Thursday, November 29, 2007

Final day fight as the J-League goes down to the wire

J.League
For the third season in a row, the J-League title race will be decided on the final day of the season.

That's because Urawa Reds lost 1-0 to second-placed Kashima Antlers in front of 62,123 fans at Saitama Stadium on November 24, thanks to midfielder Takuya Nozawa's solitary strike.

Kashima had defender Toru Araiba controversially sent off for a second bookable offence after just forty-two minutes, and referee Kenji Ogiya again grabbed the headlines when he sent off Kashima substitute Yuji Funayama for "spitting" with just seconds remaining. Urawa fans claimed that Funayama had spat in their direction, but television replays suggest that Funayama simply spat on the ground before attempting to take a throw-in.

The shock loss leaves Urawa one point ahead of Kashima in the J-League standings going into the final day of the season.

In Round 34 action, Urawa travel to Nissan Stadium where they will take on rock bottom Yokohama FC. Tens of thousands of Urawa fans are expected to make the trip to the port city for what will practically be a "home" fixture for the visiting side.

Kashima Antlers will host Shimizu S-Pulse at a packed Kashima Stadium, where Kenta Hasegawa's S-Pulse will once again hope to spoil an opponent's title hopes. Shimizu delivered a fatal blow to Gamba Osaka's chances of winning the league by beating them 3-1 at Nihondaira Stadium in Round 30, and Urawa were held to a 0-0 home draw by Shimizu in Round 32, when a Reds victory would have sewn up the title.

Elsewhere Ventforet Kofu were relegated after they slumped to a 2-1 defeat away at Kashiwa Reysol - Kofu's twentieth league defeat of a turbulent season. They will join Yokohama FC in J2 next season, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima currently occupying the promotion/relegation playoff place.

In J2, Tokyo Verdy and Consadole Sapporo are neck-and-neck on 88 points going into the final round of the season. Tokyo Verdy have a superior goal difference, whilst Kyoto Sanga FC are in third place in the standings on 85 points.

Tokyo Verdy travel to Nagai Stadium in their quest to claim the J2 crown, where they will face a tough-looking Cerezo Osaka in the final league match of the season. Consadole Sapporo arguably have an easier fixture - they host second-from-bottom Mito Hollyhock at the Sapporo Dome.

Kyoto Sanga FC travel to third-from-bottom Thespa Kusatsu, with the third placed finisher in J2 set to face Sanfrecce Hiroshima in a playoff to determine which team will take their place in the top flight next season.

Urawa Reds knocked out of the Emperor's Cup

Reigning champions Urawa Reds were dumped from the Emperor's Cup by J2 side Ehime FC on November 28, going down 2-0 to the Second Division battlers in their Fourth Round encounter.

That match had been rescheduled due to Urawa's exploits in the AFC Champions League, and the Saitama side paid the price for a poor performance, with Toshiya Tanaka scoring twice as Ehime FC registered a shock Cup victory.

Ehime FC will now face a demoralised Yokohama FC in the Fifth Round of Japan's oldest sporting competition.

Ivica Osim awakes from coma

Ivica Osim, the man who lead Japan to a semi-final place at the 2007 Asian Cup, collapsed after suffering a stroke on November 16.

The Japan Football Association revealed that the 66 year old Bosnian awoke from a coma on November 28, and has shown signs of regaining full consciousness.

Takeshi Okada likely to be named new Japan coach

With Ivica Osim unlikely to return to coaching in the foreseeable future, former Japan coach Takeshi Okada is expected to take over as coach of the national team.

Okada was coach of Japan at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and he later went on to coach Consadole Sapporo and Yokohama F. Marinos, winning the J-League with the latter in 2003 and 2004.

Japan Olympic Team qualifies for Beijing

Yasuharu Sorimachi's team qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games the hard way, holding Saudi Arabia to a nail-biting 0-0 draw in front of 42,913 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo on November 21.

Needing a draw to top the group and ensure qualification, Japan can thank Sanfrecce Hiroshima midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama for the point, after he cleared a goal-bound effort off the line after just nine minutes.

Japan had plenty of chances, but Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki was in a profligate mood and the match ended scoreless.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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