Monday 25 June 2012

Stalemates at the top as Sanfrecce miss chance to pull level with Vegalta



J. League leaders Vegalta Sendai survived a test of their title credentials as they drew 0-0 away to third-placed Urawa Reds, but closest challengers Sanfrecce Hiroshima were unable to take advantage after their home match with Omiya Ardija also ended goalless.

Sendai found themselves frustrated by their hosts’ deep defensive line for much of the first half and surrendered their control over proceedings at the start of the second, almost falling behind when a 25-yard effort from Marcio Richardes struck the post with goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi beaten.

Tsukasa Umesaki was also denied by the woodwork as the game gradually opened up, with his header from Tomoya Ugajin’s cross pushed onto the bar by Hayashi, who was able to gather at the second attempt.

Makoto Teguramori’s side failed to create any real opportunities in the final quarter of the game and were forced to settle for a point, but they were at least given a boost when striker Shingo Akamine came off the bench after returning from an abductor muscle injury.

Hiroshima had the chance to pull level at the top in what appeared a straightforward home encounter with fourth-from-bottom Omiya, but were unable to break the ensuing deadlock despite registering 20 shots on goal to their opponents’ five.

With the bulk of the chances coming in the second half, Ryota Moriwaki ought to have done better than to fire over when found unmarked at a corner kick, while J1 leading scorer Hisato Sato couldn’t get a clean header onto an inviting cross from Hyang Seok-Ho in the dying minutes.

The big movers in the tightening top half of the table were FC Tokyo, who rose two positions to fifth thanks to a 2-0 home win over Cerezo Osaka; and Nagoya Grampus, who continued their quiet ascent in beating Jubilo Iwata by the same scoreline.

Kensuke Nagai missed a headed sitter in the first half but made up for it after the interval to impress the watching Japan Olympic coach Takashi Sekizuka with a solo run, 1-2 with Jungo Fujimoto, and cool finish for Nagoya’s second.

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Gamba Osaka found their shooting boots to pick up only their third league win of the season and move within four points of safety, following a 4-0 thrashing of bottom club Consadole Sapporo at the Sapporo Dome.

They had some fortune for the opener when Yasuhito Endo’s corner deflected in off Consadole midfielder Masaki Yamamoto, but the other three strikes were all real gems; Shu Kurata doubling the advantage on 26 minutes with a terrific effort from outside the box.

Endo then made history with his 16th J. League goal from a direct free kick – beating the record of his former Yokohama Flügels teammate Atsuhiro Miura with 15 – before substitute Takuya Takei hit a powerful low shot past Tetsu Sugiyama late in the second half.

Defending champions Kashiwa Reysol dominated much of their encounter with Kashima Antlers, but left it until the 94th minute to rescue a point after falling behind to a superb first goal of the season from Mitsuo Ogasawara.

Leandro Domingues looked to have blown the last chance when his penalty was pushed onto the post by Hitoshi Sogahata, but Naoya Kondo was first to connect with the rebound and fire into the gaping net.

Vissel Kobe enjoyed a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata in the battle of the new managers, while a meeting of the division’s joint best defences ended in a 1-1 draw between Shimizu S-Pulse and Sagan Tosu.

Elsewhere, Kawasaki Frontale and Yokohama F Marinos drew a blank in the Kanagawa derby, which was largely notable for an ankle sprain for former Japan star Shunsuke Nakamura.


TALKING POINTS
- Shinji Kagawa has completed his transfer to Manchester United, passing a medical and signing a four-year contract with the 19-times English champions on Friday.
- The Nadeshiko Japan women’s team have been in Sweden preparing for the London Olympics, suffering a 4-1 friendly defeat to the United States but beating their hosts 1-0 thanks to Yuki Nagasato.


J1 results (matchday 15)
Consadole Sapporo 0-4 Gamba Osaka
FC Tokyo 2-0 Cerezo Osaka
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Sagan Tosu
Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Kashima Antlers
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Urawa Reds 0-0 Vegalta Sendai
Kawasaki Frontale 0-0 Yokohama F Marinos
Nagoya Grampus 2-0 Jubilo Iwata
Vissel Kobe 1-0 Albirex Niigata


J2 results (matchday 21)
Mito HollyHock 3-1 Kyoto Sanga
Yokohama FC 1-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Matsumoto Yamaga 0-2 Tochigi SC
Kataller Toyama 0-2 Roasso Kumamoto
FC Gifu 1-0 Machida Zelvia
Fagiano Okayama 1-1 Ventforet Kofu
Giravanz Kitakyushu 0-2 Oita Trinita
Montedio Yamagata 1-0 Tokushima Vortis
JEF United Chiba 1-1 Shonan Bellmare
Ehime FC 3-1 Tokyo Verdy
Thespa Kusatsu 1-2 Gainare Tottori

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Monday 18 June 2012

Gamba reach out to former hero after more late misery



Gamba Osaka have called upon the services of their former striker Leandro to save them from the increasingly perilous clutches of a relegation battle at the foot of the J1 table.

