September 12, 2020

The Midway Mark

As the J.League approaches the midpoint of the 2020 season, first-place Kawasaki Frontale seems to be coasting along with a healthy lead, thanks to the most prolific offense in recent memory and no visible signs of weakness. Kawasaki's cushion is not quite as large as it looks, since Frontale is one of only four teams that has played a full 17 matches as of this weekend. Second-place Cerezo has a game in hand, and fourth-place Nagoya Grampus has two. .

Nevertheless, the Blue Dolphins are deservedly atop the table, and their success is based on a clear advantage in the quality of Frontale's "second string." The frequency of matches this season, compounded by oppressively hot weather, has taken a toll on teams, especially those who rely on a core of 11-15 players for most of their competitiveness. The gap between the top tier and the bottom is wider than at any time in recent memory, mainly because smaller J1 teams rely upon upon backup players who are a clear cut below the starting unit. Frontale ... and perhaps three or four other teams ... have backup players who can perform as well as (and in some cases even better than) the starter. Frontale has a large number of veterans who reached their peak in the two title-winning seasons (2017-18), and still retain a great deal of talent even if they lack the fitness to play week in and week out. There is also a younger core that is starting to take over the backbone of the team - players like Ao Tanaka, Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate and Hidemasa Morita, among others - who were expected to make Frontale a title candidate this season, but might have lacked the experience to go all the way . . . at least in a "normal" season.

But this season is far from "normal," and the compacted schedule just happens to be ideal for a team like Frontale. Coach Toru Oniki has adopted a system that is extremely flexible, and allows most players to slot in at several different positions. The result is that Frontale has at least two good options (and often 3-4) at every position. The only other teams that have anywhere near as much flexibility are (not surprisingly) the ones who are still within shouting distance of first place. If anyone hopes to catch the Blue Dolphins, they will need to keep key players fresh while still piling up points.


 

 1 - 2     

The first match of the weekend kicked off at Shimizu's Nihondaira Stadium, with S-Pulse playing host to the Kashima Antlers. Both started this season with plans to rejuvenate the squad and develop promising youngsters, so it was no surprise when both got off to slow starts. Though neither of the two teams is performing as well as they are accustomed to, the Antlers are at least showing improvement as the season progresses, whereas S-Pulse is in relegation territory and slipping further into the mire.

Kashima began the season with the worst run of failure in team history. But even in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Antlers continued to play the sort of patient, ball-control football that the team is renowned for. Although the young, inexperienced strikers couldn't find the net, and the young, inexperienced defenders bumbled a few plays to concede goals, the general run of play was as solid as ever, prompting us to predict that the Antlers would soon be back to winning ways.

Sure enough, Koki Machida and Ikuma Sekigawa are shaping up to be one of the league's most physically imposing young defensive duos. Both are eligible for the 2021 Olympics (provided it does take place), and both have developed quickly into poised, powerful and potentially international-quality centre backs. At age 24, Kento Misao is a relative veteran, and has taken full charge of the Kashima midfield over the past two seasons. Misao seems well suited to the iconic Antlers central midfielder role previously held by Mitsuo Ogasawara, Koji Nakata, Gaku Shibasaki, Leonardo (yes . . .THAT Leonardo) and Yasuto Honda, among others. His passing touch is as delicate as his ankle-tackle is shattering.

Brazilian point man Everaldo has taken on the main scoring burden, but several young prospects are emerging in the sharp end of the formation as well, including U-23 NT prospect Ayase Ueda, and more recently rookie Ryotaro Araki, who caught the eye in January's High School Championship tournament with Higashi-Fukuoka High School. Despite his youth, the busy schedule has allowed Araki to get a lot of playing time this year, and he shows a tremendous amount of promise.

On the other side of the ball, S-Pulse's struggles this season reflect the fact that most of the "old guard" are no longer able to maintain the pace. Players like Chong Tese, Hideki Ishige and Ryo Takeuchi have seen little action, while youngsters like Keita Nakamura, Yasufumi Nishimura, Jin Hiratsuka and Yuito Suzuki are emerging as first-team regulars. This should be a positive development in the long run, but the question is whether this extremely thin S-Pulse will be able to avoid a spell in the J2.

