Monday 03 December 2012

2008 Asian champions Gamba Osaka relegated to J2

A dramatic final day to the J. League season saw the 2005 champions and 2008 Asian Champions League winners Gamba Osaka relegated to the second tier for the first time in their history.

Following a disastrous season for Kansai football in general, Gamba will be joined in J2 by local rivals Vissel Kobe, but there were scenes of jubilation up on the Sea of Japan coast as Albirex Niigata completed their incredible late recovery.

A point adrift of safety going into the final Saturday, Gamba got off to the worst possible start to their away fixture at Jubilo Iwata – conceding the opener in all too familiar fashion after just five minutes. Hiroki Yamada’s cross was diverted past goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya by his teammate Sota Nakazawa, with Ryoichi Maeda on hand to convert after Akira Kaji’s desperate attempt to clear off the line.

Albirex had kept their own survival hopes alive with a shock victory over second-placed Vegalta Sendai the previous weekend, ahead of their home fixture with a Consadole Sapporo outfit destined to record the lowest points tally – 14 – in J1 history. Things appeared to be going according to plan as goals from Shusuke Tsubouchi and Bruno Lopes took the Niigata club into a 2-0 half-time lead.

This would have been enough to overhaul not only Gamba but also Vissel, who hosted a Sanfrecce Hiroshima side keen to repay Albirex for the favour that had clinched their first ever J1 title.

After a goalless first half, the match at Home’s Stadium Kobe sparked into life seven minutes into the second when Kunie Kitamoto foolishly slid in on Hiroshima forward Hisato Sato, who converted the resulting penalty to finish the season with a league-best 22 goals.

Almost immediately afterwards, Shu Kurata scored a brilliant equaliser for Gamba, dribbling past both Rodrigo Souto and Tomohiko Miyazaki on the by-line before finishing from a near-impossible angle. With Shota Sakaki pulling one back for Sapporo in Niigata, another goal in either of those games would now have been enough to save the Osaka men.

Gamba piled forwards in search of the winner. Mercurial striker Leandro hit the crossbar, Akihiro Ienaga had a shot blocked on the line, and Yasuhito Endo netted with a header only to be denied by an offside flag.

But disaster struck with five minutes remaining when Iwata midfielder Yuki Kobayashi smashed the ball past Fujigaya at his near post to put the hosts 2-1 in front.

By this point, Alan Mineiro and Bruno Lopes had extended Niigata’s lead to 4-1, and it was only a matter of waiting for the other matches to finish. News of the defeats for both Gamba and Kobe confirmed their place in the top flight for another season, sparking mass celebrations for a team that had been tipped for the drop from day one.

For Vissel, it was a miserable end to a season that had begun with significant investment and hopes of challenging for Asian qualification. In mid-August they had been 11 points clear of danger – and only as many adrift of top spot – but they managed just one win in 12 matches thereafter to plummet down the order.

The shock was even more profound for Gamba, who had played for the title on the final day 12 months ago.

Their decision to replace successful manager Akira Nishino – who later moved to Kobe before another dismissal last month – with the unknown Brazilian José Carlos Serrão set the Osakans into a disastrous rut from which his replacement, Masanobu Matsunami, struggled to escape.

The mid-season return of Leandro sparked a haul of 25 points from 16 games – leaving them both with a positive goal difference and as the division’s top scorers – but the damage had already been done.

City neighbours Cerezo Osaka had also gone into the final day with a slim threat of relegation, but stayed up after drawing 2-2 with Kawasaki Frontale.


A year after almost suffering relegation themselves, Urawa Reds returned to the AFC Champions League for the first time in five seasons after a 2-0 victory over Nagoya Grampus elevated them to third in the final standings.

Yosuke Kashiwagi’s header put them in front midway through the first half, before Tomoaki Makino smashed a superb free-kick through the narrowest of gaps between the outside of the defensive wall and the inside of Seigo Narazaki’s far post.

Sagan Tosu had started the day in the last automatic qualifying spot but had to settle for a final position of fifth – still an astonishing achievement in their debut J1 season – after losing 1-0 at Yokohama F Marinos.

