of the starting gate, allowing the Blue Dolphins to build a six-point lead over second-place Gamba Osaka and a ten-or-more point edge over the other preseason favourites. As long-time J.League fans understand, early leads have historically been difficult to maintain. Last year FC Tokyo's early performance was even more dominant than Frontale's has been this year, yet the Coon-dogs were eventually overtaken by Yokohama. With Japan entering the hottest, most humid and physically draining months of August and September, it will be interesting to see whether Frontale can maintain their torrid pace,which saw them drop only two points from their first nine matches.


 

1 - 6

First-place Kawasaki Frontale traveled to Hokkaido on Saturday, to take on Consadole Sapporo in the afternoon match, knowing that a victory would extend their lead to nine points ... at least for a few hours. Both squads have good depth, though Consadole is still trying to find their form, especially on defense. The Snow Owls have an abundance of talent in attack (though there are strong rumours suggesting that striker Musashi Suzuki may move to Belgium later this month), but the back three has yet to fully adapt to the Petrovic 3-6-1 philosophy, as indicated by their 15 goals allowed - only three teams have conceded more. The Blue Dolphins of Kanagawa, as noted above, have a very deep and well-balanced roster which has allowed coach Toru Oniki to rotate players and keep most of the squad fresh.

Over the opening 20 minutes or so Frontale adopted a cautious stance, allowing the hosts to control possession in their own end, and only pressing the ball as it moved into the attacking zone. History has shown that this tactic can be effective against the "Petrovic 3-6-1", which is often susceptible to counterattacks. But Consadole flooded the midfield and did a good job of pressuring or fouling Frontale players every time they won possession, and minimizing Frontale's offensive opportunities. While the Snow Owls were not able to put any shots on net against Frontale's tight defense, they controlled the dominant share of possession for the opening half hour.

However, the efficiency that Frontale have displayed throughout the campaign was on display again in the 35th minute, when the Blue Dolphins won a free kick on the right side of the box, about 30 meters out. Reo Hatate looped in a perfect cross for Shintaro Kurumaya at the far post, who headed it back into the right side netting, giving Frontale the lead with their very first shot on target. Chanathip Songkran nearly levelled things just two minutes later, but his drive from the top of the penalty arc bounded back off the crossbar.

As they have done repeatedly, this season, Frontale piocked up the intensity as soon as they moved into the lead, pressing the ball vigorously, and gradually claiming the advantage in time of possession, as half time approached. Both Kurumaya and Leandro Damiao had chances to extend the advantage during this ten-minute stretch, but Consadole was able to keep the deficit to 1-0 at the break.

Consadole introduced Jay Bothroyd as a substitute for the second half, looking to create the equaliser, but Frontale stepped up the pressure on the ball and almost immediately extended their lead on the counterattack. Miki Yamane stepped into the passing lane at midfield to start Frontale's break, and as he surged through the middle he spotted Kaoru Mitoma -- also a halftime sub -- accelerating towards the Sapporo box. Mitoma collected Yamane's pass in full stride, and fired a shot into the low left corner to extend Frontale's lead to 2-0. Five minutes later Frontale landed the knockout punch, as an exchange of one-touch passes between Mitoma, Hatate and Leandro Damiao shredded the Consadole defense, with Leandro poking home the final ball from point-blank range.

The floodgates were now open, and Frontale poured the punishment on Consadole's flustered defense. In the 53rd minute another counterattack raced the length of the pitch, Hatate pulling the ball back to Mitoma at the penalty spot for an easy finish.

Despite the growing deficit Consadole refused to stop throwing men into attack. They created several good chances, but Jung Sung-Ryong made two excellent saves to deny Jay Bothroyd's short-range shots. At the other end, Mitoma nearly claimed his hat trick with a chip across the face of goal, but it floated just wide of the post.

