September 15, 2018

Takin Care of Business

Following last week's international break, the J.League campaign resumed this weekend with the intensity of a hungry husky waiting for its owner to open up the bag of kibble. It isnt hard to see why nearly all teams are feeling the pressure. At the top of the table, title hopefuls are facing a more daunting task than almost any time in J.League history. With only eight weeks left in the campaign, Sanfrecce Hiroshima holds a nine-point lead over second-place Kawasaki Frontale, and an almost insurmountable 13-point spread over FC Tokyo. There are a few historical examples of teams surrendering an even larger advantage in the final two months of the season, but in all of those cases there were a significant cluster of teams chasing the leaders, all of whom were able to put pressure on and rein in the leaders. Though Frontale -- last year's champions -- are a genuine threat to Sanfrecce's lead, Tokyo seems to be a spent force, dropping seven points further back since the World Cup, and fourth-place Consadole looks like a rising contender for the future, but not a serious title candidate for 2018.  

Meanwhile, the rankings at the opposite end of the table are so tightly packed that even the seventh- and eight-place teams cannot really breathe easy, and everyone between 9th and 18th place is in position to drop into relegation territory based on adverse results for just one or two weeks. Furthermore, there are some big names the teams that really have their backs to the wall. Gamba Osaka faces the most pressure, needing five points to get out of the relegation zone. But Kashiwa Reysol, Yokohama Marinos and Nagoya Grampus also are looking over their shoulders with genuine concern.

So without further ado, let's take a look at this week's action. 


 1 - 1

Cerezo Osaka started the 2018 season as one of the top prospects for a league championship. Unfortunately, the team has been hit by a number of key injuries, and has experienced frequent bouts of defensive fragility which derailed their title hopes early on. This weekend's fixture had special significance for the home team, as it marks the last match that will be played at Nagai Koen's "Nagai B Stadium", also known as Kincho Stadium. This name was taken from the manufacturer of agrochemical products including a very famous brand of mosquito repellent coils, but it has a rather unfortunate alternative meaning. The word "Kincho" in Japanese also means "nervousness" or "apprehension". Since the stadium was renamed with the corporate sponsor's moniker, Cerezo has an appalling record. The team won just over 50% of its J2 games played at the facility, and only 30% of J1 contests. Draws accounted for a larger share of results than victories -- a fact that seems appropriate for a place named for nervousness and apprehension

The closure of Kincho Stadium may actually boost attendances, since Nagai "A" Stadium (aka "Yanmar Stadium) has twice the capacity. Fans, however, are likely to miss the close confines and atmospheric terraces of Kincho Stadium. Those who believe that the "Kincho" moniker was a jinx, however, will find their suspicions supported by the results of this week's contest against Jubilo Iwata

Cerezo's defensive frailties were displayed just after the break, when a diagonal cross into the box was slightly mishandled by Kim Jin-Hyeon, and before he could find the handle, Taishi Taguchi managed to get a foot to the ball, deflecting it out to Nagisa Sakuraguchi at the top of the box. Sakuraguchi had to stretch for the ball, but managed to swing a long leg at it and put a shot on net while Kim was still well off his line. Though it was a weak effort, Sakurauchi's shot squibbed into the empty net and gave Jubilo the lead.

Though Cerezo dominated the run of play from start to finish, it was only in the latter stages of the second half, that they started to really create consistent pressure on Jubilo keeper Krysztov Kaminski. The equaliser finally arrived with just ten minutes remaining, on a corner kick by Souza that was headed home by Osmar Ibanez.

Despite a frantic final few minutes of play, with dangerous chances at both ends, neither team could break the deadlock. True to its reputation, the curse of the Kincho prevailed in the final contest at the facility, and Cerezo's hopes of a title run were well and truly extinguished in a deadlocked match.

14 September, 2018
Nagai "Kincho" Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 1


Nagisa Sakurauchi (55')


Osmar Ibanez (79')  
Yoichiro Kakitani
Cautions Yoshito Okubo
Hiroki Yamada

 Kim Jin-Hyeon; Riku Matsuda, Yusuke Maruhashi, Yasuki Kimoto (Tatsuya Yamashita 78'), Matej Jonjic; Hotaru Yamaguchi, Souza, Kazuya Yamamura, Osmar; Yoichiro Kakitani, Toshiyuki Takagi .

 Krysztov Kaminski; Kentaro Oi, Nagisa Sakurauchi, Shun Morishita, Shohei Takahashi; Taishi Taguchi, Shunsuke Nakamura, Tomohiko Miyazawa, Hiroki Yamada; Koki Ogawa (Kengo Kawamata 68'), Yoshito Okubo .



