Tuesday 28 May 2013

Six of the best for Urawa but neighbours Omiya stay five clear over summer break



Urawa Reds were the headline-makers on the final round of J1 matches before the six-week-long summer hiatus, surging to a 6-2 rout away to 2011 champions Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday evening.

Genki Haraguchi exchanged passes with Shinzo Koroki before striking a confident shot across the Kashiwa goalkeeper Takenori Sugeno for Urawa’s opener on 17 minutes, before Yosuke Kashiwagi got on the end of a low ball across the six-yard box from Tsukasa Umesaki to double the advantage in first-half stoppage time.

It was Kashiwagi again who lit the blue touch paper for a rewarding second period with a direct free kick that curled over the Reysol wall and inside the near post to make it 3-0.

With the home defence advancing close to the halfway line, Koroki then took advantage to beat Hirofumi Watanabe and run in on goal, drawing Sugeno and squaring for Marcio Richardes to roll the ball into the empty net.

Despite two headed consolation efforts from Junya Tanaka and Naoya Kondo, Reds ensured they would have plenty of good memories to take into the mid-season break with further late strikes from Ryota Moriwaki and a second for Richardes.

The huge win had little bearing on the top of the table, however, as the supposedly smaller Saitama side Omiya Ardija held onto their five-point lead at the summit with an easy 3-0 victory away to Ventforet Kofu.

Omiya’s task was rendered utterly straightforward after just two minutes when Kofu defender Masaru Matsuhashi saw red for hauling down Zlatan Ljubijankič in the 18-yard area. Their other Slovenian forward, Milivoje Novaković, took advantage to convert the resulting penalty.

Shohei Takahashi diverted a Takumi Shimohira free kick into the path of Kosuke Kikuchi for the second, before Novaković played a 1-2 on the right flank with Daigo Watanabe to complete the scoring just before half time with a sumptuous volley over the goalkeeper from the corner of the penalty area.

A solitary header from Seitaro Tomisawa was enough for Yokohama F Marinos to remain one point ahead of Urawa in second with a 1-0 win at struggling Sagan Tosu, with Kashima Antlers still in fourth after coming back from two down to beat FC Tokyo by the odd goal in five.

Antlers got off to a nightmare start after just seven minutes when Daiki Iwamasa’s attempted clearance struck Tadanari Lee to leave the Japan forward clean through on goal for the opener. Kazuma Watanabe then doubled the lead with his ninth of the season shortly before half time.

But the hosts got a lifeline soon after the restart when Yuya Osako ran onto a Davi through ball and dinked it over Shuichi Gonda to pull one back, and they were level on 56 minutes after Yasushi Endo rounded the goalkeeper and saw his cutback bounce in off the unfortunate Jang Hyun-Soo.

It took a suicidal piece of defending from Sotan Tanabe, who had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, to decide the game in favour of Kashima soon afterwards. His dallying on the edge of the Tokyo box allowed Osako to steal in and slot through Gonda’s legs to make the final score 3-2.

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Former Japan Olympic boss Takashi Sekizuka was present to watch his new Jubilo Iwata charges play out a 1-1 draw in their bottom-of-the-table clash away to Oita Trinita.

The 52-year-old, who was announced as the full-time replacement for Hitoshi Morishita last Monday but did not take full responsibility until after the Oita game, was given a sign of the work ahead of him when Daiki Takamatsu opened the scoring for the home side from Yasuhito Morishima’s pass.

But Iwata did at least earn a share of the spoils to keep them off the bottom on goal difference when Takuya Matsuura’s solo run inside from the left wing saw his effort strike the crossbar and rebound for Hiroki Yamada to equalise.

Elsewhere, Shonan Bellmare complete the bottom three after their 2-0 home loss to fifth-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima, while Cerezo Osaka beat Nagoya Grampus 2-1 to leave Dragan Stojković’s men down in 14th.

Shimizu S-Pulse beat Vegalta Sendai 2-0 in their mid-table clash at Nihondaira, while Kawasaki Frontale edged Albirex Niigata 2-1.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
The star draw of the division, Gamba Osaka, eked out a 2-1 win away to Ehime FC to go top for the first time all season after previous leaders Vissel Kobe went down to a shock home defeat against Gainare Tottori. The visitors had lost 6-0 at home to Montedio Yamagata the previous weekend but profited from the second half dismissal of Kobe defender Takuya Iwanami to defend the lead given to them earlier by Yuichi Kubo. Meanwhile, V-Varen Nagasaki are up to third in their debut J. League season following an impressive 2-1 victory over JEF United Chiba.


J1 results (matchday 13)
Shonan Bellmare 0-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Ventforet Kofu 0-3 Omiya Ardija
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 Vegalta Sendai
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Albirex Niigata
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Oita Trinita 1-1 Jubilo Iwata
Kashima Antlers 3-2 FC Tokyo
Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Kashiwa Reysol 2-6 Urawa Reds


J2 results (matchday 16)
Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Mito HollyHock
Montedio Yamagata 1-2 Kyoto Sanga
Thespakusatsu Gunma 0-0 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Matsumoto Yamaga 3-0 Kataller Toyama
Tokushima Vortis 2-1 Tokyo Verdy
V-Varen Nagasaki 2-1 JEF United Chiba
Tochigi SC 0-0 Yokohama FC
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Gainare Tottori
Fagiano Okayama 2-3 Roasso Kumamoto
Avispa Fukuoka 2-1 FC Gifu
Ehime FC 1-2 Gamba Osaka

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Sunday 19 May 2013

Kashima record anniversary victory while Omiya move five clear



At the end of a week in which the J. League celebrated its 20th anniversary, Kashima Antlers hosted Nagoya Grampus in a repeat of perhaps the most famous fixture from the league’s opening weekend in 1993.

That match had seen the 40-year-old Zico completely overshadow Nagoya’s famous foreign signing, Gary Lineker, in scoring a brilliant hat-trick as Kashima ran out 5-0 victors.

The Brazilian was on the pitch again two decades later to greet the players of both sides ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game, before taking his place in the VIP seats to watch his old club complete a 3-1 victory despite falling behind to Yoshizumi Ogawa’s goal after 24 minutes.

Yasushi Endo cut inside past Marcus Tulio Tanaka and fired through a crowd of players to equalise for the home team just before the break, before second-half strikes from Atsutaka Nakamura and Yuya Osako sealed all three points.

Kashima remain the most successful club in Japanese professional football history with seven J. League titles, but surprise package Omiya Ardija are still the team to beat this season after moving five points clear at the top with a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare.

