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.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Vissel Lose Out to Ref

The Kobe Samurai reports on Vissel Kobe's first loss of the season at the hands of Masayoshi Okada.

Vissel Kobe suffered their first defeat of the season against Tokyo Verdy, falling to the first J.League goal for 18-year-old Verdy rookie, Kawano - in his 3rd game, but the game was probably decided not by any of the 22 players on the field, but by referee Masayoshi Okada deciding that Yoshito Okubo deserved a red card when former Vissel defender Yukio Tsuchiya's head collided with Okubo's arm, when
it seemed obvious that there was no intent WHATSOEVER from the Vissel forward. (Mark: Vissel are reportedly due to appeal the red card and the local NHK stations have shown the incident in their highlights of the game along.) It should be noted that I personally spoke to Tsuchiya after the game - along with numerous Verdy players - NONE of whom thought the offence warranted even a YELLOW card! The "offence" came a minute or so after Okada had been under some pressure, though, and it appeared a knee-jerk reaction to whatever had irritated him moments before. It has to be said, though, that any Verdy player who was seen to have their shirt hanging outside their shorts was soon reprimanded - Mr. Okada was not going to let them get away with that heinous offence!

The red card for Okubo was just one of many baffling decisions by the man in the middle today, who missed so many incidents all over the field, for both teams - while blowing his whistle for numerous
non-events - that players, coaching staff and fans alike - from BOTH teams were left exasperated. In fact, at the end of the game, Vissel fans were seen to be chanting slogans and demanding an audience with Mr. Okada outside the players' entrance!

Anyway, back to the game itself, and Vissel were sorely missing forward Leandro, out with a broken bone in his shoulder, and couldn't seem to penetrate upfront - when they did it seemed that Okada had
some pre-conceived notion that Okubo was a faker and gave him nothing, even though he was the victim of some manhandling, and an elbow at various times. It wasn't JUST Vissel that Okada had it in for, though. There were times when Hulk was halted by a late tackle - more from his speed beating the Vissel defenders, than from malice, but Okada was having none of it. Verdy were happy to soak up Vissel's
long ball tactics to the wings, or their non-penetrative passing in midfield with six defenders most of the time, relying only on their three-pronged Brazilian attack - Hulk, Leandro and Diego - when they
swarmed upfield on the counter-attack, they were rarely joined by more than one more attacker, going for speed and the power of Hulk's 25 metre blasts from all over the park. The statistics at the end
showed 27 shots for Verdy, though most must have been Hulk having a go from 25 yards out and not hitting the target - statistics, eh!?

With a little luck for Verdy, and better finishing from Vissel's Sudo, who had come on at half time for Yoshida (Park had replaced Kurihara, also), it could have ended 3-3, or more... but the lone
goal was all it took.

So, Verdy's first win of the season with a returning Hulk galvanising them, Vissel hitting their first defeat, suffering from injuries and Okada-itis.... but, it has to be said, Verdy looked a one-man team,
while Vissel looked out of sorts, but looking good to rebound.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Nagoya Down Omiya to Claim Second Spot

Grampus went second in J1 with a 2-1 win at Omiya after Vissel Kobe could only manage a 1-1 draw. Next up are the Marinos, who are likely give the Grampus back line a more thorough test than Omiya could.

By the way, the Australian site FourFourTwo has a good, if typo littered, summary of last night's J1 results.

Although Nagoya were clearly the better team, last night's result was an important win in that it saw the team come from behind after having failed to score on several good chances in the first half. I was beginning to fear that it would be one of those days when the better teams loses after wasting tons of chances. Not that Ardija were really bad, they were lively and quick on the break, but do not have the accuracy to pose a consistent threat. It was quite an entertaining game to watch since neither defense looked particularly reassuring, so both Narazaki and Ardija keeper Ezumi were forced to make some good saves.

After a frenetic opening few minutes, the first half settled down into a pattern of Grampus enjoying most of the possession but Ardija looking threatening on the break. Keiji Yoshimura, Frode Johnsen and Keiji Tamada all had excellent chances to score, but were denied by outstanding saves by Ezumi. Johnsen was also guilty of a bad miss, when he shot wide after the ball fell to him from another Ezumi save. While Grampus were being denied the goal their superior accuracy and control deserved, Omiya took the lead in the 26th minute after Daisuke Tomita fired home a cross from left that had exposed a gaping hole in center of the Grampus box.

Our concerns about how the team would react to being a goal behind despite have more chances were soon dispelled as Masukawa and Magnum scored within a minute of each other after 10 minutes. Masukawa pounced to poke home a Johnsen header and Magnum scored his second in as many games after being put through by a good ball out of midfield from Naoshi Nakamura. Thereafter, Grampus continued to control the game, although Ardija continued to look dangerous on the break. Magnum was denied a second goal when Ezumi did well to react to tip over a point-blank header, while Narazaki ensured that Grampus would claim all three points with a fine save from a Daigo Kobyashi shot.

In addition to the importance of the away win, yesterday's game also saw the team create more chances than they managed against Oita at the weekend. In particular, it was nice to see Nakamura and Yoshimura not only working hard in midfield but also making occasional excursions into attack. Yoshimura was unlucky not to score after being put through by a good ball from Tamada. While the former Reysol speedster still looks a bit out of things and selfish at Grampus, he created the chance for Yoshimura and also provided the cross for Magnum's header that was brilliantly saved by Ezumi. National team manager Okada must also have been encourage by Tamada's improving form and effectiveness.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Grampus Ease Past Trinita to Climb to 3rd

Nagoya eased past Oita 2-1 at Mizuho Stadium on Sunday to climb to third in the J1 table after three games.

Although the score-line suggests a close game, Grampus were in control for most of the 90 minutes and looked comfortable against a useful Trinita team. This was the first time I have seen Milos Bajalica in action, after a hesitant start he looks a useful addition to the defense. In addition to providing height in heart of the defense, he makes some useful forages forward, although these are sometimes let down by a tendency to try and dribble all the way through rather than lay the ball off to a team mate.

Up front, Frode Johnsen and Keiji Tamada unsettled the Oita defense despite failing to really combine effectively. As they play more games together, I expect them to improve their understanding and pose even more of a threat to opposing teams. As it was, Tamade was able to exploit the space created by Johnsen to flick home a good Naoshi Nakamura cross after three minutes. Mu Kanazaki scored a neat goal at the near post to equalize for Trinita towards the end of the first half, but former Grampus forward Ueslei was kept out of the game by Bajalica and Maya Yoshida. Grampus sealed the victory midway through the second half when Magnum blast home from close range after chesting down another testing cross that elued the Oita defense.

Overall, this was a solid performance by Nagoya that saw them comfortable in control without ever really dominating the game. Yokohama Marinos will pose a much tougher test this week in a game that should tell us just how much progress the team may make this year. A top half of the table finish looks more than possible, but challenging for a top five spot will depend on the team being more consistent when playing the weaker teams in the league; a task that often eluded them in recent seasons.