Thursday, 29 October 2009

Grampus Bow Out of ACL with 2-1 Loss

As expected, Nagoya duly bowed out of this year's ACL tourny. The four goal deficit from the first leg proving far too big a hurdle to overcome against an organized and effective opponent. Grampus had chances to score a couple of goals, with Josh seeing header crash against the bar after 30 minutes, and both the lanky Aussie and Brazilian Magnum should have converted good chances later in the game. However, the Saudi's always looked dangerous on the break and scored a decisive goal just before half time to kill off any chance of a miraculous comeback by Nagoya.

Over the two legs, Al Ittihad were the better prepared and able to play to their strengths, while Grampus ere hampered by the early dismissal of Takeuchi in the first game and the absence of experienced players. However, these factors only exaggerated the margin of victory, the Saudi's were much batter than last year's finalists Adelaide and worthy winners over the two legs. They should go onto win the tournament early next month.

Nagoya Grampus
Toru Hasegawa
Yoshizumi Ogawa, Maya Yoshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe,
Keiji Tamada (Keita Sugimoto 62), Alex Santos (Keiji Yoshimura 84), Igor Burzanovic, Magnum
Josh Kennedy, Yuki Maki (Naoshi Nakamura HT)
Scorers: Sugimoto 66

Al Ittihad
Alrahab, Alshamrani (Leguizamon HT), Alsaqri, Almontashari
Aboshgair, Aboucherouane (Alnumare 89), Almukhaini, Khariri
Hawsawi (Abdullah 89), Chermiti
Scorers: Alsaqri 43, Chermiti 59

Other Views
Gomiuri: No miracles for Grampus
JT: Al Ittihad finishes off Nagoya in ACL semis

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bosko Gamble Pays Off as Grampus Fight Back to Share Points

Stand-in manager Bosko Djurovski gives up and coming young goalie Hasegawa his first league start. Although the young keeper had a rough first half, seeing the home team go 3-0 down by the 48th minute, his team-mates fought back to earn a 3-3 draw. Whatever Bosko said to the players at half time clearly worked, as they clawed back the three goals to avoid a demoralizing defeat.

Although Toru has been our fourth choice keeper for the first two years of his career, he has recently usurped Nishimura as the third choice. He may have had a rocky start, but he will have learned much and gained some valuable experience in a battling performance. Grampus were reduced to 10 men (again) shortly before the end, when Burzanovic picked up his second yellow of the game. The other gamble in this game was starting Yuki Maki as a centre back. Although, this gave us a very inexperienced player in that position, the lad has played their position at high school level. He made enough of an impression to give him another game or two to see if he can adapt to this position properly. If he can, and is happy to do so, it would give the team some much needed additional options in that area. At the moment, Maya Yoshida is the only experienced and able-bodied option we have. (Although Masukawa is expected to make his return form A-type influenza in the next game.)

As for the game itself, it was not quite as lopsided in the first half as the scoresheet suggests. Josh had the best chance early on, but saw his effort well parried by Hatta after racing clear through the middle. Magnum also had an effort saved after Maeda had spurned a chance to give the visitors the lead a few minutes earlier. The league's leading scorer made no such mistake a few moments later, stroking home a neat flick-on by Nishi, from a tight angle. The Jubilo ace then doubled the lead with a blast from 20-odd metres after Magnum had given possession away cheaply in midfield. Tamada had a chance to close the gap before the interval, but saw his shot from a tight angle blocked by the Jubilo custodian. And so the half ended, with Jubilo going in with a 2-0 advantage.

The visitors' extended their lead soon after the restart, with Maeda completing his hat-trick with simple header after poorly protected Hasegawa had made a fine stop. At this point it looked like the young debutant would be on the wrong side of another disheartening display. Fortunately, the introduction of Ogawa helped turn the tide, although the Grampus cause was helped when Oi deflected a dangerous Abe cross past his own kepper. Ogawa it was who provided the pin-point cross for Kennedy to power home our second and set the stage for an exciting close. Tamada converted a penalty to bring the teams level and Santos almost stole the victory, but saw his fierce drive smack the bar after an angled run through the middle as time ran down.

Nagoya Grampus
Toru Hasegawa
Hayuma Tanaka (Yoshizumi Ogawa 63), Maya Yoshida, Shohei Abe, Alex Santos
Keiji Tamada, Keiji Yoshimura (Akira Takeuchi 70), Igor Burzanovic, Magnum (Keita Sugimoto 64)
Josh Kennedy, Yuki Maki
Scorers: OG 60, Kennedy 74, Tamada 79

Jubilo Iwata
Naoki Hatta
Yuichi Komano, Daisuke Nasu, Takayuki Chano, Yusuke Inuzuka (Kentaro Oi 57)
Sho Naruoka (Kota Ueda 84), Ryu Okada, Norihiro Nishi (Takuya Matsuura 66), Shinji MUrai
Ryoichi Maeda, Lee Keun Ho
Scorer: Maeda 31, 39, 48

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Gamba Send Peter to Sleep

Peter emerges from a Gamba induced slumber to give us his verdict on the recent game against the Marinos.

