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