Monday, March 9, 2009

Amazing J!

Amazing J!
It may have been a record-breaking opening across the way in South Korea, but the J. League proved that it can also pack them in on a drama-charged opening weekend.

The Sunday fixtures saw Omiya Ardija and Shimizu S-Pulse grind out a scoreless draw, while Kyoto Sanga beat Vissel Kobe 1-0 in an early Kansai derby. But the main action took place on Saturday, as a series of stunning upsets threw the league into typical chaos.

The shocks started early as Albirex Niigata confounded the critics to smash four passed FC Tokyo in front of 27,568 mystified fans at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Omiya cast-off Pedro Junior was the hero for the visitors, scoring either side of a Hideo Oshima goal after Tokyo striker Yusuke Kondo had cancelled out Gilton's first half opener, as Albirex recorded an impressive 4-1 win.

Less of a shock was the thrashing promoted outfit Sanfrecce Hiroshima handed out to Yokohama F. Marinos. There's a distinctly European influence running through coach Mihailo Petrovic's side, and he will have been delighted to see Bulgarian international Ilian Stoyanov and ex-Dinamo Zagreb man Mihael Mikic in outstanding form on Hiroshima's return to the top flight.

Marinos managed to open the scoring through Kazuma Watanabe, but it was all downhill from there, as Stoyanov crossed for young defender Tomoaki Makino to head home the equaliser.

Hiroshima captain Hisato Sato then contributed his obligatory goal, before a Mikic-lead break played in Yosuke Kashiwagi for Hiroshima's third. Stoyanov rounded out the scoring for the visitors with an expertly taken free-kick, although Marinos registered a late consolation through defender Yuzo Kurihara.

Nagoya Grampus had to come from behind to see off Oita Trinita 3-2 in front of 25,395 fans at Toyota Stadium, while JEF United slumped to a worrying 3-0 defeat against Gamba Osaka at a packed Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba.

The match of the day undoubtedly took place at Kashima Stadium, where 37,878 fans saw Kashima Antlers trounce Urawa Reds 2-0 on Volker Finke's debut as Urawa coach.

After weathering an early storm, Kashima took control of this match on the counter, as Marquinhos skinned Urawa defender Tadaaki Hirakawa before playing in midfielder Takuya Nozawa for Kashima's opener.

The recalled Nozawa was in menacing form, and he produced a wonder save from Ryota Tsuzuki with a superbly taken free-kick just before half-time. The Reds were unable to stem the flow of Kashima attacks, and the outstanding Marquinhos scored his team's second with a well-taken strike from the edge of the area.

It was a miserable debut for ex-Freiburg coach Finke, but his team showed enough promise to suggest that they could be a force in this season's championship.

Elsewhere Kawasaki Frontale drew 1-1 with Kashiwa Reysol in front of 17,841 fans at Todoroki Stadium, but the result of the round belongs to Montedio Yamagata.

The mountain men are considered cannon fodder for relegation, but Shinji Kobayashi's side proved that they mean business in the top flight by coming from behind to dish out an astonishing 6-2 thrashing away at Jubilo Iwata.

The hosts opened the scoring through their diminutive Brazilian striker Gilsinho, but goals just before half-time from Kim Byung-Suk and Tatsuya Furuhashi redressed the balance of power.

Not even a second half equaliser from Gilsinho could save Jubilo, as four goals in the final quarter hour sealed a memorable debut victory for Montedio - with star striker Yu Hasegawa scoring twice.

The result conjures memories of fellow rural outfit Ventforet Kofu's stint in the top flight, with Kofu managing to avoid relegation in 2006 despite being heavily tipped to make the drop.

It also enhances the J. League's reputation as one of the most unpredictable leagues in world football, as the steady flow of shocks threw the pundits' form guides into disarray.

Meanwhile, the J. League's four AFC Champions League representatives are in action midweek as the revamped competition kicks off.

Nagoya Grampus are away at Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai for their opening clash, while defending Asian champions Gamba Osaka host Shandong Luneng in their first fixture.

Kashima Antlers face a difficult trip to Korea to take on the passionately-supported Suwon Bluewings, while Kawasaki Frontale host Tianjin Teda in an intriguing looking opener.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

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