The Squirrels’ record 21-match unbeaten run finally came to an end with defeat at Vegalta Sendai last weekend, but they demonstrated their determination to bounce back after 15 minutes when Daigo Watanabe cut the ball across the penalty area for Zlatan Ljubijankič to backheel in the opener.

The Slovenian then hit the bar two minutes later, only for Shonan to counter and win a corner from which defender Kazunori Ono headed the visitors level.

It looked like being another frustrating afternoon for the J1 leaders until nine minutes from time, when Watanabe struck a low shot from inside the D to register his first goal of the season. Things got even better for Omiya with the news that Sendai had this week done them a favour, by holding second-place Yokohama F Marinos to a goalless draw at the Nissan Stadium.

The latter scoreline allowed Urawa Reds in third to close within a point of Marinos with a game in hand thanks to a 6-2 thumping of struggling Sagan Tosu later on Saturday evening.

A Yuki Abe penalty was all that divided the sides at half-time, while a see-saw second half left Tosu fighting for an equaliser at 3-2 with ten minutes to play.

But the home side took advantage of the space afforded them to slice their opponents open on the flanks three times in quick succession, as Genki Haraguchi, Daisuke Nasu, and late substitute Shinya Yajima each got on the end of crosses to make it half a dozen goals from as many scorers. Tomoaki Makino and Shinzo Koroki were the other Urawa players on the scoresheet.

Defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima enjoyed a similarly prolific afternoon to stay in touch with the leading pack thanks to a 5-1 drubbing of Ventforet Kofu.

Paraguayan international José Ortigoza gave Kofu a shock lead after just four minutes, but Hisato Sato levelled almost immediately with a shot that flew in off the underside of the bar – the first of three goals for the new J1 top scorer that afternoon.

Hiroki Mizumoto took the ball past Hideomi Yamamoto and scored with an excellent effort from outside the box to put Hiroshima in front before the interval, and the hosts never looked back in a second half during which they could have had a lot more but for the heroics of Ventforet goalkeeper Kohei Kawata.

In the end they settled for five – Sato completing his hat-trick to take him to nine for the season, before 18-year-old midfielder Gakuto Notsuda scored his first ever J. League goal four minutes from time.

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Bottom team Oita Trinita finally sealed their first league win of the season at the 12th attempt, edging Albirex Niigata 3-2 in a tense encounter at the Big Swan.

The visitors looked set for heartbreak after leading twice against the run of play only to concede a 90th-minute equaliser to Brazilian midfielder Léo Silva – his first since joining Niigata from Portuguesa.

But there were still eight minutes of stoppage time to play following a collision of heads earlier in the second half between Kentaro Oi and Kim Kun-Hoan, which left both Albirex centre-backs requiring lengthy treatment and ultimately being carried off the pitch.

This left enough time for Oita forward Daiki Takamatsu to head the ball across for the onrunning defender Kohei Tokita, who smashed it home for a dramatic winner right at the death.

Elsewhere, Jubilo Iwata’s struggles continued with a 4-2 home defeat to Kawasaki Frontale. Cerezo Osaka beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 to register their first win in three, while FC Tokyo emerged as 2-0 victors over Shimizu S-Pulse.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
There were thumping victories for both Montedio Yamagata and Gamba Osaka on Sunday afternoon, with the former racing to a 6-0 rout away to Gainare Tottori while Gamba were 5-1 winners at home to second-from-bottom Thespakusatsu Gunma. But Vissel Kobe remain three points clear at the top after beating Ehime FC 4-2 to make it 10 wins from 15 so far this season.


J1 results (matchday 12)
Kashima Antlers 3-1 Nagoya Grampus
Albirex Niigata 2-3 Oita Trinita
Jubilo Iwata 2-4 Kawasaki Frontale
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 5-1 Ventforet Kofu
Kashiwa Reysol 1-3 Cerezo Osaka
Yokohama F Marinos 0-0 Vegalta Sendai
Omiya Ardija 2-1 Shonan Bellmare
Urawa Reds 6-2 Sagan Tosu
FC Tokyo 2-0 Shimizu S-Pulse


J2 results (matchday 15)
Gainare Tottori 0-6 Montedio Yamagata
Fagiano Okayama 2-0 Tokushima Vortis
Ehime FC 2-4 Vissel Kobe
Roasso Kumamoto 1-4 Tochigi SC
V-Varen Nagasaki 0-1 Kyoto Sanga
Consadole Sapporo1 -1 Tokyo Verdy
Mito HollyHock 4-1 FC Gifu
JEF United Chiba 1-0 Matsumoto Yamaga
Kataller Toyama 1-2 Avispa Fukuoka
Gamba Osaka 5-1 Thespakusatsu Gunma
Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-1 Yokohama FC

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Sunday 28 April 2013

Incredible Ardija thump Reysol to go top



The ever-astonishing Omiya Ardija moved on top of the J1 table and extended their record run of unbeaten matches to 19 with a 4-0 romp away to 2011 champions Kashiwa Reysol on Friday evening.

Fresh from a 1-1 draw with Guizhou Renhe of China that sealed their place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League, the hosts started promisingly but found themselves frustrated by a solid Omiya defence which has only conceded five league goals all year.

The visitors built on this platform to open the scoring on 18 minutes. Cho Young-Cheol played a low cross for Milivoje Novaković to net first time with the side of his boot.

On his return from suspension, Shohei Takahashi scored from close range at the very end of the half to double the lead and, from that point, Ardija never looked back.

Nine minutes into the second period, Novaković played a beautiful pass through the finest of paths between the Kashiwa midfield and defence for Zlatan Ljubijankič, who was tripped by Hirofumi Watanabe to give Novaković a chance from the penalty spot.

The Slovenian converted with style, and the rout was complete soon afterwards when the ball broke for Cho to slot coolly past Takanori Sugeno.

Omiya’s place at the summit might only have lasted 24 hours, but Yokohama F Marinos conceded top spot with a 95th-minute equaliser for Ventforet Kofu at the Nissan Stadium.

After their surprise reverse at Albirex Niigata last week, Marinos looked back on form when Shunsuke Nakamura fired a 35-yard free kick through the narrow space between wall and far post to open the scoring on four minutes.

The hosts created a number of chances thereafter to extend their lead, but at just 1-0, Ventforet were always in contention and gradually took control as the game entered its closing stages.

A long throw from Koki Mizuno fell for Yukio Tsuichiya, whose shot was pushed onto the bar by Tetsuya Enomoto only to rebound back in off the head of Naoaki Aoyama. It was the Kofu defender’s first goal since joining from Marinos ahead of this season.

