Sunday 25 November 2012

Sanfrecce Hiroshima crowned J. League champions for the first time



Sanfrecce Hiroshima, one of the J. League’s ten original members, were finally crowned as champions for the first time ever on Saturday afternoon after thrashing Cerezo Osaka 4-1, while closest challengers Vegalta Sendai suffered a shock 1-0 loss at home to Albirex Niigata.

In front of an expectant crowd of over 30,000 people at the Big Arch, Sanfrecce came out of the blocks quickly to open the scoring after 17 minutes. Yojiro Takahagi’s attempted pass was blocked by a Cerezo defender but rebounded straight back to him to fire home first time from 25 yards.

Their lead was quickly doubled when Kohei Shimizu’s overhit cross was brilliantly headed back across goal by Hironori Ishikawa for midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama to finish.

The match was effectively ended as a contest five minutes before the break when Hotaru Yamaguchi was somewhat harshly dismissed for a push on Shimizu, and Hisato Sato dispatched the resulting penalty into the roof of the net for his 22nd goal of the season.

Ishikawa scored his first ever J. League goal with a confident finish five minutes after the restart to make it four, before Takuma Edamura headed a consolation for the beaten visitors.

Attention then switched to Sendai, where Vegalta had begun the day a point adrift and faced a Niigata side needing a win to have any chance of survival.

Shingo Tomita hit the post after just four minutes as the hosts looked to take the game to their opponents, but they were stunned on 17 when Albirex midfielder Yuta Mikado raced onto a Michael through ball and cut the ball across the six-yard box for left-back Kim Jin-Su to slot home.

Ryang Yong-Gi thought he had equalised for Sendai later in the first half, only for the linesman to rule that the ball had travelled out of play before Shingo Akamine had headed it back into his path.

Makoto Teguramori introduced Kunimitsu Sekiguchi and Takayuki Nakahara to add weight to the Vegalta attack in the second half, but despite a desperate six minutes of stoppage time they were unable to break down a stubborn Niigata defence as their title dreams finally slipped away.

Back in Hiroshima, players and staff flooded back onto the pitch in joy as news of the Sendai result filtered through. A jubilant Hajime Moriyasu shouted his thanks to the supporters through the stadium’s public address system before later commenting, “I am simply too happy for words. I so wanted to become champions of Japan with Hiroshima, but I never imagined we would win the league in my first season as manager.”

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2005 champions Gamba Osaka will go into the final day still in the bottom three after they could only draw 2-2 in their last home match against FC Tokyo.

Two goals from Akihiro Ienaga looked to have put them on course for a much-needed victory after Yuhei Tokunaga’s opener for Tokyo, but Kazuma Watanabe equalised with six minutes left on the clock as Gamba once again crumbled when trying to defend their lead.

Omiya Ardija are safe after extending their incredible late-season unbeaten run to ten matches with a 2-0 victory over Jubilo Iwata – Shin Kanazawa’s superb curling opener into the top corner of the net followed up by a second from Daigo Watanabe.

Dutra pounced on mistakes by Nagoya Grampus defender Daniel then goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki to net a brace for Kashima Antlers as they sealed their own survival with a surprise 2-1 away victory at the Toyota Stadium.

But Vissel Kobe slipped to a 1-0 defeat at outgoing champions Kashiwa Reysol, with Jorge Wagner hitting a low shot across goalkeeper Kenta Tokushige from well outside the penalty area for the winner after the visitors had seen Hideo Tanaka dismissed for two yellow cards in the first half.

Gamba are now one point behind Kobe and three behind neighbours Cerezo, with a significantly superior goal difference. Niigata are now only one point further adrift in 17th position and have a home fixture against Consadole Sapporo, who only have 14 points in total, on the final Saturday.

In the battle for the third automatic AFC Champions League place, Sagan Tosu continued to defy all expectations by defeating Urawa Reds 3-1 to climb to third in the table.

Many had predicted an immediate return to J2 for the top flight debutants this season, but a brace from Yohei Toyoda either side of Ryunosuke Noda’s volley has put the Kyushu outfit in pole position for an Asian campaign next year.

Kashiwa, Urawa, and Nagoya are all just a point behind, but if all three fail to win next Saturday then Yokohama F. Marinos can steal the ACL berth with victory at home to Tosu.

Marinos won 2-0 in Sapporo yesterday, while in the remaining fixture, Kawasaki Frontale beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1.


TALKING POINTS
- Takenori Hayashi scored a dramatic late winner against his former club, JEF United Chiba, to take Oita Trinita back into J1 with a 1-0 victory in the inaugural J2 playoff final at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Friday.


J1 results (matchday 33)
Vegalta Sendai 0-1 Albirex Niigata
Nagoya Grampus 1-2 Kashima Antlers
Gamba Osaka 2-2 FC Tokyo
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-1 Cerezo Osaka
Sagan Tosu 3-1 Urawa Reds
Consadole Sapporo 0-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Omiya Ardija 2-0 Jubilo Iwata
Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 Vissel Kobe
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Shimizu S-Pulse


J2 playoff final result
Oita Trinita 1-0 JEF United Chiba


Ben Mabley is the English Premier League analysis for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’, appearing every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3. He is also a columnist for Goal.com Japan.

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Sunday 18 November 2012

Sanfrecce beaten but hold onto top spot as Sendai are pegged back in Kashima



J1 leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima slipped to a 2-0 defeat away to third-placed Urawa Reds on Saturday, but managed to hold onto a one-point advantage at the top as Vegalta Sendai were pegged back to draw 3-3 at Kashima Antlers.

