A busy few days of action in Japan culminated in Yokohama F Marinos reclaiming top spot while the bottom three descend ever closer to the J1 trapdoor.
Round 22 – Sat 24th August
At the top, Urawa Reds comfortably despatched Shimizu S-Pulse in oppressive heat at the Ecopa stadium in Shizuoka, winning 2-0, with goals from Kashiwagi and Koroki while Yokohama F Marinos surrendered an early lead away to Kashima Antlers, Osaka scoring twice in the second half to eclipse Marquinhos’ 19th minute opener.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima dropped two vital championship points away to bottom dogs Oita Trinita, Morishima cancelling out Shiotani’s strike in a 1-1 draw.
That scoreline was replicated in the match between Nagoya Grampus and Cerezo Osaka. Kakitani’s 14th goal of the season looked to have snatched all three points for the visitors with three minutes remaining, but Yano equalised at the death to preserve Nagoya’s unbeaten run.
There are no adjectives left to describe Omiya Ardija’s brutal run of form, although they at least showed some fight in their 3-2 home reverse to Kashiwa Reysol. Junya Tanaka scored twice in the first half for Reysol with Sawa netting a third after the break. Novakovic and Watanabe replied for the visitors, for whom Australia captain Lucas Neil made his debut as a late substitute.
Yet another encounter ended in stalemate as draw specialists Jubilo Iwata shared the spoils with under performing FC Tokyo in the only goalless game of matchday 22. Kota Mizunuma’s strike claimed a 1-0 home victory for Sagan Tosu over Vegalta Sendai while Ventforet Kofu won by the odd goal in three away to Shonan Bellmare. Albirex Niigata got their first victory in three matches with a 2-1 home win over Kawasaki Frontale.
Round 23 – Wednesday 28th August
Round 23 encapsulated everything that is good about Japanese football. On a warm Wednesday evening, eighteen teams set about each other in a goalfest of epic proportions. The nets rippled on 38 occasions, an average of 4.2 per game, proof if it were still needed that the J–League is capable of providing entertainment to rival any domestic competition in the world.
Yokohama F Marinos went top, bludgeoning fellow title contenders Urawa Reds into submission in a one sided contest which they won 3-0. Shunsuke Nakamura continues to enjoy a vintage season and netted his seventh and eight goals of the campaign, either side of Brazilian Marquinhos’ fine 20 yard effort. Naturally, they were given some assistance by the Reds defence, as individual errors continue to undermine the Saitama side’s title credentials.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima lost surprisingly, going down 2-0 to Ventforet Kofu and slip to second, three points behind F Marinos and one ahead of Urawa.
Kawasaki Frontale recovered from their weekend reverse to Albirex Niigata with a 2-1 win over the rudderless ship that is Omiya Ardija. All three goals came in the first nine minutes, Kengo Nakamura continuing his fine form with a neat lob to open the scoring before Novakovic levelled from the spot. Okubo scored what would prove to be the winner two minutes later with a swerving, thirty yard shot, his eighteenth goal of a prolific campaign.
Kashiwa Reysol extended their recent run of good form with an emphatic 5-2 win over Shonan Bellmare, Kudo and Kano each scoring a brace and Tanaka netting the fifth. Nakage and Otake responded for the away side.
Albirex Niigata moved up from twelfth to tenth in the J1 standings coming from two goals down at home to Jubilo Iwata to win 4-2. Samurai Blue marksman Maeda struck both times for Iwata in the first half but a double from Kawamata and a goal apiece from Mikado and Roger Gaucho saw the home side prevail.
Yohei Toyoda was on the goal trail again as Sagan Tosu won their sixth match in succession, defeating FC Tokyo by the odd goal in five at the National Stadium. He opened the scoring with a strong header and fellow frontman Kei Ikeda doubled the advantage with a fine goal just before half time. The Gasmen mounted a late comeback, first Hirayama headed in off the post, then with six minutes remaining Kazuma Watanabe swivelled on the edge of box before expertly dispatching his sixteenth strike of the season. The fightback was in vain however as moments later, Toyoda bundled in a cross from the right flank to seal the three points. Tokyo slip to twelfth and are without a win in their last four. The pressure is mounting on Ranko Popovic.
Nagoya Grampus continued their excellent form with a narrow 2-1 victory over Oita Trinita, Josh Kennedy scoring both goals late on while Cerezo Osaka’s already slim title hopes withered on the vine with a 1-1 draw away to J1’s most northerly club, Vegalta Sendai.
Last but not least, a breathtaking match in Shizuoka saw Shimizu S-Pulse triumph 4-3 over seven times J-League champs, Kashima Antlers. A goal down after ten seconds (Osako) and 2-0 down after six minutes (Yamamura), Ashfin Ghotbi’s men demonstrated the resolve that was missing against Urawa, responding with a double from Toshiyuki Takagi and a strike by Randoncic to take the lead. An Osaka penalty twenty minutes from time levelled the match before Takagi completed his hat trick two minutes from time to arrest S-Pulse’s recent downward trajectory.
As we approach the final few months of the season three teams remain in strong contention for the title but none look capable of running away from the rest at this stage. While as yet there are no certainties at the top, the bottom three appear doomed. A seven point gap has opened between Bellmare in sixteenth and the rest of the division, so along with Jubilo Iwata and Oita Trinita in particular, their future will rest on their ability to embark on a winning sequence in the closing months of the campaign
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