Urawa Reds were another to pay for their profligacy in front of goal as they slipped four points off the pace in third with a 1-0 home defeat to improving Shimizu S-Pulse.

Despite being on the back foot for most of the game, S-Pulse seized their opportunity on 64 minutes when Kota Sugiyama dispossessed Yuki Abe and Yosuke Kawai played a long ball forwards for Bare. The Brazilian held off the challenge of Ryota Moriwaki and slotted calmly past Nobuhiro Kato in the Urawa goal.

There was more misery for the home side with another Shimizu counterattack late on, as Abe was shown a straight red for a tug on Bare.

A brilliant, mukaiten goal from almost 40 yards by Gaku Shibasaki sent Kashima Antlers on their way to a 3-2 win in Niigata that takes them fourth, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima slipping to fifth despite recovering from their ACL elimination in Uzbekistan last Tuesday with a respectable 1-1 draw at Nagoya Grampus.

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Jubilo Iwata finally recorded their first league win of the season in spectacular fashion, trouncing Shonan Bellmare 4-0.

Hiroki Yamada smashed Iwata ahead in the opening minute to apparently spark a sudden resurgence of confidence to the side that had begun proceedings at the foot of the table with just two points from seven games.

Takuya Matsuura beat three players and finished with the outside of his foot to double the advantage, before combining with Ryoichi Maeda in a stylish one-touch move for Shuto Yamamoto to make it three. Ryohei Yamazaki’s spinning volley completed the scoring.

Oita Trinita are now at the foot of the table and remain winless after an entertaining but scoreless draw away to Cerezo Osaka.

The men in pink generally dominated proceedings with Yoichiro Kakitani particularly outstanding, but lacked a clinical touch up front and could have paid the ultimate price when Yasuhito Morishima and Takuya Marutani both hit the woodwork for Oita within the space of five second half seconds.

Elsewhere, FC Tokyo beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 in the Saturday evening game, while on Sunday, Vegalta Sendai played out a 1-1 draw with Sagan Tosu.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Fagiano Okayama pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks in J. League history to steal a point away to leaders Vissel Kobe. The hosts raced out of the traps with a first half brace from Yuzo Tashiro either side of Kyohei Sugiura’s penalty, and held onto their 3-0 advantage until the 84th minute. But late substitute Shingo Kukida netted a quickfire double to suddenly throw the momentum Okayama’s way, and an avalanche of pressure ended with a Tomoyuki Arata leveller in the final minute of added time.


J1 results (matchday 8)
Kashiwa Reysol 0-4 Omiya Ardija
Albirex Niigata 2-3 Kashima Antlers
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Cerezo Osaka 0-0 Oita Trinita
Yokohama F Marinos 1-1 Ventforet Kofu
Jubilo Iwata 4-0 Shonan Bellmare
Urawa Reds 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
FC Tokyo 2-0 Kawasaki Frontale
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Sagan Tosu


J2 results (matchday 11)
Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Roasso Kumamoto
Mito HollyHock 2-2 Yokohama FC
Thespakusatsu Gunma 4-1 Tokushima Vortis
FC Gifu 1-1 Montedio Yamagata
Kyoto Sanga 3-3 JEF United Chiba
Kataller Toyama 1-1 Tokyo Verdy
Gamba Osaka 1-1 Gainare Tottori
Vissel Kobe 3-3 Fagiano Okayama
Avispa Fukuoka 0-1 Matsumoto Yamaga
Giravanz Kitakyushu 0-2 Tochigi SC
Ehime FC vs. V-Varen Nagasaki (Monday, 2pm)

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Sunday 21 April 2013

Omiya Ardija win Saitama derby to go 18 unbeaten



Omiya Ardija beat Urawa Reds 1-0 in the Saitama derby to set a new J. League record of 18 matches without defeat.

A record NACK5 Stadium crowd of 13,016 people braved the rain for an early-season derby that pitted third against second, and the majority were not disappointed as Omiya pressed high up the pitch and quickly took control of the game.

Yosuke Kataoka hit the bar with a powerful left-footed shot early on, while Zlatan Ljubijankič saw his headed effort strike the post.

The hosts were unable to underline their superiority with many other clear-cut chances, but the game turned in first-half stoppage time when Urawa defender Daisuke Nasu was forced off the pitch after sustaining a bloody nose in a clash of heads with Ardija’s Slovenian forward.

Omiya took advantage of their temporary numerical superiority to score with the final touch of the half. Takumi Shimohira lofted the ball over Ryota Moriwaki for Daigo Watanabe to send in a low cross and Ljubijankič applied the finish.

The balance of play was reversed after the interval, with Urawa dominating possession and steadily forcing their neighbours backwards, but Omiya kept their shape and defended well to once again demonstrate the adaptability that has made them so difficult to beat.

It was a 1-1 draw away to Urawa on 1 September last year that kicked off an 11-game unbeaten run at the end of the season for Omiya to avoid relegation, and Saturday’s victory now leaves them as the only J1 side not to lose any of their first seven matches this term.

The Squirrels leapfrog their rivals into second in the table and just one point behind Yokohama F Marinos after the leaders saw their 100% record destroyed with a shock 1-0 defeat at lowly Albirex Niigata.

Two substitutes combined for Niigata to steal victory in a game of few chances with 12 minutes remaining. Kengo Kawamata sent a through ball into the path of Hideya Okamoto, who feinted to step off both Dutra and Yuji Nakazawa, before firing a powerful shot above the heads of both defenders plus goalkeeper Tetsuya Enomoto.

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At the lower end of the table, Kanagawa rivals Kawasaki Frontale and Shonan Bellmare both finally achieved their first league wins of the season at the seventh attempt, but Oita Trinita and Jubilo Iwata still await theirs and have become cast adrift at the bottom on just two points apiece.

Renato inspired a brilliant first half for Kawasaki at home to Vegalta Sendai, running 60 yards to set up the returning Yoshito Okubo for the first before netting two himself – a low penalty kick then a left-footed rocket from well outside the area. Yahiro Kazama’s men ultimately ran out 4-2 winners with Okubo scoring again in the second period.

Shonan were deserving 2-1 victors over Oita, while Jubilo Iwata’s misery continued with a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Despite a determined effort, the writing was on the wall for Iwata when veteran former Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi miskicked the ball into the path of Hisato Sato for an easy opener after just five minutes.

Elsewhere, Kashiwa Reysol warmed up for the likely confirmation of their place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League with a comfortable 3-0 win away to Sagan Tosu.

Joshua Kennedy scored the opening goal on his first start of the season for Nagoya Grampus away to FC Tokyo, but two penalties from Lucas helped the hosts turn things round to win 3-1, ending a run of four straight losses.