Keita Suzuki was the inspiration for Urawa, deploying his range of skills to pierce the Hiroshima defence for both of his side’s goals. Five minutes before half time, his diagonal pass from just in front of the halfway line found the on-running Tsukasa Umesaki to fire home the opener at the far post.

Then, just after the hour mark, Suzuki took advantage of some uncharacteristically hesitant Sanfrecce defending to dribble through from the centre circle virtually unchallenged and double the lead from inside the D.

The news from Saitama would have been music to the ears of Sendai fans, whose side began the day two points behind but opened up a 3-1 lead in the first half at Kashima Stadium.

Shingo Akamine headed in a Naoki Sugai cross before strike partner Wilson pounced for the second after Antlers custodian Hitoshi Sogahata had spilled an attempt from Yoshiaki Ota. Shinzo Koroki pulled one back for the hosts, but Akamine headed his second from a tight angle following more uncertain goalkeeping from Sogahata.

However, Jorginho was able to change the game with a reshuffle and a more attacking approach for the second period. Substitute Juninho crossed for Yuya Osako to halve the deficit two minutes after the restart, before Masashi Motoyama deftly lofted the ball over the Vegalta centre-backs for Koroki to smash in the equaliser.

With Hiroshima set for an easier final two fixtures on paper, Sendai’s failure to hold on for all three points may well prove decisive.

Urawa still head up the battle for the third and final automatic Asian Champions League place, albeit only on goal difference above Nagoya Grampus, who won 2-0 at Jubilo Iwata with goals at the end of both halves.

Sagan Tosu are two points adrift in fifth after coming from behind to win 3-2 at relegated Consadole Sapporo, with Kashiwa Reysol one further back in sixth following their Leandro Domingues-inspired 2-1 victory away to Yokohama F Marinos.

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Omiya Ardija made it nine games unbeaten as their late-season survival instincts continued to amaze in a 3-1 victory away to Cerezo Osaka.

With a waterlogged pitch serving to nullify both sides’ attempts at passing the ball, the match remained goalless until Milivoje Novaković superbly converted a free kick from about 25 yards, left of the goal, after 37 minutes.

Following the breakdown of a Cerezo set play, Daisuke Watabe broke away from the right-back position to hit a powerful low shot across Kim Jin-Hyeon for Ardija’s second. Kenyu Sugimoto quickly pulled one back for the home side, but Takuya Aoki sealed the points late on.

If Kincho Stadium was waterlogged, the pitch at FC Tokyo positively resembled a lake for the visit of Vissel Kobe, who fired manager Akira Nishino earlier in the week but adapted to the conditions to seal a vital first league win in ten thanks to a superb first ever goal from rookie right-back Ryo Okui.

Gamba Osaka will be wondering what on earth they need to do to break out of the bottom three after they also gained an impressive 3-1 victory away to Shimizu S-Pulse. Shu Kurata scored a brace either side of a 14th goal in 13 games for Leandro, who also held off the entire Shimizu defence to set up Kurata’s second.

Albirex Niigata are in a perilous position after they succumbed to a 95th-minute winner by Kawasaki Frontale’s Yu Kobayashi, to drop five points adrift of safety with just six more available.

Gamba are still two points behind Kobe and three behind Omiya. Kashima and Cerezo are now suddenly right back in the relegation picture too, respectively three and four points clear of danger.


TALKING POINTS
Oita Trinita and JEF United Chiba will contest the inaugural J2 playoff final on Friday after each achieving astonishing 4-0 victories in their semi-finals on Sunday afternoon.

The idiosyncratic rules for the J. League’s new experiment dictated that, by virtue of respectively finishing the regular season in third and fourth, Kyoto Sanga and Yokohama FC would not only enjoy home advantage for the single-legged semis, but only needed to draw to progress to the final.

Perhaps the need to win in 90 minutes galvanised the eventual victors, with Oita’s Yu Kijima hitting all four against ten-man Kyoto while Yoshihito Fujita scored two for Chiba in Yokohama.


J1 results (matchday 32)
Kashima Antlers 3-3 Vegalta Sendai
Urawa Reds 2-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Yokohama F Marinos 1-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Albirex Niigata 0-1 Kawasaki Frontale
Jubilo Iwata 0-2 Nagoya Grampus
Consadole Sapporo 2-3 Sagan Tosu
FC Tokyo 0-1 Vissel Kobe
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-3 Gamba Osaka
Cerezo Osaka 1-3 Omiya Ardija


J2 playoff semi-final results
Kyoto Sanga 0-4 Oita Trinita
Yokohama FC 0-4 JEF United Chiba


Ben Mabley is the English Premier League analysis for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’, appearing every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3. He is also a columnist for Goal.com Japan.

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Wednesday 07 November 2012

J1 matchday 31 roundup



Ben Mabley presents a brief roundup of Wednesday night’s matches from J1.


J1 results (matchday 31)
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Cerezo Osaka
Omiya Ardija 0-0 Kashima Antlers
Kashiwa Reysol 2-2 Gamba Osaka
Kawasaki Frontale 4-2 Urawa Reds
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-1 Albirex Niigata
Nagoya Grampus 1-0 FC Tokyo
Vissel Kobe 1-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-0 Consadole Sapporo
Sagan Tosu 3-2 Jubilo Iwata

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