After Gamba’s many fine performances recently and the cracking thriller in the 2-2 draw away at Hiroshima the previous week, this game was a dud. However, since this Marinos game Gamba have redeemed themselves a bit with a 6-1 disposal of Fukuoka University in the Cup.

The game against Sanfrecce Hiroshima had been played at a blistering pace, especially in the first half, and I did make a reference in my match report that possibly in the 2nd half Sanfrecce’s Mihael Mikic had felt that pace. Bearing in mind that Sanfrecce went down 0-7 to Kawasaki Frontale in the same round of matches as this game, then it at least has to be considered that the almost frantic Sanfrecce-Gamba clash took its toll on the energy of both teams. In the absence of any other good reason for Gamba’s lack of energy in this match, I am going to put it down to their splendid 2nd-half fightback the previous week having taken more out of the team than we realised. Whatever, there was certainly nothing splendid about this performance against the Marinos.
The game was characterised by a lot of long balls and, especially for the Marinos, a fair number of long shots. There were, however, a few incidents in the 1st-half.

In the 2nd minute, Pedro Junior did well to make just enough room for himself on the edge of the penalty area to get away a clear shot, but he could only blaze it way over the bar.

In the 5th minute Fujigaya only just managed to pip a couple of Marinos players to a through ball.

In the 17th minute, Gamba scored but the game had been blown up for an offside earlier in the play. (A very close, but probably correct decision.)

In the 20th minute, after Pedro Junior had, with a bit of a lucky rebound, managed to get past the Marinos’ goalie, with the goal gaping he hit the side netting from a very narrow angle.
In the 35th minute, from a free-kick just outside the Marinos’ penalty area, Endo hit the wall.

The game was pretty uniform in both halves--again in stark contrast to the exciting 2nd-half performances of Gamba in their previous two games. At half-time most Gamba fans were pretty relaxed about the 2nd-half despite the dreary 1st-half, but this proved to be a false confidence. The 2nd-half was no improvement on the 1st--this despite Endo playing higher up the pitch.

In the 57th minute, Myojin made a good interception midway in his own half, and followed it up with a beautiful long through ball down the left channel to Lucas, who dummied his man on the corner of the penalty box and tried a goodish curling shot that was just wide of the far post.
In the 64th minute, Fujigaya had to come out of the penalty box to boot the ball into the stands as the Marinos threatened a one on one.
In the 69th minute, Daisuke Sakata, after good link play by he Marinos turned well and got away a sharp shot just wide of Fujigaya’s left post.
Match stats: Shots Gamba 8, Marinos 10 (but several quite long); GKs Gamba 10, Marinos 11; Corners Gamba 3, Marinos 6; Free-kicks Gamba 18, Marinos 28; Possession Gamba 49%, Marinos 51%.

These statistics confirm the impression of the spectator that this was a very even and uneventful game. Were there any positives? Well, both goalies played sound games (with accurate kicking), although neither was called into spectacular action. And, I suppose, as the Marinos were the away team and the match seemed a must-winner for Gamba, the game has to be considered a tactical success for departing Marinos manager Kokichi Kimura.

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Friday, 23 October 2009

J1: Sanfrecce 2-2 Gamba (Peter's View)

Forecast to be a cracking game, this match sure was, featuring four good goals. Sanfrecce put on an impressive attacking performance in the first half to lead 2-0 at half-time, but Gamba matched that performance in a second half which saw them fight back to equalize. As in Gamba’s previous match, this was very much a match of two halves, with Gamba dominating the second.

One wonders how much the absentees influenced the game: the two major doubts, the ill veteran CD Ilian Stoyanov for Sanfrecce and the hurting creative midfielder Futagawa for Gamba, both failed to make it in time for this game. Would Sanfrecce’s defence have stood up better in the second half if Stoyanov had been well, fit and present?

Would Sanfrecce have been able to seize the initiative in the first half if Futagawa had been there? (In the previous game, the inconsistent Futagawa had been in brilliant creative form.) Moreover, was Futagawa’s absence one reason why Gamba manager Akira Nishino dropped left-back Shimohira in favour of Takagi? Otherwise, it seemed a strange decision to change a winning team. Sasaki, who replaced Futagawa, did not have a bad game and scored once, but, although he got into good positions and scored one goal, also a missed a couple of good chances, including one in the 13th minute with the score still 0-0.