Shimizu S-Pulse drew 1-1 with Cerezo Osaka, while Kashima Antlers recorded 23 shots but couldn’t break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw with Ventforet Kofu despite the forward presence of Davi, whose goals helped Kofu achieve promotion last season.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Vissel Kobe had a late header from veteran forward Takayuki Yoshida to thank for a 2-1 victory away to Yokohama FC which maintains their five-point lead at the top of the division. Gamba Osaka are second after both they and striker Leandro finally rediscovered their explosive powers in front of goal with a 4-0 rout away to Kataller Toyama – the Brazilian scoring a hat-trick to double his tally for the season.


J1 results (matchday 7)
Kawasaki Frontale 4-2 Vegalta Sendai
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Cerezo Osaka
FC Tokyo 3-1 Nagoya Grampus
Sagan Tosu 0-3 Kashiwa Reysol
Jubilo Iwata 0-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Omiya Ardija 1-0 Urawa Reds
Shonan Bellmare 2-1 Oita Trinita
Kashima Antlers 0-0 Ventforet Kofu
Albirex Niigata 1-0 Yokohama F Marinos


J2 results (matchday 10)
Montedio Yamagata 1-0 Roasso Kumamoto
Tochigi SC 2-0 FC Gifu
Fagiano Okayama 2-0 Thespakusatsu Gunma
Giravanz Kitakyushu 0-2 Mito HollyHock
V-Varen Nagasaki 0-0 Consadole Sapporo
Kyoto Sanga 3-0 Gainare Tottori
Matsumoto Yamaga P-P Tokyo Verdy
JEF United Chiba 1-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Yokohama FC 1-2 Vissel Kobe
Kataller Toyama 0-4 Gamba Osaka
Tokushima Vortis 3-2 Ehime FC

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Sunday 14 April 2013

Kanazawa’s 50-yard stunner helps unbeaten Ardija equal J1 record



In an unlikely top-of-the-table battle on Saturday evening, a stunning goal by Shin Kanazawa sent Omiya Ardija on their way to a 2-1 victory away to Cerezo Osaka which extends their unbeaten run to a joint J1 record of 17 league matches.

With just 28 seconds on the clock, the Squirrels midfielder picked up a mishit clearance from Takahiro Ogihara and, spotting Kim Jin-Hyeon off his line, sent the ball in a perfect trajectory over the goalkeeper’s head from just inside the Cerezo half.

Ogihara made up for his early error just before the interval with a lovely chipped ball over the Omiya defensive line, allowing Yoichiro Kakitani to run through and net his fourth of the season with a typically cool finish.

The match then looked to have swung decisively in the hosts’ favour midway through the second period when Ardija defender Shohei Takahashi was harshly booked for a tug on Edno, then talked himself into an early bath with his angry protestations to referee Koichiro Fukushima.

But Zdenko Verdenik’s men held on and got their reward with five minutes remaining. Daisuke Watabe headed down a long clearance into the path of Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankič, who knocked the ball over the head of Teruyuki Moniwa with his right foot before volleying it home from a tight angle with his left.

Omiya’s unbeaten sequence equals the record set by Kashima Antlers in 2009.

There was a new mark set in Kanagawa as Yokohama F Marinos beat neighbours Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 to become the first team to win their opening six league matches since the abolition of the two-stage season in 2005.

Seitaro Tomisawa opened the scoring for Marinos shortly before half time with a near-post header from Shunsuke Nakamura’s corner, but the latter was culpable for the Kawasaki equaliser and fortunate not to be sent off in the process.

Nakamura strayed from his post at a Renato corner, allowing Yusuke Tanaka the room to head Frontale level despite the desperate efforts of the former Celtic midfielder to punch the ball clear.

Yokohama had every reason to be thankful when their late winner came from another Nakamura corner, with substitute Jin Hanato firing through a crowd of players to keep the leaders two points clear at the top.

Kashima are up to fifth after an entertaining 3-2 victory away to Oita Trinita, who remain rooted to the bottom on just two points.

The hosts started well and led through Daiki Takamatsu’s fine effort from a tight angle, but Gaku Shibasaki’s quick shot from 25 yards put Antlers level before Takuya Nozawa converted a trademark free kick to register his first goal since returning from a year away at Vissel Kobe.

Yasuhito Morishima levelled things up again for Oita, only for Yuya Osako to come off the bench and win it for the visitors in the dying moments.

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Shimizu S-Pulse look to have put their defensively disastrous start to the season behind them after a 1-0 derby success at home to winless Jubilo Iwata made it three clean sheets in a row.

Jubilo started well and could have led when Ryoichi Maeda hit the crossbar, but their profligacy was to cost them when Daisuke Muramatsu headed the winner from Calvin Jong-a-Pin’s cross with ten minutes left on the clock.

Elsewhere, two excellent goals from Kensuke Fukuda and Hugo inside the opening 11 minutes kicked off a wonderful all-round performance for Ventforet Kofu as they beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1.

Makoto Kakuda scored on his first appearance of the season to help Vegalta Sendai to a 2-1 victory over FC Tokyo, while Keiji Tamada marked his 300th J. League game by netting a penalty as Nagoya Grampus beat Albirex Niigata 2-0.

In Sunday’s matches, Urawa Reds enjoyed a straightforward 2-0 win against Shonan Bellmare, while a second-half brace from Hisato Sato allowed Sanfrecce Hiroshima to emerge as victors by the same scoreline at home to Sagan Tosu. It was the reigning champions’ first home win of 2013.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
J. League debutants V-Varen Nagasaki moved up to fourth in the table after a 1-0 home win over Roasso Kumamoto. The champions of the third-tier Japan Football League have quickly overcome their initial struggles to record 13 points from their last five games, and only trail unbeaten Gamba Osaka and Fagiano Okayama on goal difference. Vissel Kobe are five points clear at the top despite their goalless draw at Kataller Toyama.