Bothroyd eventually did manage to beat Jung, and open the scoring for Sapporo, in the 79th minute. Chanathip played a lovely one-touch pass behind the Frontale defence, and Jay chested it down, measured the keeper, then drove his shot into the low left corner. For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope and a rumble of encouragement from the crowd as Consadole pressured the Frontale net. But Coach Oniki made a judicious substitution, replacing Leandro Damiao with Manabu Saito, shifting to a 4-3-2-0 formation and adopting a more defensive stance. Sapporo's revival was snuffed out completely in the 87th minute, when a long booming kick from the keeper was collected by Yu Kobayashi. The veteran striker bulled between two defenders and fired a shot into the right side netting. Just to rub it in, Kobayashi scored again on the final play of the match, rumbling down the left channel to put the final flourish on the scorecard.

Date: 
15 August, 2018
Attendance: 
4,601
Location: 
Sapporo Dome

   1

0 1H 1
1 2H 5

6   

Jay Bothroyd (78')

 Scoring

Shintaro Kurumaya (35')
Kaoru Mitoma (50')
Leandro Damiao (60')
Kaoru Mitoma (63')
Yu Kobayashi (86')
Yu Kobayashi (90+5')
Kazuki Fukai
Takuma Arano
Cautions Leandro Damiao

 


 

  0 - 0

Vegalta Sendai and Shimizu S-Pulse entered this week in the bottom third of the table, with similarly disappointing records. Although neither of these teams was viewed as a potential title contender, both also were hoping that last year marked the end of their relegation battles. However, despite finishing eleventh and twelfth respectively, in 2019, the two teams both depended heavily on their starting eleven last season. This year, the punishing schedule makes it impossible to send the same starting eleven out, week after week. Other relegation candidates - particularly current strugglers like Yokohama FC and Shonan Bellmare - appear to have greater talent in their second string. It will be interesting to see whether this has an impact over the long haul.

It is impossible to determine how much impact fatigue had on this contest, but in the end, neither team had the extra "oomph" to break down the opposing defense. S-Pulse had some excellent chances to score, particularly down the stretch in the second half. But some fine saves by Jakub Slowik turned away all the danger, and the contest ended 0-0.

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,718
Location: 
Sendai (Yuasa) Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

 

 Scoring

 
Takuma Hamasaki
Takahiro Yanagi
Cautions Yuto Suzuki

 


 

4 - 2  

Yokohama FC and Shonan Bellmare met head-to-head on Saturday in a critical early encounter of relegation candidates. Sagan Tosu's recent struggles with the Coronavirus put them at the front of the queue for a ride down the escalator, so the three points on offer this weekend could be a critical advantage for the winner. Yokohama FC started the season brightly, and the underlying content of their play has remained encouraging despite a run of losses. The main problem has been a lack of goalscoring. This week they wasted no time in getting off the mark. Just three minutes after kickoff, Kazunari Ichimi chested a ball down on the right side of the box, and dribbled to the end line. Though he appeared to be painted into a corner, at the last second he managed to flick the ball back and prevent it from crossing the line. The ball rolled softly out to Matsuura, who immediately wheeled and drilled a shot inside the near post.

Bellmare tried to respond, but tight defensive pressure by the Fulie prevented Shonan from getting crosses in to their target men Naoki Ishihara and Hiroshi Ibusuki. In the 13th minute a quick counterattacking pass sent Matsuo off on a gallop from midfield. The rookie midfielder shifted into fifth gear and pulled away from Bellmare's last two defenders, rounded the keeper, and tucked the ball into the net. Just a minute later another counterattack - this time led by Matsuura - exploded through the middle, and as Matsuura tried to pick out Matsuo in the opposite channel, his delivery slammed into the arm of Bellmare's Takuya Okamoto. Kazunari Ichimi drilled the spot kick and Yokohama had a three-goal cushion just 17 minutes into the contest.

The show was not over yet. In the 20th minute Yokohama again made a steal in midfield, counterattacked through the middle, and Matsuo once again popped up in the left channel to finish off the play with a drive into the roof of the net.

Bellmare reclaimed a bit of dignity in the second half, as Naoki Ishihara and Okamoto added their names to the scoresheet. But by the time Bellmare cut the deficit to 4-2, coach Shimotaira had already brought on all the defensive subs to put the contest on ice. The victory lifts Yokohama FC out of the relegation zone, at the expense of Sagan Tosu.