A trademark free kick from Shunsuke Nakamura took Marinos up to fourth – which could be enough for an ACL place too in the event that Urawa win the Emperor’s Cup.

Kashiwa Reysol’s hopes of another continental campaign were dashed as they lost 2-0 at Kashima Antlers to finish their title defence in sixth position.

Elsewhere, runners-up Sendai were thrashed 6-2 at FC Tokyo, while Omiya Ardija extended their unbeaten run to a club record 11 matches with a scoreless draw at Shimizu S-Pulse.

J1 results (matchday 34)
Kashima Antlers 2-0 Kashiwa Reysol
Urawa Reds 2-0 Nagoya Grampus
FC Tokyo 6-2 Vegalta Sendai
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Sagan Tosu
Albirex Niigata 4-1 Consadole Sapporo
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Gamba Osaka
Cerezo Osaka 2-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

J1 final standings
2) Vegalta Sendai 57
3) Urawa Reds 55
4) Yokohama F Marinos 53
5) Sagan Tosu 53
6) Kashiwa Reysol 52
7) Nagoya Grampus 52
8) Kawasaki Frontale 50
9) Shimizu S-Pulse 49
10) FC Tokyo 48
11) Kashima Antlers 46
12) Jubilo Iwata 46
13) Omiya Ardija 44
14) Cerezo Osaka 42
15) Albirex Niigata 40
16) Vissel Kobe 39
17) Gamba Osaka 38
18) Consadole Sapporo 14

The Football Japan Minutecast will take a short hiatus through the coldest part of winter before a triumphant return next year – although we hope to record one or two special editions to help plug the gap until the new season.

We are looking for sponsorship to help us keep running in 2013 – please contact Ben Mabley for details.

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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.”


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.

- 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 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.


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.

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 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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Monday 29 October 2012

Zlatan – no, not that one – spurs Squirrels with sensational hat-trick

Zlatan Ljubijankič scored a superb hat-trick as Omiya Ardija moved three points clear of the J1 relegation zone with a sensational 4-1 victory away to reigning champions Kashiwa Reysol.

The Slovenian, whose only previous goal since his mid-season transfer from Gent was a penalty in defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, took advantage of hesitation in the hosts’ defence to open the scoring for Omiya after 21 minutes.

He then took firm control of the match for both himself and his team with two more goals in the opening four minutes of the second half.

Ljubijankič ran onto a through ball from Cho Young-Cheol to round the Kashiwa goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno and roll in Ardija’s second, before knocking a bouncing ball past Hidekazu Otani and brilliantly firing home with the outside of his right foot.

His contribution did not end there, as there was still time to lay on an assist for Daigo Watanabe to net the fourth, before Neto Baiano spotted Takashi Kitano off his line to score an astonishing late consolation goal for Kashiwa from fully 45 yards.

Omiya are now unbeaten in their last seven league matches.

The result was bad news for Albirex Niigata, who succumbed to a Yohei Toyoda brace at home to Sagan Tosu, and for Gamba Osaka, who outperformed league leaders Hiroshima for much of their game but were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Deft footwork from Yasuhito Endo allowed Japan’s most-capped international to evade both Hiroki Mizumoto and Ryota Moriwaki to slot home a deserved opener for the 2005 champions on 56 minutes. However, they were made to pay for their attempts to defend their lead when Kazuyuki Morisaki levelled for Sanfrecce a quarter of an hour from time.

A decent result in isolation became all the more painful for the Osakans later on Saturday evening when local rivals Vissel Kobe came back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 at home to Kawasaki Frontale.

Akira Nishino’s men displayed all the misfortune of a side in freefall when Junpei Kusukami’s cross-cum-shot appeared to give Kawasaki an unassailable advantage midway through the second period, but their determination thereafter reaped its rewards with goals from Yuzo Tashiro and a second of the night for Ken Tokura.

Gamba are now three points adrift of both Omiya and Kobe in the final relegation position, with Niigata two further back in 17th.