2 - 1   

Kashima Antlers are one of the few teams in the J1 with no real pressure to perform in the final months of the regular season. They might be able to fight their way into contention for an ACL berth with a strong finish, but neither title contention nor relegation is a reasonable possibility. The team is far more interested in cup campaigns, with an ACL quarterfinal match scheduled for early next week, and a spot in the Levain Cup semifinal secured last week. With the ACL contest just a few days off, coach Go Oiwa sent out a relatively youthful squad on Friday.

Their opponent, Shonan Bellmare, still needs to collect a few points if they want to ease relegation concerns. Not surprisingly, the visitors came out with the greatest intensity and aggression, pressing the ball hard and denying the Antlers scoring opportunities for most of the first half. However, their attacking opportunities were also few and far between. The match remained scoreless at the break..

Just after the restart, Daigo Nishi and Yasushi Endo -- the two most experienced Kashima players on the pitch, teamed up to break down the right flank of Bellmare's defence, and won a free kick just outside the box, a meter from the end line. Endo's first delivery was deflected clear, but Serginho kept the ball in with a header back to Endo, and the midfielder's second flick across the face of goal was headed home by Shoma Doi, at the far post. 

Bellmare responded by bringing Tsukasa Umesaki and Daiki Sugioka off the bench to increase the attacking pressure. The adjustment paid off just a few minutes later, when Takuya Okamoto overlapped on the right sideline and drove a looping diagonal cross for the far post, which Umesaki headed past the keeper to level the score line..

The Antlers then made their own adjustments, bringing on Yuma Suzuki and Leo Silva to press for the victory. Bellmare battled frantically to try to keep Kashima at bay but in the final minute of regulation time Daigo Nishi looped a diagonal ball into the box for Suzuyki, who met the ball in full stride and drove a thunderous header into the back strings, for the winning tally.

14 September, 2018
Kashima Stadium


0 1H 0
2 2H 1

Shoma Doi (49')
Yuma Suzuki (89') 


Tsukasa Umesaki (66')  
  Cautions Keisuke Okamoto

 Kwoun Sun-Tae; Daigo Nishi, Jung Seung-Huyn Koki Machida, Koki Anzai; Yuto Misao, Ryota Nagaki, Yasushi Endo, Hiroki Abe; Shoma Doi, Serginho.

Yota Akimoto; Miki Yamane, Keisuke Saka, Keisuke Okamoto; Daiki Kaneko, Toshiki Ishikawa (Daiki Sugioka 61'), Hirokazu Ishihara; Tenma Matsuda (Tsukasa Umesaki 61'), Kunitomo Suzuki, Keijiro Ogawa.

1 - 0  

When the season moved into its summer break, for the World Cup, FC Tokyo was still within touching distance of the league leaders, and was viewed as the most likely challenger to a Sanfrecce Hiroshima title. But the Capital City Coondogs have fallen off the high road since play resumed in August, and they entered this week's match against Vegalta Sendai without a win in their last four matches. The last two outings have produced consecutive scoreless draws -- an indication of Tokyo's underlying solidity, but not the sort of result that a prospective league champion can tolerate at such a critical point in the season. Incoming coach Kenta Hasegawa has done a good job of addressing Tokyo's historical reputation for wild inconsistency. However, despite the presence of some talented attacking players, such as Diego Oliveira, Kensuke Nagai and veteran Ryoichi Maeda, the team is still struggling to create goals.

This week the task would be even more difficult against a Sendai team that is playing extremely well as a unit, and boasts one of the top prospects to replace Eiji Kawashima as NT goalkeeper -- the half-American Dainiel Schmidt. Schmidt is a 197cm mountain of muscle who acquired valuable experience as a reserve at Kawasaki Frontale while still in University, and has been on the radar of National Team coaches for two or three years. He got his first call-up to Moriyasu Japan last week, but missed his chance to debut when the Chile match was cancelled due to an earthquake in Hokkaido.

Vegalta is one of just a handful of teams that neither holds out a reasonable chance of catching up with the frontrunners, nor faces a potential risk of slippoing into the relegation scrap. The Golden Eagles started the season very well, and their hard-running, hard-pressing style has kept them above midtable. But as the season has progressed the lack of any real top-drawer talent has prevented them from climbing much further. The core of the Sendai team is extremely experienced, with an average age of 27 but few real "old-timers." They play with the poise and coordination one might expect from such a seasoned unit, but their offense is almost entirely dependent on the counterattack and the set play. Not surprisingly the first half ended without a goal, or even a truly dangerous chance. The Golden Eagles do, however, enjoy more than a bit of luck, as was demonstrated just three minutes after play resumed veteran striker Yoshiro Abe -- a former FC Tokyo player, forged into attack on the right flank and fired a low cross into the box. Tokyo's Yojiro Takahagi reacted instinctively to the ball and threw out a leg to block the centering pass, but only succeeded in deflecting a relatively innocuous cross into his own net.