The Antlers took control of this contest from the outset, dominating play with quick one-touch and two-touch exchanges which steadily wore down the Winghead defense. Kashima had one or two excellent chances to score in the opening 20 minutes, but hard running and shadowing by the S-Pulse defense kept the Herd at bay until the 28th minute, when a sudden inlet pass by Leo Silva found Everaldo level with the penalty spot and with a two-yard cushion between himself and the defender. The Brazilian did not give the defender time to react, sending his first touch into the low left corner

While the Wingheads were still trying to recover their composure, intense ball pressure by the Kashima midfield won the ball deep in S-Pulse territory. Tomoya Inukai stepped up to head a clearance pass back towards the Shimizu box, where the ever dangerous Everaldo was lurking. This time Everaldo fed a pass across the face of goal for Araki, who drew the last defender while playing a gentle backheel for the unmarked Shoma Doi. The Antlers veteran curled the ball inside the right post, to double the advantage just three minutes later. Doi almost put the contest to bed a few minutes before the break, with a shot off the right post, but the scoreline remained 2-0 at intermission.

The finishing difficulties that have troubled Kashima all season were the only thing that prevented this contest from closing up early. But S-Pulse showed a great deal of hustle in the second half, preventing any more easy chances and putting in the occasional counterattack of their own. With just over ten minutes remaining, S-Pulse constructed a nice set play from a throw-in, with Yuito Suzuki collecting the ball and then threading it into the box for Teerasil Dangda. The Thai international spun to his left and fired a sudden shot across the face of net which snuck into the far corner, cutting the deficit to a single goal.

But that was all the Wingheads could muster on offense. Kashima had several chances to add a late tally, but in the end were happy to extend their current run to five victories in a row. This lifts them into the top third of the table for the first time - more familiar territory for the Antlers - but still well behind the frontrunners.

Date: 
12 September, 2020
Attendance: 
2,580
Location: 
Nihondaira (IAI) Stadium

  1

0 1H 2
1 2H 0

2  

Teerasil Dangda (78')

 Scoring

Everaldo (29')
Shoma Doi (32')
  Cautions Tomoya Inukai
Ryotaro Araki

 


 

  2 - 2

Of the four teams in action on Saturday, only one is still in a position to chase the runaway Frontale. FC Tokyo started the weekend in third place, ten points adrift of the leaders. Following their blistering first-half performance in 2019, FC Tokyo was one of the early favourites to again contest the title. Like their cross-river neighbors, Kawasaki, the Capitol City Coondogs have a deep roster that offers at least two good options at every position. What they lack, however, is the sort of experience in a title chase that most of their rivals possess. While Tokyo does have three cup trophies, they have never won the league. In fact, prior to last season they had never finished higher than fourth.

Some readers may think I am taking advantage of foreknowledge - because the climax of this match exemplifies the way that inexperienced teams can knock themselves out of contention with just a few mental lapses. But I actually wrote that intro before kickoff. In the final analysis, both teams showed themselves to be fragile on defense and impatient on attack, but clearly it is FC Tokyo who will regret dropping points.

Since I have never held back in my criticism of Vissel Kobe owner Hiroshi Mikitani, in the past, it is my responsibility to be just as outspoken in discussing the positive direction that the team has taken over the past few months. Rather than trying to "buy" success, with expensive acquisitions of talented foreigners, Coach Thorsten Fink has focused mainly on developing the skills and confidence of players like Kyogo Furuhashi, Takuya Yasui, Yuta Goke, Leo Osaki and more. The aging stars - a group that includes wingbacks Daigo Nishi and Gotoku Sakai and midfield sparkplug Hotaru Yamaguchi as well as Douglas, Thomas Vermaelen, Sergi Samper and Andres Iniesta - have been used to provide structure and creativity while offering the younger players a good example to emulate. This approach is not going to win Kobe any titles this season. But it is far more likely to help the team's longer-term success than the buying spreees we have seen in recent years.

Looking sharp in their Black-and-White kits, which were worn to commemorate the team's original, Novocastrian-inspired colors, the Kobe's youngsters displayed their energy in the opening stages of the contest. Pressing the ball hard, and attacking with direct, individual runs, in the 24th minute the Crimson Cows opened the scoring. Furuhashi started off the play with a dribbling run down the right channel and a powerful drive that slammed off the right post. The ball bounded back to Sergi Samper, who fed it right back in to Furuhashi, at the edge of the box. This time, as the Kobe ace was lining up his shot, he spotted Yasui accelerating into the box and dropped the ball right into the midfielder's path. Yasui simply had to side-foot the ball into the back strings, and Vissel were in the early lead.

