Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer holidays? Not in Japan

Summer holidays? Not in Japan.
While the rest of the world has at least one eye on the European Championships, the domestic season resumed in Japan on June 25 when Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka hosted rescheduled Round 11 fixtures.

In a season punctuated by World Cup qualifiers and the Beijing Olympics, Kashima and Gamba were forced to reschedule their Round 11 fixtures against Oita Trinita and Kyoto Sanga FC respectively, as the original match date clashed with AFC Champions League fixtures.

Neither side was disadvantaged by the rescheduling, with both coming out 1-0 winners.

Kashima were slightly fortunate to do so, winning courtesy of a solitary strike from substitute Danilo in front of a crowd of just 8,286 at Kashima Stadium. His stooping header cannoned in off the underside of the crossbar, after Oita had twice hit the woodwork through Roberto and Mu Kanazaki.

In Osaka hosts Gamba triumphed in front of a healthy midweek crowd of 15,840 fans in a Kansai derby, with star midfielder Yasuhito Endo bursting on to an intelligent knock-down from striker Lucas Severino before stroking a pinpoint left-foot finish beyond Kyoto keeper Yuichi Mizutani.

There is a full round of J1 fixtures on June 28/29, with the pick of the games featuring a clash between Shimizu S-Pulse and Kyoto Sanga FC - for whom ex-Shimizu midfielder Fernandinho is likely to feature just weeks after his loan move to Kyoto, Kashiwa Reysol host Urawa Reds in the unusual surrounds of the National Stadium in Tokyo, high-flying Nagoya Grampus host defending champions Kashima Antlers at Mizuho Stadium, while the pick of the Sunday fixtures sees FC Tokyo welcome regional rivals JEF United to Ajinomoto Stadium.

While the First Division enjoyed a recent domestic break, J2 continues to grind on unabated. Relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima look odds on to win the division; the Mazda-backed southern club are already ten points in front of nearest rivals Montedio Yamagata and Cerezo Osaka following the latest round of fixtures.

In the pick of the June 28/29 action Hiroshima travel to surprise package Montedio Yamagata, bottom club Roasso Kumamoto host fallen giants Cerezo Osaka, Ventforet Kofu welcome in-form Shonan Bellmare to Kose Sports Park and Shikoku outfit Ehime FC welcome Kyushu strugglers Avispa Fukuoka to Ningineer Stadium.

Japan National Teams

Takeshi Okada's Japan ended the first round of World Cup qualification with a sluggish 1-0 win over Bahrain on June 22.

Watched by 51,180 fans who braved incessant rain at Saitama Stadium, Okada's team failed to impress, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Hisato Sato and Nagoya Grampus front-man Keiji Tamada cutting forlorn figures up front for the Blue Samurai. They were starting in place of the suspended Yoshito Okubo and the dropped Naohiro Takahara, but it was left to teenage defender Atsuto Uchida to score a fortuitous last-minute winner for Japan to take all three points.

Japan had already qualified for the second round of World Cup qualifiers, and they will learn their opponents when the draw for the next round of qualifying is made at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on June 27.

Meanwhile the Japan under-23 team drew 0-0 with Cameroon at the National Stadium in Tokyo on June 12 as coach Yasuharu Sorimachi's side continues their preparations for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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