J1 results (matchday 6)
Ventforet Kofu 3-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Vegalta Sendai 2-1 FC Tokyo
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Kawasaki Frontale
Nagoya Grampus 2-0 Albirex Niigata
Oita Trinita 2-3 Kashima Antlers
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 Jubilo Iwata
Cerezo Osaka 1-2 Omiya Ardija
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 Sagan Tosu
Urawa Reds 2-0 Shonan Bellmare


J2 results (matchday 8)
Consadole Sapporo 2-1 Tokushima Vortis
Montedio Yamagata 0-1 Gamba Osaka
Tochigi SC 0-1 Mito HollyHock
Matsumoto Yamaga 1-2 FC Gifu
V-Varen Nagasaki 1-0 Roasso Kumamoto
JEF United Chiba 0-0 Fagiano Okayama
Tokyo Verdy 3-0 Gainare Tottori
Kataller Toyama 0-0 Vissel Kobe
Kyoto Sanga 0-1 Yokohama FC
Avispa Fukuoka 2-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Ehime FC L-L Thespakusatsu Gunma

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Sunday 07 April 2013

Marinos the rain masters as leaders make it five in a row



Not even heavy rain, strong winds, and the reigning J. League champions were enough to stop Yokohama F Marinos as Yasuhiro Higuchi’s men underlined their title credentials with a 3-1 victory away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

With the hosts struggling to string together their usual passing game on a soaking wet pitch, it was Marinos who seized the initiative and finally forced their way in front three minutes before half time. As the Sanfrecce defence retreated deep into their own area, Mihael Mikić’s clearance only found its way to an unmarked Seitaro Tomisawa who rifled a terrific shot into the top corner from almost 30 yards.

Returning from injury, Yojiro Takahagi levelled for Hiroshima soon after the restart after Satoru Yamagishi’s cross was headed down invitingly by Naoki Ishihara.

But the visitors remained on the front foot and went 2-1 up when Kosuke Nakamachi broke through a congested penalty area from the left-hand side, playing a one-two with Shingo Hyodo before beating Shusaku Nishikawa at his near post.

The points and a fifth straight win were secured with ten minutes remaining when Dutra’s speculative shot slipped out of Nishikawa’s palms into the path of Marquinhos for an easy finish.

Urawa Reds will have to break a six-year jinx in order to avoid relegation after falling victim to Ryoichi Maeda’s first league goal of the season, but their prospects look good after coming from behind to beat Jubilo Iwata 2-1.

From Ventforet Kofu in 2007 to Gamba Osaka last year, the team on the receiving end when the Japan forward opens his account have always started the following campaign in J2, and after Shinzo Koroki saw his early penalty saved, Maeda took advantage of a moment’s hesitation from Ryota Moriwaki at the other end to put Iwata in front.

However, a dominant Urawa eventually forced their way level on 77 minutes when Moriwaki, celebrating his 27th birthday, headed home a corner from Marcio Richardes.

Then, two minutes into added time, Koroki’s pressing allowed Genki Haraguchi to steal possession and knock the ball over Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi to maintain Reds’ grip on second place – two points behind Marinos.

Their Saitama neighbours, Omiya Ardija, are now up to third after a 1-0 victory away to FC Tokyo extended the unbeaten run that originally saved them from the drop last year to an incredible 16 league matches.

Slovenian forward Zlatan Ljubijankič was the hero when he got his head to a free kick from Takumi Shimohira which Tokyo ’keeper Shuichi Gonda had failed to claim.

Cerezo Osaka slip to fourth after surrendering their unbeaten record in a 1-0 defeat at Kashima Antlers. Kim Jin-Hyeon’s attempts to dribble the ball out of goal ended in embarrassment as Davi stole in to leave an open net for Yasushi Endo.

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The first two champions of this decade, Nagoya Grampus and Kashiwa Reysol, remain rooted in a congested mid-table after sharing six goals in a thrilling battle at Hitachidai.

Grampus opened the scoring on just three minutes when Teruki Tanaka was left completed unmarked to head in a Taishi Taguchi corner, but Reysol were level almost immediately as Junya Tanaka crossed for Masato Kudo.

The home side were looking good and turned things around through Leandro Domingues after Kudo’s initial effort had been blocked by Yuki Honda, but the momentum swung suddenly at the end of the half when Kashiwa midfielder Ryoichi Kurisawa saw red for a second bookable offence.

Takahiro Masukawa promptly headed Nagoya back level, but Nelsinho Baptista’s side weren’t lying down and Kudo weaved between two defenders to put the ten men in front once again.

It took a 71st minute equaliser from Keiji Tamada to save a point for Grampus, who sit fifth but fully seven points off the pace.

Elsewhere, there were celebrations for Albirex Niigata, Shimizu S-Pulse, and Ventforet Kofu as all three won 1-0 away from home to record their first three points of 2013.

Sho Naruoka’s first goal since joining Niigata from Avispa Fukuoka was enough to shock last season’s runners-up Vegalta Sendai, while Shimizu forward Bare held off three defenders to register his first strike away to Sagan Tosu. Yukio Tsuchiya’s header sealed Kofu the win at bottom club Oita Trinita.

Kanagawa rivals Shonan Bellmare and Kawasaki Frontale remain winless after their 1-1 draw at the Hiratsuka Stadium.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Vissel Kobe moved five points clear at the top after Ryo Okui’s solitary strike sealed victory over Montedio Yamagata, who fall from second to fourth. Fagiano Okayama maintained their unbeaten run with a 3-2 win over Consadole Sapporo to go second, while JEF United Chiba are now third after winning 2-0 at Thespakusatsu Gunma.


J1 results (matchday 5)
Vegalta Sendai 0-1 Albirex Niigata
FC Tokyo 0-1 Omiya Ardija
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-3 Yokohama F Marinos
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Oita Trinita 0-1 Ventforet Kofu
Kashima Antlers 1-0 Cerezo Osaka
Kashiwa Reysol 3-3 Nagoya Grampus
Shonan Bellmare 1-1 Kawasaki Frontale
Urawa Reds 2-1 Jubilo Iwata


J2 results (matchday 7)
Thespakusatsu Gunma 0-2 JEF United Chiba
FC Gifu 0-3 Kyoto Sanga
Gainare Tottori 0-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Fagiano Okayama 3-2 Consadole Sapporo
Tokushima Vortis 1-2 V-Varen Nagasaki
Gamba Osaka 0-0 Tokyo Verdy
Mito HollyHock 1-2 Matsumoto Yamaga
Yokohama FC 0-0 Roasso Kumamoto
Kataller Toyama 1-2 Tochigi SC
Vissel Kobe 1-0 Montedio Yamagata
Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-0 Ehime FC

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Sunday 31 March 2013

Yokohama F Marinos edge FC Tokyo to maintain 100% record



Yokohama F Marinos stand clear atop the J1 table after a dramatic 3-2 home victory over FC Tokyo kept them on maximum points from four games for the first time since 2006.

The game started in less than ideal fashion for the hosts as their visitors from the capital quickly took the initiative with their aggressive style of play and opened the scoring on 27 minutes. Yuzo Kurihara could only get a weak defensive header onto Kosuke Ota’s cross to divert the ball into the path of Tadanari Lee, who took advantage to score for the first time since returning to Japan on loan from Southampton.

