Friday, September 19, 2008

Relegation rules in tense round of J. League

J.League.
While five teams remain in the hunt for the 2008 J. League crown, several of the league's most recognisable clubs are in serious trouble at the wrong end of the table.

There's an epic relegation six-pointer at Ecopa Stadium in Round 25, where three-times J. League champions Jubilo Iwata host another three-time champion in the form of Yokohama F. Marinos.

Jubilo sacked coach Atsushi Uchiyama after a recent scoreless draw at home to JEF United and replaced him with veteran tactician Hans Ooft, but the Dutchman's second spell in charge of Jubilo got off to a shaky start when the Shizuoka outfit were beaten 2-0 away at Kyoto Sanga FC, with striker Gilsinho missing a penalty for the visitors.

Yokohama F. Marinos also had a change of coach mid-season, but Kokichi Kimura is yet to find a winning combination after taking over from Takashi Kuwahara - ironically a former Jubilo man. Marinos needed a last-minute own goal from Leandro to eke out a 1-1 draw at home to Vissel Kobe last time out, and both teams will be desperate for the three points on offer, with Jubilo currently occupying the relegation/promotion playoff place on 26 points, as they look to leapfrog fifteenth placed Yokohama F. Marinos, who are on 27 points.

Looking to make up ground on the promotion/relegation playoff place are JEF United. One of just six teams to have played every season in the Japanese top flight, the Chiba side gave themselves renewed hope of avoiding the drop by beating Tokyo Verdy 2-0 at home last weekend.

Alex Miller's side may be second-from-bottom, but they take on last placed Consadole Sapporo in Hokkaido in Round 25, with Consadole yet to win a league game at their summer home Atsubetsu Stadium this season.

Australian defender Eddy Bosnar remains confident that his team can stay up, and the Sydney-born stopper has made plenty of sacrifices for the cause, turning down an opportunity to represent his country in favour of focussing on his club's relegation dogfight.

"He (Australia manager Pim Verbeek) wanted to give me a chance to get back into the squad and I didn't go back. I don't regret it at all. It is nice to play for the national team but JEF is the one that puts food on the table," Bosnar told The Japan Times.

Elsewhere Shimizu S-Pulse will be forced to endure a nervy trip to the dilapidated Kobe Universiade Stadium, with Kenta Hasegawa's side sitting on 31 points for the season - the same total as Vissel Kobe. S-Pulse will be itching for revenge after a 1-0 home defeat to Kobe back in Round 16 prompted calls from furious Shimizu fans for Hasegawa to be sacked.

At the other end of the table, league leaders Nagoya Grampus opened up a three point lead over Kashima Antlers last weekend when a Yoshizumi Ogawa strike was enough to see off Gamba Osaka at a packed Expo '70 Stadium. Grampus next host Albirex Niigata at Mizuho Stadium, with Dragan Stojkovic's side aiming for their first J. League title.

There's a derby of sorts at Todoroki Stadium, where FC Tokyo will cross prefectural lines to take on neighbours Kawasaki Frontale. Last season Kawasaki handed out 5-2 and 7-0 thrashings to the team from just twenty kilometres up the road, but FC Tokyo gained a modicum of revenge by beating Frontale 4-2 in an ill-tempered affair at Ajinomoto Stadium earlier in the season, and Hiroshi Jofuku's side will be aiming to do the double over Frontale as they look to make up ground on the top five.

The Saitama derby takes centre stage on Sunday, but unlike in previous seasons Omiya Ardija will not be giving up home advantage in this one.

Omiya have angered city rivals Urawa Reds by opting to play this match at the newly renovated 15,300 capacity Omiya Park Stadium, instead of the 62,300 capacity Saitama Stadium - home of the Reds. That means thousands of Reds fans will be locked out of this clash, but with Omiya in no mood to do their bitter local rivals any favours, security for this fixture is likely to be tight in light of the crowd trouble that marred Urawa's home defeat to Gamba Osaka earlier in the season.

In J2 relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima are coasting to the title, having hammered second-placed Montedio Yamagata 4-0 last time out in front of 14,392 fans at Yamagata Park Stadium. Japan international Hisato Sato scored his nineteenth goal of a profitable season in that clash, as Hiroshima look set to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Elsewhere Shonan Bellmare beat Yokohama FC 1-0 in a Kanagawa derby, while Kyushu outfit Avispa Fukuoka beat Shikoku side Tokushima Vortis 3-1, with on-loan Omiya Ardija defender Daiki Niwa opening the scoring, before former Japan youth-international Mike Havenaar and midfielder Kiyokazu Kudo added further goals for the home side.

The pick of the action in Round 36 sees Vegalta Sendai entertain FC Gifu at Yurtec Stadium, while Cerezo Osaka host Montedio Yamagata at Nagai Stadium and Yokohama FC welcome Sanfrecce Hiroshima to Mitzusawa Stadium.

Mixed results in the AFC Champions League

It was a night of mixed results for Japanese clubs in the AFC Champions League, with the three sides sharing a win, a draw and a loss between them on September 17.

Gamba Osaka came from a goal down to beat Syrian side Al Karama 2-1 in front of 17,000 fans at Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium, with captain Satoshi Yamaguchi and substitute Masato Yamazaki scoring the vital goals for the Osakans.

Kashima Antlers were held to a 1-1 draw by A-League side Adelaide United in steamy conditions at Kashima Stadium, where a pockmarked pitch seemed to aid Kashima, as Adelaide defender Robert Cornthwaite turned an Atsuto Uchida cross into his own net.

That goal came after Adelaide skipper Travis Dodd had given the visitors the lead with a well-taken header, with Antlers striker Shinzo Koroki and United midfielder Paul Reid both missing good chances to score the winner.

Defending Asian champions Urawa Reds went down 3-2 to Kuwaiti side Al Qadsia, with a double from Edmilson - including a goal in stoppage time, keeping the Saitama outfit in the tie.

The return legs take place on September 24.

Japanese players overseasTakayuki Morimoto : Catania

Former Tokyo Verdy striker Takayuki Morimoto scored twice as Catania hammered Serie C side Padova 4-0 en route to booking a quarter-final showdown with Juventus in the Coppa Italia.

Morimoto has fallen down the pecking order at Catania, but after his Coppa Italia goals coach Walter Zenga praised the young Japanese striker, telling reporters; "The plaudits must go to Morimoto for his two goals and I'm delighted for him because he is an honest and hard-working lad."

Makoto Hasebe : VfL Wolfsburg

Overnight ex-Urawa Reds midfielder Makoto Hasebe won a penalty converted by Grafite in VfL Wolfburg's 1-0 win over Rapid Bucharest in the UEFA Cup. Hasebe also played the full ninety minutes in Wolfsburg's most recent 2-2 Bundesliga draw away at Hertha Berlin.

Shinji Ono : VfL Bochum

Shinji Ono may have won a recall to the Japan squad, but the former Urawa Reds midfielder has struggled in the Bundesliga, with Ono coming on for the final fourteen minutes of VfL Bochum's most recent 2-0 win over Westfalen rivals Arminia Bielefeld.

Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic

Japan star Shunsuke Nakamura recently declared his desire to return to the J. League in January, and the free-kick specialist came off the bench in Celtic's most recent 4-2 win over Motherwell in the league, before playing the full ninety minutes of Celtic's scoreless draw with Danish champions Aalborg BK in the UEFA Champions League in midweek.

Daisuke Matsui : St Etienne

Having joined St Etienne from Le Mans during the close season, Daisuke Matsui has settled in at the one-time European giants, playing the full ninety minutes of Les Verts' most recent 2-0 league defeat away at Caen.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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