ROUND 16 / SATURDAY 13th JULY
170,000 spectators flocked to stadiums all over the country on Saturday to witness goals, upsets and last minute winners in the latest installment of Japans premier football competition. A congested fixture list and a lingering heatwave conspired to influence the pace of several matches, yet entertainment was never in short supply.
Leaders Omiya Ardija surrendered meekly to a purposeful Marinos side while the increasingly impressive Kawasake Frontale destroyed Urawa Reds with a ruthless display of attacking football. Shonan Bellmare condemned Venforet Kofu to a sixth straight loss in the Yamansahi prefecture in a hard fought encounter, and Albirex Niigata dropped a couple of places as a result of a 3-0 home reverse to FC Tokyo. Reigning champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima scored in the 95th minute to overcome Cerezo Osaka at the Edion Stadium while Shimizu S-Pulse returned to winning ways with victory over bottom dogs Oita Trinita. Nagoya Grampus won by the odd goal in five at home to Sagan Tosu and draw specialists Jubilo Iwata shared the spoils with last seasons runners up Vegalta Sendai.
Reds pulverised by brilliant Frontale – (Kawasaki Frontale 4-0 Urawa Reds)
Kawasaki Frontale bounced back from last week’s defeat to Sanfrecce with a performance characterised by skill and composure although Urawa’s backline were embarrassingly complicit in the 4-0 scoreline. Captain Kengo Nakamura began the demolition in the 28th minute though Reds keeper Kato should have done more to stop his relatively tame strike. Two minutes later Renatinho shocked the visitors with a second, cutting in from the right hand side of the box and sweeping a left footed effort low into the opposite corner. On the cusp of half time Frontale made it 3-0, by which time Urawa had long since accepted their inferiority. The entire Reds defence were drawn to the ball and when it was finally released, midfielder Yamamoto found himself with time and space to despatch a smart strike, giving Shipei Takeda’s men an unassailable lead going into the break. Urawa’s heads had barely cleared after the interval when Nakamura timed his run perfectly to latch onto Renatinho’s through ball. As he rounded Kato, the goalkeeper bundled him to the ground, allowing Yoshito Okubo to calmly convert the penalty. The diminutive frontman, who won the Bundesliga title with VfL Wolfsburg, can now add ‘100 J-League goals’ to an already impressive CV.
Marinos dominate league leaders –(Yokohama F Marino 2-1 Omiya Ardija)
Do not be fooled by the scoreline, the home side won this contest by a country mile, dominating Veredeniks team with a first half onslaught which produced two goals of supreme quality. Brazilian Marquinhos rose unmarked to convert a downward header from Hyodo’s inch perfect cross on the 20 minute mark as the game was played exclusively in the last third of the pitch. Omiya, denied the services of the injured Zlatan and Novakovic, simply had no out ball and were hemmed in for long periods, their pressing game utterly invalidated in the sweltering conditons. Manabu Saito, who was a constant agitation to the league leaders defence scored a wonderful second, darting in between four flat, static defenders and finishing calmly beyond Kitano. Omiya, looked like a team of strangers, far removed from the cohesive group Verdenik has skilfully constructed and despite a marginal improvement in the second period, they never looked likely to get back in the game. The peerless veteran, Shunsuke Nakamura, once again delivered a performance of effortless brilliance, as his control and awareness allowed him to thread balls in between the lines all evening, thereby dictating the flow and pattern of the match. Imai volleyed home a consolation for the squirrels in injury time with his first goal for the club but in truth it was not merited. Omiya Ardija remain three points clear of Sanfrecce at the top while Marinos will be boosted by an excellent win as they prepare to travel to Saitama for another top of the table clash with Urawa Reds on Saturday.