Takagi had a torrid time in the first half as Sanfrecce made hay down both wings, with Yojiro Takahagi and Hisato Sato alternately looking penetrative on their left, and Mihael Mikic creating mayhem on their right. For Gamba, central defenders Yamaguchi and Nakazawa, were in superb form and managed to hold the fort for most of the first half. Goalie Fujigaya also performed well.

Sanfrecce were getting their midfielders up well in support of the attack and even the defenders were looking for chances. After about 30 minutes, after good work on the left, the unmarked Mikic in the centre, with Fujigaya out of position, shot wide from about 15 metres when he should have done better. In the 33rd minute Sanfrecce defender Tomoaki Makino got in a powerful low free-kick that hit the outside of the post; but in the 41st minute midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama was on hand at last to convert Mikic’s heroics on the right into a concrete result by arriving unmarked deep on the left to get in a superb looping header from about nine metres over Fujigaya and just inside the far post. In lost time of the first half, Makino finally got his reward after the ball was played back to him unmarked on the left side by Takahagi, and from the corner of the penalty box he got in a fine shot that sailed over Fujigaya and into the far corner of the net.

At half-time both of Sanfrecce’s wide men had deserved assists. 2-0.

In the second half Nishino pushed his midfielders further forward and succeeded in cutting off the supply of passes to Mikic, who may well have been feeling the pace after his rampant first half. Whatever, the Mikic danger was virtually eliminated. Kaji played closer to Takahagi and closed down the threat on the opposite side.

Now it became a story of Gamba domination. In the 58th minute, Lucas headed well over when he should have made the efficient goalie Hirotsugu Nakabayashi work. In a game against a team of Sanfrecce’s class, Pedro Junior’s inexperience began to show in attack, and after an hour Nishino replaced him with Bando. From that moment on it only looked a matter of time until Gamba would score.

Immediately, Sasaki, completely unmarked, headed against the post from an accurate Endo free-kick--again, he should have done better--with the rebound bouncing straight into Nakabayashi’s arms. In the 61st minute Nakabayashi just beat Hashimoto to a through pass; but Hashimoto was not to be denied and, following a good block by Nakabayashi from a shot by Bando, Lucas fed Hashimoto ten metres out and, with the goalie out of position, he made no mistake.

In the 70th minute Endo won possession on the left edge of the Sanfrecce penalty area and, with a delightful precision chip, found Sasaki in front of the far post. The Sanfrecce defender had gone for the header and missed, Sasaki chested the ball down and then, unchallenged, beat the goalie comprehensively from seven metres.

A tale of two halves; but when on the defensive both teams created chances on the break. A thrilling, quality top of the table clash.

J1: Sanfrecce vs Gamba (The Kobe Samurai VIew)

Alan, over at jsoccer, gives us his take of Gamba's game against Hiroshima.

Gamba went into this game hoping for a win and a continued march to the Championship and, as the teams around them show inconsistency, the day could well have ended with Gamba on top - where they belong! But, it was not to be. Despite Kashima dropping more points and Shimizu being taken out by bottom-placed Trinita, this one ended in a draw that kept Sanfrecce's slim hopes of coming top alive, while frustrating Gamba's hopes for hitting the top spot in the home stretch.

Gamba began with Takagi replacing Shimohira in the back line, suggesting a back three, but it appeared more of the normal 4-4-2 after all. Sasaki took the place of the injured Futagawa and showed why he is an able deputy with plenty of useful passes, as well as the final goal of the game to bring home a point. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The records show Gamba had over 20 goal attempts, as Nishino played the usual attacking free-flowing passing football, but there was noticeable extra pressure higher up the field today, to try to close down Sanfrecce's own brand of quick break and rotating positions style. This extra pressure and defending in attack actually produced both goals in the end, also.

After going 2-0 down in the few minutes before half-time through goals from Aoyama - a looping header back across the goal and over Fujigaya - and Makino - a well-placed curving shot from the corner of the area into the top corner, Gamba came out looking for parity, or better, and could - or should - have had all the points by the end of the game.

While Gamba had made all the running in the opening 15 minutes of the 2nd half, they had nothing to show it and, on 60 minutes Bando replaced Pedro Junior and the difference was immediate! A minute later, and Endo free kick was headed against the post by Sasaki, Bando had Nakabayashi in the Hiroshima goal stretching, and Lucas latched onto the rebound, set up Hashimoto, and the Japan midfielder blasted home... 1-2 and all to play for.