Vegalta Sendai were unable to take advantage of the two dropped points for Hiroshima as they also drew 1-1 in their match away to out-of-form Jubilo Iwata.

Makoto Teguramori’s side looked to have reclaimed their position at the top of the table when right-back Naoki Sugai broke forwards and cut back for Shingo Akamine to net his 12th goal in 16 matches against Iwata with 13 minutes remaining.

But Ryoichi Maeda fought off the attentions of two Sendai defenders to pull the ball across for substitute Kosuke Yamamoto to score the equaliser moments after coming onto the pitch.

A Marcio Richardes effort that rebounded off the crossbar was the closest that third-placed Urawa Reds came to breaking the deadlock in their scoreless draw with Cerezo Osaka, meaning that it remains as you were in the title race with just four matches remaining.

Hiroshima lead Sendai by three goals, while Urawa are still six points off the pace.

Elsewhere, Shimizu S-Pulse moved up into fourth position after winning 2-1 at Kashima Antlers in a match that was marred by scuffles between opposing supporters.

FC Tokyo thrashed already-relegated Consadole Sapporo 5-0, while a trademark free kick by Shunsuke Nakamura rescued a 1-1 draw for Yokohama F Marinos away to Nagoya Grampus.

- Machida Zelvia earned a stay of execution at the foot of J2 as they beat second-from-bottom FC Gifu 1-0 to cut the gap to three points.
- An own goal and a defensive error saw Kyoto Sanga lose 2-0 at Giravanz Kitakyushu, allowing Shonan Bellmare to move within a single point in the battle for automatic promotion.

J1 results (matchday 30)
Urawa Reds 0-0 Cerezo Osaka
Kashiwa Reysol 1-4 Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata 1-1 Vegalta Sendai
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Gamba Osaka 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
FC Tokyo 5-0 Consadole Sapporo
Albirex Niigata 0-2 Sagan Tosu
Vissel Kobe 3-3 Kawasaki Frontale

J2 results (matchday 40)
Montedio Yamagata 0-2 JEF United Chiba
Mito HollyHock 0-0 Fagiano Okayama
Machida Zelvia 1-0 FC Gifu
Oita Trinita 1-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Tokushima Vortis 2-1 Tokyo Verdy
Kataller Toyama 0-2 Shonan Bellmare
Gainare Tottori 0-1 Roasso Kumamoto
Giravanz Kitakyushu 2-0 Kyoto Sanga
Yokohama FC 3-0 Thespa Kusatsu
Tochigi SC 3-2 Matsumoto Yamaga
Ehime FC 0-0 Ventforet Kofu

Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.

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Monday 22 October 2012

Tightened up again at the top and bottom of J1

Saturday’s results in J1 have left both ends of the table suddenly rather congested, with four relegation candidates separated by as many points and Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s five-point lead at the top evaporated to mere goal difference in the space of just two matches.

The champions-elect suffered a last-minute 2-1 defeat at the hands of title-holders Kashiwa Reysol, hours after closest challengers Vegalta Sendai had sealed a crucial 3-2 win over third-placed Urawa Reds.

In the 1pm kickoff in Sendai, Makoto Teguramori’s men got off to the perfect start when Wilson’s cross was met by Shingo Akamine at the far post to head Vegalta into a second-minute lead.

An unmarked Wilson collected Ryang Yong-Gi’s pass to fire the hosts 2-0 in front shortly after the hour mark, but Tomoaki Makino charged forwards from the back to reduce Urawa’s deficit to one just two minutes later.

Wilson expertly feinted past an overcommitted challenge by Tadaaki Hirakawa to restore the two-goal advantage, only for Marcio Richardes to pull one back again straightaway afterwards and set up a grandstand last eight minutes.

Richardes then had a great chance to equalise right at the death, but Takuto Hayashi bravely dived at his feet to save from point-blank range and secure the Sendai win.

Later on in Hiroshima, Sanfrecce struggled to break down the Kashiwa defence for much of the first period and conceded an opener on the counter to the overlapping full-back Kwon Han-Jin right on half time.

