Thursday, November 13, 2008

The J. League goes down to the wire... yet again

The J. League goes down to the wire.
At a time when the J. League is crying out for a team to take the championship by the scruff of the neck, the top five continue to falter in their race for the title.

Kashima Antlers continue to lead the way on 54 points, but they will be disappointed with their most recent 0-0 draw at home to the defensive-oriented Albirex Niigata.

Urawa Reds are a point further back in second, after they beat already relegated Consadole Sapporo 2-1 in front of 28,901 fans at the Sapporo Dome in their most recent clash.

The Reds were forced to come from behind after the league's second-top scorer Davi notched his fourteenth goal of the season for Sapporo, before goals from Tatsuya Tanaka and Edmilson saw all three points head back to Saitama.

Nagoya Grampus are the team to have stumbled the most in the run home. The Aichi club are on 52 points, but have picked up just four points from the fifteen on offer in their last five J. League games.

Nagoya crashed to a 2-1 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol at a sold-out Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium last time out, and controversy reigned in the compact stadium when referee Yuichi Nishimura incorrectly ruled out a Frode Johnsen strike for offside. Although Nagoya went on to open the scoring through Yoshizumi Ogawa, late goals from Minoru Suganuma and Popo saw them crumble to a disappointing defeat.

Oita Trinita were held to a scoreless draw by relegation candidates JEF United in front of 23,517 fans at the Kyushu Oil Dome, while Kawasaki Frontale were beaten 2-1 away at Omiya Ardija thanks in no small part to a wonder strike from Omiya striker Klemen Lavric.

Oita are fourth in the table on 52 points, while a point further back fifth placed Kawasaki Frontale are ahead of a fast-finishing FC Tokyo on goal difference only, after the capital club thrashed Gamba Osaka 3-1 away from home in their last J. League clash.

Things are just as tight at the bottom end of the table, where up to seven clubs are fighting for J1 survival.

Consadole Sapporo were relegated weeks ago, while JEF United currently occupy the second automatic relegation place. Tokyo Verdy are in the promotion/relegation playoff place, but Jubilo Iwata are above them on goal difference only, after beating local rivals Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 in the Shizuoka derby last weekend.

Omiya Ardija and Albirex Niigata are lying thirteenth and fourteenth respectively, but with both clubs currently on 38 points - just three points above an automatic relegation place, they are far from secure.

The same can be said of Yokohama F. Marinos, who have picked up a total of 39 points, and although Kyoto Sanga FC will be pleased to have reached the 40-point mark in the league, they are still not mathematically safe from relegation with three J. League games remaining.

In J2, Sanfrecce Hiroshima earned their ticket back to the top flight several weeks ago, with the southern club currently a massive twenty points clear of second place.

The race for second place is tighter, but northern outfit Montedio Yamagata are in the box seat on 71 points - some five points above the promotion/relegation playoff place with three games remaining.

Fellow northerners Vegalta Sendai occupy the promotion place after they drew 1-1 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in front of 23,745 fans at Miyagi Stadium in their most recent match, with the trio of Shonan Bellmare, Sagan Tosu and Cerezo Osaka looking long odds to catch third placed Sendai in the run home.

The J. League takes a break on the weekend of November 15/16 as the fifth round of the Emperor's Cup takes centre stage.

Emperor's Cup

The Japan Football Association has threatened Oita Trinita and JEF United with disciplinary action for fielding weakened starting elevens in their fourth round Emperor's Cup defeats last weekend.

Oita Trinita lost out to Second Division local rivals Sagan Tosu, while JEF United were beaten by J1 rivals Shimizu S-Pulse in the fourth round of the Cup. Oita were coming off winning the League Cup final at the National Stadium in Tokyo three days earlier, while JEF United are fighting for top flight survival in the J. League.

There were no major surprises in the fourth round, although reigning champions Kashima Antlers needed penalties to beat plucky Kokushikan University following an entertaining 2-2 draw.

The fourth round clash between Gamba Osaka and J2 outfit Ventforet Kofu has been rescheduled for November 16.

With the JFA continuing their practice of "hosting" a portion of the round of sixteen fixtures in neutral venues, the fifth round fixture list sees Urawa Reds take on bitter rivals Yokohama F. Marinos at Marugame Stadium, Vissel Kobe welcome Sagan Tosu to Kobe Wing Stadium, Jubilo Iwata take on the winner of Gamba Osaka and Ventforet Kofu at Yamaha Stadium, Omiya Ardija welcome Nagoya Grampus to Omiya Park, Kashima Antlers host Shimizu S-Pulse at Kashima Stadium, Albirex Niigata take on FC Tokyo at Tottori Stadium, Kashiwa Reysol face Kyoto Sanga FC at Toyama Stadium and Kawasaki Frontale take on last season's beaten finalists Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Nagasaki Stadium.

Gamba Osaka crowned Asian Champions

Gamba Osaka lifted the AFC Champions League after thrashing A-League outfit Adelaide United 5-0 on aggregate in their two-legged final.

The Kansai club were always in control after hammering United 3-0 in front of a full house of 21,000 at Expo '70 Stadium on November 5, with Lucas Severino, Yasuhito Endo and a superb Michihiro Yasuda volley sending Akira Nishino's team on their way.

It took Gamba just fifteen minutes to establish a 2-0 lead in front another capacity crowd of 17,000 at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide on November 12, as Lucas Severino added to his goal from the opening leg by scoring a quick-fire brace to put the tie well and truly beyond doubt.

Influential midfielder Yasuhito Endo won the final's Most Valuable Player award, as Gamba collected a third piece of silverware to add to their 2005 J. League title and 2007 League Cup trophy.

Injuries cripple Okada's Japan

Takeshi Okada has a selection headache to contend with, as injuries to key men Seigo Narazaki and Yuji Nakazawa have forced a reshuffle of the squad to take on Qatar in a World Cup qualifier in Doha on November 19.

Urawa Reds goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki has been drafted in as cover for injured Nagoya shot-stopper Narazaki, while Shimizu S-Pulse defender Kazumichi Takagi replaces Nakazawa in the squad.

Japan will warm up for their vital World Cup qualifier with a friendly against Syria at Kobe Wing Stadium on November 13, before travelling to the Gulf looking to add to the four points collected from their opening two final round World Cup qualifiers.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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