Saturday, 27 December 2008

Abe Called Up to Japan Squad

Nagoya defender Shohei Abe has been added to the Japan squad for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifier against Yemen. Abe has been one of the outstanding players this year for Grampus, and has his much improved defending has been vital to the team's success.

However, his well deserved addition to the Japan highlights the need for Nagoya to strengthen the squad, especially for the two wing backs. Abe has been ever present this year, with no chance to recuperate from any knocks and sprains. This has mainly been due to the lack of a reliable replacement and the team has bee lucky that Abe has proven tough enough to play so consistently. With ACL commitments and Japan national team games likely to place even greater demands on the squad, competent replacements are vital if the team is to sustain the progress made this year.

Grampus Knocked Out by Classy Gamba

Dragan "Pixie" Stojkovic's debut season as a manager cam to an end with Gamba's 2-1 win in the Emperor's Cup 1/4-final at Kobe on Christmas Day. In the end, Gamba's sharpness after their three games in Club World Cup proved a bigger advantage than the well rested, after a couple of week of inactivity, Grampus team.

As with the two league games against Osaka, Nagoya kept the score line close. However, unlike the two league game which were close because the teams were evenly matched, this game saw Gamba have much the better of the game for most of the 90 minutes. Nagoya did not press and close down as effectively as they have throughout much of this season. The extra space an time allowed Gamba to create plenty of chances, especially in the first half. Nagoya were somewhat fortunate to go in at half time only trailing by two goals, scored by Lucas and Nakazawa.

The second half was a bit more even, but Gamba still looked the more likely to score. However, the introduction of Keita Sugimoto at half time changed the balance of the game. His speed unsettled the Gamba defense and he latched onto a long ball through the middle and calmly stoked the ball past Fujigaya to reduce the deficit to one goal. This sparked a revival in nagoya fortunes and Johnsen and Magnun were both unlucky to see good efforts in goal thwarted by excellent saves. Grampus could easily have taken the game into extra time had it not been for Fujigaya fine performance, but doing so would have been a bit of an injustice. A score of 4-2 or 5-3 would have been a more accurate reflection of the chances.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Gamba Clinch 3rd Place in World

Local heroes Gamba eased to a 1-0 win in the third-pkace play off against Pachuca for this year's Club World Club. Man United also looked comfortable against Liga de Quito in the final, as they were duly crowned the best team in the world.

The players then had had to endure some painful interviews on Japanese TV as Gomiuri TV had chosen an interpreter with an American accent who new sweet FA about football. Ronaldo was quickly rescued by a United minder, but poor old Rooney was left to struggle on against the tide of ignorant comments.

Sporting Life "Pachuca 0 Gamba Osaka 1"
BBC News "Liga de Quito 0-1 Man Utd"

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Grampus Clearing House for New Acquisitions?

To date Nagoya Grampus have announced the signing (or promotion from the youth team) of seven players. At the same time, the club has released 10 players and two coaches.

Apart from Davi, from relegated Sapporo, none of the signing can be called major acquisitions. The discrepancy between the number released and those arriving suggests that there will be another two or three players heading to Nagoya in the near future, probably after the Emperor's Cup finishes on January 1st. (Since the U-18s have already crashed out of the ongoing J-Youth Cup, we will probably not see any additional promotions this year.)

New Arrivals
FW DAVI from Consadole Sapporo
FW KUBA Hikaru from RKU High School
FW HASHIMOTO Koji from Meiji University
DF MATSUO Genta from Osaka University of Health and Sport
MF TAGUCHI Taishi from RKU High School
MF HIRAKI Yoshiki from Ryutsu Keizai University
MF ISOMURA Ryota from Nagoya Grampus U-18s

MF/DF OMORI Masayuki
DF MIKI Takashi
MF SUDO Yusuke
ASHIKAWA Masahiko GK Coach
KAMBE Sugao Coach

Honda Inspires Another Venlo Victory

Keisuke Honda scores with a diving header to earn VVV Venlo victory against Excelsior in the Dutch Jupiler League.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Gamba Lose Out in 8-Goal Thriller

An entertaining, and as Sir Bobby Charlton said "friendly", game In Yokohama, Manchester United cam out the 5-3 winners. Although Gamba gave United a good game, forcing them to play crisp, sharp passes, their opponents superior quality and power proved too much them to really threaten an upset. However, they still managed to put three goals past Edwin Van der Sar.

Peter Pakeman's view:
What a terrific performance going forward by Gamba! They were almost the equals of United in everything except for power and Christiano Ronaldo. Swap Rooney and Lucas and this might have been an even more interesting game!!:-)

Not only did Gamba score three, Van der Sar had to make another three excellent saves. This year Gamba were 8th in J1. Did they do any worse than the 8th team in the Premiership usually does against MU? OK, on the pattern of the goals MU didn't have to go through all the gears, but an exciting performance nonetheless by Gamba.

I think Gamba did the J-League proud tonight. It confirms the impression that we watch damn good football in J1. The only thing is the level of physical presence and power is a class below that of the top-league European teams. Where is the Japanese Rooney?

A hugely entertaining evening!

Other Views & Related Articles:
Daily Gomiuri "Man Utd too strong for Gamba"
SkySports "United secure final date"
CNN World Sport "Gamba Osaka - Kings of Asia"

Monday, 15 December 2008

Adelaide Salvage Pride in Third Loss to Gamba

Australia's Adelaide United finally put in a performance that showed how they could justify being runners-up in this year's ACL final. At the third attempt, they managed to give Gamba Osaka a decent game. Despite being outclassed for much of the game, the Aussies managed to create several chances, and can count themselves unlucky not to have taken the game into extra time. Of course, Gamba should have wrapped the game up in the first half, but some wasteful finishing (by both teams) meant that the game ended in a narrow 1-0 win for the Japanese team.

Gamba will need to raise their game considerably, if they are to match Urawa's feat of finishing third last year, let alone overcoming Champions League winners Man United. The game between Pachuca and Al Ahly saw both teams playing much better than either of the antipodes teams.

However, the victory came at a heavy price for Gamba. Both Sasaki and Futagawa went off with injuries, that look likely to keep them out for (at
least) the next game. Neither injury was caused by clashing with a burly Aussie, but after when a shot (Sasaki) and a cross (Futagawa). It looks as though both may have been carrying injuries and managed to aggravate them. We should know more tomorrow. Both are having scans today (Dec 15).

Friday, 12 December 2008

Aussies Squeak Past Kiwi Part-timers

Adelaide United made hard work of downing part-timers Waitakere United in the opening game of the opening game of the FIFA Club World Cup last night. Despite looking the better team for most of the game, they had to come from 0-1 down to earn a semi-final berth against ACL champions Gamba Osaka.

The antipodean derby lived up to expectations as the Kiwi's battled to stay in the game in the opening half. Determination and courage saw them deny their more technical Aussie opponents with some desperate, but effective defending, After a bright start, Adelaide found themselves a goal behind shortly after the half-hour when Paul Seaman latched onto a loose ball, after another poor showing by Adelaide keeper Galekovic, to fire home the fumbled ball. However, Adelaide were soon back on level terms when Mullen was given the freedom of Tokyo to head home from a corner five minutes later.

The second half saw the New Zealanders make a better job of competing, and they managed to hold their own much better than the desperate rearguard action of the first. However, their opponents extra experience and skill eventually told and a Travis Todd goal near the end ensured that the Aussies would get a chance to avenge their ACL final loss at he hands of Gamba.

Other views of the game:
NZ Herald "Honour in defeat for Waitakere"
ABC "Adelaide leaves it late against NZ part-timers"

Monday, 8 December 2008

Grampus Secure ACL Place in Final Game

Nagoya Grampus earned the point they needed at Oita to ensure their participation in next year's Asian Champions League. However, Kawasaki Frontale's win, against former crosstown rivals Verdy, meant that they took second place in the final standings, with Grampus finishing third.

Although it is disappointing that having come so close, Grampus were unable to claim the J1 title, a top three finish is an excellent start to the "Pixie" era. The fact that the team fell slightly short, and will have the tough ACL schedule next year, should make it easier for the manager to strengthen the team without ruffling too many feathers. Although the players starting regularly have shown they can compete for titles, the lack of depth in the squad has been exposed when key players have been suspended or injured. Once the Emperor's Cup is out of the way, expect to see the team making two or three big signings to give the team enough depth to allow Stojkovic to rotate players in each area of the field and remain competitive.

Other views of the closing round of games:
Asahi-IHI, Daily Yomiuri, and the Japan Times

Monday, 1 December 2008

Grampus Keep Title Hope Alive for Last Game

Nagoya almost let a game they were dominating slip away with a nervy second half performance again, but eventually ran out 3-1 winners. Of course, the idiots at the IHI Asahi sent a reporter off to Sapporo, to report on a game played in Nagoya. (I hope their hotel had a good TV.) Meanwhile, the Japan Times was right on the ball and sent their reporter to Nagoya.

As was the case last week in Kyoto, Grampus got off to a good start, scoring after six and 12 minutes. The first was precision free-kick by Yoshizumi Ogawa that clipped the far post as it thundered into the back of the net. The second saw Keita Sugimoto pounce to poke home after Consadole 'keeper Sato fumbled in front of goal. Magnum should have made the game safe later half casually slipping the ball past Sato, but also wide of the post. Indeed Magnum should probably have scored a hat-trick, missing a couple of excellent opportunities in the second half as well.

Unfortunately, that vital third goal continued to prove elusive in the second half. The lively Davi, who had already wasted one excellent chance in the first half, mad amends for his earlier miss as Takahiro Masukawa made an embarrassing error to gift the Brazilian an easy chance. Gentle Giant "Masu" went sprawling as he clumsily tripped over himself on the edge of the penalty area, allowing Davi to skip past Nishimura and slide the ball into the empty net. At 1-2, Grampus could easily have repeated last week's dismal lapses. Despite their best efforts Sapporo did not have quite have the quality to make their brief spell of control count, and Nagoya soon reasserted control, but were no longer looking as assured of victory. However, Atsushi Yoneyama scored a third goal to make the score-line look more respectable. His swerving free-kick a minute or so into injury time found Sato wanting again and allowed the departing Yoneyama to enjoy a hero's send off from the home crowd.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Xmas is Coming

Since I will be off to Kobe Universiade Stadium on Christmas Day, to watch Grampus progress to the semi-finals of this year's Emperors Cup, I will doing Xmas Decorations Black Country Style.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Grampus Climb Back Up to 2nd with Two Games to Go

In a thrilling encounter before a packed crowd at Kyoto's Nishikyogoku Stadium, Grampus earned the three points in another last-gasp win. After taking a 2-nil lead in the first half, Nagoya seemed to have thrown away two points by allowing Kyoto to claw their way back to 2-2. However, a calmly struck penalty by Frode Johnsen in injury time saw them come away with the three point they needed maintain their championship challenge.