Ghotbi’s unpredictables leave Oita cut adrift
Manager Ashfin Ghotbi’s young charges made him wait for victory against bottom club Oita Trinita and when the goals arrived they came from an unusual source. Defender Hiroaka registered twice in the second half to send S-Pulse on the road to victory, the first an emphatic near post header from a corner. The second also came courteousy of his nodding apparatus, as he out jumped the Oita keeper to convert an inswinging free kick from the touchline. The third goal was a thing of beauty, constructed either by providence or design. S-Pulse keeper Hayashi drilled a low goal kick into the feet of Brazilian striker Bare who, after a neat one-two with Kawai, found himself through on goal, but hampered by the increasingly acute angle. Only he knows whether he shot for goal or squared unselfishly for the youngster Ishige to convert, but the home side had went from end of the pitch to the other in four passes and seven seconds, with the ball ending in the Oita net. The home side, playing in an unfamiliar blue shirt to commemorate the confirmation of Mount Fuji as a World Heritage site, conceded a late consolation to a former son, when former S-Pulse striker Kijima converted a low Tsujio cross from the right in the 90th minute. Oita remain rooted at the bottom of the table but it’s onwards an upwards for Ghotbi’s unpredictables.
Bellmare triumph in basement battle
Shonan Bellmare, who finished eleven points behind J2 champions Venforet Kofu last season, earned a valuable three points with Iwakami’s strike in the 76th minute. Controlling a dropping ball in the Kofu box, he finished instinctively to punish the home side for a string of missed chances throughout the 90 minutes. In a match bereft of genuine quality one goal was always likely to settle it, though Kofu’s Brazilian striker Hugo had a number of half chances he may have converted. His side were in the ascendancy for the majority of the game, with ex Celtic player Koki Mizuno particularly effective on the right flank. However, Bellmare gained a foothold in the match around the hour mark and defended doggedly to hold on after Iwakami’s winner. As a footnote, spare a thought for Kofu’s central defensive partnership, who, with a combined age of 75 will surely have been feeling the heat.
Gasmen continue their recovery
FC Tokyo returned to winning ways with a 3-0 victory away to Albirex Niigata. Samarai blue defender Takahashi glanced into the home net from Higashi’s corner to give Ranko Popovic’s men the lead. Moments later he was robbed in his own penalty box and only a spectacular intervention from Tokyo keeper Gonda prevented Niigata from restoring parity. The away side doubled their advantage when Ariajasura Hasegawa was felled in the box by opposite number Leo Silva and Watanabe secured his tenth goal of the season from the resultant spot kick. Tokyo midfielder Takuji Yonemoto was then heavily involved at both ends firing over the Niigata crossbar before clearing off his own goal line after Gonda had denied South Korean central defender Kim Kun Hoan. As the game trundled to an inevitable conclusion Higashiguchi was powerless to prevent a third goal as Lucas smashed a Watanabe cut back high into his net.
Brazilian striker Cleo netted two close range efforts as Reysol came from a goal down to defeat Kashima Antlers in front of a crowd of 26, 547. Sanfrecce crept into second place in the table with a 95th minute winner from midfielder Takahagi against Cerezo Osaka at the Edion stadium. Jubilo Iwata took the lead away to Vegalta Sendai through Japan international Maeda only to be pegged back in the closing minutes by a goal from Makoto Kakuda in front of 14,000 fans at the Yurtec stadium in Sendai. Australian international Josh Kennedy opened the scoring for Nagoya Grampus against Sagan Tosu before Ryunosuke Noda equalised as half time approached. Tamada restored the home side’s advantage on the hour mark but minutes later Toyoda (who else and why has he never been capped?) responded for the visitors. Midfielder Jungo Fujimoto sealed the victory for Nagoya with ten minutes remaining. They will now hope to put another W in the column with Oita Trinita next up on Wednesday.
The J-League returns with a full card on Wednesday 17th July. Fixtures to look out for include Urawa Reds v Yokohama F Marinos, Omiya Ardija v Kawasaki Frontale and Reysol v S-Pulse. The grass is always green in Japan, the fans sing non-stop but there the certainties end. As ever, expect the unexpected.
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