Monday 25 July 2011

Yamagata seize survival lifeline as Avispa remain rooted to the bottom



Avispa Fukuoka’s hopes of staging a comeback for J1 survival in the second half of season took a heavy blow yesterday evening with a 2-0 defeat at home to second-from-bottom Montedio Yamagata.

The Kyushu club had looked well out of their depth as they marked their return to the top flight with nine defeats from their opening nine matches, but a return of eight points from as many games since suggested that the ship had finally been steadied. Indeed, it was Yamagata who entered this relegation clash in danger of freefall after five consecutive losses.

There were promising signs for Avispa in the opening stages, with Takuya Matsuura breaking through for an early opportunity only to fire tamely at visiting goalkeeper Kenta Shimizu.

But the hosts flattered to deceive and were once again made to pay as Masaru Akiba expertly fired Montedio in front with a low, left-footed strike from the 18-yard line after half an hour.

With Avispa struggling to regain momentum thereafter, substitute Yu Hasegawa made sure of three valuable points midway through the second half with a diving header to meet Tatsuya Ishikawa’s corner.

The result leaves Yamagata seven points adrift of safety, with Fukuoka four further back and still at the foot of the table.

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Second-placed Kashiwa Reysol clinched a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Kashima Antlers to push the seven-time Japanese champions back to within two points of the drop zone – albeit with two games in hand.

Hideaki Kitajima latched onto a Leandro Domingues cross from deep to open the scoring after 33 minutes. Yuzo Tashiro levelled for the Antlers with a close-range header from Takuya Nozawa’s free kick early in the second half, but Domingues fired home the winner ten minutes before the final whistle with a low shot from just outside the D.

Yokohama F Marinos retained top spot on goal difference by beating fourth-from-bottom Vissel Kobe 1-0 through Shingo Hyodo’s second-half volley.

Nagoya Grampus remain just behind the top two in third position after extending their winning streak to four – and their unbeaten run to 12 – with an entertaining 3-2 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Marcus Tulio Tanaka netted for the first time this season to level the scores at 1-1 early on, while the third goal, a header from Takahiro Masukawa, was the 1,000th in Grampus club history.

Tulio’s former club Urawa Reds overcame the 12th-minute dismissal of goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato to pull four points clear of Ventforet Kofu in the final relegation spot with a 2-0 win at Saitama Stadium. Inspired by the midfield duo of Takashi Inui and Kim Bo-Kyung, Cerezo Osaka thrashed Shimizu S-Pulse 4-0 to move up to 11th ahead of Urawa on goal difference.

Omiya Ardija are now in tenth after Lee Chun-Soo headed in a cross from Kota Ueda for the only goal away to Vegalta Sendai, whose title challenge appears in tatters after a first home loss of 2011 extended their winless run to six.

Elsewhere, fourth-placed Kawasaki Frontale went down 1-0 at struggling Albirex Niigata to extend their record of never having prevailed at the Big Swan Stadium. Gamba Osaka in fifth could only draw 2-2 at home to Jubilo Iwata – their second straight disappointment since the departure of Takashi Usami to Bayern Munich.


TALKING POINTS
- A week on from Japan’s historic Women’s World Cup victory in Germany, a crowd of 17,812 was present to witness the resumption of the domestic Nadeshiko League in Kobe. Shinobu Ohno scored twice as an INAC Kobe Leonessa side also featuring six other World Cup winners beat Karina Maruyama’s JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies 2-0.
- The Chiba men’s team held onto second place in J2 with a 2-0 win over Consadole Sapporo, while leaders FC Tokyo thrashed Roasso Kumamoto 5-0.
- Cerezo Osaka have decided not to take up their option to extend the loan of striker Rodrigo Pimpão from Vasco da Gama.


J1 results (matchday 6)
Urawa Reds 2-0 Ventforet Kofu
Kashiwa Reysol 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Vissel Kobe
Albirex Niigata 1-0 Kawasaki Frontale
Nagoya Grampus 3-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Gamba Osaka 2-2 Jubilo Iwata
Cerezo Osaka 4-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Vegalta Sendai 0-1 Omiya Ardija
Avispa Fukuoka 0-2 Montedio Yamagata

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Tuesday 19 July 2011

World champions!



Nadeshiko Japan are world champions for the first time ever following a dramatic 3-1 penalty shootout victory over the United States in the final of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Frankfurt on Sunday.

Bidding to become the first three-time winners in the tournament’s history, the Americans led twice through Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, but were pegged back by late goals first from Aya Miyama to take the game into extra time, and finally from Japanese captain Homare Sawa in the 117th minute.

Ayumi Kaihori was then the hero of the shootout, saving twice as the Nadeshiko players held their nerve to the very end.