Nagoya started the game strongly, with Johnsen forcing Nishimura to push a diving header past the post for a corner. Ogawa's deep corner keep to the back post was met by Magnum, who headed home to give the Red Whales the lead after only 70 seconds. Grampus continued to dominate play during the first half and Magnum extended their lead after 25 minutes. At this point, it looked as though Nagoya would win comfortably, but they were unable to get hat crucial third goal that would have made the game safe. The failure to do so would come back to haunt them in the second half.

Sanga boss clearly managed to motivate his team at half time, as they came out showing much more purpose and determination in for the second 45 minutes. Tatsuya Masushima's long throws started to cause problems for an otherwise solid looking defense, but the lack of organization between Nishimura and the back line occasionally gave Sanga hope. Kyoto duly got back into the game when Yanagisawa pounced on a loose ball to fire home from 10 yards. He then pulled Sanga level with a second 10 minutes later when he converted the loose ball after Nishimura has parried a somewhat dubious penalty. This setup a tense, nerve-wracking final few minutes.

The game had already been delayed for several minutes, after an injury to Kyoto keeper Mizutani, when another few minutes were added as Kyoto sub Nakatani was injured after a collision between Yoshida and Nishimura as they tried to clear a dangerous through ball. This saw Yoshida fall on top of Nakatani, who was winded enough to require his own withdrawal from the game. Initially, this looked as though Kyoto had a good claim for a penalty themselves, but TV replays show that the main contact with Nakatani came after Maya's collision with the keeper, rather than his initial challenge on Kyoto player. Still, it was a heart-stopping moment for Grampus fans, as the decision could easily have gone against them.

The game was decided deep into the seven minutes of injury time, when Frode Jonhsen was obstructed as he attempted to get to a Sugimoto cross. He calmly took his time, not allowing Kyoto any chance for gamesmanship, and fired home the penalty to clinch the win.

Kyoto Sanga
Yuichi Mizutani
Tatsuya Masushima, Kazuki Teshima (Yusuke Nakatani HT -> Yasumasa Nishino 89), Hiroki Mizumoto, Daigo Watanabe,
Sidiclei, Yuto Sato, Jun Ando, Makoto Kakuda
Takenori Hayashi (Fernandinho 70), Atsushi Yanagisawa
Scorers: Yanagisawa 56, 67

Koji Nishimura
Akira Takeuchi, Maya Yshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Magnum, Naoshi Nakamura (Keita Sugimoto 73), Kei Yamaguchi, Yoshizumi Ogawa
Keiji Tamada (Milos Bajalica 90+6), Frode Johnsen
Scorers: Magnum 1, 25, Johnsen 90+5

Friday, 21 November 2008

Norwegian Ace Johnsen Set to Leave Grampus

Numerous media reports suggest that Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen will be leaving Nagoya when his contract expires in January.

Japan Times: Jonsen expected to leave Nagoya
NikkanSports (Japanese): Johnsen announces departure from Nagoya, hopes to play in Japan again next year

While this news has come as a shock to many Grampus fans, the likelihood of this happening has been on the cards for some time. Johnsen has clearly settled into live in Japan, and had clearly stated his hope to play another year, hopefully with Nagoya.

However, it seems the club has decided not to renew the 34-year old's contract. On the one hand, Frode has been an important part of Nagoya's success this year, and his hard-working, professional approach, an example to other players. On the other hand, he will be 35 next year, and has faded as an influence in the latter half of the season. We can only hope that this decision, means that the club is confident it has a suitable replacement ready to sign (or resign, if say, the replacement were to be Yohei Toyoda.) This must have been a tough decision for the club to make, but one we hope will not backfire on the team and see Johnsen scoring against the club in a crucial match next year.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Grampus Ease Past Ardija To Earn Emperor's Cup 1/4 Final Berth

Nagoya forgot their recent struggles in the league to overcome Omiya 2-1 and book their place in the quarter-finals of this year's Emperors Cup.

With the Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds bowing out of the competition over the weekend, this leaves Nagoya with a great chance to reach the final. Even newly-crowned ACL champions Gamba Osaka will not cause Grampus manager Stojkovic to lose much sleep. Unlike Adelaide United, Grampus have been able to give Gamba a good run for their money in both league games this year.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Gamba Cruise Past Adelaide Wallies to Claim ACL Title

Gamba Osaka duly eased past the hopelessly outclassed wallies of Adelaide United to win the Asian Champions League title 5-0 on aggregate. This earns them a berth in the World Club Championship in December. It will be interesting to see how they do against decent foreign opposition. As losing finalists the Aussies also earn a chance to embarrass themselves again.

Gamba wrapped up the title after only four minutes, when Lucas pounced on a loose ball after a fierce Sasaki shot was parried by the Aussie's keeper. They then extended their lead 10 minutes later when Lucus was put through one-on-one against the keeper, and calmly clipped the ball past the on-rushing youngster.

Once they had two away goals, in addition to the three from the home leg, Osaka eased off but still continued to dominate the game. Despite never needing to move out of second gear, Gamba outshot their opponents 10-2 in the first half and 18-13 overall. Adelaide did not try to play until a brief spell at the beginning of the second half, when they at last showed some gumption and at least made the Gamba defenders do some work, rather than simply fouling them. Cristiano in particular was lucky to stay on the pitch after two deliberate elbows into the face of a defender.

You can also see other reports on the game:
Gomiuri: Quick-striking Lucas leads way to ACL title
Japan Times: Gamba takes Asian crown

Monday, 10 November 2008

Nagoya Still Hanging onto J1 Title Chances... just

Nagoya's poor run of league results continued with a disappointing 1-2 loss to Kashiwa Reysol. This means that the team has not won in the league since mid-September, a series that concluded with four draws and yesterday's loss over their last five games. Incredibly, this has seem the team only drop down to third position and leaves them still only two points off the leaders. Such is the lack of consistency of the leaders in the league this year.

This result was particularly disappointing since the team, after a nervy start, controlled most of the game. Indeed they should have taken an early lead when Frode Johsen had sweetly struck goal ruled out incorrectly for offside aft 12 minutes. (A decision so obvious that even NHK could not avoid pointing out that it was a bad call.) This call was an early turning point in the game. Despite the disallowed goal, this saw Grampus seize control of the game, after Reysol had made the brighter start. The team duly capitalized on their improved possession by taking the lead when Ogawa finished off a flowing move just after the half-hour mark.

Grampus continued to control the pace of the game in the second half and had several decent chances to extend their lead, but were unable to get that all important second goal. This was to prove costly as the game turned on two minute nightmare 10 minutes from the end that saw Reysol equalize and then grab all three points with a perfectly timed through ball that Popo slotted past reserve goalie Nishimura.

Nagoya's next league game is against Kyoto Sanga, who all but secured their J1 survival with a crucial 3-1 win over the Yokohama Marinos. However, Sanga are still not mathematically safe and will be determined to earn more valuable points. It should be a cracking game, if nerve-wracking game. The high stakes of the game, and Kyoto's erratic form, make it difficult to predict the outcome. However, it seems unlikely that Grampus fans will get to see rookie Sho Hanai in this game, unlike the Nabisco Cup game earlier this year.

The Gomiuri has this take on the game.

Kashiwa Reysol
Takanori Sugeno
Yusuke Murakami, Masahiro Koga, Yuzo Kobayashi, Hidekazu Otani
Keisuke Ota, Ryoichi Kurizawa, Kota Sugiyama, Alex
Franca (Popo HT), Minoru Suganuma
Scorers: Suganuma 79, Popo 81

Koji Nishimura
Akira Takeuchi, Maya Yoshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe (Yuki Maki 84)
Magnum (Atsushi Yoneyama 79), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura, Yoshizumi Ogawa
Keiji Tamada (Keita Sugimoto 73), Frode Johnsen
Scorer: Ogawa 32

Friday, 7 November 2008

Another View on Gamba's ACL Win

Mark and I went to the Expo Stadium with it threatening earlier in the day to be a chilly experience, but in fact the evening turned out to be a beautiful autumn one for watching footie.

Point 1) Nishino is probably the best Japanese manager. Gamba are consistently competent. Their skill level is high, they always cover for each other well and their movement off the ball is also usually first class. This has been true for many years and Gamba can be said to be one of Japan's Big Three (with Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds).
Nevertheless, only occasionally do Gamba put on the style. This seems to be mainly a matter of Nishino's temperament. One can criticize Gamba for not playing to their potential. Within the Japanese context, you feel that Gamba ought to be an exciting team like Arsenal or Manchester United; but they often seem content to play within themselves and to have no temptation to show off. This is a pity, because on the rare occasions they put on the style they can be genuinely exciting.
So last night was a typical performance: well in control of the match throughout, but not doing more than enough to win comfortably. In fact, it is almost a scandal that two of their three goals followed give-aways by Adelaide United players and the third goal, while quality, was lucky to find its way through a crowded penalty area. One feels that with a sharper attitude Gamba should have won this game about 6-0, without a single if or but.

Point 2) Apart from Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic, Endou has no rival as the best Japanese creative player on the planet. IMHO, Endou is as good as Nakamura--only he has been persuaded by Gamba to stay in Japan or has chosen to stay in Japan. After the Adelaide give-away, with Lucas using the opportunity well and sending Endou clear, there was no way he was going to miss that goal, nor did he, finishing with a typical quality strike inches inside the post. His assist and his disallowed goal also showed his excellent skills.
With a player of Endou's quality in the Gamba side, it was suicidal for Adelaide to yield the midfield.

Point 3) I believe Adelaide were 2nd in the A-League. Top were Melbourne Victory. In the group stage of this tournament Gamba beat Melbourne 2-0 at the Expo Stadium and 4-3 in Melbourne. Rumour has it that Victory have the stronger attack and United have the better defence. In that case, last night's game was a disaster for Adelaide. On the basis of that, if the rumour is true, it is almost impossible to see Adelaide beating Gamba in the second leg, never mind beating them by three goals; especially as Gamba have a 100% away record in the Asian Champions Cup (and even in the J-League have shown more consistent form away than at home). (At home in the Champions League, up to the semi-final Gamba only managed two wins and three draws.)
The only goal threat Adelaide seemed to pose was from their lively striker after hoofs--there seemed no systematic build-up play at all. Fujigaya in the Gamba goal was hardly tested. Last night's result looks to have been in line with Adelaide being slightly weaker than Melbourne.

A very satisfactory result from a partisan view from the Japanese side, but I am left regretting that such a defensive team as Adelaide made the final and that Gamba choose to play so far within themselves.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Gamba Canter Past Outclassed Socceroos

Without ever having to move out of second gear, Gamba Osaka cruised to a comfortable 3-0 over Adelaide United last night to take a big step towards securing their first Asian Champions League title. This first leg of the final was so one-sided that it is hard to see Adelaide managing a home win, let alone overcome the three goal deficit. Indeed the only question arising from last night's performances is, how on earth did the Kashima Antlers manage to lose to such a weak team?