This miscue temporarily disrupted Tokyo's focus, but by the hour mark they were again starting to control the run of play and create pressure on the Vegalta goal. Coach Hasegawa brought on Lins and Cayman Togashi to sharpen the point of attack, and Schmidt was called upon to handle the ball more frequently, albeit mostly from long-distance efforts. As the pressure increased and the match moved into its final 15 minutes, Sendai brought on defensive-minded midfielders to replace Abe and Kunimitsu Sekiguchi on the wings, packing the centre of the pitch with bodies and disrupting Tokyo's buildup efforts. The visitors seemed unable to exploit the wings, while the sheer number of bodies in midfield prevented the likes of Diego Oliveira, Lins and Takahagi from getting off any sort of shot. The hard-running Sendai players won the day, stifling every Tokyo effort and preserving their advantage to the final whistle. The loss all but extinguishes Tokyo's hopes of catching up with Sanfrecce, and if their slump continues they may even slip out of contention for an ACL berth.

15 September, 2018
Sendai (Yuasa) Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 0


Own Goal (48')


Takuma Abe
Gakuto Notsuda
Cautions Kensuke Nagai
Sei Muroya

 Daniel Schmidt; Yasuhiro Hiraoka, Kazuki Oiwa, Ko Itakura; Shingo Tomita, Hiroaki Okuno, Koji Hachisuka, Kunimitsu Sekiguchi (Katsuya Nagato 84'); Gakuto Notsuda, Takuma Abe (Keiya Shiihashi 81'), Naoki Ishihara (Ramon Lopes 90').

  Akihiro Hayashi; Sei Muroya, Jang Hyun-Soo, Masato Morishige, Kosuke Ota; Kotaro Omori (Cayman Togashi 66'), Yojiro Takahagi, Kento Hashimoto Keigo Higashi (Takuji Yonemoto 82'); Kensuke Nagai (Lins 66'), Diego Oliveira .



 1 - 0  

The team that drew the task of trying to rein in the J.League leaders this week was Sagan Tosu, the small but steadily improving club from northwestern Kyushu. Sagan's greatest challenge in recent years has been the task of transforming relative success on the pitch into some source of publicity that could boost them out of the ranks of small but feisty local clubs that dot the island of Kyushu into a representative of the entire region, with the level of fan support and associated revenue stream that could put them permanently in the ranks of J1 challengers. Kyushu is a fairly populous region with strong support for football and a large fan base, albeit one that is fragmented among a large number of medium-sized cities scattered about an area as compact as the Kansai or Kanto metropolises. Oita Trinita almost managed to transform local success into regional representation in the early 00s, but after one League Cup title they got themselves into financial difficulty and were knocked down a few pegs due to League-imposed financial restructuring. The Terrible Turtles never managed to recover, and their support has steadily waned in recent years as the number of local rivals in the expanding J.League has increased.

  A few years ago there were signs that Sagan might be on track to claim an ACL berth or a cup title, and use that to boost their profile. In 2014 the Magenta Magpies were in first place at the World Cup break, but for reasons that have never been fully explained, the team fired coach Yoon Jung-Hwan and in the wake of his departure, the team slumped al the way to sixth. This year, however, Sagan discovered a new potential strategy for boosting the team's profile. Noting the surge in attendance that accompanied Vissel Kobe's acquisition of Lucas Podolski, Sagan managed to scrape together enough funds to convince Spanish World Cup hero Fernando Torres to sign over the summer. Recognizing that one player was not enough to build a team around, they also coaxed Kashima Antlers to exchange local boy Mu Kanazaki for a young and talented but still relatively unknown Korean defender, Jung Seung-Yun. The publicity generated by Torres' signing, and the local appeal of Kanazaki, have combined to boost attendances at Tosu "Best Amenity" Stadium dramatically, but the acquisition has not yet translated to results on the pitch. Only time will tell whether this will be a temporary blip or a sustained trend. For the moment, Torres is earning his keep in Tosu, but to really break through into the ranks of top challengers, the team needs to start winning matches. At teh start of the week, the team was flirting with relegation territory, and needs a few wins to dispel the danger of a Trinita-like tragedy.

Sanfrecce, meanwhile, are sitting pretty at the top of the table. The revolution that Hajime Moriyasu engineered in Hiroshima in the early teens brought championship silver to the city for the first time in team history, but after a third championship in 2015, the team seemed to have lost its edge. Coach Hiroshi Jofuku arrived at the start of this season and immediately retooled the team to match his more active, opportunistic style of play. The incoming coach had a big advantage in the early going, as four of the starting players had already spend at least a year or two playing for Jofuku, at Ventforet Kofu. Patric Oliveira is the most widely recognized of this group, thanks to his prolific scoring ability. The big Brazilian entered the weekend with 19 goals under his belt, the most of any player in J1. But Sho Inagaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa and Sho Sasaki are also key players. The latter received his first national team cap last week, against Costa Rica, and only the official scorer's decision to call his deflected header an own goal prevented him from opening his scoring accout for the Samurai Blue, as well.

