Monday 08 August 2011

Japanese football mourns death of Naoki Matsuda, 34



A minute of silence was observed before football matches throughout Japan over the weekend to mark the sudden, tragic passing of former international defender Naoki Matsuda.

The 34-year-old fell into cardiac arrest after collapsing during training on Tuesday with third-tier side Matsumoto Yamaga, whom he joined ahead of the current season. He was sadly pronounced dead in hospital on Thursday.

A highly popular figure throughout the Japanese game, Matsuda earned a total of 40 caps and played a major role in helping his country through to the knockout stages of the co-hosted World Cup in 2002. At club level, he spent his entire top-flight career with Yokohama F Marinos, making 385 J. League appearances across 16 seasons and winning three championship medals.

Marinos were knocked off the J1 summit in an emotionally-charged meeting of the top two at the Hitachi Stadium on Saturday. Long-time leaders Kashiwa Reysol came out of the blocks quickly to open the scoring through Leandro Domingues’s 20-yard effort on just eight minutes, before left-back Jorge Wagner charged through on the overlap to make sure of the points midway through the second half.

The 2-0 victory puts Kashiwa back in front by a single point.

Reigning champions Nagoya Grampus came from a goal behind to beat Jubilo Iwata 2-1 and move to within two points of first place. A 73rd-minute strike from Kensuke Nagai – his first ever in the J. League – was enough to secure victory after Yoshizumi Ogawa had earlier cancelled out Hidetaka Kanazono’s opener for Jubilo.

A third goal in three appearances for new Brazilian forward Rafinha helped Gamba Osaka on their way to a straightforward 2-0 win at home to bottom club Avispa Fukuoka. Akira Nishino’s side remain in fourth position, separated from Grampus on goal difference alone – with the pair set to meet at Banpaku in their game in hand on 17 August.

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Vissel Kobe completed the double over Urawa Reds for a second straight season with a dramatic 3-2 victory at the Saitama Stadium. Takayuki Yoshida, who was born on the same day as his late friend Matsuda, netted a brace for the second week in succession to give the visitors a 2-0 lead within 19 minutes, but Urawa slowly found their way back into the game and pulled level through Tatsuya Tanaka and Mazola.

However, Vissel were awarded a penalty deep into second half stoppage time when Hideo Tanaka was clumsily felled by Marcio Richardes. Yoshito Okubo stepped up to calmly convert with minimal power from the spot.

The result saw the Reds leapfrogged not only by their opponents, but also by fellow surprise strugglers Kashima Antlers and Cerezo Osaka after wins over Montedio Yamagata and Kawasaki Frontale, respectively. A 2-0 home defeat for 16th-placed Ventforet Kofu against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, however, means that the current bottom three remain well adrift of safety.

Omiya Ardija are now the closest target after surrendering a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Vegalta Sendai despite a debut goal from Rodrigo Pimpão, who until recently was on loan at Cerezo from parent side Vasco da Gama. At the foot of a cluster of nine teams separated by just five points, the Squirrels are nonetheless still six points clear of Kofu.

Elsewhere, Albirex Niigata thumped Shimizu S-Pulse 4-0 to move into the top half of the table thanks to a Michael brace and further goals from Cho Young-Cheol and Kazuhiko Chiba.


TALKING POINTS
- Shinji Okazaki scored a spectacular 20-yard goal to help VfB Stuttgart to a 3-0 win over Schalke 04 on the opening weekend of the Bundesliga season in Germany. The forward is one of 14 overseas-based players in the Japan squad for Wednesday’s friendly meeting with South Korea in Sapporo.
- Matsumoto Yamaga were narrowly beaten 2-1 at home to Japan Football League leaders Sagawa Shiga in front of 9,890 people at their Alwin stadium.


J1 results (matchday 20)
Kashima Antlers 3-1 Montedio Yamagata
Ventforet Kofu 0-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Urawa Reds 2-3 Vissel Kobe
Kashiwa Reysol 2-0 Yokohama F Marinos
Kawasaki Frontale 1-2 Cerezo Osaka
Albirex Niigata 4-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Gamba Osaka 2-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Omiya Ardija 2-2 Vegalta Sendai
Nagoya Grampus 2-1 Jubilo Iwata

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