Koji Morisaki equalised seven minutes after the restart, but Hiroshima were unable to turn their relative domination thereafter into a vital second goal, and were made to pay in the fourth minute of added time.

Jorge Wagner’s corner went over a crowd of players for defender Tatsuya Masushima to slot home a dramatic winner, as the champions still refuse to surrender their crown without a fight.

They move up to fourth, nine points behind the top two but level with Shimizu S-Pulse, who drew 1-1 at home to relegation-battling Vissel Kobe, and Nagoya Grampus, who won 3-1 at Sagan Tosu.

Urawa are now six points off the summit in third, having lost three of their last four.


Straddling the drop line, Omiya Ardija and Albirex Niigata could only draw 1-1 in their meeting at the NACK5 Stadium, allowing Gamba Osaka to move within a point of safety after their 3-2 win away to Kawasaki Frontale.

Bruno Lopes rolled the ball across the 18-yard line and in front of the Omiya back four for an unmarked Atomu Tanaka to strike Niigata into a deserved 1-0 lead after 38 minutes, but Takuya Aoki pierced the visiting defence via a 1-2 with Keigo Higashi to equalise for the Squirrels just before the break.

In Kawasaki, occasional Japan international Akihiro Ienaga was the hero for Gamba with two goals in a game they largely controlled but needed to score three to compensate for the continued failings of their defence.

Superb passing moves put Gamba ahead twice, through Ienaga and left-back Hiroki Fujiharu, only for Junpei Kusukami and Kengo Nakamura to be left unmarked in otherwise crowded penalty areas to head equalisers for Frontale.

But when Yuki Saneto could only half-clear Leandro’s cross, Ienaga smashed home the loose ball to take Gamba a point ahead of Niigata in 16th.

Winless in seven, Kobe are now just three points ahead of Gamba in 14th position, with Kashima Antlers as many clear of them in 13th place after Shinzo Koroki missed a penalty in their goalless draw with relegated Consadole Sapporo.

Elsewhere, Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1 at home to FC Tokyo.

- A week after securing an immediate return to the top flight, Ventforet Kofu made sure of their J2 championship with a 3-2 victory away to Avispa Fukuoka.
- Kyoto Sanga moved into the second automatic promotion spot thanks to a 3-1 win over FC Gifu, after Shonan Bellmare were held 1-1 at home to JEF United Chiba.
- With three matches remaining for most second division clubs, everyone down to Fagiano Okayama in tenth are theoretically in with a chance of automatic promotion. Tochigi SC in 11th could still make the playoffs.
- Machida Zelvia are now six points adrift at the bottom of J2 and could well become the first team ever to be relegated from the J. League, with associate members V-Varen Nagasaki still five points clear at the top of the third-tier JFL.

J1 results (matchday 29)
Vegalta Sendai 3-2 Urawa Reds
Yokohama F Marinos 4-0 Jubilo Iwata
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Albirex Niigata
Kawasaki Frontale 2-3 Gamba Osaka
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Vissel Kobe
Sagan Tosu 1-3 Nagoya Grampus
Consadole Sapporo 0-0 Kashima Antlers
Cerezo Osaka 1-1 FC Tokyo
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Kashiwa Reysol

J2 results (matchday 39)
Montedio Yamagata 1-0 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Kyoto Sanga 3-1 FC Gifu
Avispa Fukuoka 2-3 Ventforet Kofu
Roasso Kumamoto 0-1 Yokohama FC
Tokyo Verdy 4-1 Tochigi SC
Machida Zelvia 2-4 Ehime FC
Shonan Bellmare 1-1 JEF United Chiba
Matsumoto Yamaga 2-1 Mito HollyHock
Tokushima Vortis 3-0 Kataller Toyama
Thespa Kusatsu 1-0 Fagiano Okayama
Gainare Tottori 1-0 Oita Trinita

Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.