Having never previously lost to Japan in 25 meetings, the United States began the final as clear favourites and dominated the opening half hour – coming closest to scoring when Wambach smacked the crossbar from the edge of the box – before Norio Sasaki’s side slowly found their feet towards the interval.

The second half began in similar style with Japan again saved by the woodwork – this time from Morgan – but the Americans finally found their way in front after 69 minutes. A long ball from Megan Rapinoe caught the Nadeshiko back line flat footed, allowing Morgan to break through and fire superbly past the helpless Kaihori.

But Japan quickly rediscovered their momentum and their persistence paid off as calamitous defending allowed Miyama to steal in and scramble home an equaliser with nine minutes left on the clock.

Though the goal seemed to instil greater confidence throughout the Nadeshiko side, the United States once again enjoyed a strong start in extra time and forced their way back in front at the end of the first additional period. After Sawa had failed to clear, Morgan found space to cross for Wambach to head home her fourth goal of the competition.

Sawa made amends in spectacular fashion, however, just as the trophy seemed to slipping from Japan’s grasp. The 32-year-old dashed to the near post to meet a corner from Miyama and somehow fire an impossible-looking volley beyond four American shirts to dramatically level the scores at 2-2.

The late excitement handed the psychological advantage to Japan, and after Kaihori brilliantly extended her right leg to block Shannon Boxx’s opening penalty, Carli Lloyd blazed over with America’s second. Hope Solo then saved from Yuki Nagasato, but when Kaihori repeated her heroics to deny Tobin Heath, Saki Kumagai stepped up to fire the Nadeshiko to glory.

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Speaking at a press conference upon the new world champions’ return to Japan earlier today, Sasaki admitted that Sawa’s last-gasp wonder goal had filled his team with confidence ahead of the shootout.

“The United States must have thought they had won it,” said the manager, “but then it was like we received a blessing from the heavens. We just couldn’t stop smiling – so much so that I just wanted to stand there laughing and joking!”

Sawa picked up the Golden Boot with five goals and the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s best player; as well as both the winners’ trophy and the Fair Play Award on behalf of her teammates.

She commented, “It has been a long road getting here, but I am glad we never gave up and finally realised our dream of becoming number one in the world. We did it thanks to the great support of our fans; I hope that we will be able to have the Women’s World Cup hosted here in Japan in future.”

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The J. League has a new leader for the first time since early May as Kashiwa Reysol went down to a dramatic 3-2 defeat at Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday.

Close-range strikes from Takuro Yajima and Yu Kobayashi gave Frontale a 2-0 first half lead, which was then wiped out in the second by a Yusuke Kikuchi own goal and an instinctive equaliser from Leandro Domingues.

But with just six minutes remaining, Satoshi Kukino was felled in the area by Naoya Kondo, allowing Juninho to fire home the winner from the spot.

The result allowed Yokohama F Marinos to take over at the top on goal difference despite only drawing 1-1 at Omiya Ardija 24 hours later. Yuji Ono’s first half opener for the visitors was cancelled out on 74 minutes by Rafael.

Champions Nagoya Grampus are now lurking ominously in third, four points behind the top two with a game in hand, after a comfortable 2-0 win away at second-from-bottom Montedio Yamagata. Gamba Osaka missed the chance to climb the table with a surprise 4-3 defeat at Ventforet Kofu.

Having recorded only their second win of the season against Omiya on Wednesday, Avispa Fukuoka were denied a third – which would have taken them off the foot of the table – when Kentaro Shigematsu’s injury-time strike hit the post in a creditable 0-0 draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Elsewhere, a 93rd-minute Ryoichi Maeda penalty rescued a 1-1 draw for Jubilo Iwata at home to Urawa Reds. Shizuoka neighbours Shimizu S-Pulse rose to sixth with a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata, while Vegalta Sendai were beaten 3-0 at Kashima Antlers.

Vissel Kobe thrashed Kansai rivals Cerezo Osaka 4-1 in the weekend’s remaining fixture.


J1 results (matchday 5)
Ventforet Kofu 4-3 Gamba Osaka
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 Albirex Niigata
Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Vissel Kobe 4-1 Cerezo Osaka
Kashima Antlers 3-0 Vegalta Sendai
Jubilo Iwata 1-1 Urawa Reds
Montedio Yamagata 0-2 Nagoya Grampus
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-0 Avispa Fukuoka


J1 results (matchday 4 – Wednesday 13 July)
Urawa Reds 2-0 Kawasaki Frontale
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Montedio Yamagata
Nagoya Grampus 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Gamba Osaka 3-2 Vissel Kobe
Cerezo Osaka 2-3 Jubilo Iwata
Avispa Fukuoka 1-0 Omiya Ardija
Vegalta Sendai 0-0 Shimizu S-Pulse


FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011
Semi-finals
France 1-3 United States
Japan 3-1 Sweden

Final
Japan 2-2 United States (after extra time; Japan win 3-1 on penalties)

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Monday 11 July 2011

Late drama saves Kashiwa advantage but plunges Kashima into danger



Masakatsu Sawa struck deep into injury-time to maintain Kashiwa Reysol’s narrow advantage at the head of the J1 table with a 1-0 victory over fellow title challengers Vegalta Sendai.