The visitors responded with a lot of quick attacking thrusts, but Kobe managed to preserve their advantage until half time. Shortly after the break, however, the home team suffered a critical lapse of focus. In the 50th minute a loose pass in midfield was collected by Yamaguchi and launched to Diego Oliveira on the counterattack. Oliveira's overlap pass sent Ryosuke Tagawa through the right channel, all the way to the goal line. Tagawa cut back and fired a cross into the six yard box, which Ademilson managed to deflect across the goal line, pulling the Coon-dogs level. Just six minutes later, another defensive blunder by Vissel gifted the ball to Yojiro Takahagi deep inside Kobe territory. The veteran midfielder carried the ball forward on a 3-on-2 break, exchanged passes with Ademilson to draw the defenders, and eventually fed a wide-open Diego Oliveira for the easy finish. In the space of five minute the contest had been turned on its head.

Vissel responded by bringing on Andres Iniesta, hoping that the Spanish maestro could spark the Vissel offense back to life. This did allow the zebra-stripers to secure the bulk of possession, but tight defending by Tokyo turned away his attempts to hit teammates with lobs into the box. With two minutes of added time remaining, Vissel won a free kick about 15 meters or so outside the box, on the right flank. Iniesta stood over the ball, measured the angle carefully, then lofted a free kick onto he head of Dankler Pedreira, who nodded it into the top right corner.

The late equaliser was a painful blow for FC Tokyo, who saw their chance to close within 10 points of Frontale vanish in an instant. Although Vissel managed to claim four points in their "throwback" colors, they remain in the bottom half of the table - a disappointing result for a team that continues to bill itself as "The Number 1 Team in Asia". The good news is that coach Fink is focusing on the development and improvement of the team's promising youngsters - a move that may not bring the immediate results that Mr. Mikitani wants, but probably will be best for the team in the longer run.

Date: 
12 September, 2020
Attendance: 
4,102
Location: 
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium

  2

1 1H 0
1 2H 2

2  

Takuya Yasui (24')
Dankler (90+3')

 Scoring

Adailton (50')
Diego Oliveira (58')
Sergi Samper
Daigo Nishi
Kyogo Furuhashi
Noriaki Fujimoto
Cautions Arthur Silva
Takumi Nakamura

 

3 - 4

On Sunday afternoon, the Urawa Reds travelled north to face off against the coach that was responsible for assembling most of the players who continue to form the core of the Reds squad. Mihailo Petrovic did manage to secure an ACL title during his five seasons at Urawa, but by the time he left the club, in late 2017, it was already apparent that the generation of talent he had assembled was past its prime. Yet most of the veterans are still starting regularly, under current coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki. There has been little effort to rejuvenate the club. Despite the wealth of experience possessed by the likes of Tomoaki Makino, Shinzo Koroki, Yuki Abe, Tomoya Ugajin, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Yuki Muto and others, the lack of any real prospects in the youth ranks poses real concerns for the Reds' future.

Though they may not have the finances or the wealth of options that Petrovic's previous clubs possessed, Consadole Sapporo is actually a much better fit for the "Petrovic 3-6-1" philosophy than either Urawa or Hiroshima. The Petrovic philosophy has been adapted in various ways by other coaches, with sufficient success to dispel the notion that it is defense-oriented. Yet the formation usually delivers the best results when the team using it is accustomed to playing off the back foot, and generating most of their goals from quick counterattacks. The loss of Musashi Suzuki from the front line (the Japanese-Jamaican striker moved to Belgium's Beershot in July) has blunted Sapporo's offense a bit. Since his departure, Consadole has slipped into the bottom half of the table. But the Snow Owls still have the potential to punch above their weight thanks to a hard-working, extremely dynamic midfield that includes such nimble, creative and hard-working players as Yoshiaki Komai, Kazuki Fukai, Kosuke Shirai and Chanathip Songkran.

