Sunday, 30 March 2008

Gifu Push Cerezo Hard in Close Encounter

FC Gifu gave a good account of themselves in closely contested encounter at Nagai Stadium yesterday. Before a crowd of 5,000, Cerezo were able to hold out for a 1-0 win against a spirited and organized Gifu team.

Gifu can consider themselves unfortunate not to have gone away from Osaka with at least a share of the points. The only goal of the game came in the 12th minute, when Noriyuki Sakemoto pounced on some dopy defending from a Cerezo throw-in. As the Gifu defense switched-off, he took advantage to drift behind the back line to receive the ball, cut inside from the goal line and curled in a well-placed shot inside the far post. Thereafter, Gifu were quick to close-down and hassle their opponents and prevent them from establishing control of the game. Indeed, for the remainder of the half it was Gifu who had the better chances, with both Kazumasa Takagi and former Grampus forward Atsushi Katagiri seeing shots saved by Cerezo keeper Aikawa.

The second half was also close, with neither side being able to establish clear superiority. For Cerezo, Germano looked influential and was clearly the best player on the pitch, but was not allowed the time or space to orchestrate any serious threats on the Gifu goal. Gifu look like they will soon find their feet in J2, with the likes of Mitsunori Yabuta and Koji Yoshimura providing experience to raw power of Masato Katayama up front. From what we saw yesterday, both teams should be able to hold their own in the league and should finish in the top half of the table. Whether either can go onto challenge for a promotion place will depend on players like Sakemoto and Katagiri stepping-up their game and being a consistent influence on their team, rather than the promising but not quite delivering performances they have tended to display to date.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Toyoda Presses Case for Olympic Slot

Former Nagoya forward Yohei Toyoda, now plying his trade in Yamagata, scored Japan's goal in a 1-1 draw with Angola yesterday. This saw the Japan U-23 team take on the full national team of Angola and put on a lively display, with some neat passing and good movement off the ball. However, a generally impressive performance was marred by a failure to capitalize on their superiority over the Africans and eventually conceding an equalizer near the end. Although the 1-1 draw against a full national side looks a reasonable result on paper, Japan will need to improve its accuracy and show better strategic planning if it is to make a challenge for an Olympic medal.

The game saw several key players for the Olympic squad rested, or missing through injury, including Keisuke Honda (VVV) and Koki Mizuno (Celtic), and Sota Hirayama (FC Tokyo). While Yohei showed enough industry and netted Japan's goal, manager Sorimachi will have a tough choice between choosing between the hard-working Toyoda and the more skillful, but erratic Hirayama. Despite an encouraging and industrious display from Japan's midfield yesterday, it is seems unlikely that either Honda or Mizuno will miss out on the chance of Olympic glory. Neither is quite as consistently accurate as they should be, but both can provide an improvement on the woeful free-kicks and corners displayed last night.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Dutch TV View of Honda's First Goal

Here is a Youtube clip of Keisuke Honda's FK against Feyenoord. His first goal for VVVV. This was followed by a second goal, poking home a loose ball from close range, this week, but neiher were enough to save Venlo from losing both games.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Honda Bags First Goal

Former Grampus, and Japan U-22 star, Keisuke Honda scored his first goal for VVV Venlo on Saturday. Unfortunately, his equalizer from a FK was not enough to save VVV from a 1-3 loss.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Pixie Conjures Up First Win as Manager

At Saitama Stadium no less. :-)
True, Urawa were pretty toothless in the first half and allowed Grampus to control the opening 45 minutes. However, any win against the Reds is a cause for celebration.

Johnsen headed in a cross after 14 minutes to give Nagoya a fully deserved lead after a bright opening. Urawa failed to seriously test Narazaki until just before the interval. However, they made a much stronger showing in the second half, rattling a post and forcing Narazaki into a couple of good saves and looking likely to equalize before the game was finished. Fortunately, Tsuzuki gifted Grampus a second goal after 23 minutes, Ogawa pouncing on his sloppiness, which took the wind of his team's sails and Grampus cruised to victory from then on in.

This was an important win that will give the team and manager confidence from a promising display. There will be sterner tests ahead, but it is looking like Stojkovic may well become a good manager. His calm and business-like demeanor was far from the fiery outbursts we have come to expect from Pixie the player, although I suspect we will get a few of those at some point. :-)

Team Lineups

Pos. Urawa Reds Nagoya Grampus Pos.
GK Ryota Tsuzuki Seigo Narazaki GK
DF Keisuke Tsuboi Jun Aoyama

(Takashi Miki, 75)
DF Satoshi Horinouchi Akira Takeuchi DF
DF Hajime Hosogai Maya Yoshida DF
DF Takahito Soma Shohei Abe DF
MF Tadaaki Hirakawa Yoshizumi Ogawa MF
MF Yuki Abe Naoshi Nakamura MF
MF Keita Suzuki

(Tsukasa Umesaki, 61)
Keiji Yoshimura MF
MF Nobuhisa Yamada Magnum

(Keita Sugimoto, 84)
FW Nnaohiro Takahara

(Yuichiro Nagai, HT)
Keiji Tamada

(Kei Yamaguchi, 89)
FW Edmilson Frode Johnsen FW

Friday, 7 March 2008

2008 J1 Kick Off: What Can We Expect?

The 2008 J.League season kick-off under the cloud of allegations of the gambling syndicate influenced fixing of last week's Super Cup. We hope that the league will take firm action to investigate this travesty of a game and its "officiating" that brought the game in Japan into such disrepute, regardless of whether the fixing allegations turn out to be true or not. (See Japan Times, Kyodo.) However, it is the start of a new season and hope springs eternal in football fans in Japan. Let's hope this optimism about the integrity of the league is justified.

Saturday sees Grampus take on newly promoted Kyoto Sanga in a game that both teams will be keen to win as it may represent their best chance to build some confidence in what is likely to prove to be a long season for both clubs. For Grampus, it will see the dawn of the Dragan Stojkovic era, as the legendary Pixie attempts to lead the team as manager. Having lost Honda to VVV during the off-season, and missing experienced defender Masayuki Omori through injury, Nagoya could struggle defensively in the opening games of the season until new signings settle into the team. Signings such as Milos Bajalica and midfielder Magnum should impress this year, but will they do so from the opening game? Stojkovic and hordes of Grampus fans will be hoping that they can. Fortunately, two other experienced hands Keiji Yoshimura and Toshiya Fujita look as though they will be back from injury lay-offs in time for the opening game.

Sanga on the other hand, have two vastly experienced additions to the team this year with Sidiclei, previously one of the best defenders in the league, arriving from Gamba Osaka and striker Atsushi Yanagisawa arriving from Kashima Antlers. They will join former Japan captain Ryuzo Morioka in a team that also includes Makoto Kakuda and Yusuke Nakatani who both used to play for Grampus. This gives them some much needed experience and players who will be motivated to do well in Nagoya. Kyoto have always struggled to stay in J1 and are likely to find it tough again this year, but their combination of youth and experience should see them manage to survive this year.

As for the result, I would expect a narrow win for Grampus, but would not be surprised by a 1-1 draw.