Gus Fielding's take in the Japan Times:
And the Gomiuri also had a reporter watching on TV. :-)

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Grampus Scrape into Emperor's Cup 5th Round

Nagoya earned a place in the next round of the Emperor's Cup after a narrow 1-0 win over FC Gifu. While this was another game that highlighted the lack of depth of the team's squad, with the absence of Tamada and Magnum being particularly hard felt, the defense continued to hold their opponents scoreless. This keeps the team in games and provides the chance for last minute heroics, as was the case yesterday, with Maya Yoshida bagging the winning goal in the 89th minute.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Kansai Roundup: A Vissel's Eye View

Peter sums up the season so far for Kansai:

Due to one of those days when everything goes wrong, I missed the Vissel-Trinita game yesterday.  It was another great result for Vissel against the team in 3rd place going into the match, following their away win at Urawa on the 18th--a shock result that reduced Tulio to tears!

Two 1-0 wins of enormous value.  What a season!  With four games to go there is not one team in the League which is more than 12 points away from both the championship and automatic relegation!  Vissel on 9th are exactly 10 points off the top and exactly 10 points off Jubilo who are second-bottom!
That game against Grampus on August 16, when through sheer stupid gamesmanship Vissel threw away the chance of victory and at the same time threw away the one point they already had, seems to have been a turning point.

Vissel have looked much more purposeful since then, scoring a last-minute equaliser away at Gamba in the next match, and from September 27 away against Ardija it's begun to bear fruit.  Very important is that Oukubo has regained his focus and form.

I went to watch the Vissel-Sanga match at Kobe on October 4--in a game without Gamba, this was far and away the best game between two Kansai teams that I have ever seen.  My reaction to the game was:  Kansai football has arrived!  Three of the Vissel goals were superb, as was, despite a hint of off-side in the build-up, Kyoto's.

Sanga were very good going forward and the game was full of neat, imaginative link play from both teams throughout.  From start to finish Oukubo was in masterful form.  He removed all the doubts that I have had about him this season.  Whether he's got over a niggle or just got into a rich vein of form I don't know, but he's been imperious during October, inspiring Vissel to their 4-1 win against Sanga and then their two 1-0 wins against the high flyers, scoring the winner against Oita and becoming joint top Japanese scorer in J1.

Obviously there's something wrong with Sanga--they managed to concede two goals after Vissel were reduced to ten men!  But it will be a travesty if they are relegated.  Although I have to say the standard of football in both J1 and J2 is still improving hand over fist.

When Mark and I saw Cerezo v. Thespa, Kusatsu were far superior to what the weak teams were just a couple of years ago.  The same is true of Kyoto--with the football they are playing, two years ago they would have been far more than four points off an automatic-relegation position.  Obviously Jubilo and JEF are not what they were, but the fact that they are 2nd and 3rd from the bottom with only four games to go tells you how much tougher it is in J1 now than a few years ago.  Last year Hiroshima both won the Emperor's Cup and managed to get relegated!  

Now they are running away with J2, being 22 points ahead of 2nd Yamagata and 25 ahead of 3rd Sendai.  Meanwhile, elsewhere in J2 relegated Koufu and Yokohama FC are in 7th and 11th positions--Ventforet are 13 points behind 2nd-placed Yamagata and FC are five points behind Holly Hock, with only the four newest teams, Gifu, Kumamoto, Ehime and Tokushima below them.  Yesterday Kazu, at 41 and 8 months, became the oldest player ever to score in the J-League--it was his 150th (it was the equaliser in FC's 2-2 home draw with Ehime FC).
Cerezo, in their second year in J2, are eleven points off Montedio--it's as tough down there now as it is in the English Championship.  Cerezo are young and inexperienced and don't look like challenging for promotion--but they don't look like a basket case.  Fukuoka are also languishing (in 9th).  It really is tough now.

Gamba have covered themselves with glory in the Asian Cup and eliminated the Reds in the semi-final to go through to the final, winning 3-1 at Urawa after a 1-1 draw in Osaka.  Gamba's away form has been good on the whole, but they have stuttered a bit at home--as against Vissel (banzai!).

Anyway, a happy Kobe!  Oukobo in fine form, Kyoto looking much better than in the past and Gamba looking in good shape for next season and with a real chance of being Asian champions

Monday, 20 October 2008

Grampus Hang On To Second

In a game that saw Nagoya earn the point they needed to reclaim second place in the J1 standing, Yokohama Marinos found Seigo Narazaki in fine form as he kept a clean sheet with a series of fine saves to deny the home team.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Urawa Youth Trample Young Grampi Underfoot

In a one-sided Takamadonomiya Cup final at Saitama Stadium, Urawa Youth crushed Grampus U-18s 9-1. It seems unlikely that any of the defenders from this age group will be challenging for a place on the Grampus squad. Urawa were better in every department, even their 'keeper Shibata managed to make a good save, despite being a spectator for most of the game, to deny Okumura. In particular, Naoki Yamada, Genki Haraguchi and Shunki Takahashi

It just goes to show how uneven the standard is at this level. Urawa were in a different class in all areas, yet this was the third year in a row that the Grampus U-18s have got to the last four. (They have reached the final twice.) I hope the Reds try and bring their youngsters through to the first team, rather than signing all and sundry. Their youngsters on show today deserve to be given a decent chance.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Frode Header Keeps Grampus in Title Chase

A last gasp header by Frode Johnsen earned Nagoya a barely deserved point against Tokyo Verdy. Although the Verdy thugs seem intent on fouling their way to J1 survival (as can seen from the game against Gamba last week), they could count themselves unlucky not to have earned all three points against a Grampus team clearly starting to feel the pressure of the title chase.

As it is, Nagoya remain level on points with league leaders Kashima, with only six games left to go.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Toyoda Brace Tests Cerezo Resolve

A healthy crowd of 20,000 at Nagai Stadium witnessed an absorbing contest between two contrasting styles. Montedio's more direct style saw them take a 2-1 lead by half time, but second half penalty gave the more deliberate home team a share of the points.

Grampus loanees Jun Aoyama and Yohei Toyoda had contrasting performances. Toyoda bagged his team's two goals, while Aoyama struggled to make an impression in a Cerezo midfield dominated by Germano. Yohei scored two easy goals, one a free header planted firmly in the corner on the half hour, and later pouncing on a loose ball after a good save from Aizawa had denied strike partner Hasegawa just before half time. Overall, the Olympic striker worked hard but his control still lets him down during occasionally, which explains why he has only made a dozen or so appearances for Yamagata this season. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season when his loan period comes to an end. Will he choose to stay in Yamagata or take his chances and fight for place at Nagoya?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Johnsen Hoping to Stay in Japan

Grampus' Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen has said that he would like to stay in Japan another year. In the interview with, he also says that the team is not getting carried away with thoughts of a title.. yet.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Grampus Eliminate Gamba from Title Chase

Yesterday's 1-0 over Gamba at Banpaku Stadium was another important win that sees Nagoya open up a three-point gap at the top of the table, and effectively ends Gamba's faint hopes of challenging for the title. 11 points now separate the two teams.

On a relatively cool evening, Nagoya's relentless pressure in midfield and sound defence meant that Osaka never looked like posing a threat to Narazaki. The Japan custodian only had to make one meaningful save the whole evening, diving low to his left to make a smart catch midway through the second half. Like the game at Toyota Stadium, individually the Gamba players were slightly better at finding a team mate when under pressure. But they had to be just to stay in contention, and most of this superior skill had to be exhibited in defensive situations. Unlike the game in Nagoya, Gamba no longer have Bare on the team to turn the game in their favour.

Once Ogawa's low diving header had given Grampus the lead after 10 minutes, Nagoya never looked like conceding a goal and had several chances to extend their lead. Naoshi Nakamura in particular should at least have tested Fujigaga after bursting into the box early in the second half, but his shot flew over the bar. Johnen was also unlucky not to add to his goal tally, when a good ball across the face of the goal just eluded the charging Norwegian. Such was Nagoya's control of the game, that many of the Gamba fans were heading for the turnstiles long before the final whistle. A criminal lack of faith in the team, considering they were only one goal behind.

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Milos Bajalica, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Magnum (Yoneyama 78), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura, Yoshizumi Ogawa
Keiji Tamada (Kei Yamaguchi 69), Frode Johnsen (Yuki Maki 83)
Scorer: Ogawa 10

Gamba Osaka
Yosuke Fujigaya
Akira Kaji, Sota Nakazawa (Masato Yamazaki 83), Satoshi Yamaguchi, Takumi Shimohira (Shinichi Terada 62)
Hideo Hashimoto, Tomokazu Myojin, Ysuhito Endo, Takahiro Futugawa (Ryuji Bando 62)
Lucas, Roni

For Grampus fans, this was a reassuring display after the disappointment of the Nabsico Cup semi-final loss to Oita. Although the defensive nature of the substitutions meant that it was hardly a thrilling performance, it reflects the strengths of the team. As Peter said in hi comments on the Vissel game, Nagoya's defence is good. Abe and Bajalica were outstanding i this game, and there is strength in depth in this department. Maya Yoshida, Takashi Miki and Atsushi Yoneyama are all able to step in the team without weakening the team, indeed Yoshida would probably be in the starting line-up were it not for Masukawa's exceptional form.

What the team still lacks is a creative midfielder who can instigate some rapid attacking moves. Yoshimua and Nakamura are too defensively minded, content to lay the ball off square or behind, but too important to the overall balance to be replaced unless the team has a more comfortable lead. Ogawa is the creative and effective, which brings us to Magnum. Although the Brazilian is skilful he has not emerged as the midfield maestro many had hoped for. He is also prone to reckless challenges. He picked up yellow card for a two-footed challenge yesterday, and was lucky not to see red. This was reminiscent of his challenge in the opening minutes of the Vissel game, when he lead with a elbow. A challenge that might well have bee punished with a red card had it not been so early in the game.

Ueslei Pounces to Deny Grampus In Nabisco Cup Semis

Former Grampus striker, Ueslei capitalized on a rare Shoehei Abe error to earn Oita Trinita an away draw in the first leg of Nabisco Cup semi-final at Nagoya. The 1-1 draw meant that Trinita have the advantage of a away goal an that Grampus would need to win, or at least earn 2-2 draw to go through to the final. The Brazilian then struck the only goal in the return leg to put Oita into the final against Shimizu S-Pulse.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Toyoda Strikes Again, Will Grampus Grab Him Back?

Montedio Yamagata's Yohei Toyoda scored his second goal since returning from Olympic duty in a 4-1 away win over Yokohama FC.

Having scored only two goals in nine appearances before the Olympics, he has now scored twice in the three games since returning to Japan. Yohei was one of the few players in the Olympic squad to make a good impression in Beijing. He scored Japan's only goal of the tournament and at least made his presence felt up front, even if his lack of finesse occasionally let him down.