Sanfrecce defended desperately and whenever they managed to intercept a ball, a Gamba player was onto the defender within seconds to win the ball back, or block the clearance, and this work ethic paid off big time in the 70th minute as Endo regained the ball out on the left, looked up, feinted one way and the other and then chipped an inch-perfect cross to Sasaki, ghosting in behind the defenders on the right of the area. He chested the ball down, touched it aside to steady himself and shot it back across the keeper as a desperate defensive lunge came in, and into the net for the equaliser. 2-2.

Gamba went all out for the winner and were covering every blade of grass in the final minutes as Bando broke free in the 83rd minute but the ball was stripped by the keeper as Bando rounded him for the kill. And still Gamba had chances to take the game with Endo (twice), Lucas and Yamazaki all getting in shots in the final minutes as Hiroshima circled the wagons. But, to repeat a phrase from the beginning of this report, it was not to be, and Gamba were frustrated in the end.

Gamba Osaka: Fujigaya, Kaji, Nakazawa, Yamaguchi, Takagi (Shimohira, 84), Myojin, Hashimoto, Endo, Sasaki (Yamazaki, 73), Lucas, Pedro Junior (Bando, 60)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

10-Man Grampus Punished in Closing MInutes

Nagoya face an uphill task to make it to the ACL final after falling to a 6-2 defeat in Saudi Arabia. The home team were greatly helped by the fact that Grampus were reduced to ten men after only eight minutes. The UAE referee sending Takeuchi for an early shower after a clumsy challenge near the edge of the box. (There was no malicious intent, but Takeuchi did get his feet entangled with the attacker as he surged through on goal. Certainly likely to draw a yellow, and a referee intent on sticking to the letter of the law was likely to produce a red.) The three goals scored in the closing 10 minutes should see the Saudi's pack their defence at Mizuho next week, and their fast counter attacks make it unlikely that we will keep them off the scoreboard.

Although the ten men held out well for 80 minutes, the sight of manager Stojkovic contemptuously siting cross-legged at the side of the pitch will not have inspired them to greater effort.

As for the game itself, Nagoya got off to the batter start with an Igor Burzanovic header being parried by keeper Zaid early on. Then came the turning point as Takeuchi was sent off after only eight minutes. Although this did not alter the course of the first half, the toll eventually showed in the final minutes as Grampus legs began to tire. Indeed, Josh powered home pin-point a Hayuma cross shortly after Takeuchi's dismissal to give the visitors the lead.

Nagoya continued to look comfortably in control for much of the remainder of the half, but with Al Ittihad looking dangerous on the counterattack. The home team equalised with a good finish after a poor clearance. The Grampus lead was restored when Naoshi turned on a sixpence to fire in a second after 34 mins. The half ended with Nagoya still holding their one goal advantage.

The second half saw manager Stojkovic replace the stylish, but not defensively minded Burzanovic with young defender Masaya Sato. Although the youngster did his best, he is not a natural central defender and his lack of experience allowed the nippy Saudi players more space than they should have been allowed. This combined with the one man advantage, and makeshift nature of our defence, saw the home team gradually exert more and more pressure on the Grampus goal. The dam eventually giving way after 83 minutes, when a dubious penalty gave the home team the lead. Did Hirono bring the forward down? No, but he did not win the ball and was sprawled inviting in front of the player, who made no mistake in promptly colliding with the outstretched body. The home team then surged past their tired and dispirited opponents to seize a four goal advantage.

Al Ittihad
Alrahab, Alshamrani (Leguizamon HT), Alsaqri, Almontashari
Aboshgair, Aboucherouane (Alnumare 89), Almukhaini, Khariri
Hawsawi (Abdullah 89), Chermiti
Scorers: Almukhaini 25, Hawsawi 65, 75, 90+3, Leguizamon 83 (PK), Chermiti 90

Nagoya Grampus
Koichi Hirono
Hayuma Tanaka, Maya Yoshida, Akira Takeuchi, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa, Keiji Yoshimura, Naoshi Nakamura (Alex Santos 66), Magnum
Igor Burzanovic (Masaya Sato HT) Josh Kennedy (Keiji Tamada 78)
Scorers: Kennedy 14, Nakamura 34

Monday, 19 October 2009

J2 on the Rise (Cerezo 3-1 Ehime)

Went off to see Cerezo secure an ever firmer grip on promotion back to J1 against Ehime yesterday. Ehime made a much better impression than expected, and proved just how much the level in J2 is improving. Not only is the standard of football in J2 rising, so are the crowds. This game saw over 9,000 in attendance, including a couple of Aussie's attending their first ever professional football game. They seemed pleasantly surprised by turnout.