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Saturday 06 October 2012

J1 matchday 28 roundup

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

J1 results (matchday 28)
Cerezo Osaka 3-2 Sagan Tosu
Yokohama F Marinos 0-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Kashima Antlers 5-1 FC Tokyo
Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 Kawasaki Frontale
Albirex Niigata 0-0 Vissel Kobe
Nagoya Grampus 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Vegalta Sendai 2-1 Gamba Osaka
Urawa Reds 1-2 Consadole Sapporo

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Monday 01 October 2012

Sanfrecce move five points clear while record-breaking Sapporo prepare for J2

Sanfrecce Hiroshima took a massive step towards claiming their first ever J. League championship with a 4-1 victory over Sagan Tosu, as closest rivals Vegalta Sendai slipped to defeat away to Shimizu S-Pulse.

Faced with a challenging fixture on paper against the side with the meanest defensive record in the top flight, Sanfrecce opened the scoring on the half hour thanks to Kohei Shimizu’s solo run and finish, before being helped on their way further by a highly controversial penalty decision from referee Hajime Matsuo.

Tosu defender Keita Isozaki clearly played the ball away well before colliding with Hironori Ishikawa, after both players had run in from different angles. But Matsuo pointed to the spot, to the astonishment of the away side, and Hisato Sato took the invitation to calmly plant the ball into the roof of the net.

Sato turned provider in the second half, rounding goalkeeper Taku Akahoshi before cutting back for the grateful Koji Morisaki. Yohei Toyoda headed a late consolation, but Sato chased down a long ball from Mihael Mikić to loft a volley over Akahoshi in the 95th minute for his club record 20th league goal of the campaign.

The celebrations were doubly sweet in Hiroshima with the news that Shimizu had come from behind to beat second-placed Sendai 3-1 at Nihondaira.

Yoshiaki Ota crossed for right-back Naoki Sugai to head home from a striker’s position and give the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead, but the match turned dramatically when Vegalta defender Jiro Kamata was sent off on the hour for two yellow cards in the space of just four minutes.

S-Pulse quickly took advantage, Kim Hyun-Sung heading an equaliser from Calvin Jong-a-Pin’s cross to mark his first J. League goal since his loan move from FC Seoul. Debutant Yuji Senuma, a fourth-year student at Tsukuba University, then announced his arrival by putting the hosts in front with another header on 84 minutes.

Not to be outdone, Kim embarrassed Takuto Hayashi in added time when his 45-yard attempt slipped through the goalkeeper’s fingers and over the line for Shimizu’s third.

Sendai are now five points behind Hiroshima, and only ahead of third-placed Urawa Reds on goal difference after the latter put last week’s 5-0 demolition by Gamba Osaka behind them with a dramatic 2-1 win at champions Kashiwa Reysol.

Moments before the final whistle, substitute forward Popo raced onto Shinya Yajima’s flick-on from a terrific long throw by ’keeper Nobuhiro Kato, and somehow got the ball between the hesitating Ryoichi Kurisawa and Koji Inada for Urawa’s winner.

It looks to be a three-way battle for the title now, with fourth-placed Jubilo Iwata slipping 11 points off the Hiroshima pace with a 2-1 loss at FC Tokyo.


Consadole Sapporo have broken the J. League record for the fastest ever relegation, after a 1-0 defeat at Kawasaki Frontale removed any mathematical hope of survival with fully seven matches still to play.

An utterly miserable year for Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s side has seen them lose all but four of their 27 league games to date, and still needing six more points to even equal the J1 worst of 16 shared by Yokohama FC (2007) and Shonan Bellmare (2010).

Cerezo Osaka took a major step towards ensuring they won’t be joining Sapporo in J2 next season – coming from behind to seal their second dramatic 3-2 victory in a week, this time away to Vissel Kobe.

Goals in the first 17 minutes by Keijiro Ogawa and Takahiro Soma, both from Ken Tokura assists, looked to have put Kobe in command, and while Fabio Simplicio pulled one back for Cerezo, the game appeared up when Yusuke Maruhashi was dismissed for a reckless sliding challenge on Takuya Nozawa.