Sanfrecce's balanced mix of youth and experience allowed Jofuku to get his team firing on all cylinders right from the start of the season, and despite a slight dip in form since the World Cup break, the Purple Archers are still nine points clear of second-place Kawasaki Frontale. A victory in Tosu would have made their cushion even more comfortable as the 2018 campaign moves into its final stretch. All year long, the Archers have built their success on solid defense and opportunistic scoring. Though they have a massive advantage in goal difference (+22 vs +13 for second-place Frontale), goal production is not dramatically better than that of Sanfrecce's main rivals (indeed, 14th-place Yokohama Marinos have scored more goals than Hiroshima). It is their stingy defense and ability to control contests while playing off the back foot that has put the team in its current position.

Tosu started the game strongly, and created most of the truly dangerous chances of the first half. But as is their habit, Sanfrecce maintained a patient preventative stance that kept the contest scoreless and conserved energy.

Both teams came out for the second act with a surge of intensity, and produced dangerous chances at both ends in the opening five minutes. As the contest progressed, however, the fluidity of play deteriorated in an increasingly physical tussle above both penalty areas. Both teams began to find their best scoring chances limited to set plays. The opening goal finally arrived in the 75th minute, when Tosu won a free kick on the right sideline, just a few meters from the corner flag. The delivery was low and flat, and Yoshiki Takahashi met it directly in the centre of the goal mouth, drifting a powerful header off the fingertips of Takuto Hayashi and into the back strings.

Hiroshima battled for the equaliser but despite a late flurry of chances, they were unable to find the equaliser, and Tosu claimed a very important, confidence-building victory.

15 September, 2018
Tosu (BestAmenity) Stadium


0 1H 0
1 2H 0


Yoshiki Takahashi (77')


Kazuki Anzai Cautions  

 Yuichi Gonda; Masato Fujita, Yuji Takahashi Joao Omari (Kim Min-Hyeok 90'), Hiromu Mitsumaru; Hideto Takahashi, Riki Harakawa (Kazuki Anzai 64'), Akito Fukuta, Yoshiki Takahashi ; Fernando Torres, Mu Kanazaki.

Takuto Hayashi; Takuya Wada, Yuki Nogami, Hiroki Mizumoto, Sho Sasaki; Kosei Shibasaki (Kyohei Yoshino 82'), Toshihiro Aoyama, Sho Inagaki, Yoshifumi Kashiwa (Hayao Kawabe 75'), Daiki Watari (Teerasil Dangda 56'), Patric Oliveira .



  3 - 4

If Tosu fans are concerned about the difficulty that Torres is having in settling into his position at the new club, they can take some solace in the recent performance of Nagoya Grampus. The Red Whales laid out a large sum at the start of the season to sign Brazil NT fringe member Joao "Jo" Alaves Silva. For the first few months Jo had a very difficult time adjusting to his teammates and to the style of play in the J.League. However, since the summer break, both player and team have enjoyed a dramatic transformation. The Red Whales have been the hottest team in J1 over the month of August, going from dead last, in late July, to a current spot six points clear of the relegation zone. There have not been any major changes in personnel, but the team is clearly more competitive now than they were at the start of the season, and Jo has been on a scoring tear, moving atop the J1 scoring table with two goals in this week's match.

Nagoya's opponents on Saturday evening were the team that has replaced them in the league cellar -- V.Varen Nagasaki. The Mighty Ducks performed well in their first few matches this year, but the newcomers to J1 are quickly discovering the challenge posed by bigger and more experienced clubs. V.Varen does not seem to be "out of their depth", as some teams do on their first excursion to the top-flight division. But despite remaining competitive in most of their matches, the Mighty Ducks are struggling to accumulate points. They entered the week eight points from safety, and badly needed a win to dispel the sense of doom that can be a young team's greatest bane. Though both teams will be a bit disappointed with their defensive play, this contest had fans on their feet for the entire 90 minutes . . . in fact, actually closer to 100, as the physical intensity produced a number of stoppages and the second half included almost eight minutes of added time.

The visitors opened the scoring just eight minutes after kickoff, when Takashi Sawada sent Ryutaro Iio into the right corner with a looping lead pass and Iio sent his first touch bounding across the middle, for Musashi Suzuki to chase. The former Japan U-21 ace won a frantic footrace with two defenders, bundled the ball into net and the visitors had the early advantage.

