August 19, 2020

Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday

The entire J.League schedule for 2020 is demanding, but this week will be one of the few in which both first and second divisions play three times in nine days. MidAugust is an important holiday season for people in Japan. In addition to the somber commemorations of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and Japan's surrender on August 16, people traditionally travel back to their hometowns in August to venerate ancestors and spend time with relatives. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made cross-country travel a bit risky, and despite an official campaign by the government encouraging people to visit smaller prefectures, in reality most have shortened or postponed their "Ohaka-mairi" visits this year.

Ordinarily, this season is a time for football clubs to throw some sort of "festival" to attract families, boost their ticket sales and pack the stadium. Again, the reality of CoVid19 has forced teams to scale back these events. The upper limit on attendances is still set at 5,000, so apart from a few of the weaker J2 teams, it would make no sense to try to attract more people than usual. Accordingly, this year's summer schedule does not include the sort of regional derbies or traditional rivalries that usually are selected to take place during the summer break.

Nevertheless, the frequency of matches, compounded by oppressively hot weather, is taking a toll on teams, especially those who rely on a core of 11-15 players for most of their competitiveness. One of the most interesting themes to watch, therefore, is the rotational pattern used by each coach. Those who are able to keep important players fresh, while still getting results on the pitch, could break away from the rest of the pack over the next few brutal weeks of August and September. .

As we discussed in our last report, one of this week's fixtures had already been postponed, due to the coronavirus outbreak at Sagan Tosu.

   Postponed  

Nothing further has been announced regarding plans to reschedule the three contests already postponed. It appears that the League will wait to see if the now-quarantined Tosu players can pass mandated virus testing ahead of next weekend's (August 29) contests. If the quarantine has to be extended, the J.League might have to consider disqualifying the Magenta Magpies - a step that would probably include relegation. We will try to update this story as soon as club or League has additional news, so check back in late August (test results are usually released 1-2 days before the matches).


 

  5 - 2  

The marquee match of this weekend was a top-of-the-table clash between the J.League's most prolific offence (first-place Frontale) and its stingiest defence (second-place Cerezo). Despite temperatures lingering above 30C at kickoff time, this was an action-packed match with lots of scoring opportunities at both ends. But then, the same description could be used to describe almost all of the contests played n Wednesday evening. Indeed, there was so much action that this report could not possibly cover all of them in detail (particularly since the writer spent much of the time between 7PM and 9PM watching my beloved Ventforet Kofu knock off Ehime FC 3-2). However, it would be inappropriate to gloss over a match between the top two teams in J1. Our comments on other contests will be more abbreviated.

Frontale entered this match on a nine-game winning streak, matching the longest records posted by Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka during title-winning seasons. It is an overused cliche to mention the J.League's unpredictability, and the historical balance in competitiveness, every time one team or another builds a large early lead. However, this year there are some factors which may indeed allow Frontale to simply outclass all rivals.

First of all, the team has not just been winning its matches; last week the Blue Dolphins demolished Consadole Sapporo 6-1, and they have scored three goals or more on six occasions (out of 10). The scoring burden has been well balanced, as has been the number of minutes played. The only players who have NOT received ample rest are Miki Yamane, Shogo Taniguchi and Kyohei Noborizato - three of the back-four (Jesiel and Shintaro Kurumaya have shared duties at the second centre-half position). All of the midfield and attacking slots have been filled by three or more players at one time or another. The abundant experience and flexibility of players like Akihiro Ienaga, Yu Kobayashi, Ryota Oshima, Kengo Nakamura, Manabu Saito and Kazuya Yamamura has allowed coach Toru Oniki to plug individuals into a variety of roles, without reducing team effectiveness. There are only a few other teams that can even come close to matching Frontale's depth. This year's demanding schedule will make this an even more potent advantage for the Dolphins as the year progresses.

Looking at the handful of teams that do have at least the potential to match Frontale when it comes to depth, the two Osaka clubs enjoy an advantage that other clubs do not. The youth (U23) squads of both Cerezo and Gamba take part in the J3 (third division), and therefore receive plenty of regular experience. As promising youngsters emerge in the U-23 ranks, Gamba and Cerezo can call up players on the U23 squad to play for the J1 team, for a limited number of starts, as "Type 2" players. If they prove good enough to handle top-flight football, their contracts can be upgraded midseason. While this may not be a source of EXPERIENCED players, it does offer the two Osaka clubs a source of fresh legs and youthful energy, to carry the team through busy stretches.