But the ten men of Cerezo fought on, levelling when Yoichiro Kakitani’s solo run and cross found Simplicio unmarked at the far post for his second. And when Kobe defender Kazumichi Takagi allowed a throw-in to bounce over his head, Takuma Edamura raced on to blast home the winner from the edge of the box with nine minutes remaining.

The result now leaves Vissel just four points clear of danger, although manager Akira Nishino was thankful that his old charges Gamba Osaka could only draw 2-2 with Kashima Antlers despite another brace from Leandro.

Albirex Niigata achieved the shock result of the weekend, thrashing Nagoya Grampus 5-0 with all of the goals coming in the second half. Brazilian forward Michael netted twice, but the best of the bunch was a wonderful curling shot into the far corner from just outside the penalty area by his compatriot Bruno Lopes.

Niigata join Gamba on 29 points, two behind 15th-placed Omiya Ardija who clung on to draw 0-0 with Yokohama F Marinos despite a red card for Zlatan Ljubijankič.

J1 results (matchday 27)
Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1 Vegalta Sendai
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-1 Sagan Tosu
FC Tokyo 2-1 Jubilo Iwata
Albirex Niigata 5-0 Nagoya Grampus
Vissel Kobe 2-3 Cerezo Osaka
Omiya Ardija 0-0 Yokohama F Marinos
Gamba Osaka 2-2 Kashima Antlers
Kashiwa Reysol 1-2 Urawa Reds
Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Consadole Sapporo

J2 results (matchday 36)
Mito HollyHock 3-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Tochigi SC 1-2 Ventforet Kofu
Gainare Tottori 2-0 Thespa Kusatsu
Machida Zelvia 1-3 Oita Trinita
Avispa Fukuoka 1-1 Yokohama FC
Montedio Yamagata 1-1 Tokyo Verdy
Ehime FC 2-2 JEF United Chiba
Kataller Toyama 1-1 Fagiano Okayama
Shonan Bellmare P-P Roasso Kumamoto
Tokushima Vortis P-P Kyoto Sanga
Matsumoto Yamaga P-P FC Gifu

Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.

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Sunday 23 September 2012

Episode 200: Late drama keeps Hiroshima on top while Gamba annihilate Urawa

Late goals were the order of the day at the top of J1 on Saturday as Sanfrecce Hiroshima just about managed to hold onto their two-point lead over Vegalta Sendai.

In a 3.30pm kickoff at the Yurtec Stadium, Sendai conceded the opening goal for the fourth match in a row as Yuzo Tashiro of Vissel Kobe rose highest to head home from a Takuya Nozawa corner.

Tashiro went off injured later in the first half to be replaced by Ken Tokura, who thought he had doubled the visitors’ advantage only to be denied by an offside flag.

Vegalta then rallied to equalise three minutes before the interval, Ryang Yong-Gi sending in a cross from the left for Shingo Akamine to head in from eight yards.

The score remained level until the end of an intense second period, when Sendai won a corner in the final minute of the ninety. Ryang’s ball in was headed down by Toshihiro Matsushita, and centre-back Jiro Kamata improvised in front of goal to score with an overhead kick and give the title challengers a crucial 2-1 victory.

Provisionally overhauled at the summit, the pressure was now on Sanfrecce ahead of a tough 7pm kickoff away to 2010 champions Nagoya Grampus, who were still looking to keep alive their own hopes of glory.

Hajime Moriyasu’s side took a 1-0 lead into half time when Kohei Shimizu was given acres of space to run onto a flick from Yojiro Takahagi, turned outside Grampus defender Daniel with ease, and fired the ball inside Seigo Narazaki’s near post.

But the hosts were level five minutes after the interval following a move started and finished by Marcus Tulio Tanaka. Breaking deep into Hiroshima territory, the former Japan all-rounder played the ball out to Taishi Taguchi, and continued his run to head the subsequent cross from right-back Hayuma Tanaka just inside the post.

The match appeared to be heading for stalemate, which would have left Hiroshima ahead of Sendai on goals scored alone. However, in the final minute of added time, substitute Naoki Ishihara lofted the ball over the Nagoya defence for Ryota Moriwaki to send a perfect looping header over the flailing Narazaki and in off the post for a dramatic winner.