The 27-year-old Brazilian will be eligible to play again for his former club from 20 July after signing a one-year loan deal from Qatari side Al-Sadd – whom he joined in a sudden €7 million transfer after scoring 22 goals in 29 appearances during a six-month initial stint at Banpaku back in 2009.

The news presents a rare cause for optimism among the Gamba faithful, who witnessed their side resume the J. League season as they had left off before the three-week international break – surrendering a lead and succumbing at home to a late stoppage-time winner, this time at the hands of high-flying Urawa Reds.

Masanobu Matsunami’s side actually began the game in positive fashion, with Paulinho going close early on with a long-range shot that struck the top of the Urawa crossbar. The Brazilian had a hand in the opening goal on 15 minutes when his left-footed corner found the head of strike partner Akihiro Sato to divert the ball beyond Nobuhiro Kato.

But Reds were level on the half hour mark when Yosuke Kashiwagi’s through ball sent Genki Haraguchi in behind the hosts’ defence to slot coolly past Atsushi Kimura.

Amidst torrential rain, Gamba struggled to maintain their rhythm and found themselves pushed back as the second half progressed. The killer goal came with 92 minutes on the clock, as Kashiwagi sent a superb pass with the outside of his left foot to the overlapping Tsukasa Umesaki, who turned inside Shigeru Yokotani and slotted the ball into the opposite corner.

The defeat sees the 2005 Japanese champions fall to second from bottom, six points adrift of safety, as Albirex Niigata enjoyed a surprise 1-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse in their first match under the charge of new manager Masaaki Yanagishita.

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Vegalta Sendai eased back into league action with a comfortable 4-1 home win over hapless Consadole Sapporo, with veteran former Japan forward Atsushi Yanagisawa finally netting his first and second home goals for the club either side of half time.

But their challenge to win a first ever title may be growing in difficulty after Kashiwa Reysol and Nagoya Grampus – now both free to concentrate on domestic action after elimination from the Asian Champions League – notched four goals apiece en route to entertaining away victories at Omiya Ardija and Kashima Antlers, respectively.

A first-time, looping volley from Leandro Domingues opened the floodgates for Reysol to score all of their goals within a 25-minute spell, having initially gone behind to a fine individual effort from Carlinhos. Grampus, meanwhile, had Kensuke Nagai to thank for his spectacular curling winner four minutes from time.

The two previous J. League winners are ten points behind Sendai, each with a game in hand.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima remain second after their impressive 4-1 victory away to Cerezo Osaka, with Urawa in third on level points with Kawasaki Frontale, who inflicted a first ever J1 home loss upon Sagan Tosu.

A hat-trick from 19-year-old Keijiro Ogawa secured a 3-1 win for Vissel Kobe – their first under new boss Akira Nishino – away to Jubilo Iwata, while a composed turn and shot from Shingo Hyodo was enough for Yokohama F Marinos to extend their unbeaten run to seven with a 1-0 victory over FC Tokyo.


TALKING POINTS
- Tokyo Verdy went top of the J2 table after beating previous leaders JEF United Chiba 2-1.
- Bundesliga side Hannover 96 confirmed the long-anticipated transfer of Japan right-back Hiroki Sakai from Kashiwa Reysol last Wednesday. The 22-year-old will move to Germany after his current club’s clash with Nagoya Grampus on 7 July.


J1 results (matchday 14)
Vegalta Sendai 4-1 Consadole Sapporo
Kashima Antlers 2-3 Nagoya Grampus
Omiya Ardija 2-4 Kashiwa Reysol
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 FC Tokyo
Albirex Niigata 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Jubilo Iwata 1-3 Vissel Kobe
Gamba Osaka 1-2 Urawa Reds
Cerezo Osaka 1-4 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Kawasaki Frontale


J2 results (matchday 20)
Tochigi SC 3-4 Yokohama FC
Tokyo Verdy 2-1 JEF United Chiba
Machida Zelvia 0-0 Montedio Yamagata
Ventforet Kofu 4-1 Kataller Toyama
Gainare Tottori 0-1 Matsumoto Yamaga
Avispa Fukuoka 0-0 FC Gifu
Oita Trinita 1-0 Mito HollyHock
Shonan Bellmare 2-0 Fagiano Okayama
Tokushima Vortis 3-0 Ehime FC
Kyoto Sanga 0-1 Thespa Kusatsu
Roasso Kumamoto 2-2 Giravanz Kitakyushu

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Wednesday 13 June 2012

Belter in Brisbane as Japan draw with Australia



Japan maintained their superiority at the head of Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a pulsating 1-1 draw away to Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Tuesday evening.