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,938
Location: 
Mitsuzawa (NGKSpring) Stadium

  4

4 1H 0
0 2H 2

2  

Takuya Matsuura (03')
Yusuke Matsuo (15')
Kazunari Ichimi (17')
Yusuke Matsuo (20')

 Scoring

Naoki Ishihara (64')
Takuya Okamoto (76')
Yuji Rokutan Cautions Naoki Ishihara

 


 

  1 - 0  

The defending champion Yokohama F.Marinos are off to a sluggish start in their title defense ... currently lying in 11th place. This is despite strong preseason prospects and arguably the largest collection of talent in the League. Apparently, coach Ange Postecoglou is still not satisfied with all the current options, however, because Yokohama recently signed Daizen Maeda, who spent the last chaotic and stressful six months in Portugal. Following that league's abbreviated season, F.Marinos reached terms with Maritimo (a serendipitous pair of monikers, no doubt), and Daizen made his first start for his new club on Saturday evening.

Maeda's speed on the wing, and power in the air will be valuable additions to the R.Marinos attack, but their struggles in the past month or so reflect something more fundamental than the skills of individual players. This year, opposing coaches have had time to study Coach Postecoglou's philosophy and adjust their own tactics accordingly. In particular, teams like Oita have learned the dangers of trying to press the ball in Yokohama's half of the pitch. F.Marinos like to launch attacks over 60 or 70 meters, where the increased space and the foot-speed of FMarinos players can be exploited. But if an opponent sits back in their own half ad refuses to be drawn out, F.Marinos have to adopt different tactics. Oita did press the ball occasionally, in this match, but in general they let Yokohama carry the ball to midfield before tightening up their marks.

The result was that F.Marinos had no memorable chances to counterattack in the opening half whereas Oita had a half-dozen chances to attack quickly in numbers. F.Marinos dominated possession, and did create shots by working the ball painstakingly through the Turtles' defensive shell. But this was nothing like the high-paced end-to-end football that carried F.Marinos to a title in 2019.

The other half of Ange's game plan involves a full-pitch ball press, applied very suddenly, at certain times throughout the match. For a "lesser" team like Oita, it is fairly easy to address this aspect, by simply launching the ball downfield as soon as you win possession. While they gave away a lot of possession, as a result, Oita did a good job to avoid getting caught in possession, by the pressing of the away team.

This quick-release of the ball as soon as Yokohama begins to press also proved to be the key to victory in this contest. In the 67th minute Oita launched a quick ball into space. there was a break away behind the defense and Tatsuya Tanaka finished with aplomb.

Yokohama threw on attacking substitutes and did all they could to break down the stubborn Oita defense, but with a goal advantage the Turtles withdrew into their shell and never let F.Marinos get another peek at net. The loss drops the defending champion into 11th place.

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
4,311
Location: 
Oita (Showaden) Dome

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Tatsuya Tanaka (68')

 Scoring

 
Yuki Kagawa Cautions  

 


 

   1 - 3  

The marquee match on Saturday pit the Pink Wolves of Osaka against the Sun-Kings, Kashiwa Reysol. Both teams are in the pack that trails behind Frontale, but both have shown signs of budding potential. Reysol, in particular, are riding on the shoulders of their newest goal-getter, Michael Olunga. Olunga has scored ten goals in nine matches this season, and largely dispelled any questions about how Reysol would generate offense in the continued absence of last year's spark plug, Cristiano. Olunga is the prime beneficiary of a very talented Kashiwa midfield. Hidekazu Otani, Ataru Esaka, Yusuke Segawa, Yuta Kamiya and others vibrate with creative energy, and provide a steady stream of balls in to the big man. But the Kenyan's efficiency and poaching instincts have been so impressive in the early running that some think the 26-year-old's time in Japan is limited.

However, it was not Olunga but Cerezo's Bruno Mendes who was the first off the mark, collecting a long pass in to space, exchanging passes with Hiroshi Kiyotake at the top of the box and then driving a shot into the low left corner. Cerezo has followed a less flashy path to success this season. They have conceded just five goals - the fewest in the league. While they have lacked a scoring punch (only nine goals in nine matches), the Pink Wolves have been climbing the table with a steady string of clean sheets.