Grampus fall to sixth place in the table, nine points off the Sanfrecce pace with just eight left to play.


Third-from-bottom Gamba Osaka sent shockwaves through both ends of the table with a total nullification and annihilation of third-placed Urawa Reds, incredibly winning 5-0 at the Saitama Stadium.

Hiroyuki Abe gave the relegation battlers the lead when his low shot went in under the late dive of a possibly unsighted Nobuhiro Kato, before Leandro guided Hiroki Fujiharu’s cross inside the far post with a deft header to double their advantage on 36 minutes.

Remaining on top throughout, to the delight of the 2,000 travelling supporters, Gamba effectively sealed the win on the hour mark when Fujiharu cut the ball back for Leandro to nonchalantly convert a left-footed, back-heeled volley as if it was the easiest thing in the world. The Brazilian marksman now has an astonishing nine goals in seven appearances since returning to the club this summer.

His compatriot Paulinho subsequently came off the bench to round off the party with two further strikes in the final five minutes.

The result was not enough to take the Osaka club out of the relegation zone, however, as Omiya Ardija had already begun the afternoon with another 5-0 away victory against hapless Consadole Sapporo.

After a goalless first period, the game turned decisively when Sapporo midfielder Junpei Takaki received a straight red for a foul on half-time substitute Zlatan Ljubijankič.

Milivoje Novaković converted the resultant penalty and went on to score a hat-trick in a comprehensive win that also saw goals for Carlinhos and Yu Hasegawa.

Omiya remain two points clear of Gamba, with Albirex Niigata now two further back in 17th position after their goalless draw at fourth-placed Jubilo Iwata. The game ended in controversy when Kisho Yano’s cutback hit Michael and went into the open net to apparently seal victory for Albirex, only for the goal to be ruled out by the linesman’s flag.

Iwata are now eight points off the top, with Sagan Tosu one point behind them thanks to a 3-1 victory over Kashiwa Reysol, whose hopes of defending their crown look to be over as they now trail Hiroshima by 11 points.

Elsewhere, Cerezo Osaka stayed four points clear of danger after a 3-2 home win over Shimizu S-Pulse. Yokohama F Marinos won 2-1 in Kashima despite the dismissal of former Antlers forward Marquinhos, while Kawasaki Frontale beat FC Tokyo by the same margin.

J1 results (matchday 26)
Consadole Sapporo 0-5 Omiya Ardija
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Vegalta Sendai 2-1 Vissel Kobe
Urawa Reds 0-5 Gamba Osaka
Jubilo Iwata 0-0 Albirex Niigata
Cerezo Osaka 3-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
FC Tokyo 1-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Nagoya Grampus 1-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Sagan Tosu 3-1 Kashiwa Reysol

J2 results (matchday 35)
Matsumoto Yamaga 7-1 Gainare Tottori
Giravanz Kitakyushu 2-3 Ventforet Kofu
Oita Trinita 0-1 Tochigi SC
Yokohama FC 1-0 Tokushima Vortis
Roasso Kumamoto 3-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Thespa Kusatsu 3-1 Montedio Yamagata
JEF United Chiba 2-2 Tokyo Verdy
Machida Zelvia L-L Kataller Toyama
FC Gifu L-L Shonan Bellmare
Kyoto Sanga L-L Mito HollyHock
Ehime FC L-L Fagiano Okayama

Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.
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Monday 17 September 2012

Hiroshima win top two battle as title race closes up

The J. League title race took another dramatic twist on Saturday evening as Sanfrecce Hiroshima emerged victorious from their battle of the top two with Vegalta Sendai to leapfrog their opponents back into pole position.

After a goalless first half at a drizzly Big Arch stadium in Hiroshima, the home side took the lead in rather fortuitous fashion just three minutes into the second. Kazuyuki Morisaki was given acres of space in midfield and decided to try his luck with a low shot from almost 40 yards. The ball hit the inside of Sendai defender Taikai Uemoto’s right leg, and deflected past goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi.

