Monday, August 30, 2010

J.League delivers action in spades

It started as a weekend that could shape the race for the Championship. It ended with the race still wide open.

In an enthralling weekend of J.League action, Nagoya maintained their five point gap at the top of the table with a surprising 1-0 win over Kyoto Sanga FC. Surprising for the fact it wasn’t larger given the gulf between the two sides.

In the end the 21st minute strike from Kanasaki was enough to see Nagoya over the line in front of over 13,000 fans at Mizuho Athletic Stadium in Nagoya. Australian and Golden Boot leader, Josh Kennedy put in a full stint but couldn’t get his name on the scoresheet.

In front of over 51,000 at Saitama Stadium, Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers played out an exciting 1-1 draw.

Robson Ponte fires Urawa into the lead - KYODO PHOTO
Urawa thought they had taken the lead in the 37th minute when a brilliantly delivered set piece from Robson Ponte was flicked on by Edmilson. But his header bounced back off the post and into the grateful hands of Kashima’s Hitoshi Sogahata.
That was about all there was action wise in an otherwise uneventful first half, but the second half was a different story.

Urawa’s claims for a penalty were waved away when Genki Haraguchi went down under Daiki Iwamasa’s challenge, but no more than five minutes later Kashima had a penalty of their own when Sanou clattered into Shinzo Koroki.

Marquinhos, who needed just one goal to take to 100 career J.League goals, stepped up but saw his penalty brilliantly saved by Urawa’s number 1, Norihiro Yamagishi.

Moments later Marquinhos again came agonisingly close when his header came back off the under side of the crossbar and was gathered by Yamagishi.

Yamagishi was proving the hero for Urawa when he made an excellent save outstretched to his left to deny Mitsuo Ogasawara.

After absorbing Kashima’s raids, Urawa started to have a period of dominance that was almost capped off by a superb goal from Tomoya Ugajin. His curling shot from 25 yards cannoned into the crossbar and away to safety.

They would get their goal, however, when Ponte finished brilliantly from the edge of the box in the 81st minute to send the crowd into delirium. Ugajin was almost the hero moments later when he made a dashing run into the box and almost turned the ball in for a second that would have sealed the win for Urawa.

Unfortunately, both he and the ball clattered into the post and he was subsequently stretchered off.
The Reds would suffer the ultimate heartbreak when, in the fifth minute of injury time, the ball fell to substitute Masashi Motoyama on the edge of the box to fire home an equaliser that sent that travelling fans wild.

Kashima’s coach Oswaldo Oliveira was circumspect after the game, but fired a barb at Urawa.

"I think it would have been very bad for us if we had lost, because we had control," he said.

"That's not surprising because I think at this moment Kashima is better than Urawa. We should win the game. But in this situation, a point is good."

It sees Kashima slip seven points behind Nagoya and leaves Oliveira lamenting the sale of their stars Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo in the summer.

"We miss them because the other teams have grown," he said. "They have brought in new players and at Kashima it has been the opposite. It's difficult."

In other games on Saturday, Cerezo Osaka kept in touch with Nagoya with a comfortable 2-0 win over Omiya Ardija, Vegalta Sendai moved out of the relegation zone, albeit on goal difference courtesy of a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare, who are in grave danger of dropping straight back down to J2, Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo played out a 0-0 draw and Sanfrecce Hiroshima have Croatian Mihael Mikic to thank after he scored the winner just 10 mins after coming on against Montedio Yamagata.

Sunday was a big day of action, with three big clashes taking place.

The first of which saw Yokohama F.Marinos score three times in the second half to defeat Albirex Niigata. Niigata had an early chance when Brazilian midfielder Michael hit the woodwork after just 10 minutes, although were it not for the finger tips of Hiroki Ikura the ball would likely have nestled in the back of the net.

Yokohama then peppered the goal, but struggled to get their shots on target. Niigata should really have taken a 1-0 lead into the break after Marcio Richardes was played in by Hideo Oshima, but with only the keeper to beat, he couldn’t get it past Ikura who saved brilliantly.

It didn’t take Yokohama long after the interval to break the deadlock though. Shunsuke Nakamura played a delightful ball for Koji Yamase who finished with aplomb to put Yokohama up in the 47th minute.

Yamase scores the opener for Yokohama
Just in case his through ball for Yamase didn’t highlight Nakamura’s skill enough, he then fired in a stunning goal in the 71st minute to reinforce his quality. After collecting the ball at the corner of the box, he sized up his opponent, threw in a quick stepover and put the ball to his right and fired home a stunning goal that curled into the bottom corner of the net. There was nothing that Niigata’s keeper Takaya Kurokawa could do top stop it. It had quality written all over it and was a goal worth the price of admission alone.

And then to cap off the day, Nakamura delivered the corner that set up Yokohama’s third, which was knocked home by Aria Hasagawa after, it has to be said, some rather poor keeping.

The win keeps Yokohama within touching distance of the top three and an ACL spot, although with only 12 games to go you’d have to say their chances of closing the 10 point gap to Nagoya and threatening for the title are gone.

Gamba Osaka did as they were expected in front of a packed house at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium, defeating Jubilo Iwata 2-0. They now sit in sixth and like Yokohama, are within touching distance of the top three and an ACL spot.

In the final game of the round, Shimizu recovered from a horror three weeks to record a 2-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale. Jungo Fujimoto opened the scoring in the 16th minute with his eighth goal of the season, whilst Shinji Okazaki finished the job early in the second half with his 10th goal of the season.

The win moves S-Pulse into outright third on 39 points, two clear of Kashima Antlers.

To see all the action from an enthralling weekend of J.League action, tune into Setanta Sports on Thursday night at 7pm for the J.League highlights show.

If you can’t wait until then, visit the following YouTube links for highlights of the following games.

Yokohama F.Marinos vs Albirex Niigata
Urawa Reds vs Kashima Antlers
Nagoya Grampus vs Kyoto Sanga
Gamba Osaka vs Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Kawasaki Frontale

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