Cerezo's overall squad depth falls a bit short of that enjoyed by top-rated teams like Frontale, Marinos, FC Tokyo or Vissel, but coach Lotina has done a very god job of spreading the burden, particularly on his older players, by using substitutes judiciously and using key players like Hiroshi Kiyotake, Yoichiro Kakitani, Yusuke Maruhashi and Bruno Mendes no more than 50 or 60 minutes per match. The average age of Cerezo's core squad is also a concern, but so far the Pink Wolf-pack has shown few of the fatigue-related problems that clubs like Vegalta and S-Pulse are experiencing. Only time will tell whether they can maintain this form for the full campaign.

Following the opening goal, Reysol stepped up the intensity a notch, and proceeded to dominate possession for the rest of the half [and indeed, most of the contest]. But Cerezo was quite content to sit back on defense and look to exploit the occasional counterattacking opportunity. This dynamic is something new for Cerezo, who have long been viewed as a wide open, offense-oriented club. This season the Wolfpack has adopted a conservative, error-avoiding philosophy that most J.League fans associate more with their local rivals Gamba, or even Kashima Antlers, rather than Cerezo. So far it has been effective, and it certainly was successful at keeping the dynamic Reysol offense at bay.

Reysol came out in the second half with even more urgency on attack, and they dominated the early run of play. But ten minutes after the restart this intensity backfired when a clumsy foul about 30 meters out awarded Cerezo a free kick, and Koji Suzuki's high lob in front of goal was headed into his own net by Reysol defender Taiyo Koga. Now that they had a two-goal cushion, Cerezo increased their focus on defense, and kept Reysol at bay until the closing minutes of the contest. With four minutes on the clock, a long clearance by Kakitani sent Jun Nishikawa off on a one-on-one dash into the Reysol box. Nishikawa reached the bounding ball a step ahead of the out-rushing Kosuke Nakamura, and lobbed it over his head and into the back of the net.

Cerezo could not keep the prolific Olunga off the scoreboard entirely. With just seconds to go in regulation time, the big Kenyan managed to pressure keeper Kim Jin-Hyeon into a weak clearance, snapped up the loose ball, and tucked it into the net. This extended Olunga's remarkable scoring tally, but was far too late to change the dynamic of this contest. Cerezo secured the victory and advanced to second place in the league table, bypassing local rivals Gamba, whose 10th-round fixture against Sagan was postponed.

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,603
Location: 
Kashiwa (Sankyo Frontier) Stadium

  1

0 1H 1
1 2H 2

Michael Olunga (88')

 Scoring

Bruno Mendes (05')
Own Goal (55')
Jun Nishikawa (87')
Yuji Takahashi
Shunki Takahashi
Cautions Hiroaki Okuno

 


 

1 - 0  

The grudge match between Urawa Reds and Sanfrecce Hiroshima was a bit disappointing. Over the years these two teams have often nullified one another and played out uneventful scoreless draws, but this time a poor officiating call just five minutes after kickoff dictated the entire course of the match.

In the fourth minute of play, as the two teams were starting to find their rhythm, Koya Yuriki made a foray down the left flank, and tried to beat Rhayner around the corner for a shot on goal. Rhayner slid in to try to cut him off, but seeing that the ball was headed for the end line, he pulled back without touching either ball or opponent. Yuriki flopped heavily, and completely duped Mr Iida into awarding a spot kick.

For the remaining 85 minutes the Reds seemed to sit back in a shell, defending the lead and only counterattacking when there was a clear opportunity. Though Sanfrecce controlled the vast majority of the contest, they could not break down the disciplined Red Wall, and the contest ended with the score still 1-0

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
4,287
Location: 
Saitama Stadium

  1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Leonardo (05')

 Scoring

 
Tomoya Ugajin
Tomoaki Makino
Cautions Shun Kawabe

 


 

  1 - 0 

After last season's disappointing finish to the season, FC Tokyo fans were hoping that the Coon-dogs might make another bid for their first-ever league title ... but despite a wealth of talent and an abundance of experience, the Capital City club has not been able to find a run of form. They entered this week in seventh place, having dropped points in each of their last four matches. If this were not enough bad news, the team also bid farewell to Japan international wing back Sei Muroya, who signed a deal with Hanover last week and will be off to Germany next week for a physical, and a formal contract signing. Despite FC Tokyo's depth, the loss of another international-caliber player is bound to hurt the team's chances for silverware this season.