After a goalless first half, the Samurai Blue seized the initiative either side of a red card for Socceroos midfielder Mark Milligan to open the scoring through Yuzo Kurihara on 65 minutes. However, the home side hit back from the spot just five minutes later – Luke Wilkshire converting after Atsuto Uchida was penalised – and Japan’s chances of finding a winner were effectively ended when Kurihara himself was dismissed late on.

Alberto Zaccheroni was forced into making a single change from the side that had collected nine goals with no reply in their previous home games against Oman and Jordan, with Kurihara slotting into central defence in place of the injured Maya Yoshida. Australia had endured a gruelling and ultimately disappointing scoreless draw in Oman last Friday, and brought in Tim Cahill for Harry Kewell up front.

The hosts quickly took control of the game with a high-intensity, direct style of football that continually pushed the Japanese defence deep into its own half. A long ball from Sasa Ognenovski sent Cahill through after five minutes, but Eiji Kawashima did well to save both his initial effort and the follow-up shot from Wilkshire.

Japan created a few half-chances from set pieces but remained under pressure for much of the opening half hour. Alex Brosque went closest to opening the scoring for Australia after Lucas Neill had lobbed the ball over Kawashima, but the Shimizu S-Pulse forward was denied on the goalline by Uchida’s block.

Zaccheroni’s men were able to stem the tide thereafter by adopting a higher line and pressing more boldly as a team. This allowed them to exploit their numerical advantage in midfield and begin working the flanks. Yuto Nagatomo perhaps ought to have done better when his low ball across the six-yard box failed to find a blue shirt, but Japan were at least looking more composed and started the second period as the better team.

Their hopes were given a significant boost ten minutes after the restart when Milligan was shown an extremely harsh second yellow card for a seemingly accidental clash with Uchida.

Japan took the lead soon afterwards from a short corner routine – Keisuke Honda playing a 1-2 with Makoto Hasebe and skilfully jinking along the by-line to play the ball low beyond Mark Schwarzer and into the path of the unmarked Kurihara at the far post.

To their real credit, Australia immediately came back with great energy, committing players forward to win a corner from which they were confusingly awarded a penalty when Uchida was adjudged to have impeded the unprotesting Brosque. Wilkshire calmly fired the ball into the centre of the goal as Kawashima dived low to his left.

The bizarre circumstances surrounding the equaliser seemed to unsettle Japan, and the ten men could have taken the lead following another corner soon afterwards when Ognenovski’s shot struck the crossbar.

The visitors gradually rediscovered their rhythm, but were unable to create any real opportunities to force their way back in front and lost their man advantage in the last minute of the 90 when Kurihara was shown his second yellow for an innocuous collision with Brosque.

An unconventional performance from Saudi referee Khalil Al-Ghamdi was completed when Japan were awarded a free kick deep into added time, only for the final whistle to be blown as soon as the defensive wall had been assembled.

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Speaking after the game, Zaccheroni appeared satisfied with the point in what was, on paper, the most difficult fixture Japan should face throughout the qualifying process.

“This was a game that Australia felt they needed to win, and they showed their physical strength, experience, and canniness throughout,” said the Italian. “But Japan did well to deal with this. We had a difficult period at the beginning of the game, but we overcame it to control the proceedings ourselves.

“It took a penalty for us to concede our first goal of this round, but nonetheless, I think our players fought very well in what was difficult away territory.”

Japan now stand atop Group B with seven points from three matches. Their next fixture is on 11 September at home to Iraq, who are second on just two points, ahead of Australia on goals scored, with one game in hand.

South Korea look to be in control of Group A after following up last Friday’s 4-1 win in Qatar with a 3-0 home victory over Lebanon; Kim Bo-Kyung of Cerezo Osaka netting twice.


World Cup qualifying results – Asia, final round
Group A

(3 June)
Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran
Lebanon 0-1 Qatar

(8 June)
Lebanon 1-1 Uzbekistan
Qatar 1-4 South Korea

(12 June)
South Korea 3-0 Lebanon
Iran 0-0 Qatar

Group B
(3 June)
Japan 3-0 Oman
Jordan 1-1 Iraq

(8 June)
Japan 6-0 Jordan
Oman 0-0 Australia

(12 June)
Australia 1-1 Japan
Iraq 0-0 Oman

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Friday 08 June 2012

Honda hits hat-trick as Japan trounce Jordan in World Cup qualifiers



Japan have got off to the perfect start to the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, following up Sunday’s easy 3-0 win over Oman in Saitama by thrashing Jordan 6-0 at the same venue on Friday evening.