Petrovic has enjoyed a fair bit of success against his former team, leading Consadole to four wins in their past six encounters with the Reds. It is not hard to make the case that the Consadole gaffer knows the Reds better than anyone in the current Urawa coaching ranks. The Reds opened up with a 4-4-2 alignment, using Makino and Takuya Iwanami as the back-line pairing, and assigning Australian international Thomas Deng (nominally playing on the right wing) to man-mark Consadole target man Jay Bothroyd. The overloaded defense not only prevented Sapporo from getting the ball into deep positions in the Reds end; it also provided a good platform for quick countrattacks.

Sapporo had a few half chances in the opening minutes, but in the 12th minute Yuki Muto made a dribbling run into the Consadole box and suddenly flopped to the turf when challenged. Though it looked like there was minimal contact, the referee pointed to the spot and gave Kenyu Sugimoto a chance to give Urawa the lead. Sugimoto drove his PK into the low right corner and Urawa took the early advantage. Ten minutes later, Sugimoto beat the offside trap and chased a long clearance into the Consadole end, brushed off the challenge of defender Akito Fukumori, and fired a shot underneath the outrushing Takanori Sugeno to extend the lead to 2-0

But on the stroke of the half-hour Jay finally managed to slip free of his marker and make contact with Lucas Ferrnandes' cross from the right wing, looping a header into the right top corner. Moments later he nearly claimed the equaliser on another high ball from the right flank. This changed the momentum dramatically, and for the next five minutes Consadole sent a barrage of balls into the box for their English target man. Jay claimed the equaliser in the 36th minute, muscling past Thomas Deng to head another cross from the right wing into the Urawa net.

The torrid pace of play could not be sustained indefinitely, and as half time approached both teams eased their pressure somewhat and began to focus on retaining possession and constructing plays more patiently. The score remained level at intermission.

The second half began a bit tentatively, with Sapporo taking the initiative but exercising more caution than in the first half. For 15 minutes the hosts knocked patiently on the Reds door, and in the 67th minute the pressure finally paid off. Consadole won a corner kick on the right side, and Chanathip's delivery was deflected into the net by an Urawa defender.

The Reds responded to the own goal with a raft of offensive substitutions, and quickly seized the upper hand. In the 75th minute they equalised on a controversial play, in which a high ball into the Consadole box seemed to be handled by Thomas Deng ,before Tomoaki Makino headed it into the Sapporo net. But the referee allowed the goal, setting up a tense final 15 minutes. Both teams had chances to claim a late winner, but three minutes deep into stoppage time, Martinus turned the right flank and looped a cross to Kai Shibato, who finished off the play and vaulted Urawa to victory.

Date: 
13 September, 2018
Attendance: 
4,449
Location: 
Sapporo Dome

  3

2 1H 2
1 2H 2

Jay Bothroyd (31')
Jay Bothroyd (35')
Own Goal (67')

 Scoring

Kenyu Sugimoto (13')
Kenyu Sugimoto (13')
Tomoaki Makino (75')
Kai Shibato (90+3')
  Cautions  

 


 

5 - 1

The marquee match of the weekend saw Sanfrecce Hiroshima travel to Kawasaki to take on the current league leaders. Sanfrecce has had flashes of quality over the first half of the season, but has not yet gelled into the sort of homogenous team that can challenge for the title. Yet despite their current position at midtable, the Purple Archers are still not out of the running; with two games in hand they could conceivably advance as high as fourth place and close the gap with Frontale to around ten points. Thus, Sunday's contest had the potential to not only rein in the leaders, but also to give Sanfrecce a bit of momentum heading into the second half of the season.

Unfortunately, the Blue Dolphins had other ideas. Frontale have so many attacking options that defenses struggle to contain their attacks. In the 13th minute a series of sharp passes around the perimeter by attackers Leandro Damiao, Manabu Saito and Reo Hatate dragged the Sanfrecce defense deep into their own penalty area, leaving open space at the top of the box. A simple drop pass found Ao Tanaka wide open, the U-23 prospect fired a shot past Kosuke Osako, and Kawasaki added another goal to this season's massive tally.