Grampus struck back midway through the first half very much against the run of play. Nagasaki had enjoyed a nice run of play for about ten minutes, in which they dominated possession hand seemed to be pinning Grampus back with their greater intensity. But In the 30th minute Grampus finally won possession and settled for a minute or so, then worked the ball down the right flank. As nothing seemed to be developing, Naoki Maeda suddenly accelerated on the dribble, cutting in from the sideline to a spot just above the top right edge of the penalty box, and let fly with his left foot. The ball just cleared the keeper's fingertips and slipped under the crossbar, on what was Nagoya's first shot of the entire contest

Nagasaki continued to play well, and the two teams went in at the break with the score still level. Just after the restart, however, the visitors were reminded of how dangerous Joao "Jo" Alves Silva can be, if you give him even an inch of space. Three minutes after the restart, defender Takashi Kanai suddenly looked up and lofted a long ball from ten meters inside his own half towards the tall Brazilian target man, and Jo muscled his way through two defenders to meet the ball on the second bounce and drive his first touch past Kenta Tokushige, putting the Red Orcas in the lead for the first time.

It took V.Varen just five minutes to restore parity, on a play very similar to their opener. Once again it was Iio who slipped into the right corner and drove a low cross for Suzuki, who leapt high to head the ball past Mitch Langerak. Suzuki rode the momentum like a surfer on a towering wave. Just three minutes later he completed his hat trick, this time on a full-speed counterattack. Takashi Sawada was the player who found his way into the right corner, and for the third time in the contest a low line drive led Suzuki into the box. The speedy striker lunged with a long left leg and volleyed the ball just underneath Langerak's left glove, to vault the Mighty Ducks into the lead once more.

Nagasaki clearly sensed the opportunity to snatch three valuable points from another potential relegation candidate, and their pressure increased as the second half wore on. In the 69th minute they won a corner kick, and after Langerak punched the initial delivery to the edge of the box, it was headed back into a crowd. Another Nagasaki head pushed the ball towards the right of the pack, then veteran Ryota Takazugi knocked it down into open space at the right post. As Daichi Tagami began to pursue it, his leg tangled with that of a Nagoya defender tumbling heavily on his face with such an impact that the referee didnt even think twice before pointing at the spot. Keita Nakamura drilled the spot kick and V.Varen had a two-goal advantage.

The result was far from secure, however, since Jo's ability to conjure goals out of thin air can alter the momentum of a match in an instant. With a minute still on the clock, Nagoya won a throw level with the top of the penalty box, and lobbed the ball into a cluster of bodies. The ball was flicked on net, caromed out to the far post, and was driven powerfully into the strings by Jo's left boot. This set up a very tense finish, because a number of stoppages, including the prolonged "discussion" that followed Nagasaki's PK, prompted the officials to add six minutes of injury time -- stretched to eight minutes when V.Varen attempted to stall, argue, and feign injury to waste time.

But in the end, Grampus could not find the equaliser, and Nagasaki claimed their first victory in almost two months. The three points were not enough to lift V.Varen off the cellar floor, but they do narrow the gap to safety.

15 September 2018
Mizuho (Paloma) Stadium


1 1H 1
2 2H 3


Naoki Maeda (30')
"Jo" Alves Silva (48')
"Jo" Alves Silva (89') 


Musashi Suzuki (08')
Musashi Suzuki (53')
Musashi Suzuki (56')
Keita Nakamura (70')
Shinnosuke Nakatani
Takashi Kanai
Cautions Musashi Suzuki
Shuhei Tokunaga

 Mitch Langerak; Kazuya Miyahara, Shinnosuke Nakatani, Yuichi Maruyama, Takashi Kanai; Keiji Tamada (Kohei Hattanda 61'), Yuki Kobayashi (Kazuki Arai 87'); Eduardo Neto, Kodama (Ryuji Izumi 45'); Naoki Maeda, Joao Alves "Jo" Silva.

 Kenta Tokushige; Shuhei Tokunaga (Reis 90'), Ryota Takasugi, Daichi Tagami; Kuroki, Yuzuru Shimada, Ryutaro Iio, Hijiri Onaga, Keita Nakamura (Junya Yoneda 90+4'), Takashi Sawada; Musashi Suzuki (Juanma 86') .


 7 - 0    

Sanfrecce's loss to Sagan Tosu, which was confirmed just as the players were preparing to walk out on the pitch at Kawasaki's Todoroki Stadium, put Frontale in a position to close the gap between themselves and the league leaders to just six points, with a victory. The opportunity clearly inspired the home team, not to mention the crowd, as the Blue Dolphins came out with a burst of intensioty that quickly knocked visiting Consasdole Sapporo off their feet and out of the contest. Consadole entered this match in fourth place, and though the gap between the Hokkaido Snow Owls and the league leaders seems insurmountable, they still are in contention for an ACL berth, which would be a huge boost to team pride and local confidence. Unfortunately, the visitors simply could not match the intensity of Kawasaki's attacking unit, and in a ten-minute explosion at the end of the first half Frontale tallied thrice, and nearly added one or two more goals before the break.

