Friday, May 16, 2008

Plenty at stake before the J. League takes recess

Plenty at stake before the J. League takes recess.
The J. League gears up for a five week recess following this weekend's round of action, with plenty at stake for clubs at both ends of the table.

Consadole Sapporo kick off the weekend against Nagoya Grampus, and the two sides could hardly be experiencing more contrasting fortunes. Sapporo remain second-from-bottom despite their most recent 2-1 win away at Omiya Ardija. Second placed Nagoya were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Vissel Kobe in their most recent clash, with both of those matches taking place in atrocious conditions as wet weather continues to plague the league.

There's a high profile clash at Saitama Stadium as Urawa Reds host Gamba Osaka, and the Reds can thank an errant linesman's flag for their 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale at a packed Todoroki Stadium last weekend. Edmilson had opened the scoring from the penalty spot for Urawa, however Kawasaki looked to have equalised through Hiroyuki Taniguchi - only for his effort to be chalked off due to an offside flag, despite the fact that Urawa midfielder Nobuhisa Yamada appeared to be playing Taniguchi onside.

Kyoto Sanga FC have dropped into the relegation zone following a 1-0 defeat away at bottom club JEF United, and they will take on Yokohama F. Marinos in the unfamiliar surrounds of Kagoshima's Kamoike Stadium. Kyoto have attracted large crowds to their Nishikyogoku Stadium home this season, however they cannot rely on home advantage when they 'host' Marinos at the 36,000-capacity Kamoike Stadium on the southern island of Kyushu - hundreds of kilometres from their Kyoto base.

Elsewhere Jubilo Iwata take on high-flying FC Tokyo at Yamaha Stadium, Kashima Antlers host Kashiwa Reysol, bottom club JEF United welcome Oita Trinita to the Fukuda Denshi Arena, Kawasaki Frontale take on Omiya Ardija at Todoroki Stadium, while on Sunday Vissel Kobe take on Albirex Niigata and Tokyo Verdy welcome Shimizu S-Pulse to Ajinomoto Stadium looking to avenge a recent 5-0 thrashing in the League Cup.

In J2 the highlight fixtures see Sagan Tosu host Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Cerezo Osaka welcome second placed Shonan Bellmare to Nagai Stadium, Vegalta Sendai take on mid-table Montedio Yamagata, while Yokohama FC clash with Avispa Fukuoka at Mitsuzawa Stadium.

J1 clubs will return to league action on June 28, however the three final group stage games of the Nabisco League Cup are set down for May 25, May 31 and June 8.

Alex Miller signs on as coach of JEF United

Having sacked Croatian coach Josip Kuze just 24-hours after claiming that he had the club's full support, JEF United have signed former Rangers star and Liverpool first-team coach Alex Miller to take over as coach of the embattled Chiba side.

Miller watched from the stands as United beat Kyoto Sanga FC under the watchful eye of assistant coach Shigeo Sawairi, but the Scotsman will need to make a swift transition from the English Premier League to the J. League, with the Chiba Dogs still five points behind Consadole Sapporo at the foot of the table.

The cashed-up United will reportedly pay Miller an annual salary of 500,000 pounds and they are also keen on trying to lure unsettled Newcastle United striker Michael Owen to the J. League. Owen came through the ranks at Liverpool during Miller's time as first-team coach, and with the Chiba side desperate to find a goalscorer - they've scored a paltry nine goals in 12 games played this season, United could be set to launch an audacious bid for the England star.

AFC Champions League

Gamba Osaka booked their place in the knock-out stages of the AFC Champions League by beating Thai outfit Chonburi FC 2-0 at Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok on May 7.

Substitute Masato Yamazaki opened the scoring for the Osakans just seconds after entering the fray, before Lucas Severino wrapped up the points with a late second. Gamba have an unassailable lead at the top of Group G with one match remaining.

Kashima Antlers, meanwhile, are locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Beijing Guoan FC for a place in the final eight. The two sides are locked on 12 points with one game remaining, however with Kashima possessing a vastly superior goal difference, the Ibaraki outfit will progress should the two teams remain level on points at the end of the group stage.

Defending champions Urawa Reds will join the competition at the quarter-final stage, with the draw set to be announced on May 24.

Japan National Teams

Takeshi Okada has named his squad for the upcoming Kirin Cup set to take place between May 22 - 27, with European-based trio Shunsuke Nakamura, Daisuke Matsui and Makoto Hasebe all receiving call-ups.

Kawasaki Frontale defender Yusuke Igawa was the only surprise inclusion, although Urawa midfielder Keita Suzuki and strikers Seiichiro Maki and Ryoichi Maeda of JEF United and Jubilo Iwata were also called up, despite having missed much of the season through injury so far.

Japan take on the Ivory Coast on May 24, before clashing with Paraguay three days later.

Meanwhile Japan under-23 coach Yasuharu Sorimachi has dropped lanky FC Tokyo striker Sota Hirayama from a squad that will take part in an international tournament at the end of the month, preferring instead to call up Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto and Urawa Reds youngster Sergio Escudero.

Japan take on the Netherlands, hosts France and Chile at the Toulon international tournament, with particular interest in the clash between the Netherlands and Japan, who face each other in Group B of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The USA and Nigeria are Japan's other opponents at the Olympics, with Sorimachi's team looking to become the first to win a medal since Japan claimed bronze at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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