Reeling from a 5-0 thrashing at Cerezo Osaka the previous weekend, Nelsinho Baptista’s side went into their clash with third-placed Sendai knowing any further slipups could see them knocked off top spot for the first time since early May.

With second-placed Yokohama F Marinos coming from behind to lead 2-1 at Jubilo Iwata through Kazuma Watanabe and a Shunsuke Nakamura penalty, a change in positions indeed looked the likeliest outcome as the match in Kashiwa ground closer to a frustrating stalemate.

But with 94 minutes on the clock, a pinpoint cross from Japan U-22 international Hiroki Sakai found an unmarked Sawa at the far post, who headed past Takuto Hayashi to mark his first start of the season with his first ever top flight goal.

There was more late drama at the opposite end of the table as seven-times J. League champions Kashima Antlers slipped to within two points and three places of the relegation zone with a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Albirex Niigata.

The struggling giants took the lead through a Takuya Nozawa penalty early in the second half, but soon surrendered their advantage as Bruno Lopes was allowed to level from the spot just three minutes later.

Then, with only two minutes remaining, Brazilian forward Michael found space to cross for fellow substitute Cho Young-Cheol to dramatically head home from two yards on his return from a six-week hamstring injury. The victory takes Albirex, who had fallen into trouble themselves with a midweek loss at home to Ventforet Kofu, ahead of Kashima into 11th position.

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Elsewhere, three 30-somethings each demonstrated that age and experience have yet to blunt their talents with spectacular long-range goals to help their respective sides to single-goal victories.

Junichi Inamoto’s 25-yard rocket was the highlight as Kawasaki Frontale eased into a 3-0 lead over bottom side Avispa Fukuoka, with Kengo Nakamura also finding the net on his 200th J1 appearance. A late brace from Avispa striker Hideya Okamoto made for a grandstand finish, but Frontale held on to move up to third in the table.

Earlier on Saturday evening, Shinji Ono had rolled back the years with an even better strike from fully 30 yards to open the scoring in a 2-1 win for Shimizu S-Pulse away in Kofu. The former Feyenoord and Japan star was later dispossessed in the build-up for Paulinho to equalise, but Genki Omae restored the visitors’ advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Not to be outdone, fellow ex-international midfielder Naoshi Nakamura also struck late on from outside the penalty area to give Nagoya Grampus an unconvincing 1-0 win away to Vissel Kobe, who are now winless in nine. The reigning champions move up to seventh with one game in hand.

For the second time in two weekends, Cerezo Osaka took advantage of a first-half sending off for two yellow cards in quick succession to march to victory over one of the top five. Kazuyuki Morisaki of Sanfrecce Hiroshima was the guilty party on this occasion with the scores at 1-1; Cerezo then raced into a decisive 3-1 lead six minutes into the second period through Hiroshi Kiyotake and Rui Komatsu.

The result also helped neighbours Gamba Osaka into fourth – with two games still in hand – after overcoming Omiya Ardija 3-2 following a ding-dong battle at the NACK5 Stadium. Omiya remain the only J1 club without a home league win all season, but curiously are yet to lose away.


TALKING POINTS
- Nadeshiko Japan are into the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time ever after a dramatic extra-time victory over hosts and holders Germany. Karina Maruyama netted from a narrow angle after 108 minutes to set up a last four meeting with Sweden in Frankfurt on Wednesday.
- The English Northern League Division Two club Birtley Town was the unlikely host for a charity match played on Saturday in aid of a Japanese community and football club devastated by the earthquake and tsunami four months ago today. The Northern League Fans beat a Football Writers side 6-3 as part of a campaign by the UK-based Onagawa Supporters to raise money for Cobaltore Onagawa – a football club at the centre of efforts to rebuild and inspire the small coastal town of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture.

Visit http://onagawasupporters.com/ to read more about and donate to this campaign.