Sanfrecce managed to battle Frontale to a stalemate over the rest of the first half, but as they have done repeatedly this season, Frontale exploded to life in the second half, and did not let up until the Purple Archers were flat on the canvas. Three times the Dolphin pack surged forward on the attack, three times they breached the Sanfrecce back line with an incisive pass, and three times the ball hit the back of the net. Leandro Damiao struck in the 47th minute, Kazuya Yamamura in the 50th, and Ao Tanaka completed his brace in the 51st minute. Game Over.

As they have done time and time again, this season, Frontale was able to thoroughly dominate play over a key five-minute spell and decide the contest before the hour mark. Thereafter they can bring on reserves, slow the pace, conserve energy and coast to the finish line. Yu Kobayashi added one more tally in the 88th minute, before Yuya Asano (Takuma Asano's little brother, and a budding Jaguar in his own right) added a consolation tally for Sanfrecce.

There is still a long way to go in the 2020 season, but at the moment, no other team is able to match Frontale's offensive output, or keep the Blue Dolphins at bay. Unless opposing teams figure out a way to halt the Frontale goal rush, this year's league title could be decided earlier than ever before.

Date: 
13 September, 2020
Attendance: 
0,000
Location: 
Todoroki Stadium

  5

1 1H 0
4 2H 1

1  

Ao Tanaka (14')
Leandro Damiao (47')
Kazuya Yamamura (50')
Ao Tanaka (51')
Yu Kobayashi (88')

 Scoring

Yuya Asano (90')
  Cautions  

 


 

  1 - 2  

Another important match this weekend was the clash between the J.League's reigning champions, Yokohama Marinos, and the team that seems most likely to challenge Kawasaki for this year's title (second-place Cerezo Osaka). Frontale defeated Cerezo in a head-to-head contest just last week, and have been scoring goals at a torrid pace. But as the old saying goes, offense wins games, but defense usually wins titles. If you discount the five goals they conceded in the Frontale match, Cerezo has been playing solid defense all season. Half of the team's victories have been secured with clean sheets.

When it comes to team depth, the two Osaka clubs enjoy an advantage that other J1 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 J3 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 at 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. With a game in hand, they could close to within five points with a win in their makeup contest.

The defending champions, by contrast, have been struggling to rediscover last year's form. Part of the problem they face this season stems simply from the fact that every other team in the league spent time analyzing the unique style adopted by coach Ange Postecoglou, and developing counterstrategies. Even last season, the high-risk/high-return philosophy adopted by the Marinos under Postecoglou was undone by teams that play good team defense and can shatter the tightly stretched Marinos defense with sudden counterattacks.

The match opened with a flurry, both teams trying to snatch an early advantage by throwing numbers forward in the opening minutes. The Marinos had one shot headed off the goal line after beating the keeper, and Cerezo tested Hiroki Iikura twice in the first five minutes. But after the opening exchanges, the two teams settled down into a patient exchange of probing attacks and counterattacks, neither able to find any gaps in the opposing defense.

The contest burst to life shortly after the restart, when a Marinos lob into the Cerezo penalty box was settled by Marcos Junior on the goal line, about six or seven yards wide of the left post. The nimble-footed Brazilian feinted just enough to freeze his defender, then looped a cross in front of goal for Erik de Lima to head home. Replays showed that Marcos Junior was offside on the initial pass, but the goal was allowed.

Cerezo responded just a few minutes later, on a rolling counterattack. Hiroshi Kiyotake collected the ball in the centre of the pitch, with three teammates in tow. The Marinos back line had retreated in time, and as each of the four began to pick a mark, it looked like the attack would stall as it approached the Yokohama penalty area. But Kiyotake was dribbling with head up, and surveying his options, when he noticed that Iikura was still rather far off his line. Suddenly, the Cerezo veteran launched a looping shot from about 35 meters, which cleared the keeper's fingertips and dipped just under the crossbar.

As the contest moved into its final third, another Cerezo counterattack put Yokohama in an even deeper hole, when Masato Ito clipped the heels of Cerezo's Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, from behind, just a few steps above the Marinos box. Though it did not look intentional, the referee noted that there were no other Marinos players to impede Sakamoto from bursting into the penalty area on a breakaway, so he withdrew a red card from his pocket and reduced Yokohama to ten men.