As for the game itself, Cerezo fielded a comparatively weak team, but it was still good enough to control much of the game. However, the absence of Kagawa and others meant that all too frequently there promising moves broke down in the last third of the pitch. But, their slick passing moves along with Ehime's more direct approach made for an entertaining game. The visitors looked far from overawed, giving a good account of themselves and looking far from a team languishing in 15th place. Although Cerezo were worthy winners, the 3-1 margin flatters them somewhat and is largely thanks to a generous lineman who failed to call the clearly offside Kagawa as he burst through from midfield.

Cerezo Osaka
Kim Jin Hyeon
Kenji Haneda, Kota Fujimoto, Kazuya Maeda, Noriyuki Sakemoto
Yuji Funayama, Hotaru Yamaguchi (Thiago 56), Naoya Ishigami,
Kento Shiratani (Shinji Kagawa 56), Takuya Kokeguchi
Scorers: Funayama 20, Fujimoto 40, Kagawa 86 (with a little help from the linesman)

Ehime FC
Hiromasa Yamamoto
Eigo Sekine, Yuichi Shibakoya, Alair (THiago 69), Kohei Matsushita
Shuta Nagai, Kazuhito Watanabe, Shuichi Akai, Shigeru Yokotani (Kenta Uchida 88)
Yoshihiro Uchimura (Shunsuke Oyama 82), Dodo
Scorer: Dodo 37

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Struggling Grampus Stung in Final Seconds

A solid performance by a makeshift squad looked set to earn the visitor's a well-deserved share of the points, but was undone by an extra-time goal from Kano.

With several players missing through injury, suspension, or simply being rested ahead of Wednesday's ACL game in Saudi Arabia, there was a distinctly unfamiliar feel to the Grampus starting lineup for this game in Yokohama. This also extended to the bench, of course, where youngsters Sato, Hashimoto and Fukushima were all present.

The team made a good start, with Maya calmly chipping Enomoto after being put through by a good ball from Shohei Abe, after five minutes. Grampus continued to look the better team for much of the first half, but lost impetus after the influential Burzanovic had been stunned after a clash of heads in the penalty area. Although he continued to play for the remainder of the half, he became almost invisible. With Keita Sugimoto proving equally invisible on the right, the Marinos were able to gradually assume control. Sure enough, Tasaka leveled the scores with a well placed header after a well-timed run into space created by rookie striker Watanabe.

The second half saw Grampus regain some of its lost impetus with the addition of Ogawa at half time, and with the introduction of Kennedy midway through the half. However, they were unable fashion the clearcut chances needed to punish some indifferent play by the Marinos. The Aussie saw a couple of good efforts flash the wrong side of a post, but failed to add to his goal tally. They eventually paid for this failure, when Kano pounced on a loose ball to blast home the winner.

The game was also notable for seeing Pxie sent to the stands after a typically skillful kick not only sent the ball back onto the field, but also into the Marinos net. The officious prat in black (Itaru Hirose) feeling compelled to turn this light-hearted moment into a dismissal.

Yokohama Marinos
Tetsuya Enomoto
Takashi Amano (Masakazu Tashiro 74), Yuzo Kurihara, Yuji Nakazawa, Yusuke Tanaka
Naoki Matsuda, Ryuji Kawai, Ariajasuru Hasegawa (Norihisa Shimizu 82), Kenta Kano
Kazuma Watanabe (Kim Kun Hoan 71), Daisuke Watanabe
Scorers: Tasaka 30, Kano 90+2

Nagoya Grampus
Koichi Hirono
Hayuma Tanaka, Maya Yoshida, Akira Takeuchi, Shohei Abe
Keita Sugimoto (Tomohiro Tsuda 72), Keiji Yoshimura, Alex Santos, Magnum (Kennedy 63)
Igor Burzanovic (Yoshizumi Ogawa HT), Yuki Maki
Scorer: Yoshida 5

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Okazaki Bags 2nd Hat-trick in Romp Over Togo

Shinji Okazaki nets his second national team hat-trick in a week as Japan waltz past a hopelessly outclassed opponent. Quite what the JFA hoped to achieve by this series of three games against such weak opposition is hard to tell, but at least the team has had plenty of target practice.  Just to remind you, these games (supposedly to 'strengthen' the team) ended: Japan 6-0 Hong Kong, Japan 2-0 Scotland and Japan 5-0 Togo. Indeed, such was the predictability of these games that the Asahi Shimbun did not bother to cover the Togo game.

Takayuki Morimoto put in another impressive display, scoring a good goal on the turn after 11 minutes. This was Japan's third of night and the team understandably lost its edge and did not reallt regain it until the second half when substitutes Keisuke Honda and Yoshito Okubo added some life to the game.

Other Views:
Gomiuri: Dazzling duo: Morimoto nets 1st goal for Japan, Okazaki bags second straight hat-trick in rout of Togo
Japan Times: Okazaki, Japan overwhelm Togo

Josh & Co. Squeak Past Oman

A lat Tim Cahill goal, after Josh Kennedy dragged Omani defenders out os position, gives the Aussies their first win of the Asian Cup qualifying campaign. THey now share top spot, after three games.