The visitors fought hard for an equaliser, hitting the bar through a trademark Ryang Yong-Gi free kick on 65 minutes, and finally forced their way level through a typical Vegalta move soon afterwards. Makoto Kakuda pierced the Sanfrecce defence with a low through ball for Yoshiaki Ota, whose cross was converted by Shingo Akamine with a diving header.

However, it was Hiroshima who took the spoils when Hayashi could only palm a Hironori Ishikawa cross into the path of Yojiro Takahagi, who planted the ball into the roof of the net to send the majority of the 23,352 spectators home happy.

Hajime Moriyasu’s men now have a two point lead at the summit, with Sendai only ahead of Urawa Reds on goal difference after the latter came from behind to win 2-1 at Yokohama F Marinos. Marquinhos gave the hosts the lead after just five minutes but Urawa hit back with strikes from Japan internationals Yosuke Kashiwagi and Tomoaki Makino.

Jubilo Iwata and Nagoya Grampus both remained in the title picture with away victories that take them to within six points of the top; Iwata edging ten-man Vissel Kobe 2-1, and Nagoya beating Cerezo Osaka 2-0 in a game that was delayed for more than an hour due to a thunderstorm.

Reigning champions Kashiwa Reysol are two points further back in sixth after a 3-1 home victory over Consadole Sapporo.


At the other end of the table, Gamba Osaka slipped back into the bottom three after surrendering two points at home to relegation battle rivals Albirex Niigata.

A superb first-half strike from Leandro, his seventh goal in six appearances since returning to the club, looked to have set Gamba on their way to a crucial victory, but a series of defensive substitutions from manager Masanobu Matsunami throughout a woeful second half performance set up a nervy climax.

Ultimately, Keisuke Iwashita slid in foolishly on Michael to give Niigata a penalty in the last of the 90, and Bruno Lopes made no mistake to keep them on level points with their opponents.

Omiya Ardija were the beneficiaries, pulling two points clear of the relegation zone thanks to Kosuke Kikuchi’s header in a 1-0 win over Sagan Tosu.

Elsewhere, Kawasaki Frontale came from two behind to draw 2-2 at home to Kashima Antlers, while Shimizu S-Pulse played out a 1-1 draw with FC Tokyo.

- Hiroshi Kiyotake’s brilliant start to life in Germany continued with two assists and a superb winning goal in Nürnberg’s 3-2 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach.
- Takashi Inui, a former teammate of Kiyotake at Cerezo Osaka, scored his first Bundesliga goal in a 3-2 win for Eintracht Frankfurt over Hamburg.
- Maya Yoshida earned praise from Southampton manager Nigel Adkins after making his Premier League debut as a first-half substitute on Saturday, but was unable to help the Saints avoid a 6-1 thrashing away to Arsenal.

J1 results (matchday 25)
Cerezo Osaka 0-2 Nagoya Grampus
Omiya Ardija 1-0 Sagan Tosu
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Consadole Sapporo
Kawasaki Frontale 2-2 Kashima Antlers
Yokohama F Marinos 1-2 Urawa Reds
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 FC Tokyo
Gamba Osaka 1-1 Albirex Niigata
Vissel Kobe 1-2 Jubilo Iwata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 Vegalta Sendai

J2 results (matchday 33)
Mito HollyHock 2-0 Roasso Kumamoto
Tochigi SC 1-1 Tokushima Vortis
Tokyo Verdy 1-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Shonan Bellmare 2-0 Thespa Kusatsu
Ventforet Kofu 1-0 Fagiano Okayama
Matsumoto Yamaga 3-0 Machida Zelvia
Kataller Toyama 2-0 JEF United Chiba
Ehime FC 0-1 Yokohama FC
Giravanz Kitakyushu 2-1 FC Gifu
Oita Trinita 2-0 Kyoto Sanga
Gainare Tottori 2-1 Montedio Yamagata

Ben Mabley will be analysing the English Premier League for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’ this season, every Tuesday night at 10pm on JSports 3.
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