Sunday, August 19, 2007

The full house signs go up, as the J-League grinds on

The traditional O-bon holidays in Japan signal bumper crowds for many J-League teams, with several clubs throwing up full house signs during an action-packed fixture list.

The full house signs go up, as the J-League grinds on.


Round 19

A crowd of 53,916 turned out at Nissan Stadium on August 11, as Yokohama F. Marinos clashed with Yokohama FC.

Port city minnows Yokohama FC had beaten their illustrious cross-town rivals 1-0 at Mitsuzawa Stadium earlier in the season, but Yokohama F. Marinos inflicted a terrible vengeance, winning 8-1 in the return fixture.

Striker Hideo Oshima scored four goals in that match, before later declaring that he was "too old" to figure in Japan coach Ivica Osim's national team plans.

Urawa Reds drew 1-1 with Kashiwa Reysol in front of 47,359 fans at Saitama Stadium - a result that momentarily saw Urawa slip four points behind Gamba Osaka, after Gamba beat fellow high-flyers Albirex Niigata 3-1 in front of 18,112 fans at Expo '70 Stadium in Osaka.

14,316 fans crammed into Kose Sports Park Stadium, but the home fans left disappointed as Kashima Antlers snuck a 1-0 victory over hosts Ventforet Kofu, thanks to midfielder Takuya Nozawa's neatly taken finish.

In Hiroshima, the largest gate of the season turned out but 12,595 fans failed to inspire the home team, as Sanfrecce slumped to a 3-1 loss to fellow mid-table battlers Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Norwegian international Frode Johnsen was the architect of the victory, scoring twice, while substitute Keita Sugimoto also struck late on for Nagoya.

Round 20

Another full round of midweek fixtures took place on August 15, where Sanfrecce Hiroshima recorded their third defeat in a row, this time losing 2-0 to Kashiwa Reysol in front of a packed Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium.

Kashima Antlers' officials will have been delighted with the midweek crowd of 19,600 that turned out at Kashima Stadium to roar the Antlers on to a 3-1 victory over the hapless JEF United.

The return of prodigal son Mitsuo Ogasawara from Italian outfit Messina appears to have rejuvenated Kashima and he scored twice against United, with Toru Araiba also scoring, to leave JEF United hovering just above the relegation zone.

A capacity crowd of 42,015 packed into Big Swan Stadium in Niigata, and the home side didn't let their fans down, winning 4-0 over Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Isao Homma got the scoring under way with a header for Niigata, before Japan international Kisho Yano volleyed home. Brazilian striker Edmilson then scored twice, to leave Nagoya coach Sef Vergoossen furious with his team's abject defending on the night.

For the second time this season Kawasaki Frontale lost the Kanagawa Derby, going down 2-1 at home to an in-form Yokohama F. Marinos in front of 18,095 fans at Todoroki Stadium.

A healthy crowd of 14,854 fans packed into Yamaha Stadium to witness Jubilo Iwata's 5-2 thrashing of FC Tokyo - just days after Jubilo had been thumped 4-0 by Vissel Kobe in Kobe.

Jubilo's local rivals Shimizu S-Pulse clawed their way back from two goals down against Oita Trinita, to triumph 4-3 in a thriller in front of 20,391 fans at the Kyushu Oil Dome.

The match-of-the-round undoubtedly took place in Osaka, however, as a capacity crowd of 20,982 fans flocked to 'Banpaku' to witness Gamba Osaka take on Urawa Reds.

Both Gamba and Urawa were missing their star strikers Magno Alves and Washington through injury, and their respective replacements Ryuji Bando and Yuichiro Nagai were in the thick of the action.

Bando had a first half strike ruled out for offside, and Gamba were left to rue that decision as Yuichiro Nagai snatched the only goal of the game just after the hour mark, to hand Urawa a precious win.

The victory throws open the 2007 title race and cuts Gamba's lead at the top of the table to just one point. Gamba coach Akira Nishino claimed that his side "must improve" in the wake of the defeat, if they are to wrestle the J-League title from Urawa's grasp.

Round 21

Healthy attendances should be the order of the day when Round 21 kicks off on August 18, with a capacity crowd likely to descend upon Nihondaira Stadium as Shimizu S-Pulse do battle with Kawasaki Frontale.

Last season Shimizu ended Kawasaki's hopes of winning the J-League, when midfielder Jungo Fujimoto scored a superb hat-trick to fire Shimizu to a 4-3 win.

Elsewhere two of the most passionately supported clubs in Japanese football go head-to-head when struggling FC Tokyo take on Kashiwa Reysol at Ajinomoto Stadium in the nation's capital.

Another fixture taking place in Tokyo this weekend is the clash between Ventforet Kofu and Urawa Reds.

Kofu would have been guaranteed a full house had they play this match at the 17,000 capacity Kose Sports Park Stadium in rural Yamanashi Prefecture, however the game has been switched to the National Stadium in Tokyo - mainly to accommodate Urawa's horde of travelling fans, who will also swell the coffers for 'home' team Kofu.

Omiya Ardija and Vissel Kobe have also switched their games on August 19 to Kumagaya Athletics Stadium and Kobe Universiade Stadium respectively.

Omiya Ardija sack coach Robert Verbeek

The end result may have been predictable but the timing certainly was not, as Omiya Ardija finally sacked their Dutch coach Robert Verbeek.

They did so just days before the J-League resumed after the long mid-season break, with many Omiya fans stunned left at the timing of the decision.

They were left positively aghast at the news that the widely unpopular Satoru Sakuma had been promoted from back-room staff member to the role of head coach.

In his previous roles as chief scout Sakuma had been responsible for a serious of disastrous signings for the club - recently departed strikers Alison Barros and Mauricio Salles among the latest, which have seen the club struggling in the relegation zone for much of the season.

Omiya battled to an impressive 2-2 draw away at Shimizu S-Pulse in Sakuma's first match in charge, but any doubt as to Sakuma's unpopularity was removed when only 6,440 fans turned out to watch Omiya's 3-1 home defeat to Vissel Kobe in midweek, just two months after a record crowd of 16,795 turned out at Omiya's temporary home of Komaba Stadium to see them beat Albirex Niigata 2-1.

Japan National Team

Japan coach Ivica Osim has come under fire once again, this time for his decision to call up just 12 players in a nominal squad named for Japan's up-coming friendly with Cameroon.

Japan face Cameroon at the Kyushu Oil Dome in Oita on August 22, but Osim told reporters that he would name the rest of his squad after he had seen his players in action in midweek Round 20 J-League fixtures.

Significantly not a single JEF United player was named in Osim's preliminary squad, after grumblings of favouritism towards his former club - now managed by his son Amar Osim, following Japan's unsuccessful defence of the Asian Cup this summer.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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