Other Views:
The Australian: Tim Cahill saves Aussie blushes against Oman

Monday, 12 October 2009

NT: Japan 2-0 Scotland

A fairly poor performance by Japan's second-stringers was still good enough to (eventually) emerge victorious from their friendly against Scotland. However, it seems to have been good enough to impress the Beeb.

The match will not have taught manager Okada much, except that few of the starting members need serious consideration for a starting position in a serious game. Kesiuke Honda had another indifferent performance for the national team, despite his late goal. He was far too slow in getting Japan moving forward, and far too willing to settle for a backwards pass. Only Frontale 'keeper Kawasahima (already established as Japan's number two) and debutant Morimoto can feel satisfied with their night's work. It was not until Morimoto was introduced that Japan looked like turning their possession into serious threats.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Grampus Advance in Emperor's Cup

Nagoya downs Okinawa Kariyushi FC 4-0 to advance to the third round of this year's Emperor's Cup. They meet Honda Lock SC, conquerers of Tokyo Verdy, on November 1st.

Nagoya Grampus
Koichi Hirono
Hayuma Tanaka, Akira Takeuchi, Maya Yoshida, Shohei Abe
Tomohiro Tsuda (Magnum 57), Keiji Yoshimura, Alex Santos (Yoshizumi Ogawa 64), Taishi Taguchi (Keita Sugimoto HT)
Igor Burzanovic, Yuki Maki
Scorers: Santos 43 (PK), Burzanovic 69, 79, Maki 86

Okinawa Kariyushi FC
Nobuyuki Takahashi
Ryo Nurishi, Shin Iijima, Shogo Horiuchi (Kenichi Hori 84), Yuki Sugimoto
Kazuki Kodera, Shinpei Watanabe, Takamichi Seki
Shinpeo Sakurada (Shin Toyama 84), Tetsuya Kijima, Daiki Asano (Koji Takahata 85)

Thoughts on Yomiuri and Mikitani

A former Vissel fan muses on what might be behind Rakuten's apparent lack of focus on its sports teams.

It has always struck me that there was a a potential conflict of interest between the Yomiuri media group and the group's ownership of Kawasaki/Tokyo Verdy football club.  I now doubt the sincerity of Mikitani's commitment to make Vissel successful.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Yomiuri media group and the Yomiuri Giants baseball club.  The Yomiuri media group works as a medium of propagandistic hype for the Giants, and the success of the Giants increases sales of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Sports Houchi and other companies in the Yomiuri media group.

So long as football was a minor sport, Yomiuri was happy to sponsor a football team, as it did in the amateur days and as it sponsors teams in many other sports.  However, once pro football started to pose a major challenge to Nippon Pro Baseball, the Yomiuri group was certain to be in a position where it wanted football to lose to baseball.  Any declining popularity of pro baseball would have an immediate negative effect on the sales of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Sports Houchi, etc.

It is, therefore, easily understandable that the Yomiuri group has been unwilling to invest large sums in Tokyo Verdy to try and make it hugely successful.  Such success would undermine the basis for Yomiuri's dominant position in the Japanese newspaper world.  I spent four years in Nagoya from 1973-77.  Even at that time the rivalry between the Yomiuri Shimbun group and the Chuunichi Shimbun group, which owns the Chuunichi Dragons pro baseball club, was intense.  It was known that a successful Giants team boosted sales of the Yomiuri and Houchi in the Chuubu area, while, when the Dragons were successful, the sales of the Yomiuri group declined and those of the Chuunichi group blossomed.

It is a cutthroat world out there in the baseball Central League.  And Japanese pro baseball is virtually run by the Yomiuri Giants.

What has that got to do with Mikitani?  Well, Mikitani, as the founder and owner of Rakuten, is widely known as one of the wealthiest of the nouveau riche in Japan.  He was born in Kobe and he started to sponsor the Vissel Kobe pro football club.  As soon as this happened, the NPB started to bring pressure on Mikitani to save the twelve-club system of the NPB (the Kintetsu Buffaloes were in the process of going bust) and you can be sure that enormous rewards and threats were made to him by the baseball establishment in general and the Yomiuri Group in particular to invest in the proposed new Touhoku club.  After prolonged pressure he agreed to do so.

This, of course, has disturbed Mikitani's concentration on Vissel and the J-League, which was what the NPB and Yomiuri intended.