With Yamagata looking likely to gain promotion to J1, it will be interesting to see if Nagoya reclaim him when his loan period expires at the end of the season. Training alongside Frode Johnsen, and under Pixie"s tutelage, Yohei could well develop to be batter player at Nagoya, even if he would likely to be used mainly as a substitute for the first year or two. (On the other hand, Keita Sugimoto after signs of improvement earlier this year seems to be reverting to type, being caught offside rather to easily, and wild finishing after creating a clear chance on goal.)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Grampus March Back to Top of J.League Hill

Another come-from-behind victory. Another three points. Another stint at the top of the table.

Yes, Nagoya reclaimed top position with a 3-2 win over Shimizu S-Pulse to leapfrog leaders Urawa, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Tokyo Verdy. With only a dozen games remaining in the season, it looks like Grampus could well be challenging for the league title this year. This will pose an unexpectedly early test of Stojkovic's ability to handle this sort of situation. (Even legendry Grampus manager Arsène Wenger did not manage this level of success.)

However, winning the league title this year may make it more difficult to strengthen the team, as is surely necessary if the team it to challenge consistently for the title. Apart from the exceptional improvement from youngsters such as Maya Yoshida and Yoshizumi Ogawa this year, the team has also been fortunate not to lose any key players to injury. A stronger squad with adequate replacements in key positions are a priority for next year. At the moment, only the central defence really has the kind of depth needed to sustain a consistent challenge.

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Milos Bajalica, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Magnum, Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura, Yoshizumi Ogawa
Keiji Tamada, Frode Johnsen
Scorers: Tamada 23, 52, Magnum 49

Shimizu S-Pulse
Yohei Nishibe
Daisuke Ichikawa, Aoyama, Kazumichi Takagi, Arata Kodama
Marcus Paulo,

Saturday, 23 August 2008

It's Official, Pixie Walks on Water :-)

The longest losing streak away in the j League came to an end today, when Nagoya earned their first win ever at Kashima Stadium. They came from behind to earn a 2-1 win and climb above the Antlers into second place, one point behind leaders Urawa. (ESPN SoccerNet also has a report on the game.)

Kashima Antlers
Hitoshi Sogahata
Chikashi Masuda, Daiki Iwamasa, Go Iwawa, Toru Araiba
Takeshi Aoki, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Masashi Motoyama (Takuya Nozawa 67), Danilo (Marcinho 75)
Marquinhos, Shinzo Kuroki (Yuzo Tashiro 67)
Scorer: Marquinhos 4

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Takashi Miki, Maya Yoshida, Shohei Abe
Keita Sugimoto (Kei Yamaguchi 65), Naoshi Nakamura (Milos Bajalica 80), Keiji Yoshimura, Yoshizumi Ogawa
Keiji Tamada (Yoneyama 75), Frode Johnsen
Scorers: Yoshida 11, Johnsen 60

Friday, 22 August 2008

Nadeshiko Japan Fails to Emulate Spain

Japan's women's footballers were edged out of an medal Olympic medal by typically efficient German team last night. Unlike Sorimachi's shapeless wonders in the men's team, the ladies put on a valiant display throughout the tournament. They were only bested by the US, and that only after they made the mistake of taking an early lead in their semi-final match, only after which did the Americans really start to play. Germany have their goalie to thank for the win, since her two excellent saves in the first half kept them in the game and enabled them to get the barely deserved victory.

In Euro 2008 Spain were able to claim a win against an equally undeserving German team. Despite playing the more attractive and entertaining football, Nadeshiko Japan were unable to do the same.

The Daily Gomiuri and the official Olympic site also have reports on the game.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Grampus at Home at Home's

Nagoya fought their way to 2-1 away win over Kobe at Home's Stadium yesterday evening. Although they controlled most of the game, Grampus eventually earned the three points with a Yoshizumi Ogawa winner in injury-time. So while the team is finding it hard to produce convincing performances at home, their away form is keeping them in the chase for the J1 title. This results leaves them still in third place, only two points behind leaders Kashima. (Former Grampus player Shigeyoshi Mochizuki raises some good points (in Japanese) about the game in his comments at the Chunichi Shimbum.)

As has often been the case this season, Nagoya started well, putting their opponents under pressure in midfield and using rapid passing moves to keep possession themselves. Kobe were unable to cope with this pressure during the opening 45 minutes, and fell behind after Ogawa tucked home an easy chance after some good work by Keiji Tamada on the left.

Although Grampus controlled the first half, and much of the game, the team is still struggling to convert this into a more comfortable lead. This almost proved the team's undoing as Vissel competed more effectively in the second half and even looked they might steal a winner for a few minutes after Leandro scored an equaliser with 10 minutes to go. Fortunately, the same player helped Nagoya earn the three points when his attempt to take a FK quickly backfired and gifted Grampus possession. Nagoya rapidly advanced up field and Ogawa bagged his second easy chance of the game.

Now I am sure our friends at the Rising Sun News and JSoccer will bemoan the performance of referee Murakami, who was determined to allow the game to flow. However, as we saw in Beijing, players expecting to earn fouls simply because they crash to earth every time they are tackled puts them at a disadvantage when they come up against a more experienced ref. Now, Murakami's determination to let the game flow meant that there were a few tackles for either team that one would have expected to be penalised, it made for a fast-paced entertaining game. It also favoured Grampus since they were the team that played with more rhythm and style. This left Vissel fans wailing about the bias towards the visiting team. But I would rather see referees playing the advantage than constantly stopping the game. Japanese players need to learn to stay on their feet, rather than copying the theatrical diving of some South American teams.

Vissel Kobe
Kenta Tokushige
Ryosuke Matsuoka (Norio Suzuki 55), Teruaki Kobayashi, Kunie Kitamoto, Toshihiko Uchiyama
Hideo Tanaka (Takeyuki Yoshida HT > Kenji Baba 76), Kim Nan Il, Botti, Keisuke Kurihara
Yoshito Okubo, Leandro
Scorer: Leandro 81

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Takashi Miki, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa. Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Atsushi Yoneyama 85), Magnum
Keiji Tamada (Keita Sugimoto 85), Frode Johnsen (Yuki Maki 74)
Scorers: Ogawa 13, 90+

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Powder Puff Wimps Bow Out, Girls Progress to Last 8

Japan's men's team bowed out of the Olympic after losing 2-1 in their "must win" game against Nigeria. However, all is not lost for Japanese football as the women's team put in another good performance and trounced Norway 5-1 to progress to the last eight.

Although the game was tied 1-1 at half time, Japan had looked the better team in the first half and quickly took a decisive 3-1 early in the second after deflected shot from Ono and an own goal effectively sealed the team's progress to the next round. Further goals by Sawa and substitute Hara completed the victory.

Meanwhile, all that awaits the men is their meaningless game tomorrow, in which I hope they can salvage some pride. They played much better against Nigeria, but were unable to score when it matters. Now that it no longer matters, they will probably bag a hatfull. :-(

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sorimachi Japan Crash to Earth in Beijing

The over optimism evident in some quarters after the two recent warm-up games against Australia and Argentina was cruelly revealed as Japan crashed to a 1-0 defeat against the USA last night.

Japan had several opportunities, including a glaring miscue in front of an empty goal by Tokushige, but were unable to convert them. Unless manager Sorimachi, or the players themselves, show some guts and ambition, they look likely to crash out of these Olympics the way Yamamoto Japan did last time. Typically, the manger seemed to blame the players for not producing their best, rather than acknowledge his own failure to prepare them properly.

As always, the problems were up front where Morimoto was ineffective. Japan's forward line looked much more likely to create problems once Yohei Toyoda and Tadanari Lee came on in the second half. Indeed Toyoda should probably have earned a penalty after a tussle with a defender, but he threw himself down rather too theatrically to be convincing. The US also had a much more convincing claim turned down earlier in the game.

If this group fails to even progress to the knockout stage, as seems likely, it will make this the "Wasted Generation", an even bigger indictment of the manager than the inept "coaching" of Yamamoto"s "Valley Generation".

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Kiwi Gals Prove All White on the Night

Grampus Ease into Nabisco Cup Semis

In further proof of the progress under rookie manager Stojkovic this year, Nagoya confirmed their place in the Nabisco Cup semi-finals with a 1-0 home win over JEF United. This game them an aggregate 2-0 win over the two legs and sees them join S-Pulse, Gamba and Trinita in last four. With only Gamba, of the top teams, still in the tournament, the Red Whales have a great chance to pick-up some silverware later this year.

Although JEF fielded a packed defence, Grampus made the breakthrough midway through the second half when gentle giant Masukawa headed home from a corner.

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Milos Bajalica (Takashi Miki 49), Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa. Naoshi Nakamura (Atsushi Yoneyama 65), Keiji Yoshimura, Magnum
Keiji Tamada, Frode Johnsen (Yuki Maki 76)
Scorer: Masukawa 60

JEF United
Masahiro Okamoto
Masataka Sakamoto, Shohei Ikeda, Daisuke Saito (Koji Nakajima), Eddy Bosnar, Ryota Aoki
Kohei Kudo, Tomi Shimomura, Tatsuya Yazawa,
Tatsunori Arai (Takuya Kokeguchi), Seiichiro Maki (Kan Matsumoto)

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Argentina Down Improved Japan

A much improved performance by Japan's U-23s saw them give their Argentinean competitors a decent game, but failing to register on the scoresheet. The Japan Times has this good, if overly optimistic, report of the game.

Yes, Japan were much improved and generally held their own in midfield and defence. This was partly helped by Argentina's tendency to try and walk the ball into the net. However, Japan did not really look like
scoring and seem set to emulate the full national team's performance at France 98, giving a good impression of themselves, while failing to get results. The teams certainly has potential to do well in Beijing, but that has been true for a couple of years now and they still not appear to have a coherent strategy or style. Still, it was a much better display than against Australia on Saturday.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Grampus Stymie Charging Frontale

In what could prove to be another vital result, Nagoya earn a share of the points at Todoroki Stadium, against the streaking Kawasaki Frontale.

This game saw Grampus take the lead early in the first half, when Magnum lashed home ball from Keiji Tamada. Frontale then equalised early in the second half and for spell thereafter looked like going on to win the game. However, Grampus found their second wind and were able to neutralise most of Frontale's efforts towards the end, and even had their own chances to win the game. The result leaves Nagoya tied with Urawa on 33 points in third place, only two points off leaders Kashima.

Kawasaki Frontale
Eiji Kawashima
Hiroki Ito, Yusuke Igawa, Shuhei Terada (Tomonobu Yokoyama 14)
Satoru Yamagishi (Kurotsu 87), Vitor Junior, Kengo Nakamura, Kosuke Kikuchi, Kazuhiro Murakami
Juninho, Chong Tese (Kazuki Ganaha 67)
Scorers: Vitor Junior 52

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Milos Bajalica, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa. Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Atsushi Yoneyama 67), Magnum (Kei Yamaguchi 84)
Keiji Tamada (Keita Sugimoto 70), Frode Johnsen
Scorers: Magnun 12

Friday, 25 July 2008

Aimless Youngsters Squeak Past Aussies

Japan's U-23 Olympic team squeezed past their Australian counterparts 2-1 last night at Kobe. As has been the norm for this team, and indeed its Yamamoto-led predecessors, there was little or no co-ordination to the team's play.