Even without the youth squad, Cerezo does have a fairly deep roster. A lot of the key players are in their 30s, so coach Lotina has adopted a substitution pattern that platoons the team's most important players. For example, Kiroshi Kiyotake and Yoichiro Kakitani have shared the role as midfield playmaker, with one replacing the other at around the 60 minute mark of every contest. Similar position-sharing relationships have been established between Ken Tokura and Bruno Mendes, Hiroaki Okuno and Yuta Toyokawa, Eiichi Katayama and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, and so on... While the Pink Wolves have not yet managed to get their offense firing on all cylinders, the defense has kept Cerezo on Frontale's heels.

Cerezo got off to a perfect start in ths match, taking the lead after just six minutes. Yusuke Maruhashi stepped up to make a steal at midfield, and quickly fired the ball into space behind Frontale's defense. Bruno Mendes reacted instantly, dashing off for a one-on-one finish that gave the visitors the early advantage. But Frontale responded with a surge of pressure, pursuing the ball furiously and winning almost every 50:50 ball. In the 20th minute Maruhashi made a bit of a blunder on defense, trying to settle a ball on the edge of the box with his shoulder. Though it was a close call, the referee adjudged that he had commited a handball infraction, giving Frontale a free kick just outside the top left corner of the penalty box. Yasuto Wakizaka curled his kick around the wall and just inside the left post, to restore parity

The contest seesawed back and forth for the next 20 minutes, with both orchestrating dangerous chances from the run of play, and both counterattacking dangerously. Cerezo might even have held an edge in shots on net over this period. But as the first half wound down, veteran Akihiro Ienaga (who played one season for Cerezo, though most of his career was at the other Osaka club) received a drop pass inside the penalty area and suckered Maruhashi into yet another defensive blunder. Pulling the ball away just as Maruhashi lunged for it, Ienaga went down heavily and immediately appealed for a spot kick. The referee had no choice but to oblige him, and Ienaga pushed his team into the lead from 12 yards out.

The Pink Wolves took the early initiative in the second half, dominating possession for the first few minutes. But during the same stretch, they also allowed Frontale to break away on the counterattack twice -Yu Kobayashi and Wakizaka each finishing with a shot off target. In the 52nd minute, Frontale managed to put together their first sustained attack of the second half, and it was finished off with a glorious exchange. Ryota Oshima lobbed a chip down the left channel, Yu Kobayashi chasd it, and headed the ball back to Ienaga, posting up at the penalty spot with a defender on his back. Ienaga settled the ball and fed it to Kyohei Noborizato, as he charged past in a drive towards goal. The last two Osaka defenders stepped up to challenge, but Noborizato managed to flick the ball on towards the left post, where Kobayashi had remained lurking, unmarked, after his header. The veteran striker pounded the ball past the post, and the Blue Dolphins' lead extended to 3-1

The Wolfpack was not ready to pack it in just yet. Coach Lotina tossed on three attacking substitutes - Jun Nishikawa, Yoichiro Kakitani and Koji Suzuki - to bolster the attack, and on the very first play following the substitution Maruhashi picked out Ayumu Seko at the far post, with a free kick; Seko half-volleyed it home, and the gap returned to a single goal. Cerezo tried to use the same full-field pressure they had in the minutes after half time to keep Frontale on the back foot. But again, each time Frontale did win the ball cleanly they would break out in rumbling counterattacks. Cerezo did create several good chances for the equaliser, mostly on set plays, over the next 15 or so minutes..