Orix were also involved in bailing out Kintetsu and in the compromise that followed, the Buffaloes were merged with the Orix BlueWave.  Orix were allowed to  protect (I think) eighteen of the former Buffaloes players. [Kintetsu and Orix were allowed to protect a total of 28 players from the two clubs.] The best having been creamed off, the reserves then formed the nucleus of the new Touhoku team, to be called the Golden Eagles, to be based in Sendai.  The numbers for the Touhoku team were then supplemented by a draft of pro players by the Eagles from the other eleven clubs.  Again, each club could protect (I think) eighteen players, and the Eagles could pick up what scraps they could. [For details about the 'Allocation Draft' in Japanese, see this Wikipedia article.]

Naturally, the Eagles were very weak.  Their first manager was a man called Tao.  After the first year, he was sacked and a crusty old genius, Nomura, was appointed.  Here are the Eagles' yearly records in the six-team Pacific League:
2005:  136g:  w38, l97, d1; 6th (Tao)
2006:  136         47      85     4; 6th (Nomura)
2007:  144        67   75     2; 4th (  "       )
2008:  144        65   76     3; 5th (  "       )
2009:  143        77   65     1; 2nd (  "       )

We are right now (the Eagles' last game of the regular season is today) at the very important point when the clubs are about to begin preparing for the play-offs.
You can see that Nomura has been almost miraculously successful.  Taking a team of has-beens and discards, supplemented by the yearly draft intake, transfers, etc., he has turned them into a team that has finished 2nd and is in a position where it is possible to win the Pacific League play-offs and participate in the Japan Series.

At this very point, it has become clear that Nomura will be sacked at the end of this season.  Last week's edition of the photo scandal magazine Friday reported that owner Mikitani had had a 4-hour discussion with Hoshino Senior Director of the Hanshin Tigers.  It is widely speculated that Mikitani asked Hoshino to be the next manager and Hoshino turned him down.  Actually, nobody knows what they talked about, but it's a fact that they had a four-hour discussion.  The Eagles' CEO has said that they did not discuss baseball, which has been met by the equivalent of raucous laughter in the Japanese sports press.  Nomura has responded by saying that while he loves the Eagles team, he hates the Rakuten club.  Bridges have been burned.

Now:  what is going on here?  What is Mikitani's agenda?  Why is he replacing Nomura after this successful year?  Especially, why has he allowed the speculation to become public at this important time immediately before the play-offs?

When you think of Vissel's managerial cock-ups, it makes you doubt whether Adachi was solely responsible for what has happened, and casts doubt on Mikitani's ability to run pro sports clubs, and even on his integrity.

Is it possible that Nomura is being sacked because he insists on continuing to make the Eagles more successful?  If so, could it be that Matsuda was sacked at Vissel because he was determined to continue making them more successful?  Doubts abound.  At best, Mikitani looks out of his depth in the goldfish-bowl world of pro baseball.

Yomiuri lacks commitment to make Verdy successful.  It is doing the right thing by getting out of pro football.  It's time Mikitani sorted himself out and decides what he wants to do.  I'm sure the Eagles fans don't want a team that is going to be kept permanently in the shadow of the Giants.  If Mikitani can't afford to commit himself to making the Eagles and Vissel both highly successful, he should make a choice and commit himself to one or the other.  We Vissel fans don't want an owner who just wants to keep the club ticking over so he can get kudos for his community spirit.  Sort yourself, and get your finger out, Mikitani!

Socceroos Hold Dutch to Scoreless Draw

Although they seem to have put in a very defensive performance, the Aussie's successfully kept the Dutch at bay for 90 minutes. Nagoya's Josh Kennedy playing only for the opening half. Next up for the Roos are Oman in an Asian Cup qualifier. Aussie Analysis: Australia's Dutch Performance Was A Taste Of The World Cup

Monday, 5 October 2009

Fraternizing with the Enemy :-)

Red out with a bunch of other footy freaks and bloggers near Kobe Wing (Oops, Home's) Stadium. Not the sort of picture you are likely to find in some other countries, unless you are feeling suicidal. :-)

The other bloggers in this photo are Stefanole, Goru Noura and Kobe Samurai.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

J1: Vissel 1-1 Sanga

Peter's take on the match at Home's Stadium as Vissel and Sanga 'battled' to a 1-1 draw.

Went to watch Vissel v. Sanga at Wada Misaki with Mark yesterday.

Very much a game involving two teams on the edge of the relegation zone. I said to Mark at the end of the game, "Kobe looked as though they had some players with technical skills, but no ideas; Kyoto looked as though they had some good ideas, but no players with technical skills."
I also phrased it, "Vissel looked as though they had some good players but a poor manager; Sanga looked as though they had a good manager but poor players."

After the game, we met up with some acquaintances for drinks. The first thing one of these, a Sanga fan, said was, "If we had had one good player, we would have won!"