The lack of co-ordination seems to be obligatory for this group, as Australia's goal came as a result of failed attempt to chest-pass to a team mate by Nagoya's normally reliable Maya Yoshida after 30 minutes. The Australians latched onto the loose ball and striker Thompson was given an easy finish.

Apart from this early setback, the defence again looked quite solid. As always, it was the lack of accuracy and imagination in building attacks that makes this team look likely to make an early return from Beijing. This is despite Japan's equalizer coming from a rare piece of skilful interplay by Uchida and Morimoto to setup Cerezo's Kagawa for an easy finish just before half time. However, Morimoto had already wasted a couple of good chances after being put through by VVV's Honda.

A scrappy second half looked destined to see the Australians earn a draw, but a glancing header from Okazaki found its way into the far corner as the clock ran down.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Grampus Bounce Back with BIG Home Win

After a series of disappointing performances, Nagoya score a big 4-0 home win to climb back into third position. They are now the only "surprise" team in a top four that also consists of Kashima, Urawa, and Gamba Osaka. This was also an important win as it the team will be without one of its best defenders for a few games, as Maya Yoshida seeks Olympic glory in Beijing.

Seigo Narazaki
Akira Takeuchi, Milos, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa. Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura, Magnum
Keiji Tamada, Frode Johnsen
Scorers: Yoshimura, Magnun, Johnsen, Sugimoto

Omiya Ardija
Koji Ezumi

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Sorimachi Gambles on Youngsters Blossoming in China

Japan's Olympic football team coach Yasuharu Sorimachi gambles on youth alone for his Olympic team. Having seen both his choices for overage players fall by the wayside, Japan will be going to the games with no overage players on the team. While this will mean there is no disruption with the addition of new players, it does leave the team light on experience and firepower.

Although the team has plenty of potential in defence and midfield, it looks like the team may struggle to score goals. None of the candidates up front have really convinced during qualification. In particular, former Grampus striker seems a bit of gamble, since he has scored only two goals in nine games for Montedio. His selection looks as though it is based on the hope that he can form a good partnership with former Grampus colleague Keisuke Honda.

Japan U-23 Squad for Beijing
GK: Kaito Yamamoto (Shimizu S-Pulse)
GK: Shusaku Nishikawa (Oita Trinita)
DF: Hiroki Mizumoto (Kyoto Sanga)
DF: Yuto Nagatmo (FC Tokyo)
DF: Masato Morishige (Oita Trinita)
DF: Michihiro Yasuda (Gamba Osaka)
DF: Atsuto Ushida (Kashima Antlers)
DF: Maya Yoshida (Nagoya Grampus)
MF: Takuya Honda (Shimizu S-Pulse)
MF: Hiroyuki Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale)
MF: Yohei Kajiyama (FC Tokyo)
MF: Hajime Hosogai (Urawa Reds)
MF: Keisuke Honda (VVV Venlo)
MF: Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka)
FW: Yohei Toyoda (Montedio Yamagata)
FW: Tadanari Lee (Kashiwa Reysol)
FW: Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse)
FW: Takayuki Morimoto (Calcio Catania)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Grampus Finally Drop to More Realistic Position

After 15 games, with Nagoya leading or sharing the lead in the league standing, the team finally drops to a more realistic third position after a 1-2 defeat in Niigata. Only Gamba's loss at Kashiwa prevented them climbing above Grampus into third place. While it is still too soon to tell if the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Kashima will seriously undermine the team's confidence, the 1-0 win at Chiba on Wednesday suggests it will not. While it would be great if Nagoya could challenge for the league title this year, they do not really have the squad to do so yet. I would much rather Stojkovic strengthen the team during the off-season, than for them to over achieve in his first year as boss. Besides, given the half-hearted job Okada is doing as Japan manger, the JFA is likely to be looking for a new national team manager later this year. Pixie needs to prove that he can sustain this success over a a couple years before he should even be considered for the national team.

Grampus Inflict First Defeat on Alex Miller's JEF

Former Liverpool head coach Alax Miller tastes defeat for the first time as Nagoya earn a slender 1-0 win in the away leg of the Nabisco Cup 1/4 finals. I have not seen this game, but the Daily Gomiuri has a report on its web site.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Antlers Expose Grampus Shortcomings

Kashima earned a decisive 4-0 win at Nagoya. In what was otherwise a fairly close game, the Antlers' extra bit of class and experience saw them capitalise on their chances while Grampus failed to score from several good opportunities. (Grampus out shot the Antlers 17 to 9, but did not make any of them count.) In terms of closeness of the contest, this was similar to the 1-2 home loss to Gamba earlier this year. In terms of the score, it was like Nagoya 5-0 win over Kofu a couple of years ago, when a close encounter was not reflected in the score line. However, a 4-0 loss at home is a disappointing loss no matter how many chances the team created, and poses the first real test of Stojkovic's ability to get the team back on track after a bad loss. It also exposed the lack of depth to the squad, with the absences of Magnum, Nakamura and Takeuchi being keenly felt.

Seigo Narazaki
Milos Bajalica, Maya Yoshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa, Kei Yamaguchi, Keiji Yoshimura (Toshiya Fujita 64), Masaki Fukai (Keita Sugimoto 55)
Keiji Tamada, Frode Johnsen (Yuki Maki 70)

Kashima Antlers
Hitoshi Sogohata
Asuto Uchida, Daiki Iwamasa, Masahiko Inoha (Masaki Chugo), Toru Araiba
Takeshi Aoki, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Masashi Motoyama (Danilo HT), Takuya Nozawa (Chikashi Masuda)
Marquinhos, Yuzo Tashiro
Scorers: Marquinhos 4, 90, Ogasawara 28, Danilo 79

Kashima got off to a lively start, and were soon 1-0 up when Marquinhos was quickest to react to a loose ball that Grampus allowed to get through to the six-yard box after four minutes. Nagoya did not really get going until a good through ball from Johnsen after eight minutes proved just a touch too strong in the wet conditions and allowed Sogahta to get to the ball just ahead of Tamada. Former Antler Fukai then went close with a couple of efforts before Nagoya appeared to draw level after 24 minutes, when Johnsen slotted home a cross from the right. However, Johnsen had drifted offside in the buildup and the referee's assistant spotted this and, in rare case of them actually drawing the ref's attention to something, the goal was ruled out. Shortly after this incident, Kashima went further ahead when a wickedly dipping shot from Ogasawara beat Narazaki from 40 yards.

In addition to a handful of half-chances Grampus had an excellent opportunity to get back into the game later in the half, when Tamada was brought down by a clumsy challenge by Inoha. (Although the yellow card he received in addition to conceding the PK seemed a bit harsh.) As if to prove the this would definitely not be Nagoya's day, Tamada blasted the penalty over the bar. This sense of inevitability was reinforced when Sogahata made a finger-tip save to stop a Bajalica header just before half time.

Unlike the first half, Grampus made a much brighter start to the second period, with Tamada just filing to control his shot from a sharp cut-back by Ogawa in the opening minutes. Johnsen saw a volley from a tight angle go over the bar, and Tamada saw another good effort saved by Sogohata as Nagoya pressed to get back into the game. However, they were unable to make their efforts count and were further punished by a stunning goal from Denilo and cool finish by Marquinhos after a surging run down the right by Uchida. So, an entertaining game ended with a decisive win for the visitors who showed the difference in class between the top two or three teams (Gamba, Antlers and Reds) and those hoping to challenge for a title. Although Grampus competed well for much of the game, the extra precision and composure of the Antlers saw them highlight the difference that this can make.

For manager Pixie, the challenge will be to pick the team up again after this setback. Fortunately, if the players focus on the fact they did indeed create the chances to score, and can quickly regain the sharpness they showed before the break, the team should soon be back to winning ways.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

J1 Resumes Action Today

The J.League resumes J1 games later today, after a one-month hiatus for Japan's World Cup qualifiers. With Gamba Osaka and the Kashima Antlers winning their games in hand on Wednesday, the chase for the J1 title is nicely poised with both these teams now only four points off the pace.

Second placed Nagoya have an instant test of their credentials, taking on Kashima at Mizuho Stadium. Now that we are 13 games into the season, opponents cannot make excuses about being surprised by Grampus' style of play. On the other hand, the breaks has given manager Stojkovic time to develop that style a bit more. It will be interesting to see how good a game the team can give Kashima this evening.

So far this season, three main factors have contributed to the team's best start to a season. The first, of course, is Pixie's ability to get the team playing a clear style sooner than we had a right to expect. The second factor is the great progress of young stars Maya Yoshida and Yoshizumi Ogawa. Both look class players who should ensure the team continues to enjoy success for the next several years. Finally, the midfield players, especially Naoshi Nakamura and Keiji Yoshimura have been working their socks off and pinging the ball across the pitch more quickly than the somewhat ponderous build-up we saw last year. While the summer heat is likely to reduce their ability to pressurize the opposition quite as effectively, the success of the strategy should help the team apply it more evenly. Bring on the Antlers and let's see how much progress we have made.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Dire Straits in the Heart of Osaka

Yes, the flaming pink flamingos of Cerezo looked pretty dire last night as they crashed to a 1-2 defeat to TheSpa Kusatsu at Nagai Stadium. This loss sees Cerezo surrender second spot in J2 to Yamagata Montedio again, on goal difference, and revealed that they are simply not ready for a return to top league yet.

Cerezo Osaka
Takashi Aizawa
Ryuhei Niwa, Tatsuya Yamashita, Kenji Haneda, Hiroyuki Omata
Ale, Geremano, Shinji Kagawa
Kento Shiratani (Yasuhito Morishima 52), Yoichiro Kakitani (Noriyuki Sakemoto 70), Rui Komatsu
Scorer: Komatsu 85

Thespa Kusatsu
Seiji Honda
Sung Yong Choi, Seung Jin Bae, Jun Tanaka, Yasushi Kita, Takeshi Terda
Yuki Matsushita (Tadahiro Akiba 66), Shingo Kumabayashi, Yusuke Shimada
Ryo Goto (Wataru Yamazaki 72), Yasunori Takada
Scorers: Shimada 30, Tanaka 47

Cerezo Pete and I went to see Cerezo vs Thespa last night, and it was not a pretty sight. Both teams were awful, and found it hard to pass to their own team mates if put under any kind of pressure at all, but Kusatsu were worthy winners due to their more lively approach. It is hard to see Cerezo justifying a return to J1 based on this performance, which was even worse than their unconvincing victories over Gifu and Kumamoto earlier in the season. Even Geremano, who had looked Osaka's best player in the pervious games could not make any impression, and as for Ale, the Brazilian embassy should revoke his passport before he does any more damage to their country's reputation.