The contest started off with a flurry of action at both ends, and Consadole had as many chances as Frontale in the early running. Chanathip Songkran had a golden opportunity to put his team in front in the 25th minute but his shot from the left edge of the box shanked wide of the post. But Akihiro Ienaga opened the scoring on the half hour mark when Jung Sung-Ryong lunged off his line to block a shot from the edge of the box. The ball bounded right back to Ienaga, who had the presence of mind to trap it and gently lift the ball over the head of keeper, who was now stranded at the edge of his six-yard box. As the ball settled into the back netting, the Consadole players dropped their heads in momentary disappointment, and Frontale never allowed the visitors to get back up and into the contest. Almost immediately, Ienaga made a steal at midfield and poked the ball into space for Yu Kobayashi to chase. Kobayashi centered for Kengo Nakamura who volleyed it out of the air while in full sprint, and drove his shot into the low left corner. Hiroyuki Abe added a third goal less than ten minutes later after another Frontale steal deep in Consadole's end. Once again Jung Sung-Ryong managed to block the first shot but again it bounded out to a Frontale player -- Abe -- who stroked it into the vacated net.

Frontale added four more goals in the second half, never allowing Sapporo to even make a contest of it. Each of the seven goals was scored by a different player, imncluding a debut goal by young Ao Tanaka, a 19-year old just recently elevated from the Frontale youth team. This comprehensive victory pulls Frontale to within six points of league-leading Sanfrecce. With Consadole's loss, however, and a loss by third-place FC Tokyo, the battle for the 2018 crown now seems to be just a two-horse race.

15 September, 2018
Sapporo Dome


3 1H 0
4 2H 0


Akihiro Ienaga (28')
Kengo Nakamura (30')
Hiroyuki Abe (40')
Hokuto Shimoda (57')
Yu Kobayashi (58')
Kei Chinen (86')
Ao Tanaka (90+1')


Akihiro Ienaga Cautions Kim Min-Tae
Akito Fukumori
Shinji Ono

Jung Sung-Ryong ; Elsinho, Tatsuki Nara, Shogo Taniguchi, Shintaro Kurumaya; Hokuto Shimoda (Ao Tanaka 84'), Ryota Oshima (Jumpei Noborizato 52'); Kengo Nakamura, Akihiro Iemoto, Hiroyuki Abe: Yu Kobayashi (Kei Chinen 73') .

Gu Sung-yun; Ryosuke Shindo, Kim Min-Tae (Naoki Ishikawa 45'), Akito Fukumori; Ryota Hayasaka, Yuki Miyazawa (Jay Bothroyd 45')Kazuki Fukai (Shinji Ono 61'), Daiki Suga; Takuma Arano, Chanathip Songkran; Ken Tokura .

1 - 2  

Vissel Kobe dominated play in the first half, and opened the scoring in the 35th minute when Shogo Furuhashi made a nice trap at the left post to pull down an inlet pass and swivel past his defender. Though he rushed his shot slightly, the ball caromed off the crossbar, off the far post and then across the goal line, to give Vissel the advantage at half time.

Gamba responded to Coach Miyamoto's half time lecture, and cam,e out with a lot more intensity, leveling the score just five minutes after the restart. Oh Jae-Suk, who was fresh off the bench and responsible for injecting life into the side, made a blazing run down the right sideline and crossed for Shu Kurata, who volleyed off the keeper's right glove and into the net .

Gamba moved into the lead midway through the second half when Shu Kurata made a slashing run around the left flank and bamboozled the keeper by feinting towards teammates in the centre of the box, then sliding the ball behind him, across the face of goal. Hwang Ui-Jo read Kurata's intentions perfectly and snuck in at the far post to casually tap the ball through the wide-open back door.

Though Kobe created some chances down the stretch, Gamba held on for the important victory, and three points that will boost them out of the relegation zone temporarily, ahead of Yokohama Marinos who do not play until Sunday..

15 September, 2018
Kobe (Noevir) Stadium


1 1H 0
0 2H 2


Shogo Furuhashi (35') 


Shu Kurata (52')
Hwang Ui-Jo (69')
Naoyuki Fujita
Shun Nagasawa
Cautions Yasuyuki Konno
Hwang Ui-Jo
Reo Takae
Yasuhito Endo

Kim Seung-Gyu; Fujitani, Osaki, Yasser, Teeraton Bunmathon; Naoyuki Fujita, Hirotaka Mita (Junya Tanaka 75'); Andres Iniesta (Shun Nagasawa 71'), Shuhei Otsuki (Yuta Goke 66'); Wellington, Shogo Furuhashi .

 Masaaki Higashiguchi; Genta Miura, Fabio, Hiroki Fujiharu; Yasuhito Endo, Shu Kurata, Yasuyuki Konno (Takahiro Ko 83'), Reo Takae (Oh Jae-Suk 45'), Kosuke Onose, Hwang Ui-Jo (Kazunari Ichimi 87'), Kazuma Watanabe .