But in the 75th minute, Frontale won the ball at midfield and broke out on yet another counterattack. Kobayashi carried the ball down the left channel and, when cut off, spun and dropped the ball to Kaoru Mitoma, ariving in the box. Mitoma took one touch to avoid the defensive challenge, then fired a low rocket into the left corner, too powerful for Kim Sung Ryong to push round the post. As they have done repeatedly this season, the Blue Dolphins did not wait for the opponent to get off the canvas; they immediately reloaded to deliver the knockout punch. In a clinical display of short passing, Frontale exchanged the ball between players 19 times, had seferal dribbling penetrations, and held possession for 108 seconds before Mitoma finally took the ball to the left post, passed to Noborizato for a shot, which deflected to Leandro Damiao a step from the goal line, for the final coup de grace.

The victory takes Frontale ten points clear of second-place Cerezo, though both Nagoya Grampus and Gamba could surpass Cerezo's tally if they win their game in hand.

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
4,794
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  5

2 1H 1
3 2H 1

2  

Yasuto Wakizaka (21')
Akihiro Ienaga (42'P)
Yu Kobayashi (53')
Kaoru Mitoma (75')
Leandro Damiao (77')

 Scoring

Bruno Mendes (07')
Ayumu Seko (58')
Hidemasa Morita Cautions  
 

 


 

1 - 3

Gamba Osaka entered the Wednesday fixture in third place, but with a game in hand due to the postponement of their match against Sagan Tosu. The Naniwa Nerazzuri enjoy some of the same advantages as their next-door neighbours, Cerezo -- they have a lot of experienced veterans who returned to their original club after sojourns in Europe, and they have the potential source of youhtul energy provided by their U23 team (which is a member of the J3). One of Gamba's most important offseason acquisitions - National Team defender Gen Shoji - just recently returned to full health, and coach Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is just now beginnning to settle on a consistent substitution strategy. Like Frontale, however, Gamba has a lot of experienced veterans who are capable of filling several roles, which should allow the Osaka Boys to avoid problems related to fatigue.

On Wednesday, Gamba played host to their longtime nemesis, Urawa Reds. Although both teams have local derby rivals, over the years they have developed a particularly vivid antipathy for one another, which extends to fans as well as players. As Gamba sat out their quarantined match on Saturday, the Reds closed to within a point of their hosts thanks to a 1-0 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The Reds played off the back foot for much of this contest, but for only the third or fourth time this season their defense was able to remain solid, and allow the Big Red Rhinestone to counterattack effectively. .

Gamba controlled the run of play in this contest for long stretches, and Takashi Usami should have put his team in front after 10 minutes, when he carried the ball to the top of the Reds box in a 4-on-2 break . . . but Usami's drive slammed off the crossbar. In the 24th minute, there was a scramble for the ball in midfield, and upon winning the ball, Daiki Hashioka immediately launched it towards Takahiro Sekine, in the front line. Sekine fed Leonardo down the right channel, and when he found his way blocked, the Brazilian returned the ball to Sekine for a finish from the penalty spot.

Gamba tried to resume the offensive, but now the Reds began to throw up occasional ball traps, hoping to get another steal and quick counterattack. In the 32nd minute Leonardo managed to win the ball with one such trap, and knock it loose to Yuki Muto on the left flank. There ensued a wild scramble inside the Gamba penalty area, interrupted only by the referee's whistle, and a point at the penalty spot. Replays confirmed that Genta Miura brushed the ball with his arm, albeit accidental, and Leonardo extended Urawa's lead from the spot.

Yuki Muto sealed the victory just before the hour mark, once again on a midfield interception and quick counterattack. Though Yosuke Ideguchi pulled one back for Gamba a few minutes later, the gap was too large to overcome. The Reds claimed their second consecutive win and move up to fourth place.

Date: 
19 August, 2018
Attendance: 
4,721
Location: 
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium

  1

0 1H 2
1 2H 1

0  

Yousuke Ideguchi (60')

 Scoring

Takahiro Sekine (24')
Leonardo (34')
Yuki Muto (58')
Masaaki Higashiguchi Cautions Kenyu Sugimoto
 

 


 

1 - 0    

The less said about this match, the better. Yokohama FC scored the only goal of the contest on a play in which one Yokohama player clearly handled the ball, and then -- as four Kashima players appealed for handball, Kazunari Ichimi kicked the ball out of the keeper's hands (another infraction) and Yusuke Minagawa kicked it into the net. We see these type of officiating blunders in the J.League from time to time, but this one will be hard to just sweep under the carpet. Yokohama FC then defended doggedly for 60 minutes as Kashima tried again and again to equalise, but with no success.