Over the next 15 minutes the Pink Wolves slowly turned the screws tighter in search of the go-ahead goal. With five minutes remaining rookie Koji Suzuki took on his defender on the left side of the box, found a gap, and fired a bounding pass to Toshiyuki Takagi, on the edge of the six yard box. Takagi spun and fired quickly, before the defense could react, and Cerezo pulled into the lead at last.

The shorthanded Marinos made a valiant late charge, and even gave Cerezo a scare once or twice. But it was not to be. Cerezo claimed the victory, and managed to remain on Kawasaki's heels, while Yokohama dropped to their third straight loss.

Date: 
13 September, 2020
Attendance: 
2,645
Location: 
Yokohama (Nissan) Stadium

  1

0 1H 0
1 2H 2

2  

Erik de Lima(52')

 Scoring

Hiroshi Kiyotake (58')
Toshiyuki Takagi (86')
Teerathon Cautions  
Masato Ito Sent off

 


 

3 - 2    

Nagoya Grampus entered this weekend in fourth place, fourteen points behind league-leading Frontale, but due to Covid-related match cancellations earlier in the year, they have played two games fewer than Kawasaki. If they take all six points, they could close to just eight points. Grampus could face difficulties as the season advances, due to their comparatively thin roster. Their success up to now has been based on defense. The Red Whales have conceded just 12 goals in 14 matches under incoming coach Massimo Ficcadenti.

Yokohama FC has found it tough going in their first top-flight campaign since 2007. After a strong start, the Fulie have struggled to create goals. At present they are several places clear of the relegation zone, but they badly need a win - or at least a draw against top competition - to revive the sagging spirits of a relatively young starting unit.

Grampus got off to an ideal start, opening their account after just 12 minutes on a goal by veteran wingback Yutaka Yoshida, a tireless runner who still displays the same stamina that caught the eye when he began his career at Ventforet Kofu. The diminutive wingback was the beneficiary of a weak clearance that bounded out to him about three steps above the Yokohama box. Yoshida fired a screamer straight into the top right corner, to tally only the fifth goal of his career..

But it was Yokohama FC who controlled the run of play in the early minutes, and they soon managed to cancel out Yoshida's opener, with their trademark quick short-range passing in the area between the two channels. Kosuke Saito managed to slip through a seam in the Grampus defense in the 18th minute, collected a pass from Kohei Tezuka and sent a quick shot past Mitch Langerak. Almost immediately, the home team stepped up the pressure, and a mere two minutes later they took the lead on a corner kick. The delivery was a bit short, and the Nagoya defense knocked it down, but the ball bounded right to Masakazu Tashiro, just outside the six yard box. Tashiro lashed a shot inside the left post and Fulie were in the lead.

Buoyed by the momentum, Yokohama began to dominate the midfield with constant movement and ball pressure. Their hardworking midfielders pressed with increasing urgency towards the Grampus goalmouth. But Nagoya managed to ride out the surge, and the two teams retired to the locker room with Yokohama still leading 2-1.

The second act opened with Nagoya patiently working the ball around at midfield, probing cautiously, and trying to control the pace. The first few forays were promising, with Yuta Minami forced to make a lunging save of a redirected free kick in the 53rd minute. But as the match passed the hour mark, Yokohama FC began to launch increasingly dangerous counterattacks. To maintain the upper hand, Grampus made a triple substitution at the 63 minute mark, bringing on Matheus, Joao Schmidt and Ryogo Yamazaki to sharpen the offense. By the 70 minute mark Fulie were stuck deep in their own end, defending against a constant Grampus barrage. Minami turned away several dangerous shots, to preserve his team's advantage, but in the 73rd minute an error by the veteran goaltender allowed the Red Whales to finally breach the dam. Minami hesitated a bit too long when a back pass was directed at him on the right side of his penalty area. Before he could boot it away, Joao Schmidt poked the ball loose, Mateus swept it up and poked it into the empty net.

For a moment, it looked like Grampus was going to claim control of the contest, but Yokohama still had plenty of juice left in the tank. In the 77th minute midfielder Kensuke Sato dribbled straight at the Grampus defensive line, drawn up along the top of their penalty area, and as he "hit the wall," he poked the ball through into the box. Yuji Senuma, who was standing off to the left, narrowly onside, reacted quickly, strode onto the ball and fired it into the strings. Once Yokohama were back into the lead, the energy of youth swept the opposition aside. Try as they might, Grampus could not recover, or even produce a late chance. The home team secured a valuable three points, while Nagoya could only watch their chances of joining the title chase recede further into the distance.