Notorious in the past for struggling to break down defensive, supposedly weaker opposition, Alberto Zaccheroni’s ever-improving side were immediately onto the front foot against Oman, taking the lead through Keisuke Honda’s volley on ten minutes before quick-fire strikes early in the second half from Ryoichi Maeda and Shinji Okazaki.

It was a similar story against an initially more threatening-looking Jordan, as Maeda and Honda put the home side two up inside 21 minutes before Abdallah Deeb was sent off for two moments of overzealous aggression in quick succession. Honda struck again on the half-hour mark before Shinji Kagawa added a fourth to make the result an absolute formality before half time.

Honda completed a well-deserved hat-trick from the spot shortly after the restart, and Yuzo Kurihara completed the scoring late on.

After the confident opening performance five days previously, Zaccheroni opted to stick with his first-choice line-up for the second of this month’s three back-to-back qualifiers, meaning that new Manchester United signing Kagawa began on the left with Honda behind Maeda in the centre.

Japan began the game at a high tempo, but were immediately shown a harder time in developing their passing moves into the final third by the determined physical play of the Jordan defence. Okazaki had a speculative overhead kick saved easily by Amer Sabbah, who then did well to get down to a low, first-time effort from Honda.

But the Samurai Blue did earn a succession of corners for their efforts, and this bore fruit on 18 minutes when Honda’s high cross found Maeda, who rose above Saeed Morjan to force the ball home off his shoulder with Sabbah in no-man’s land.

Almost immediately afterwards, another Japan corner was half-cleared to Yasuhito Endo, who sent an absolutely glorious side-footed pass back through the visitors’ defence and perfectly into the path of Honda to finish confidently.

Jordan’s plan to frustrate their more illustrious opponents as they had at last year’s Asian Cup in Qatar had been quickly voided, and their own frustrations were apparent when Deeb was dismissed with more than an hour remaining. The forward unnecessarily tripped Maeda to earn a booking, before seeing red for catching Makoto Hasebe with his arm moments later.

Smelling blood, Japan quickly made it three. On the occasion of his 117th cap, second only to Masami Ihara on 122, Endo played another fantastic ‘quarterback’ pass to Okazaki, whose shot from the right was blocked by Basem Fat'hi only to roll across goal for Honda to net at the far post.

Kagawa completed the first half scoring as Japan continued to overwhelm their opponents in attack, curling the ball home between the post and the scrambling Khalil Bani Attiah from the edge of the penalty area.

Jordan looked to hit back at the start of the second period, going close to scoring when Odai Al-Saify’s attempt flew narrowly over. However, their momentum was quickly quelled when Japan broke down the other end and Maeda’s tricky footwork drew a foul and spot kick from Attiah. Honda converted with typical composure to complete his hat-trick.

With the most difficult fixture of the group, away to Australia in Brisbane, coming up on Tuesday, Japan could afford to drop the pace a little thereafter. Honda was withdrawn for Kengo Nakamura to a rapturous ovation, and the Kawasaki Frontale man was involved in the sixth and final strike at a short corner routine with Yuto Nagatomo, who crossed for Kurihara to head his first ever international goal.

The only black note on a most comfortable evening was an injury to defender Maya Yoshida, who had to be replaced by Kurihara shortly before the interval.

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Captain Hasebe was unsurprisingly satisfied with the result, commenting to Japanese television at full time:

“Like the previous game, we managed to take the lead at a good time and from then on we could control the proceedings... we have scored a lot of goals over these past two games, but while it may not stand out quite so much the defence has performed very well too. We are in very good condition throughout the side at the moment.”

Hat-trick hero Honda added:

“My three goals came thanks to the good work of my teammates, including for the penalty, so I cannot take too much credit. I’m playing well at the moment, but the most important thing is that the team is playing well too... these two games have gone exactly as we had planned, and we now have to continue to meet everyone’s expectations when we head to Australia.”


World Cup qualifying results
Japan 3
-0 Oman
Japan 5-0 Jordan

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Friday 01 June 2012

Minutecast mid-season special with Cesare Polenghi and Sean Carroll



This Wednesday, Ben Mabley of Football Japan was joined in Tokyo by Sean Carroll of the Daily Yomiuri and Cesare Polenghi, Asian Managing Editor for Goal.com, to discuss all manner of things ranging from Shinji Kagawa’s imminent transfer, to the surprise names at the top of the J. League and crisis at Gamba Osaka.

Twitter links:
Cesare Polenghi: @CesarePolenghi
Sean Carroll: @seankyaroru
Ben Mabley: @BenMabley

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