Muroya closed out his career with the Tanuki in style, triggering a counterattack that produced this contest's only goal. After making a steal at midfield, and exchanging passes with Shuto Abe, Muroya fed Yojiro Takahagi on a run into the box. Takahagi dished the ball off to Kensuke Nagai, who was posting up a few steps inside the Nagoya penalty area. Nagai's one-touch pass to Leandro found the Brazilian striker unmarked on the left side of the box, and Leandro's shot just eluded Mitch Langerak's fingertips, and clipped the right post as it bounded into the net.

Despite this early tally, it was the Red Whales of Nagoya who controlled the run of play for most of the contest. The Coon-dogs were quite happy to sit back on defense and look for quick counterattacks, exploiting the speed of Adailton and Nagai. Though there were half-chances at both ends, it was Nagoya who created the better chances, until late in the second half when Shumpei Naruse clumsily submarined Leandro, deep in the Tokyo half. Naruse was already playing with a yellow card, and an accumulation of Grampus infractions had already tried the patience of Mr. Yusuke Araki. The Man in Black reached into his breast pocket and gave Naruse his marching orders.

Deep in injury time, FC Tokyo had a chance to add to their tally when Daichi Hara counterattacked two-on-two, and dumped the ball off to Adailton, on the edge of the box. Ryotaro Ishida tried to make a sliding intervention and prevent a shot, but handled the ball as he slid past the Tokyo striker. Adailton sent the resulting PK straight down the middle, and Mitch Langerak was not fooled, deflecting it away with his feet. That was the final play of the match, however, and FC Tokyo took the full three points.

Date: 
15 August, 2020
Attendance: 
0,xxx
Location: 
Tokyo Ajinomoto Stadium

  1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

Leandro (33')

 Scoring

 
  Cautions Shumpei Naruse
Shumpei Naruse
Mitch Langerak
  Sent off Shumpei Naruse

 


 

 2 - 2 

Vissel Kobe closed out the weekend with a Sunday evening clash against Kashima Antlers. As we have discussed in several reports, this season, the Antlers knew before the season started that this would be a "rebuilding year" - the only question was how long it would take for the youthful and relatively inexperienced Kashima squad to find their feet against J1 competition. over the past two or three weeks, there have been signs of improvement. It is too early to tell whether the young bucks have truly turned the corner, but at least they have banished the talk of a possible relegation scrap, which some panicked pundits proposed as a possibility following the team's slow start.

Vissel Kobe, on the other hand, came into the season with genuine expectations of a possible title run. This was based in part on the team's Emperor's Cup victory over these same Antlers, eight months ago. However, Kashima's performance in the first few months of this season - not to mention the fact that the Kashima defense created both of Kobe's goals in that contest - has taken some of the shine off Kobe's first trophy. Their performance in the opening nine weeks of this season exposes the same weakness that we have noted in each of the past two seasons: There is an abundance of individual talent in the Vissel squad, but the team hardly ever manages to perform on a level that matches the sum of the parts. Thorsten Fink had to take over in midseason, last year, so blame for the Crimson Cows' eighth-place finish could not be laid directly on the German gaffer. But unless he can find some way to bring this collection of rich&famous ronin together into a more coherent corps, it might be time for team owner Hiroshi Mikitani to start looking domestically for a proven head coach, who can knock egos down a few pegs and instill some discipline and organization.

Although this writer has had reservations about Vissel for years, we actually thought that Kobe might perform well this year, since the sheer number of first-calibre players would allow coach Fink to rotate between two entire squads, each talented enough to perform at the J1 level. Unfortunately, a look at the matchday squads suggests that there has not been enough logic and strategy in Vissel's rotation of personnel. Though Kobe has avoided the sort of fatigue problems that are starting to appear at clubs like S-Pulse, Vegalta and Grampus, there has not been any visible improvement in the efficiency of team play. The Crimson Cows continue to play like eleven entirely separate and disconnected individuals - a problem that will be very familiar to Urawa Reds fans.