Date: 
13 September, 2020
Attendance: 
3,290
Location: 
Mitsuzawa Stadium

  3

2 1H 1
1 2H 1

2  

Kosuke Saito (19')
Masakazu Tashiro (22')
Yuji Senuma (78')

 Scoring

Yutaka Yoshida (12')
Mateus (73')
  Cautions  

 


 

2 - 1  

As we have reported at length, Sagan Tosu had four of its matches postponed in August due to an outbreak of Covid-19 among both coaches and players. We have discussed the problems that this may pose for the Magenta Magpies, who will have to reschedule all of the dates to Wednesday evenings in October and November. However, while the future may be daunting, in the near term there are clear signs that the "quarantine" has helped Tosu in the short run. They claimed a 3-0 victory over Yokohama FC last weekend, and posted a 2-2 draw against Urawa Reds on Wednesday evening. In both of these matches there was a clear sense that the Tosu players were fresher and more energetic that the opponents, who have just been through a tough run of late-summer matches. It would seem that the "punishment" the League imposed is actually giving Sagan an unfair advantage, at least for the time being

Kashiwa Reysol has been erratic this season, registering some big victories thanks to the prolific scoring of Michael Olunga, but conceding a lot of goals as well. Reysol opened the scoring in the 25th minute, when Ryohei Yamazaki fired a cross in from the right flank, Ataru Esaka headed it on for the far post, where Olunga popped up like the consummate poacher he is, and stuffed the ball through the back door.

But as the contest wore on, Reysol seemed to run out of energy while the Tosu players continued to press hard for the full 45 minutes. The extra effort paid off, on the stroke of half time. Ryohei Hayashi chased a long lead pass into the Reysol end, and hel;d his defender on his back as he collected the ball just inside the penalty box. Feinting first to the inside, Hayashi dashed for the end line, but before he could put in his cross, Taiyo Koga upended him with a lunging tackle that failed to meet the ball. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Hayashi leveled the contest as the two teams retired to the locker room.

The Magpies flocked out of the dressing room and almost immediately moved into the lead. Just three minutes after the restart, Ryuya Morishita burst around the right flank, dribbled along the goal line and dropped a pass to an unmarked Tomoya Koyamatsu, at the penalty spot. Inexplicably, Koyamatsu flailed at the ball weakly, and it squibbled out to Riku Harakawa on the left. But Harakawa spared his teammate's blushes, cutting into the box and then firing a pinpoint shot into the top right corner.

Reysol attempted to claw their way back into the contest, but the fresher, harder-running Tosu held on to their advantage and secured their second win in three contests, thus lifting them clear of immediate relegation danger.

 

Date: 
13 September, 2020
Attendance: 
4,165
Location: 
Tosu (Best Amenity) Stadium

  2

1 1H 1
1 2H 0

1  

Taichi Hayashi (45')
Riki Harakawa (48')

 Scoring

Michael Olunga (25')
Ryan Yong-gi Cautions Masatoshi Mihara
Hayato Nakama
Richardson

 


 

0 - 1  

Last and least, Gamba Osaka spent 90 minutes pounding on the door to Shonan Bellmare's goal, only to come up emptuy. The only goal of the contest came with 15 minutes remaining, when a speculative inlet pass by Daiki Kaneko was allowed to bound through the Gamba back line, where Kasunari Ono surged forward to tuck it into the left corner. The result sees Gamba slip even further off the pace set by Frontale and crosstown neighbors Cerezo.

Date: 
13 September, 2020
Attendance: 
4,788
Location: 
Suita (Panasonic) Stadium

  0

0 1H 0
0 2H 1

1  

 

 Scoring

Kazunari Ono (74')
  Cautions Mitsuki Saito
Takuya Okamoto

 


 

 0 - 3  

Match report will be posted later

Date: 
19 August, 2020
Attendance: 
2,191
Location: 
Sendai (Yuatec) Stadium

 0  

0 1H 1
0 2H 2

 

 Scoring

Kazushi Mitsuhira (34')
Kei Chinen (80')
Tatsuya Tanaka (85')
Kunimitsu Sekiguchi Cautions  

 


 

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