He and I were on the same wavelength. That was the kind of game it was: if Kyoto had had one good player, they would have won; if Kobe had had one good idea, they would have won.

Apart from the goals, Vissel had only two really good missed chances in the game, both headers from volante (so called) Miyamoto--one went narrowly wide, the other brought a very good save from the Kyoto goalie. I lie: Botti missed a sitter straight after half-time; a cross from the right found him coming in unmarked just wide of the post on the left, and it looked like a simple header--the ball was slightly behind him, so he went for a spectacular kick instead, sending the ball way over the bar. However, I felt it should not have been beyond the wit of man to have contrived a header, which would surely have resulted in a goal.

The goals? Oh, yes, there were two goals--I almost forgot. After a mind-boggling eff-up by the Vissel defence, when no danger was pending, for which Komoto was mainly responsible (boo-hoo), Uchiyama conceded a stone-cold penalty. The question was, how was it the ref never gave Uchiyama a red card? Maybe he play-acted his fall just well enough. Anyway, the penalty was converted. Vissel's goal also came from a set piece. A free-kick out on the right by Botti was allowed by the Sanga defence to fall to Kitamoto about five yards out more or less in front of the near post, and he volleyed it low into the far corner--a well-taken goal. But, again, by a defender.

Going forward, Vissel's forwards were absolutely clueless. Every time they looked they might turn the Sanga defence, they started going sideways or backwards.

To some up: if Vissel's attackers had had one good idea, they would have won. But they didn't!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Keisuke Learning Scouse?

The transfer window may be closed but that has not stopped the rumour mill swirling around Keisuke Honda from churning as wildly as ever. The latest being tat he may be headed to Everton, rather than Liverpool. That would be a shame, the lad looks good in red. :-)

IMScouting: Everton scouting Japanese star Keisuke Honda Everton to pip Liverpool to Honda?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Why a Red Orca?

From time to time, people ask why I came to support Nagoya Grampus (Eight). It's all this chap's fault, scoring in the very first Grampus game I attended (at Tokyo National Stadium). :-)

ACL: Grampus 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale

As reported earlier, Nagoya advanced to the ACL semi-finals with a 3-1 win in the home leg of their quarter-final against Kawasaki. The manager's decision to rest several players in Saturday's win over Kashima was rewarded as the tie was eventually decided by Grampus dominating the closing minutes of the game as several Frontale players visibly tired towards the end of the game. (Updated to include Al Ittihad as the our opponent in the semis.)

The first half was a fairly even affair, with the home team enjoying an earlier period of possession. This was capped by a wonderful strike from Ogawa giving them the lead after 25 minutes. This was shortly followed by a somewhat more fortuitous goal, as Santos' free kick went in after after catching Yoshida in the back as he challenged for the ball. The half ended with the tie evenly balanced, as North Korean striker pounced on neat through ball from Renahtinho to even things up at 2-1.

The second half started in much the same vain as the first, with Grampus working hard to create chances while Frontale looked the more composed and always dangerous on the counterattack. However, the tough schedules both teams have faced over the past couple of weeks began to tell. As the Kawasaki players gradually ran out of gas, Nagoya increasingly took control of the game and started to create more clear-cut chances. Socceroo Kennedy should really have sealed the win earlier than his late tap-in, a powerful header was well saved by Kawashima and the keeper also got a fingertip to another effort, later in the half. The Aussie striker was beginning to look a bit tired himself towards the end, but was still able to challenge for Tanaka's deep cross, which eluded both Kennedy and his defender, but fell to Magnum. The Brazilian's effort was parried by Kawashima but fell to Kennedy, who calmly tapped the ball home to send the home crowd wild. Nagoya go on to meet Al Ittihad in the semi-final later this month.

Nagoya Grampus
Koichi Hirono
Hayuma Tanaka, Maya Yoshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa, Naoshi Nakamura (Igor Burzanovic 71), Alex Santos (Keiji Yoshimura 71), Magnum
Keiji Tamada (Milos Bajalica 89), Josh Kennedy
Scorers: Ogawa 26, Yoshida 34, Kennedy 86

Kawasaki Frontale
Eiji Kawashima
Tomonobu Yokoyama (Yusuke Tasaka 89), Hiroki Ito, Kosuke Kikuchi
Kazuhiro Murakami, Kengo Nakamura, Hiroyuki Taniguvhi, Yusuke Mori
Juninho, Chong Tese, Renahtinho (Masaru Kurotsu 79)
Scorers: Chong 37

Other Views
ESPN: Stojkovic delighted with Nagoya win
Brisbane Times: Kennedy fires Nagoya in ACL finals
Daily Gomiuri: Grampus get revenge (Optimistically claiming that we are in contention for the league title.)