The Antlers opened with some tight pressure on the ball, trying to set a high tempo and limit the time Kobe's playmakers, particularly Iniesta and Hotaru Yamaguchi, had to pick out targets. Though most of the Antlers back line is a bit inexperienced, this week rookie Ikuma Sekigawa started alongside Koki Machida, adding another tall strapping body to the already imposing (but seriously inexperienced) Antlers back line. Vissel's experience and technical prowess began to show as the first half progressed, in a rising share of possession and scoring opportunities. In the 19th minute they opened the scoring on a corner kick from Andres Iniesta. The Spaniard's delivery to the near post was headed on to Reo Osaki on the right side of goal, Osaki headed it back into the center, for Dankler to volley into the strings.

The Crimson Cows controlled much of the ball over the next 15 to 20 minutes, but Kashima gradually recovered their focus and stepped up the intensity as the half hour mark passed. In the 37th minute their efforts paid off, as Rikuto Hirose rounded the right corner on the overlap, and looped a cross for Everaldo at the edge of the six-yard box. Everaldo did his best Air Jordan imitation, hanging in the air as the cross came in, then heading back into the right side netting.

Now it was Vissel's turn to dial up the intensity. Over the next five minutes they controlled the bulk of possession and got off a few long-distance drives on net, but Kashima tightened up their defending and began to launch counterattacks with increasing frequency as the half ticked to conclusion.

As the second half opened, the Antlers enjoyed a sustained period of possession, and had two early chances including what looked like a hand ball infraction by Kobe defender Thomas Vermalen. But the Crimson survived this early surge and began using their superior individual ball skills to consciously seek out corner kicks and fouls, for the set play opportunities. In the 61st minute, immediately after one such free kick, Gotoku Sakai picked out Yuta Goke at the top of the penalty arc, in a little pocket of space. Goke spun quickly and pulled his shot into the low left corner, just eluding the fingertips of rookie keeper Taiki Yamada.

The Antlers responded with a four-man substitution, beefing up the attack and assuming a looser, 4-3-3 alignment. The adjustment immediately had an impact, as Kashima began winning almost every loose ball in midfield. After a couple scrambles in the Kobe penalty area, the Antlers seemed to be wearing down Kobe's veterans and perhaps were on the verge of an equaliser. By the 80th minute coach Fink had seen enough, and removed Iniesta to bolster the defense. This merely ceded the initiative to the Antlers. The next ten minutes were essentially one-way traffic towards the Kobe goal, but the Kashima players couldnt quite finish off their attacks.

Just when it seemed like Kobe would weather the storm, the Young Bucks put together a lovely exchange of passes that slithered through a crowded Kobe penalty area in the way that mosquitoes seem to evade even the tightest mesh screens. Following one unsuccessful drive, the ball was collected at the top of the arc by Juan Alano, and threaded in to rookie Itsuki Someno. The recent high school graduate showed remarkable poise to shield the ball, turn, and pick out fellow 2020 graduate Ryotaro Araki as he accelerated through the middle. Araki flubbed his first touch, and had to draw his right leg back awkwardly in order to put a shot on net. But the weak flick completely fooled the keeper and trickled into the left corner. There was no time left for Kobe to do anything but lob one last futile ball into the Antlers box; the home team secured a point, and a large number of highly promising rookies and second-year starters added another 90 minutes of experience to their careers

In other words, the draw benefits Kashima far more than Kobe, since the latter club was hoping to take part in the title chase this season. Vissel showed their ability to exploit individual mismatches in this contest, but they continue to play in a scattered, disorganised manner that does not maximize these advantages. By contrast, the speed at which this new generation of Kashima youngsters is adjusting to the level of competition, and developing chemistry with one another will certainly be good news to Coach Zago. Though nobody is expecting this unit to achieve an "Antlers-like" level of success in 2020, results over the past few weeks should certainly dispel rumours of Kashima's demise, and suggest that the Golden Herd of Ibaraki may be back among the title contenders in the not too distant future.

Date: 
16 August, 2020
Attendance: 
4,766
Location: 
Kashima Stadium

  2

1 1H 1
1 2H 1

Everaldo (38')
Ryutaro Araki (90+4')

 Scoring

Dankler (19')
Yuta Goke (49')
Leo Silva
Rikuto Hirose
Cautions Andres Iniesta
Douglas
Takuya Yasui

 


 

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