Currently playing in iTunes: Money For Nothing by Dire Straits :-)

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Maya and Keisuke Impress for U-23s

Grampus defender Maya Yoshida and former Grampi, Keisuke Honda put in good displays in Japan U-23's 0-0 draw with Cameroon U-23s. Yoshida looked solid against strong, tall opponents, whilst Honda saw a free kick whistle past a post and setup one of Japan's best chances in the second half; a quickly released pass to send Lee clear through the middle.

Japan U-23
Japan—Shusaku Nishikawa
Hiroki Mizumoto, Yusuke Tanaka, Masato Morishige (Masahiko Inoha
82), Maya Yoshida
Takuya Honda(Toshihiro Aoyama, 87), Hiroyuki Taniguchi (Escudero 76), Yohei Kajiyama (Kota Ueda 76), Keisuke Honda
Tsukasa Umesaki (Koki Mizuno 67), Takayuki Morimoto (Tadanari Lee, 63)

Cameroon U-23
Joslain Mayebi
Georges Ndoum (Franck Patrick Njanbe 81), Alexis Enam Mendomo,
Nikolas Nkoulou, Guy Bertrand Madjo (Christian Bekamenga HT)、Antonio Ghomsi
Etienne Pokong (Serge Ngal 63), Georges Mandjeck, Albert Baning (Henri Ewane HT)
Guillaume Kendo (Marc Mboua 53), Benjamin Moukannjo (Alan Junior Olle Olle HT)

However, despite the team putting in a good performance against a useful-looking Cameroon side, this game still leaves manager Sorimachi with a few headaches. As has generally been the case for this team, the defense looked solid, and the midfield displayed talent and promise without managing to gel to become greater than a collection of talented individuals. As always, the problem is up front with Morimoto and Ri both failing to score from good chances. Morimoto, in particular, being guilty of putting an easy chance wide of the post with the goal at his mercy. This means that despite a good performance, Yoshida cannot be sure of a place in Beijing. After-all, he will still be only 23 come the London Olympics in 2012, and the team needs to improve its attacking options, not its defense. I would certainly expect to see Sorimachi use his over age quota to bolster the attack with the likes of Yoshito Okubo etc.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Maki and Tsuda Twist Knife as Grampus Progress to Knock-out Stage

18-year-old rookie Sho Hanai sets up dramatic injury-time winner as Nagoya come from behind to send Kyoto out of the Nabisco Cup.

A dramatic start, in which Sanga took the lead in the first minute, is matched by an even more dramatic finish as Grampus equalise with five minutes to go, and score the winner three minutes into injury time. The dramatic conclusion to this game was tough on Kyoto, who had looked set to keep their faint hopes of qualification alive until Grampus substitutes Hanai, Niigawa and Tsuda changed the flow of the game.

Sanga got the perfect start, when a punched clearance by Nishimura fell to Yuto Sato, who blasted home from the edge of the box with less than a minute gone. While hardly dominating, Kyoto looked the more organised and enterprising and forced Nishimura to make amends for his poor clearance with a couple of good saves to keep Grampus in the game. However, the introduction of Hanai, Niigawa and Tsuda in the second half changed the tone of the game. Maki had already seen a close-range effort come back off the post before he blasted in the equaliser in the 85th minute. Grampus U-18 graduate, Sho Hanai, then helped complete the turn around with a thru-pass to put Tomohiro Tsuda clear and the striker calmly slotted home the winner to send the travelling Nagoya fans into wild scenes of celebration.

For Grampus, this was a significant win in that it not only guaranteed their qualification for the knock-out stage, it also gave several young players valuable experience in a winning cause. However, it also revealed that Miki and Matsukawa are no substitute for Yoshida and Bajalica at the heart of the defence. It also indicated one of the tests awaiting manager Stojkovic, that is strengthening the squad so that the team is likely to sustain a challenge for the league title. Dramatic though this win was, the team's struggle to get into the game until fresh legs were introduced, showed that the squad lacks depth of quality. While rookies Sato and Hanai look promising, with Hanai have several useful touches during his brief appearance, others were less impressive.

Kyoto Sanga
Yuichi Mizutani
Yusuke Nakatani, Kazuki Teshima, Tatsuya Masushima, Makoto Kakuda
Sidiclei, Yuto Sato, Hiroki Nakayama (Ryuzo Morioka)
Takaaki Tokushige, Yutaka Tahara, Atsushi Yanagisawa
Scorer: Sato 1

Koji Nishimura
Masaya Sato, Takahiro Masukawa, Miki, Akira Takeuchi
Masaki Fukai, Toshiya Fujita, Keiji Yoshimura, Atsushi Yoneyama
Yuki Maki, Keita Sugimoto
Scorers: Maki 85, Tsuda 93

Monday, 26 May 2008

Nagoya Ease Past Urawa to Extend NC Lead

Grampus move three points clear of Vissel at the top of Group A in Yamazaki Nabisco Cup qualifying, with a comfortable 4-2 win over Urawa at Toyota Stadium. The win puts them in with a strong chance of clinching qualifying for the knock-out stage next week, when they travel to Kyoto.

Goals by Ogawa, Sugimoto, Maki and Tsuda mean that Nagoya is the only team in Group A with a positive goal difference.

Koji Nishimura
Shohei Abe, Takahiro Masukawa, Akira Takeuchi, Milos Bajalica
Magnum (Masaki Fukai 58), Naoshi Nakamura, Atsushi Yoneyama (Kei Yamaguchi 65), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Yuki Maki, Keita Sugimoto (Tomohiro Tsuda 82)

Urawa Reds
Norihiro Yamagishi
Shunsuke Tsutsumi, Satohi Horinouchi, Keisuke Tsuboi
Takahito Soma, Hideki Uchidate, Nouhisa Yamada, Masayuki Okano (Hiroyuki Takasaki HT)
Edmilson, Tatsuya Tanaka (Genki Haraguchi 62), Yuichiro Nagai (Yoshiya Nishizawa)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Grampus Swamp Consadole in Second Half Surge

After a lacklustre first half, Nagoya come out firing on all cylinders to earn a 3-1 away win in Sapporo and go into the mid-season break level with Urawa at the top of the league.

Consadole Sapporo:
Takahiro Takagi
Shusuke Tsubouchi, Shingo Shibata, Mitsuyuki Yoshihiro, Yasuhiro Hiraoka
Daigo Nishi, Hironobu Haga, Claiton, Makoto Sunagawa
Hiroki Miyazawa, Davi

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Takahiro Masukawa, Maya Yoshida, Milos Bajalica
Magnum (Toshiya Fujita 84), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Keita Sugimoto 67), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Frode Johnsen (Atsushi Yoneyama 82), Keiji Tamada

Big Weekend for J League and Grampus

This weekend was a good day for the J.League, with Gamba Osaka downing the Urawa Reds in Urawa to blow the championship race wide open again. Even if Osaka needed a bit of help from the officials, who were conned by Gamba's Bare quickly taken throw-in, even though it should actually have been an Urawa throw-in. Nevertheless, although the officiating left the league with egg on its face again, the results leaves the title race nicely poised.

The league goes into its one-month-long break with Urawa and Nagoya level on 26 points at the top and with FC Tokyo three points back in third. Although kashima and Gamba lie seven points off the pace, they do have a game in hand, and should still be able to mount a challenge for the title come December. For Grampus, the break gives players like Nakamura and Yoshimura, who have been working their socks off, a chance to recharge their batteries. It also gives improving youngsters Yoshida and Ogawa a chance to absorb some of their experiences from the early games.

J1 Results for May 17/18
Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Nagoya Grampus
Urawa Reds 2-3 Gamba Osaka
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 FC Tokyo
Kyoto Sanga 1-0 Yokohama Marinos
Kashima Antlers 1-1 Kashiwa Reysol
JEF United 1-0 Oita Trinita
Kawasaki Frontale 2-3 Omiya Ardija
Tokyo Verdy 4-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Vissel Kobe 1-1 Albirex Niigata

Friday, 9 May 2008

VVV Sink Back to Lower Division

VVV Venlo and Keisuke Honda sink to a 2-0 loss and a swift return to the second tier of the Dutch league.

Honda has been reported as saying he would like to stay with the team, even if they went down, and playing in a lower division certainly did not do Daisuke Matsui any harm when he moved to France. It would give Honda a chance to adjust to the more physical nature of European football, while his skill should be more decisive and give him a chance to integrate with the team more thoroughly. However, financial considerations may see him move elsewhere. It will be interesting to see whether footballing reason or the interests of agents' commissions prevail.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Nagoya Ease Past Tokyo to Reclaim Top Spot (Briefly)

Despite the brief gap since the last game, Grampus control the opening half during which Tokyo had no answer to the pressure and quicker movement of the visitors. During this period, Keita Sugimoto burst through the middle to latch onto an Ogawa ball into space and clip the ball past the advancing keeper and into the net. Although Nagoya remained comfortably in control throughout the half, they were unable to get a second goal that would have allowed them to ease off the pace a little.

The second half saw FC Tokyo make more of a fight of the game, and was a much more even affair. Indeed FC Tokyo had chances to score, with Cabore going close almost immediately after the restart, and Yusuke Kondo blasting a PK against the bar. (Although Narazaki can have few complaints about conceding the PK, since his sprawling attempt to get the ball failed to do so, TV replays clearly showing that Cabore just got to the ball first, a yellow card seemed a bit harsh.)

While the home team improved in the second half, they still did not look like a team that will be challenging for the title come the end of the season. Nagoya on the other hand used good team work and timely substitutions to maintain their lofty position, the win taking them briefly back to the top of the table. Of course, Urawa were playing the hapless JEF so the Reds were to reclaim top spot later in the afternoon. While Grampus still do not have enough depth to mount a sustained challenge for the title, I do not expect them to drop too far off the pace and summer signings might just bring them up to a level that could challenge for a top three spot.

FC Tokyo:
Hitoshi Shiota
Yuto Nagatomo, Ryuji Fujiyama, Hideki Sahara, Yuhei Tokunaga
Naotake Hanyu (Yohei Otake HT), Ryoichi Kurosawa (Naohiro Ishikawa 76), Jo Kanazawa, Yasuyuki Konno
Cabore, Shingo Akamine (Yusuke Kondo 60)

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Takahiro Masukawa, Maya Yoshida, Milos Bajalica
Magnum (Akira Takeuchi 85), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Kei Yamaguchi 88), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Frode Johnsen, Keita Sugimoto (Takashi Yoneyama 69)

Other J1 Results for Round 11
Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers have ACL games on Wednesday, so there are two less games than originally scheduled for today.
Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Tokyo Verdy
Kashiwa Reysol 3-0 Vissel Kobe
Urawa Reds 3-0 JEF United
Jubilo Iwata 1-4 Kawasaki Frontale
Albirex Niigata 3-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Yokohama Marinos 1-1 Omiya Ardija

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Honda and VVV Live to Fight Another Day

Former Grampus midfielder Keisuke Honda helps his team earn a 1-0 win at home in the play-offs to decide promotion/relegation to the Dutch top division. AFter losing the away leg 0-1 earlier in the week, this means that Honda and company will play a third game this Thursday.

