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.