J1 results (matchday 3)
Montedio Yamagata 0-0 Urawa Reds (played Wednesday 6 July)
Ventforet Kofu 1-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 Vegalta Sendai
Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 Avispa Fukuoka
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Nagoya Grampus
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Albirex Niigata
Omiya Ardija 2-3 Gamba Osaka
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-3 Cerezo Osaka


J1 results (matchday 4 – Wednesday 6 July)
Albirex Niigata 1-2 Ventforet Kofu


FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011
Group B
Japan 0-2 England

Quarter-finals
England 1-1 France (after extra time; France win 4-3 on penalties)
Germany 0-1 Japan (after extra time)
Sweden 3-1 Australia
Brazil 2-2 United States (after extra time; United States win 5-3 on penalties)

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Monday 04 July 2011

Marinos take advantage of Reysol surrender as Avispa finally pick up first win



Yokohama F Marinos moved to within a point of the J. League summit after coming from behind to beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 in yesterday’s Kanagawa derby, as leaders Kashiwa Reysol slumped to a calamitous 5-0 defeat at Cerezo Osaka.

Level on points going into their clash at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, both Marinos and Frontale knew victory would give a real boost to their title challenge as the halfway point in the season approaches, and it was the visitors who drew first blood in bizarre fashion midway through the opening period. Kosei Shibasaki cracked a shot off Hiroki Iikura’s right-hand post, but the ball then struck the unfortunate goalkeeper on the rebound and bounced back into the Marinos net.

The home side rallied to equalise before half time, however – Masashi Oguro expertly controlling a long pass from Yuzo Kurihara to fire past Takashi Aizawa – and completed the comeback through a piece of Kazuma Watanabe inspiration on 71 minutes. The forward collected the ball in midfield from Yuji Nakazawa, and launched an unstoppable effort beyond Aizawa from fully 25 yards.

Reysol’s collapse in Osaka 24 hours earlier was the heaviest yet of three big losses in five that have left Nelsinho Baptista’s side open to real scrutiny. Cerezo raced into a 2-0 lead inside 24 minutes through Takashi Inui and Rodrigo Pimpão, before Kashiwa midfielder Leandro Domingues foolishly picked up two yellow cards in quick succession to render a recovery virtually impossible for the long-time surprise J1 leaders.

Further goals in the second half from Martinez, Ryuji Bando, and Shu Kurata completed a five-goal rout that was also Cerezo’s first home league win of 2011.

The other Osaka club, Gamba, are now five points off the top with two games in hand despite only drawing 1-1 away to fierce rivals Urawa Reds. Takashi Usami slotted the visitors in front on his antepenultimate appearance before moving to Bayern Munich, but Genki Haraguchi headed in a pinpoint cross from Shunki Takahashi to give the Reds a deserved point.

Vegalta Sendai are third after a 1-1 draw at home to champions Nagoya Grampus, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima back up to fourth after Kohei Morita’s header gave them a 1-0 win at Omiya Ardija. Sanfrecce had goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa to thank for denying Ardija striker Rafael from the penalty spot.

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Bottom club Avispa Fukuoka finally have their first win and first home points of the season after deservedly beating Ventforet Kofu 1-0 at the Level-5 Stadium. Hisashi Jogo squared for Yusuke Tanaka to coolly convert the game’s only goal after 16 minutes, though Avispa had several chances to extend their lead before the final whistle.

Albirex Niigata gave themselves valuable breathing space ahead of the relegation zone with a first win in ten league matches; Atomu Tanaka scoring early on in both halves to seal a 2-0 victory over second-from bottom Montedio Yamagata.

The results leave Fukuoka, Yamagata, and Kofu still adrift of the rest on four, eight, and 11 points respectively. Urawa drop back down to 15th position on 13, with Niigata now two points better off in 14th.

Jubilo Iwata trounced Vissel Kobe 3-0 and Shimizu S-Pulse played out a scoreless draw with Kashima Antlers in the weekend’s remaining top flight fixtures.


TALKING POINTS
- ‘Nadeshiko Japan’ secured their place in the last eight of the Women’s World Cup in Germany with a game to spare after a maximum six points from their opening two Group B matches. A Homare Sawa hat-trick was the undoubted highlight as Japan thrashed Mexico 4-0 in Leverkusen on Friday – four days after opening with a 2-1 win over New Zealand.
- Japan’s thrilling run in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico came to an end with a 3-2 quarter-final defeat to Brazil yesterday evening.
- JEF United Chiba returned to the top of J2 by winning 2-1 at Kataller Toyama, as Tochigi SC could only draw 1-1 at home to Consadole Sapporo.


J1 results (matchday 2)
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Nagoya Grampus
Urawa Reds 1-1 Gamba Osaka
Avispa Fukuoka 1-0 Ventforet Kofu
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Kashima Antlers
Albirex Niigata 2-0 Montedio Yamagata
Cerezo Osaka 5-0 Kashiwa Reysol
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Kawasaki Frontale
Jubilo Iwata 3-0 Vissel Kobe
Omiya Ardija 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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