Monday, November 24, 2008

Advantage Kashima as Oita drop out of the race

J.League news.
Kashima Antlers hold all the cards in the race for the J. League title after beating Oita Trinita 1-0 in front of 31,744 fans at the Kyushu Oil Dome.

The loss was just Oita's second league defeat at home this season, but it has ended their title hopes after the Kyushu side succumbed to a fifty-fifth minute strike from Kashima's dynamic young full-back Atsuto Uchida, who is currently attracting interest from a host of European clubs.

Victory was no less than Kashima deserved, and after going desperately close to opening the scoring through Takuya Nozawa and Masashi Motoyama in the first half, Oswaldo de Oliveira's side finally conjured the goal their dominant performance deserved just ten minutes after the restart, before expertly holding on to a one goal lead for the remainder of the match.

Things got even better for Kashima with the news that bitter rivals Urawa Reds were beaten 2-1 at home by Shimizu S-Pulse in front of 54,709 fans at Saitama Stadium.

The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Urawa coach Gert Engels, who is widely tipped to be replaced during the close season, with former SC Freiburg coach Volke Finke a conspicuous presence in the press box for this clash.

He witnessed a pulsating encounter that was illuminated by an outstanding opener from S-Pulse midfielder Takuma Edamura, who charged on to Akihiro Hyodo's chipped ball forward before snapping a half-volley across his body and into the far corner of Ryota Tsuzuki's goal.

After being on the back foot for most of the first half, Urawa almost hit back through Robson Ponte immediately after the restart. Instead it was their talismanic defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka who drew the Saitama giants level, as his angled volley took a slight deflection off defender Naoaki Aoyama and looped into the top corner of Kaito Yamamoto's goal.

It was Shimizu who pushed on for a winner, however, and after Urawa's Tatsuya Tanaka had rounded Yamamoto only to see his strike cleared off the goal-line, the visitors found their luck was well and truly in when substitute Takuro Yajima beat Tsuzuki at his near post with a left-foot snapshot to end the scoring.

A massive crowd of 18,355 packed into Nishikyogoku Stadium in Kyoto for home team Sanga's clash with Nagoya, but it was referee Hajime Matsuo who took centre stage, awarding Nagoya a highly contentious penalty that keeps the Aichi side in the title race.

The visitors raced out to an early two goal lead thanks to a brace from Brazilian midfielder Magnum, however Kyoto hit back thanks to two goals from striker Atsushi Yanagisawa - the second coming after Nagoya keeper Koji Nishimura had saved Yanagisawa's weak penalty.

With five minutes of stoppage time already played and Kyoto defending a deep cross, Nagoya striker Frode Johnsen flopped speculatively in the box, but despite minimal contact from Kyoto defender Tatsuya Masushima, referee Matsuo did not hesitate in pointing to the spot. Johnsen kept his cool to slot home in front of the massed ranks of Nagoya fans behind the goal, who celebrated wildly as the Norwegian kept his side in second place - just two points behind Kashima with two games remaining.

Kawasaki Frontale are in third after they thrashed a tired looking Gamba Osaka 4-0 in front of 21,714 fans at a packed Todoroki Stadium, with Chong Tese, Hiroyuki Taniguchi, Juninho and Yusuke Igawa all getting on the scoresheet.

The race to avoid relegation is just as tight, although JEF United picked a bad weekend to lose 3-0 to Yokohama F. Marinos in front of a sold-out crowd of 16,833 fans at Fukuda Denshi Arena, with the loss condemning the Chiba Dogs to an automatic relegation place in seventeenth.

Tokyo Verdy occupy the promotion/relegation playoff place after they could only draw 1-1 with bottom club Consadole Sapporo, but fellow strugglers Jubilo Iwata failed to take advantage when they were held to a 3-3 draw in front of a capacity crowd of 14,766 at Yamaha Stadium, although things could have been worse had Jubilo substitute Robert Cullen not conjured a stoppage-time equaliser.

In the pick of the penultimate round of fixtures Kashima Antlers host Jubilo Iwata in a clash of the titans at Kashima Stadium on November 29, while Kawasaki Frontale welcome Vissel Kobe to Todoroki Stadium. Yokohama F. Marinos can send local rivals Tokyo Verdy a step closer to the drop when they host the capital club at Nissan Stadium, while reigning Asian champions Gamba Osaka host former Asian kings Urawa Reds, and JEF United face up to a difficult trip to the hostile surrounds of Nihondaira Stadium to take on Shimizu S-Pulse.

A day later Omiya Ardija host Kyoto Sanga in a clash at Omiya Park that could still have implications in the relegation race, while Nagoya Grampus will expect to take maximum points when they welcome relegated Consadole Sapporo to Mizuho Stadium.

In J2 21,200 fans turned out at Nagai Stadium to see Cerezo Osaka come from behind to beat Shonan Bellmare 2-1 on November 23, but it looks too little, too late for the Kansai side who are four points behind third-placed Vegalta Sendai with two games remaining.

Sendai needed a last-minute equaliser from substitute Takayuki Nakahara to snatch a 2-2 draw away at Yokohama FC in front of a near-capacity crowd of 9,102 fans at Mitsuzawa Stadium, while second-placed Montedio Yamagata were held to a 1-1 draw by Roasso Kumamoto in front of 13,018 fans at Yamagata Park Stadium in other Round 43 action.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima have already won promotion, while Montedio Yamagata look almost certain to seal second place in the league. Vegalta Sendai occupy the promotion/relegation playoff place, and they look the team most likely to face off against J1's sixteenth placed finisher for a position in next season's top flight.

Shimizu S-Pulse sell naming rights to their stadium

Shimizu S-Pulse have sold the naming rights to their council-owned Nihondaira Stadium, which from 2009 onwards will be known as "Outsourcing Stadium."

The Shizuoka club raised a reported 360 million yen from the sale of the naming rights, and S-Pulse are expected to inject some of that cash into the signing of Nagoya's out-of-contract Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen.

S-Pulse join the likes of Vissel Kobe and Omiya Ardija as clubs to have recently sold the naming rights to their stadia.

Relations cool between the J. League and JFA

J. League chairman Kenji Onitake was reputedly furious with comments made by new JFA supremo Motoaki Inukai, who told reporters that he wished to see the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup converted to an under-23 tournament.

The remark came on the back of Inukai's proposed plan to align the J. League season with the European calendar, despite the obstacle of Japan's wintry climate making the proposal untenable for Japan's northern clubs.

That proposal was unanimously rejected by J. League clubs last week, but Inukai has further irritated the J. League by suggesting that the League Cup should be converted to an underage competition - just a week after the JFA threatened to fine JEF United and Oita Trinita for fielding weakened teams in the fourth round of the Emperor's Cup.

Inukai's comments met short shrift from J. League boss Onitake, who reputedly told the JFA to mind it's own business.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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