Marinos turned things around in the second period after Shunsuke Nakamura’s free kick took a massive deflection off the Tokyo wall to deceive Shuichi Gonda for the equaliser. Seven minutes later, Yoshihito Fujita got his head to Shingo Hyodo’s cross for his maiden goal following a winter move from JEF United Chiba.

Tokyo looked to have secured a point when former Yokohama striker Kazuma Watanabe finished off an excellent passing move with eight minutes remaining, but Fujita struck again via the post with the clock on 90 to maintain his new side’s perfect record.

Yasuhiro Higuchi’s men move two points clear at the top after Cerezo Osaka surrendered their 100% record with a 1-1 draw at home to Vegalta Sendai.

Yusuke Maruhashi’s own goal put the visitors in front after 32 minutes, but the team in pink demonstrated typical skill in pulling level early in the second half. Fabio Simplicio dribbled past three Sendai players in a congested midfield before playing a 1-2 with Takumi Minamino and then on to Yoiichiro Kakitani, who squeezed a low shot across the goalkeeper for Cerezo’s equaliser.

Urawa Reds rise to second on goal difference thanks to a valuable 2-0 victory away to bottom side Albirex Niigata, achieved despite being second best for most of the afternoon, while Saitama neighbours Omiya Ardija are up to fourth after continuing their fantastic start to the season with a 3-1 win at home to Kashima Antlers.

The visitors took the lead when Gaku Shibasaki’s strike was parried into the path of Davi for an easy tap-in, but Omiya were level before half time when Shin Kanazawa’s low shot found its way in off the post from well outside the penalty area.

Ardija picked up the pace after the restart and were soon ahead. Yu Hasegawa spotted the run of Shohei Takahashi and threaded the ball through to the defender, who knocked it wide of Kashima ’keeper Hitoshi Sogahata for Milivoje Novaković to hit his first of 2013.

Substitute Takamitsu Toyama later made sure of the points with a cracking effort from the edge of the box into the opposite top corner.

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Sagan Tosu complete the list of five unbeaten teams after four matches, but they were left disappointed with a third draw of the campaign after blowing a 3-1 lead away to winless Jubilo Iwata.

Yohei Toyoda scored a hat-trick of headers to take his seasonal tally to six already, but Jubilo fought back after the second half introduction of Yuki Kobayashi to steal a 3-3 draw with goals from Takuya Matsuura and Hidetaka Kanazono.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima showed some of the qualities that made them champions last term by running out 4-0 victors at hapless Shimizu S-Pulse, who fall to second from bottom having conceded nine in two home matches.

Hisato Sato was the star with his first two goals of the season plus two assists – the first a glorious flick for Naoki Ishihara to run onto after his initial dummy. Sanfrecce may not have had it quite so easy, however, had it not been for Shimizu defender Naoya Okane seeing red for two yellow cards early in the second half.

Elsewhere, Shonan Bellmare fill the third and final relegation spot following a 2-0 loss at Nagoya Grampus, with fellow newly-promoted side Oita Trinita only ahead on goal difference after going down 3-1 at Kashiwa Reysol.

Kawasaki Frontale and Ventforet Kofu are also both winless on just two points after their 1-1 draw at Todoroki.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Vissel Kobe held onto top spot thanks to a 2-1 win at Matsumoto Yamaga; their fifth in six league games. Montedio Yamagata are second following a 5-1 thumping of Yokohama FC, unbeaten Gamba Osaka move up to third with only their second victory of the season – 3-1 away to Consadole Sapporo – while JEF United Chiba finally got their campaign into gear by thrashing Giravanz Kitakyushu 6-1.


J1 results (matchday 4)
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-4 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Vegalta Sendai
Jubilo Iwata 3-3 Sagan Tosu
Omiya Ardija 3-1 Kashima Antlers
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Oita Trinita
Kawasaki Frontale 1-1 Ventforet Kofu
Nagoya Grampus 2-0 Shonan Bellmare
Albirex Niigata 0-2 Urawa Reds
Yokohama F Marinos 3-2 FC Tokyo


J2 results (matchday 6)
Montedio Yamagata 5-1 Yokohama FC
Tochigi SC 3-0 Thespakusatsu Gunma
Matsumoto Yamaga 1-2 Vissel Kobe
Avispa Fukuoka 1-1 Mito HollyHock
Roasso Kumamoto 1-1 Kataller Toyama
Ehime FC 0-1 Fagiano Okayama
Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Gamba Osaka
JEF United Chiba 6-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Tokyo Verdy 3-0 FC Gifu
Kyoto Sanga 1-2 Tokushima Vortis
V-Varen Nagasaki 3-1 Gainare Tottori

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Monday 18 March 2013

‘Defensive’ Sagan Tosu win by odd goal in nine



Sagan Tosu, whose strong defence formed the basis for a fifth-place finish in their debut J1 season last year, were left holding on to win a nine-goal thriller at home to Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday despite having led by four early in the second half.

Kei Ikeda netted with Tosu’s first shot on goal to leave the hosts 1-0 up at the break, but their advantage was quadrupled within nine minutes of the restart after an explosive opening to the second half.

Kim Min-Woo broke down the left flank and beat two Kawasaki players before dispatching the ball across goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe for the second, but the Korean’s superb solo effort was surpassed barely seconds later when Kota Mizunuma ran onto a poor headed clearance from Hiroki Ito and smashed the ball into the net from fully 30 yards.

With the Frontale defence in tatters, Yoshiki Takahashi then played the ball over the top for Yohei Toyoda to make the score 4-0.

A rifled shot from Yoshito Okubo that bounced in off the crossbar had the air of a mere consolation for the visitors, but Yu Kobayashi scored with a diving header to reduce the deficit to two with 20 minutes remaining.

Toyoda headed his second to make the score 5-2, only for Kobayashi to roll the ball across goal to leave an easy finish for Renato, who then turned provider as his cross was headed home by fellow Brazilian forward Patrick with three minutes left on the clock.

However, the men from Kyushu fought off the Kawasaki onslaught through stoppage time to emerge as relieved 5-4 victors.

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It was a good weekend for teams in pink and blue, as Cerezo Osaka beat FC Tokyo 1-0 to record three straight victories from the start of the season for the first time since 1998.

With both teams entering the game on perfect records from their first two matches, it was the visitors to Nagai who began the strongest and thought they had opened the scoring through Lucas, only for the ‘goal’ to be ruled out for a Keigo Higashi handball.