It now looks probable that if VVV fail to survive, they may be forced to allow Honda a transfer, which looks like to may be to Portsmouth in the English Premier League.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Clueless League Officials Exonerate "Drop Dead" Ref

As expected, the J League applied liberal coatings of whitewash when it came to "investigating" Yuichi Nishimura's verbal abuse of players. Nishimura, who was roundly jeered when announced as the match official at Toyota Stadium on Saturday, was accused of telling a player to "drop dead" during last week's game between FC Tokyo and Oita Trinita.

Despite reports that other players confirmed the referee's verbal abuse, in the absence of undeniable evidence the bureaucrats have sided with one of their own. Maybe fans should just chant "Die, Die, Die" each time Nishimura takes charge of a game from now on, since Gaptain Gormless seems nervous about all the fuss.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Gamba Edge Past Improving Grampus

Gamba Osaka leave Toyota Stadium with all three points in an entertaining game i front of 34,000 fans. Two goals from the ever dangerous Bare, ether side of an Ogawa special, saw the Osaka team earn a deserved 2-1 win.

Although Gamba got off to the slightly better start, it was Grampus that first forced a 'keeper to make a serious save. Matsuyo being forced to palm away a good effort by Tamada, with Osaka fortunate to see the loose ball cleared by a defender before Johnsen could pounce. However, both teams continued to probe with some quick passing while both teams were quick to try and put pressure on their opponents. This was were Gamba's extra experience and class showed, finding their team mates with one-touch passes under pressure more consistently than the home team. Having said that, they needed to be because Nagoya still managed to create several opportunities and were far from outclassed.

It took a typical bullish run by Bare to open the scoring, when he latched onto a through ball through the middle and took advantage to a moment's hesitation by Bajalica and a rare slip by Yoshida to see a deflected shot wrong-foot Narazaki after 24 minutes. The young defender seemed overly harsh on himself, looking very dejected after the goal, but soon bounced back to his normal self. Thereafter, Bare found it much harder to create any space when paired one-on-one with Yoshida. A harsh lesson, but one that can only serve the future national team defender well. While Nagoya probed and prodded to create the equalizer, they lacked the finesse to prize open the Osaka defense. This took a 20-yard screamer from Ogawa eleven minutes later, the ever improving midfielder collecting a pass from Nakamura and unleashing a rising shot that left Matsuyo flailing at thin air. Both teams continued to play neat, attractive football but the only other real chance came towards the end of the opening half when Nakamura free kick was well saved by the Osaka goalie.

Although Gamba had looked the have a slight edge in the first half, the second half was a much more even contest, with Grampus competing on an equal footing in nearly all areas of the pitch. Unfortunately, Bare was again to prove that on his good days, he is almost impossible to tame. But first, speedster Keita Sugimoto came on for the visibly hobbling Tamada early in the half and almost immediately created a chance when a cross-shot proved just a bit to hot for Johnsen to deflect into the bottom corner. The big Norwegian's touch slipping just the wrong side of the post. A couple o minutes later saw another golden opportunity go begging, when Sugimoto burst through from the right but saw his fierce shot clip the cross-bar. Both teams traded half-chances, with a Yasuda shot comfortably saved by Narazaki and a Johnsen effort in front to goal fortuitously ricocheting off an unsighted defender. Unfortunately for the home team, Bare was to clinch the three points for the visitors. The Brazilian marksman beating Narazaki at the near post, with a sharp turn and shot from a narrow angle after the 'keeper had steered him a away from goal after a through ball from Endo.

Although the loss, the third in a row, is worrying, the style of the Magoya performance and the fact that they are still only one point off the pace, show the improvement from last year. Provided the team does not dwell on the results and considers it position, and the fact they are now able to compete with the best teams in the league over a full 90 minutes, they should soon be back to winning ways. For Gamba this was a well-earned three points from a skillful and hard-working performance, that saw new recruit Lucas start to look an asset to the team. Rather than trying to compete with Bare and Bando for attention at the front, he dropped back into a more creative position and was instrumental in some of the team's best moves.

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Milos Bajalica, Maya Yoshida, Akira Takeuchi
Magnum (Takashi Yoneyama 63), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Toshiya Fujita 77),
Frode Johnsen, Keiji Tamada (Keita Sugimoto 51)

Gamba Osaka:
Naoki Matsuyo
Akira Kaji, Sota Nakazawa, Satoshi Yamaguchi, Michihiro Yasuda (Shu Kurata 85)
Hideo Hashimoto, Yasuhito Endo, Takahiro Futagawa (Hiroki Mizumoto 77)
Lucas, Ryuji Bando (Masato Yamazaki 55), Bare

Other J1 Results for Round 10
Kyoto Sanga 1-0 Consodole Sapporo
Omiya Ardija 0-3 FC Tokyo
Tokyo Verdy 3-2 Yokohama Marinos
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Jubilo Iwaata
Vissel Kobe 1-1 Urawa Reds
Oita Trinita 3-1 Albirex Niigata
JEF United Chiba 0-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 Kashima Antlers

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Grampus Fall to First Home Loss in League

A lethargic first half performance proves too hard to overcome as Nagoya slip up against Kawasaki, a result that sees them dispossessed of top spot in the league table. (And about time too. Now perhaps teams will concentrate their efforts on downing Urawa and Kashima again. )

In a game that saw both Yoshimura and Yoshida rested, Nagoya got off to a slow start that saw them trailing 1-2 at half time. Although they improved in the second half and had several chances to get an equalizer, they could not make them count and slipped to another defeat.

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Milos Bajalica, Takahiro Masukawa, Takashi Miki
Magnum, Naoshi Nakamura (Toshiya Fujita 70), Kei Yamaguchi (Keita Sugimoto 56), Masaki Fukai (Ogawa 56)
Frode Johnsen, Keiji Tamada

Kawasaki Frontale:
Eiji Kawashima
Hiroki Ito, Shuhei Terada, Yusuke Igawa
Satoru Yamagishi, Kazuhiro Murakami (Yusuke Tasaka 80), Kengo Nakamura, Hiroyuki Taniguchi, Kosuke Kikuchi (Tomonobu Yokoyama 89)
Juninho, Chong Tese (Masaru Kurotsu 62)

Other J1 Results for Round 9
Kashiwa Reysol 0-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
Jubilo Iwata 2-0 Kyoto Sanga
Albirex Niigata 0-0 Tokyo Verdy
Urawa Reds 4-2 Consadole Sapporo
FC Tokyo 1-0 Oita Trinita
Yokohama Marinos 3-0 JEF United
Kashima Antlers 2-2 Vissel Kobe
Gamba Osaka 2-3 Omiya Ardija

Monday, 28 April 2008

Verdy End Grampus Streak

Tokyo field their experienced veterans to send Nagoya to its first league defeat at rain-soaked Ajinomoto Stadium. Verdy started brightly, exerting some early pressure and the first real chance of the game, when Diego sent a glancing header wide from a corner after five minutes.

Tokyo continued to hold the edge for the opening spell and it was not until Ogawa whipped in a snap-shot after 15 minutes that Nagoya started to get into the game. Grampus then looked the slightly better team for the middle of the half, with Tamada seeing efforts parried by Doi and deflected off-target by a defender. However, Verdy closed the half well with a Tsuchiya back header leaving Narazaki scrambling and Diego seeing a shot deflected wide.

The second half opened with Verdy again looking the brighter team, and a rare slip by Maya Yoshida who misjudged the bounce of a throw-in and allowed Diego slip in and slice a shot wide of Narazaki's right post. Diego, who looked a constant threat, duly opened the scoring in the 55th minute when a shot from inside the area crept inside the far post. The goal saw Stojkovic bring on Sugimoto for Yoshimura. While this showed attacking intent, the wet, slippy conditions probably did not best suit Sugimoto whose speed really needs a pitch with sure footing. Not surprisingly, Sugimoto failed to make his usual electrifying runs, although he did get in one diving header that sailed over. Verdy's 18-year old rookie Hiroki Kawana also failed to master the overcome conditions and give the home fans a glimpse of his dribbling skills. But he was able to sneak in to head home a free kick after some lag marking from the Grampus defense after 72 minutes. Although Nagoya pressed forward for a goal, substitute Masaki Fukai unluck to see a close range effort cleared by Doi, they were unable to close the gap and Tokyo earned three valuable points.

Although the 2-0 score line exaggerates Verdy's advantage, Grampus fans cannot complain since our own results against Urawa and the Marinos were similarly misleading, and Tokyo were worth the three points after an aggressive home performance. The good start to the season will have given the Nagoya players confidence and believe in the Stojkovic system, and it is up to them to show that they can bounce back and continue to play the effective football they have displayed this season. Opponents will start to counter Grampus' style, but only the top few teams are likely to be able to do so effectively.

Tokyo Verdy:
Yoichi Doi
Takumi Wada, Daisuke Nasu, Yukio Tsuchiya, Toshihiro Hattori
Tomo Suguwara, Diego, Harutaka Ono, Takashi Fukunishi
Leandro, Kazunori Iio (Hiroki Kawano 66)

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Milos Bajalica, Maya Yoshida, Akira Takeuchi
Magnum (Masaki Fukai 70), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Keita Sugimoto 56), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Frode Johnsen, Keiji Tamada (Yuki Maki 67)

Other J1 Results
Elsewhere in the league, Kashima's draw at Omiya and Gamba's dodgy defense ensured that Grampus remain in top spot.
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 FC Tokyo
Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Albirex Niigata
Oita Trinita 1-0 Yokohama Marinos
Kyoto Sanga 0-4 Urawa Reds
JEF United 1-2 Jubilo Iwata
Kawasaki Frontale 3-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Kashima Antlers
Vissel Kobe 2-1 Gamba Osaka

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Grampus Go Three Points Clear at Top

Maintaining their unbeaten start to the season, Nagoya come from behind to down a spirited, but winless JEF United, 3-2 to go three points clear at the top of J1.

This was one of the first games in which one of the weaker teams in the league tried to counter Nagoya's style of play. In the first half they succeeded and took a deserved 2-1 lead, but Grampus were able to adjust at half time and gradually exerted control over the game in the second.