Not to take anything from the Yokohama defense, who played well enough to deserve a point. . .

... but only one. Not three.

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,580
Location: 
Mitsuzawa (NGKSpring) Stadium

  1

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

0  

Yusuke Minagawa (25')

 Scoring

 
Yuji Rokutan
Yutaro Hakamata
Cautions Tatsuki Nara
 

 


 

  3 - 3

FC Tokyo and Sanfrecce Hiroshima played a wild, unrestrained goalfest on Wednesday evening, battling back and forth to exchange leads twice in the first half, with Tokyo taking the lead on the last play of the half - a free kick by Leandro. Tokyo then held that lead in the face of constant pressure for 45 minutes plus six, only for Sanfrecce to claim the equaliser on the final play of the match.

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,033
Location: 
Hiroshima Big Arch (Edion)

  3

2 1H 3
1 2H 0

Yuki Nogami (14')
Hayato Araki (37')
Shun Kawabe (90+6')

 Scoring

Diego Oliveira (19')
Shuto Abe (22')
Leandro (45')
Hayato Araki
Yoshifumi Kashiwa
Cautions Diego Oliveira
 

 


 

 3 - 4  

Another wild shootout took place in Shizuoka, though in this case the match was a bit more closely and conservatively fought than it appears. The Marinos scored on one of their first plays of the contest, and recent signing Daizen Maeda added one in the 19th minute. Each time S-Pulse was able to equalise, and the contest remained deadlocked until six minutes from full time. But a sudden drive from the top of the penalty area by Junior Santos, in the 84th minute, shattered S-Pulse's concentration, and Kota Watanabe extended Yokohama's lead two minutes later with a diving header.

The Wingheads battled back to 4-3 on the stroke of full time, but the Marinos held firm in additional time and claimed the full three points.

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
0,000
Location: 
Nihondaira (IAI) Stadium

 0

1 1H 0
0 2H 0

Kenta Nishizawa (12')
Own Goal (44')
Takashi Kanai (90')

 Scoring

Junior Santos (02')
Daizen Maeda (19')
Junior Santos (84')
Kota Watanabe (86')
  Cautions Ken Matsubara
 

 


 

  2 - 3  

After a cautious first half of feeling out the opponent,Vissel Kobe's Yuta Goke and Kashiwa's Hayato Nakama scored one minute on each side of half time, setting the stage for a wild finish. Michael Olunga (as he so often does) broke the deadlock in the 77th minute, using his strength to pry the ball away from a defender at the edge of the box, and then fire quickly past the keeper. Vissel battled back valiantly and in the 89th minute, Douglas thrilled the crowd with the equaliser, poking home a defense-splitting pass from Kyogo Furuhashi.

But the Crimson Cows began celebrating too soon. Reysol bounced right back and in the 94th minute, Masatoshi Mihara looped a pass towards Sachiro Toshima, charging at goal. Keeper Hiroki Iikura stood his ground, waiting for Toshima's header, but the Reysol midfielder noted the ball's course and just let it fly past -- just inside the right post. A minute later, the shocked Kobe crowd watched the Sun Kings depart with all of the gifts on offer.

Date: 
19August, 2020
Attendance: 
3,578
Location: 
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium

  2

1 1H 0
1 2H 3

3  

Yuta Goke (45')
Xxx (62')
Xxx (70')
Xxx (81')

 Scoring

Hayato Nakama (46')
Michael Olunga (77')
Masatoshi Mihara (90+4')
Reo Osaki Cautions  

 


 

  0 - 1    

A late own-goal carried Nagoya past Shonan Bellmare

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,976
Location: 
Hiratsuka (ShonanBMW)) Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 1

1  

 

 Scoring

Own Goal (90+2')
Takuya Okamoto Cautions Mateus
 

 


 

1 - 1

Consadole and Trinita battled to a draw

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,039
Location: 
Atsubetsu Stadium

  1

0 1H 1
1 2H 0

1  

Lucas Fernandez (89')

 Scoring

Kohei Isa (45+2')
  Cautions  
 

 


 

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