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.