Seigo Narazaki
Shohei Abe, Milos Bajalica, Maya Yoshida, Akira Takeuchi
Magnum (Kei Yamaguchi 49), Naoshi Nakamura, Keiji Yoshimura (Keita Sugimoto 71), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Frode Johnsen, Keiji Tamada (Masaki Fukai)

JEF United Chiba:
Masahiro Okamoto
Masataka Sakemoto, Daisuke Saito, Eddy Bosnar, Ryota Aoki
Koji Nakajima, Tatsuya Yazawa (Takuya Kokeguchi), Atsushi Ito, Fulkovic (Yuta Baba)
Kota Aoki, Seiichiro Maki

Monday, 21 April 2008

Gamba Hold Antlers in 0-0 Thriller

Despite the goalless score line, this was a top-notch game with chances for both teams to claim the three points. A draw, however, was a fair reflection of the game as this was a much more even contest than last week's encounter between Urawa and Kashima. On this showing, both teams should give a good account of themselves in the Asian Champions League (ACL) and are likely to be the leading contenders for the J1 title come the end of the season.

This weeks results see Grampus continue to lead the pack, while FC Tokyo have moved up to third. This means, that for the time being at least, the table sees a couple of fresh faces alongside that of the usual candidates Kashima, Osaka, Yokohama and Urawa. How long Nagoya and Tokyo can maintain their high positions remains to be seen, but neither team should falter as badly as they did last year.

Other J1 Results
FC Tokyo 4-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Albirex Niigata 1-0 Kyoto Sanga
Vissel Kobe 1-1 Consadole Sapporo
Kashiwa Reysol 5-1 Tokyo Verdy
Yokohama Marinos 1-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Urawa Reds 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata 1-1 Oita Trinita

Table After 7 Games

Team Pts W/D/L
1 Grampus 19 6/1/0
2 Antlers 16 5/1/1
3 FC Tokyo 14 4/2/1
4 Marinos 13 4/1/2
5 Urawa Reds 13 4/1/2
6 Gamba 12 3/3/1
7 Ardija 11 3/2/2
8 Sanga 11 3/2/2
9 Reysol 10 3/1/3
10 Vissel 9 2/3/2
11 Trinita 8 2/2/3
12 Frontale 8 2/2/3
13 Jubilo 7 2/1/4
14 Consadole 7 2/1/4
15 S-Pulse 5 1/2/4
16 Albirex 5 1/2/4
17 Verdy 4 1/1/5
18 JEF 2 0/2/5

Cerezo Struggle to Down Cellar Dwellers

Osaka eventually manage to scrape past J2 newcomers Kumamoto, scoring late in the game to "earn" all three points. Despite looking the batter team for most of the game, Cerezo found it hard to create clear-cut chances against a solid, organized Roasso defense.

This was a scrappy game, especially in midfield, with Osaka failing to make their technical superiority count. As it was, Kumamoto could easily have taken the lead after seven minutes when Nakayama was put through on goal. Fortunately for the shocking pinks, Yamamoto was equal to the task of beating away the shot. Thereafter, Roasso struggled to create many clear chances but occasionally threatened when Takahashi and Nakayama were able to find space.

It was the lack of ideas and quality from the home team that was most worrying to see. The only players to show any class were youngsters Kagawa and Kakitani, and although both showed promise they were not able to bring to life a fairly dull game. Cerezo only showed any urgency to win the game once two more youngsters Sakemoto and Shiratani were introduced in the second half. Indeed it was Shiratani who headed across goal to give Geremano the simple task of nodding home the barely deserved winner in the 84th minute.

Cerezo Osaka:
Hiromasa Yamamoto
Kazuya Maeda, Kenjiro Ezoe, Ryohei Niwa, Noboru Nakayama (Noriyuki Sakemoto)
Ale, Geramano, Yoichiro Kakitani (Kenji Haneda), Shinji Kagawa
Rui Komatsu, Yasuhito Morishima (Kento Shiratani)

Roasso Kumamoto:
Hiroki Kobayashi
Kazuya Kawabata, Atsushi Ichimura, Daisuke Yazawa, Kenichi Uemura
Takeshi Yamaguchi, Cha JI Ho (Tetsuhiro Kina), Shohei Yamamoto, Tomoaki Komorida (Masaaki Nishimori)
Yutaka Takahashi (Yoshio Kitagawa), Satoshi Nakayama

While Kumamoto will struggle to escape bottom position this year, the experience and skills of former Japan international Uemura and the on-loan "Naniwa-no-Gon" Nakayama may prove decisive against fellow strugglers. As for Cerezo, the only positives they can take from this game is that they managed to get the three points and promising performances from youngsters Kagawa and Kakitani. However, it is hard to see them making a quick return to J1 based on this scrappy game.

Other J2 results last weekend:
FC Gifu 2-3 Yokohama FC
Ehime FC 1-1 Vegalta Sendai
TheSpa Kusatsu 1-1 Montedio Yamagata
Avispa Fukuoka 2-0 Sagan Tosu
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Ventforet Kofu
Tokushima Vortis 2-0 Mito Hollyhock

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Pixie Magic Extends to Nabisco Cup

Nagoya continued their winning streak, downing Vissel Kobe 2-0 at Mizuho Stadium to go top of Group A after three games. In a game in which Grampus dominated possession, Keita Sugimoto and Toshiya Fujita scored in the second half to give the home team a comfortable win after a tough opening 45 minutes.

Grampus fielded a team that was only slightly "weaker" than the lineup that has started most of the league games this year; Yoshida, Nakamura, Yoshimura, and Johnsen all being rested. However, their replacements were not unexperienced rookies but the likes of Masukawa, Fujita, Yamaguchi and Maki. In particular, it is good to see Maya Yoshida given a day off. Although clearly good enough to keep his place in the team, the youngster needs the occasional chance to relax and digest some of the things he is learning. This chance to get away from the constant pressure of playing in the top team was not afforded Keisuke Honda, who spent most of last season looking somewhat jaded after three years of almost constant appearances for Grampus and the Japan U-23s.

Koji Nishimura
Shohei Abe, Milos Bajalica, Takahiro Masukawa, Jun Aoyama (Takashi Miki HT)
Magnum (Maaaki Fukai 69), Toshiya Fujita, Kei Yamaguchi (Atsushi Yoneyama 62), Yoshizumi Ogawa
Yuki Maki, Keita Sugimoto

Vissel Kobe:
Tatsuya Enamoto
Teruaki Kobayashi, Toshihiko Uchiyama (Hiroki Kishida 84), Gakuto Kondo (Masatoshi Mihara 62), Masaki Yanagawa
Takayuki Yoshida (Shota Matsuhashi 75), Hideo Tanaka, Norio Suzuki, Ryosuke Matsuoka
Daisuke Sudo, Kenji Baba

Other Nabiso Cup Results
Group A
Urawa Reds 1-1 Kyoto Sanga

Group B
Shimizu S-Pulse 5-0 Tokyo Verdy
FC Tokyo 1-1 Jubilo Iwata

Group C
JEF Chiba 0-0 Consadole Sapporo
Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 Kashiwa Reysol

Group D
Yokohama Marinos 4-0 Omiya Ardija
Albirex Niigata 1-1 Oita Trinita

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Soccer Digest Highlights Grampus Success

The Japanese football magazine Weekly Soccer Digest features s section on Pixy Grampus this week.

Predictably is compares the current Grampus with Arsenal, but does include a reasonable analysis of the team's success. i.e. The main difference this year is that the team is not only organized, but also has an effective system that both the manager, and more importantly, the players understand. The issue also features a Tetsuo Nakanishi interview with Stojkovic and an article on Tamada.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Katagiri and Co. Sink Fukuoka

Former Grampus striker Atsushi Katagiri gets his J2 goal account started with a brace in the 1-5 demolition of Avispa Fukuoka. The win sees the newly promoted Gifu rise to second place, on goal difference. While I expected them to be able to hold their own in J2, given the number experienced players they have in their squad, this level of success is a bit of a surprise.

Other J2 results this weekend:
Montedio Yamagata 1-0 Yokohama FC
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Tokushima Vortis
Mito Hollyhock 2-2 Roasso Kumamoto
Sagan Tosu 1-1 TheSpa Kusatsu
Shonan Bellmare 1-0 Ventforet Kofu
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-1 Cerezo Osaka

Nagoya Extend Unbeaten Run to Six to Go Top

Nagoya ease past one of their recent bogey teams, Shimizu S-Pulse, with a 2-0 away win at Nihondaira Stadium. This is our first win against Shimizu for four years, and saw the team head the J1 standings pending the result of the Urawa vs Kashima game. With Urawa handing the Antlers their first defeat of the season, Grampus remain a point clear at the top. If the teams keeps this sort of form up, even the Fortress Kashima will hold no fear. :-)

This game saw Nagoya repeat their feat of catching the home team napping in the first half, playing aggressive, confident football that allowed them to control the opening 45 minutes. Ogawa opened the scoring, racing in to slot home a slide-rule pass from Keiji Yosimura after some good work by Tamada in midfield. Grampus continued to control the game until half time, and Shimizu only got into the game in the second half. However, they were unable turn their slight improvement into a goal, and Sugimoto scored for the second game in a row to seal the points.

Team Lineups
Pos. Shimizu S-Pulse Nagoya Grampus Pos.
GK Kaito Yamamoto Seigo Narazaki GK
DF Daisuke Ichikawa Akira Takeuchi DF
DF Naoaki Aoyama Milos Bajalica DF
DF Kazumichi Takagi Maya Yoshida DF
DF Arata Kodama Shohei Abe DF
MF Takuma Edamura Yoshizumi Ogawa MF
MF Teruyoshi Ito Naoshi Nakamura MF
MF Takuya Honda Keiji Yoshimura MF
MF Fernandinho Magnun MF
FW Takuro Yajima Keiji Tamada FW
FW Marcos Paulo Frode Johnsen FW

Other J1 results for April 12/13:
Consadole Sapporo 2-1 Jubilo Iwata
Yokohama Marinos 2-0 Kashiwa Reysol
JEF Chiba 2-4 Omiya Ardija
Tokyo Verdy 1-2 FC Tokyo
Oita Trinita 0-0 Kawasaki Frontale
Kyoto Sanga 2-1 Vissel Kobe
Urawa Reds 2-0 Kashima Antlers
Gamba Osaka 2-2 Albirex Niigata

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Nagoya Cement Second Place

Nagoya Grampus opened up a three-point gap between themselves and Gamba Osaka in third place after taking all three points from Yokohama Marinos. Despite the identical 2-0 score line, this game was not as comfortable as the game against Urawa, where Grampus were well worth their half-time lead.

The Marinos looked slightly the better side individually, but were rarely able to pierce the well-organized Grampus defense. Although they out-shot Nagoya 17-9, many of the Yokohama efforts were from outside, or near the edge of the box. Given the height of the Marinos defense, all being over 1.8 meters tall, it is hardly surprising that both goals came from passes to feet. FIrst Norwegian striker Johnsen tapped home a wicked Ogawa cross-ball from close-range in the first half, and Keita Sugimoto sealed the win with a quick break away that saw him round the keeper to blast the ball into the empty net after 89 minutes.