2 - 3  

Although it is a bit hard to describe either one as a "big" team, anymore, Kashiwa Reysol and Shimizu S-Pulse are among the most well-known names to face concerns about a potential relegation scrap. Reysol came into the weekend in 16th place -- the last level of the relegation zone -- while S-Pulse was onluy five points above them in the table, and thus needing to pile up as many points as possible to keep the wolf away from the door.

Reysol's position near the bottom of the heap is a bit difficult to explain, given the team's recent participation in ACL play and the large number of current or former NT players in the fold. However, the Sun Kings have been badly hurt by injury this season, while their scoring talisman, Cristiano, has been in a slump for most of the year. S-Pulse, on the other hand, are probably at around the level one would expect of an extremely young team whose main scoring icons are either too old (Yu Hasegawa), hobbled by injury (Crislan) or both (Chong Tese). Coach Jan Jonsson has done a good job of easing these players out of the squad and shifting more of the weight on players in their early 20s. Only time will tell whether this "wave of the future" can take the Wingheads far above midtable, but at least the future looks more promising than the recent past.

Shimizu's young prospects displayed their quality right from the outset. Shota Kaneko, a 23-year old who has been at S-Pulse for over five seasons, got the play started with a dribbling run down the left sideline. His inlet pass was cleverly dummied by Ko Matsubara (22 next week) and found 24-year-old Ryohei Shirasaki just above the penalty spot. Shirasaki feinted towards goal then dropped the ball back to a wide-open Ryo Takeuchi for a powerful drive into the top right corner. In addition to Shirasaki, Matsubara and Kaneko, S-Pulse got strong contributions in this match from 19-year-old Yugo Tatsuta, a 189-cm defender who Jonsson has converted to wingback (and even occasionally midfield wing) in order to better use the youngster's lightning speed and excellent ball skills.

The remainder of the half was scoreless, though the visitors seemed to maintain the upper hand, prompting coach Takahiro Shimotaira to demand more intensity from his players in the second act. Unfortunately, though Reysol came out with a lot of intensity, they were pegged back almost immediately due to a bit of inattention from the defensive unit. S-Pulse won a corner kick just five minutes after the restart, and as the ball was cleared to midfield, the pack in front of goal lost their marking pattern when the ball was headed back into the box. Two S-Pulse players were well offside, but nobody bothered to identify, or mark, the players who were still "active". Shirasaki dashed forward from deep in the box without any gold shirt noticing him, snatched the bounding ball two meters behind any Reysol defender, and swung a sidewinding kick past the keeper.

Reysol's second-half pressure resumed almost immediately, giving them the dominant share of possession and most of the scoring chances. But now the visitors had a more comfortable lead to protect. Following a string of close calls, Reysol finally managed to break down the Wingheads' defense in the 64th minute. Kei Koizumi fired a sharp diagonal pass to Yusuke Segawa as he cut towards the top of the box. Segawa squeezed through a narrow gap as he collected the pass, and immediately fired a shot that rocketed inside the right post.

Reysol increased the intensity, and it looked like they were on the verge of equalizing when another defensive miscue restored S-Pulse's cushion. The Wingheads won an innocuous-looking free kick near midfield, but Friere found Mitchell Duke on the left edge of the box, where the Australian was able to use his size to win the header. As the ball bounded in front of net, Koya Kitagawa lunged headfirst in front of the keeper. Though he failed to make any contact at all, this put Kazushige Kirihata off just enough to convince him to punch the ball rather than gather it. The deflection dropped right at the feet of Yosuke Kawai, who stroked it into the empty net. 

Reysol managed to pull one bakc in injury time, b ut the loss leaves them mired in the relegation zone, while victory gives S-Pulse a bit more breathing space as the season moves into its stretch run.

15 September, 2018
Sendai (Yuasa) Stadium


0 1H 1
2 2H 2


Yusuke Segawa (64')
Cristiano (90+4') 


Ryo Takeuchi (10')
Ryohei Shirasaki (52')
Yosuke Kawai (81')
Daisuke Suzuki Cautions  

 Kazushige Kirihata; Masashi Kamekawa (Ryohei Yamasaki 81'), Daisuke Suzuki, So Nakagawa; Toshiya Takagi, Junya Ito, Kei Koizumi (Hidekazu Otani 81'); Kohei Tezuka, Hiroto Nakagawa (Olunga 72'), Cristiano, Yusuke Segawa .

 Yuji Rokutan; Yugo Tatsuta, Friere, Makoto Kakuta, Ko Matsubara; Ryo Takeuchi Yosuke Kawai, Shota Kaneko, Ryohei Shirasaki; Crislan (Mitch Duke 72') Koya Kitagawa (Yu Hasegawa 90'), .