The one that did count arrived at the same end but for the home side two minutes into the second half. Yusuke Maruhashi made an immediate impact after coming off the bench by breaking down the left and rolling the ball across for 18-year-old Takumi Minamino, who played in Hotaru Yamaguchi to score at the far post.

An offside flag then cut short FC Tokyo celebrations for a second time, again with Higashi the culprit, while substitute Tadanari Lee saw a shot cleared off the line by Kota Fujimoto.

Cerezo are second in now the table behind Yokohama F Marinos, who made it three out of three themselves with a 2-1 victory at home to Jubilo Iwata.

Having been put onto the back foot early in the game, the league leaders fought their way ahead after 45 minutes through Yuzo Kurihara only to see Hiroki Yamada level for Iwata with a first-time, left-footed shot from inside the D in first-half stoppage time.

But Shingo Hyodo was left free to net the winner on the hour after Yuzo Kobayashi’s cross had evaded veteran Jubilo goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Jung Woo Young later saw red for the visitors.

Urawa Reds had sloppy defending to blame for their first dropped points of the season as they gifted two goals to Oita Trinita within the first five minutes, but were at least able to fight back for a 2-2 draw through Genki Haraguchi and Yuki Abe strikes later in the first half.

Elsewhere, Vegalta Sendai beat fellow AFC Champions League competitors Kashiwa Reysol 2-1 at home to finally record their first three points of the season. The visitors registered three times as many shots on goal but only had one expertly volleyed equaliser by Leandro Domingues to show for their efforts, and Sendai made them pay when Naoki Sugai flicked the ball over Ryosuke Yamanaka and back across for Wilson to nod in the winner.

A last-minute leveller by Kim Kun-Hoan gave Albirex Niigata their first point in a 1-1 draw at Omiya Ardija. Shonan Bellmare drew 1-1 with Shimizu S-Pulse, Nagoya Grampus won 1-0 at Ventforet Kofu, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima played out a 0-0 draw with Kashima Antlers in the one Sunday fixture.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Vissel Kobe kept up their 100% record with a 1-0 victory over fellow relegated side Consadole Sapporo. Their closest rivals are now Gainare Tottori with seven points from three games following their 3-1 win over Mito HollyHock, but Gamba Osaka slipped to fifth after a dismal 0-0 draw at home to Yokohama FC.


J1 results (matchday 3)
Vegalta Sendai 2-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Jubilo Iwata
Sagan Tosu 5-4 Kawasaki Frontale
Oita Trinita 2-2 Urawa Reds
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Albirex Niigata
Cerezo Osaka 1-0 FC Tokyo
Shonan Bellmare 1-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Ventforet Kofu 0-1 Nagoya Grampus
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-0 Kashima Antlers


J2 results (matchday 3)
Matsumoto Yamaga 1-2 Roasso Kumamoto
Gainare Tottori 3-1 Mito HollyHock
Tokushima Vortis 1-2 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Avispa Fukuoka 1-2 Kyoto Sanga
Montedio Yamagata 2-0 V-Varen Nagasaki
Tochigi SC 0-0 JEF United Chiba
Tokyo Verdy 1-1 Fagiano Okayama
Kataller Toyama 1-0 Ehime FC
Gamba Osaka 0-0 Yokohama FC
Vissel Kobe 1-0 Consadole Sapporo
FC Gifu 0-0 Thespakusatsu Gunma

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Monday 11 March 2013

Antlers edge thriller while five-star Marinos destroy S-Pulse



Kashima Antlers emerged as 3-2 winners against Vegalta Sendai on a poignant Saturday afternoon in which the two J. League clubs most affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami paid tribute to the victims.

Two days ahead of the anniversary of the disaster, the match at the Kashima Stadium was preceded by a ceremony and emotional minute’s silence.

Vegalta were missing key midfielders Shingo Tomita and Makoto Kakuda, and the absences showed as Antlers established a clear advantage throughout a first half that ended 1-0 in their favour. The goal came on 29 minutes when Davi reacted quickest to a blocked Takuya Nozawa shot to score with a diving header, moments after Juninho had launched the assault with a shot that cracked off the crossbar.

But the game turned one way then the other with three goals in as many crazy minutes at the start of the second half. The visitors found their way level almost straight from kick off through Yoshiaki Ota, only for Kashima to restore their lead instantly when Yuya Osako collected a cross from Daigo Nishi and expertly spun past Kodai Watanabe.

The day before his 29th birthday, Davi then netted his second from a low Nozawa cross following good Kashima build-up play on the right.

Sendai slowly found their way back into the game and scored on the counter midway through the half when substitute Heberty pierced the home defence with a through ball for Wilson. But Antlers held out to record a first win for Toninho Cerezo since his return to the club he successfully managed between 2000 and 2005.

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Yokohama F Marinos sit atop the nascent table after sending Afshin Ghotbi and his young Shimizu S-Pulse side back to the drawing board with a stunning 5-0 away victory at Nihondaira.

Former Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura opened the scoring direct from a corner kick after eight minutes, before a lofted through ball from Seitaro Tomisawa sent Shingo Hyodo in to lob Akihiro Hayashi and double the advantage.

The second half was the Marquinhos show, however, as the Brazilian – who turns 37 later this month – rolled back the years with a brilliant hat-trick.

Manabu Saito once again made a name for himself when coming off the bench to provide the assists for Marquinhos’s first and third goals, but the pick of the bunch came when Nakamura sent a diagonal ball over the advanced S-Pulse defence for the striker to run clean through and net the team’s fourth.

There was also a Marinos connection at the Ajinomoto Stadium as Kazuma Watanabe and Aria Jasuru Hasegawa both scored in a 3-0 victory over Kashiwa Reysol for FC Tokyo, the club they left Yokohama to join last year.

The impressive win over the 2011 champions means that Ranko Popović’s men join Marinos on maximum points – alongside Cerezo Osaka, who won 2-1 at J2 champions Ventforet Kofu, and Urawa Reds, who beat Nagoya Grampus 1-0.

In a game of good quality yet often lacking a spark, Urawa deservedly made the breakthrough nine minutes into the second half when Shinzo Koroki spotted a perfect pass for the overlapping left wing-back Tomoya Ugajin, whose brilliant first time shot curled inside Seigo Narazaki’s far post.

Incredibly, this is the first time for 15 years that Reds have begun the season with two wins.

Elsewhere, defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima partially atoned for their defeat against Urawa last week with a hard-fought 2-1 victory away to ten-man Albirex Niigata, who had defender Seiya Fujita sent off for two yellow cards within the first quarter of the game.