   1 - 2     

Although both Urawa Reds and Yokohama Marinos tend to view themselves as sufficiently competitive to avoid a relegation scrap, even when they are not performing at the peak of their ability, this season both teams seem to have allowed themselves to slip into a false sense of complacency which is not justified by their actual results. The Marinos entered the week level on points with 16th-place Reysol, and the Reds are just three points further uptable. The latter probably will feel safe, in eleventh place at the start of the weekend, but they certainly are not living up to the expectations of the Saitama Red Army, who turned out in force to Yokohama International Stadium, to support their team but also to express their disappointment at what has been a very unimpressive campaign. The Marinos may be further down the pecking order at the moment, but they have recovered from a very poor start to the season and are gradually transferring responsibility to a younger generation. Coach Ange Postecoglou may not be completely happy with the current ranking, but he has accomplished much of the task handed to him at the start of the season.

Both teams came out with a lot of bluster, and the opening minutes were marred by a lot of argy-bargy-type fouls, while the two teams were still trying to find a rhythm. Referee Jumpei Iida did not make matters any better by ignoring a lot of the activity, even in cases where obvious tugs and pushes gave one team an unfair advantage. Though lenience does not always exacerbate the problem when teams are trying to "establish dominance" early in a contest, in this case it seemed to heighten tension in what was already an ill-tempered matchup.

The first real chances fell to the home team, with first Yuki Otsu and then Keita Endo narrowly missing with shots fired off while sprinting into the box shoulder-to-shoulder with defenders. This elevated the intensity and forced Mr. Iida to start taking down names, booking four players between the 25 and 35 minute mark. But after holding off the early pressure the Reds got a series of set play opportunities near the end of the half, and ratcheted up the pressure. After two close calls, the Reds finally found the mark on a free kick. The initial drive failed to clear the wall, but Tomoya Ugajin collected the weak clearance a step inside the penalty area and drilled it off Hiroki Iikura's fingertips, just inside the right post.

The second half was a bit less physical, but equally tense, as the Marinos battled for the equaliser and the Reds adopted a counterattacking stance, hoping to catch out the Marinos as they pressed forward. This has been a problem for Yokohama since the start of the season, and it helps to explain why they sit just above the relegation zone despite scoring the second-most goals in the league. Though they have not conceded quite as many counterattacking goals as they did at the start of the year, they still seem shaky on defense at times. In the 59th minute, though, the Reds pushed a bit to far forward on one counterattacking rush, and the Marinos turned the momentum back on itself with a long clearance to Keita Endo on the left flank. Endo dribbled almost to the end line before poking the ball inside to Hugo Vieira, isolated on a single defender. Vieira faked Mauricio to the ground with his first touch, then stutterstepped a few times in front of goal before tucking the ball past Shusaku Nishikawa and into the right corner.

This opened up the engines on both ends, as the two teams began trading wild haymaker blows like two tired boxers in the 15th round of a title match. Galloping rushes from end to end left all 22 men on the pitch gasping for breath, but neither one seemed content to take a foot off the gas. Vieira, who had just come on moments before his goal, was the main target for the Marinos, but the Reds seemed to have better success in controlling the ball. With just over ten minutes to go, Takuya Aoki chipped a ball over the top for Yuki Muto, who managed to control the ball against heavy pressure and stroke a shot underneath the outrushing Iikura.

The Marinos almost answered immediately, but Nishikawa managed to tip Sho Ito's header just over the crossbar, and the Reds brought on veteran Yuki Abe as an extra defender to pack their penalty area and try to wait out the final ten minutes. The final stages of play took place almost entirely in the Marinos attacking end, under the glare of thousands of home supporters. But their urging and pleading were not enough, as the Reds managed to grassroll, argue and bluster away the precious minutes, and preserve their narrow victory.

16 September, 2018
Yokohama Int'l (Nissan) Stadium


0 1H 1
1 2H 1


Hugo Vieira (59')


Tomoya Ugajin; (43')
Yuki Muto (78') 
Jun Amano
Ippei Shinozuka
Yuki Otsu
Cautions Takuya Aoki

 Hiroki Iikura; Ippei Shinozuka Thiago Martins, Dusan, Ryosuke Yamanaka (Lee Il-Lok 83'); Takahiro Ogihara, Yuki Otsu (Hugo Vieira 65'), Jun Amano, Nakagawa, Sho Ito , Keita Endo .

 Shusaku Nishikawa; Takuya Iwanami, Mauricio, Tomoaki Makino; Daiki Hashioka (Tadaaki Hirakawa 66'), Tomoki Nagasawa (Yuki Abe 83'), Takuya Aoki, Tomoya Ugajin; Yuki Muto, Martinus Takuya Ogihara 45'); Shinzo Koroki.



Hits: 2589