Omiya Ardija contined their fine start with a 1-0 win at Jubilo Iwata – Kosuke Kikuchi the scorer. Kawasaki Frontale and Oita Trinita collected their first points of the campaign in a 1-1 draw at the National Stadium, while Shonan Bellmare’s meeting with Sagan Tosu ended in the same scoreline.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Vissel Kobe moved top of the J2 table with a thumping 4-0 win over FC Gifu, leaving only them and Avispa Fukuoka on maximum points after the latter beat Montedio Yamagata. V-Varen Nagasaki’s first ever home game in the J. League ended in a 3-1 defeat to promotion favourites Gamba Osaka.


J1 results (matchday 2)
Albirex Niigata 1-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Kashima Antlers 3-2 Vegalta Sendai
FC Tokyo 3-0 Kashiwa Reysol
Ventforet Kofu 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-5 Yokohama F Marinos
Kawasaki Frontale 1-1 Oita Trinita
Jubilo Iwata 0-1 Omiya Ardija
Urawa Reds 1-0 Nagoya Grampus
Shonan Bellmare 1-1 Sagan Tosu


J2 results (matchday 2)
Mito HollyHock 1-0 Kataller Toyama
Thespakusatsu Gunma 0-0 Gainare Tottori
Fagiano Okayama 0-0 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Ehime FC 1-1 Matsumoto Yamaga
V-Varen Nagasaki 1-3 Gamba Osaka
Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Tochigi SC
Yokohama FC 2-2 Tokushima Vortis
Vissel Kobe 4-0 FC Gifu
Avispa Fukuoka 2-1 Montedio Yamagata
Roasso Kumamoto 0-3 JEF United Chiba
Kyoto Sanga 0-0 Tokyo Verdy

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Monday 04 March 2013

Urawa lay down early title marker with victory in Hiroshima



Urawa Reds showed why they are many observers’ favourites for this year’s J1 title with a 2-1 opening day victory at the home of the reigning champions, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Twelve months after ex-Sanfrecce boss Mihailo Petrović had taken his trademark 3-4-2-1 system to Urawa only to lose first time out against his former employers, the Serb was able to enjoy the satisfaction of revenge as Reds looked the stronger side from the outset.

The first goal came on 37 minutes when Genki Haraguchi dribbled inside from the left flank and rolled the ball back with his studs for Yosuke Kashiwagi to fire inside the near post. The midfielder was joined by fellow former Hiroshima stars Tomoaki Makino and Ryota Moriwaki, making his debut in Urawa colours after a winter switch, to celebrate excitedly on their old stomping ground.

Haraguchi broke inside again soon after the restart, this time from the right, for Urawa’s second. His right-footed shot appeared to have been badly mishit, but Sanfrecce ’keeper Shusaku Nishikawa somehow allowed it to squirm between his fingers.

The champions were quickly back in contention as Koji Morisaki’s perfect 30-yard free kick sailed over the wall and in off the bar. But the fightback never really materialised and Petrović’s men were good value for their three points – the first time in six years that Urawa had managed a maximum haul on the opening day.

Last year’s runners-up, Vegalta Sendai, were made to work hard in snowy conditions for a point at home to the J2 champions, Ventforet Kofu.

An energetic start from the visitors put Sendai onto the back foot, but they took the lead four minutes into the second period when Kodai Watanabe rose highest to head home a corner from Ryang Yong-Gi.

However, Kofu fought level when debutant Akito Kawamoto headed a bouncing ball beyond two Vegalta defenders for new Brazilian signing Hugo to finish past Takuto Hayashi.

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Yokohama F Marinos suffered a real scare at home to newly-promoted Shonan Bellmare but recovered to win 4-2 in the highest scoring fixture of the opening weekend.

No sooner had veteran Shunsuke Nakamura given Marinos the lead from a trademark free kick than Bellmare were level, when the mohawked Quirino hit a low 25-yard shot from left to right and into the bottom corner of the net.

The Brazilian then beat Yuji Nakazawa and coolly slotted home to put Shonan in front on the hour.

But the introduction of Manabu Saito turned the tide Yokohama’s way, as his low cross was met by Marquinhos at the far post for the equaliser, before the Japan Olympic international fired in himself with just seven minutes remaining.

Marquinhos added a late penalty to complete the scoring.

Elsewhere, an ill-advised attempt to roll out the ball by Oita Trinita goalkeeper Kenta Tanno spelt doom for the third promoted club as Aria Jasuru Hasegawa stole in for an easy FC Tokyo winner at Oita Bank Dome.

Omiya Ardija looked set for victory at home to Shimizu S-Pulse as a Calvin Jong-a-Pin own goal plus a Takuya Aoki strike had them 2-0 up after 65 minutes, but Afshin Ghotbi’s men fought back for a point thanks to 18-year-old Hideki Ishige and a crossed free kick-cum-shot from Kenta Uchida.

Nagoya Grampus were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Jubilo Iwata in a game that saw Marcus Tulio Tanaka limp off injured, while Sagan Tosu recovered from Yuya Osako’s opener to level through Yohei Toyoda as their meeting with Kashima Antlers finished with the same scoreline.

A looping volley in the 88th minute by Yoichiro Kakitani, the latest wearer of Cerezo Osaka’s legendary number eight jersey, was enough to seal victory in a battle of last season’s narrow survivors with Albirex Niigata, while 2011 champions Kashiwa Reysol recorded a 3-1 victory over Kawasaki Frontale in Sunday’s fixture.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Gamba Osaka needed two penalties to fight back for a dramatic 3-3 draw in their first ever second division match at home to Kyoto Sanga. Following a raft of away victories across the country, it is Ehime FC who sit atop the largely theoretical table after their 3-1 victory over Montedio Yamagata made them the only J2 team to win at home on opening day.


J1 results (matchday 1)
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Ventforet Kofu
Yokohama F Marinos 4-2 Shonan Bellmare
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Jubilo Iwata
Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Urawa Reds
Sagan Tosu 1-1 Kashima Antlers
Omiya Ardija 2-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
Oita Trinita 1-2 FC Tokyo
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale


J2 results (matchday 1)
Tochigi SC 0-1 Matsumoto Yamaga
JEF United Chiba 0-1 Consadole Sapporo
FC Gifu 0-2 Yokohama FC
Tokushima Vortis 0-1 Vissel Kobe
Tokyo Verdy 0-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-2 Kataller Toyama
Roasso Kumamoto 1-2 Gainare Tottori
Mito HollyHock 1-1 Thespakusatsu Gunma
Fagiano Okayama 1-1 V-Varen Nagasaki
Ehime FC 3-1 Montedio Yamagata
Gamba Osaka 3-3 Kyoto Sanga

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