Friday, September 10, 2010

J.League returns after international break

After a week off which saw the national side notch two wins to mark the start of a new era under Italian Alberto Zaccheroni (even though he wasn’t actually in charge), Japanese attention will return to their domestic J.League this weekend.

With just 12 weeks to go, the action is heating up and this weekend tosses up some enticing clashes.

Omiya Ardija vs Shimizu S-Pulse
After returning to winning ways last time around, Shimizu will be looking to continue that run when they take on relegation-threatened Omiya Ardija.

Shimizu broke a three-game losing streak against fellow contenders Kawasaki Frontale in Round 21 with a 2-0 victory. Ardija, on the other hand, are coming into this game on the back of two losses that see them placed in 16th and in the relegation zone.

Shinji Okazaki, who turned out for Japan midweek, will be looking to continue his scoring form, having already registered 10 for the season, just one shy of Golden Boot leader Josh Kennedy.

A win for Shimizu could put them into outright second, and with that on the line I can’t see the Shizuoka outfit not getting all three points:

Prediction: Omiya Ardija 1-2 Shimizu S-Pulse

Cerezo Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Sanfrecce will come into the game on a high after advancing to the Nabisco Cup Semi-Finals for the first time with a 2-1 win (2-2 on aggregate, Sanfrecce through on away goals) over the more fancied Gamba Osaka.

Hisato Sato was the star of their win midweek, scoring early before setting up Koji Morisaki and he will be the main danger for Cerezo to deal with. With 9 goals already this season in the league, the game could come down to how much influence Sato has on the game.

Cerezo, however, are no mugs and have surprised many by sitting in second place after the first 21 rounds. They are on a four-game winning streak and haven’t lost since the end of July.

The game promises plenty, and I expect it to deliver. For me you can’t go past Cerezo in the form they’re in.

Prediction: Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Jubilo Iwata vs Shonan Bellmare
This game doesn’t exactly get the heart pumping and juices flowing.

After being promoted from J2 last season, Shonan have struggled, managing only three wins so far. They’re GD is the second worst in the league, only ahead of the hapless Kyoto Sanga, at -21.

Iwata, who reached the Semi-Finals of the Nabisco Cup midweek, have been on some sort of a mini-revival of late, picking up seven points from their last five games to give them a bit of breathing space above the relegation zone. Ryoichi Maeda, last season’s Golden Boot winner, will provide their main threat up front. He has scored 8 of his teams 22 goals so far this season.

This game has 0-0 written all over it.

Prediction: Jubilo Iwata 0-0 Shonan Bellmare

Kawasaki Frontale vs Yokohama F.Marinos
This one should be the match of the weekend.

Yokohama scored a confidence boosting 3-0 win over Albirex Niigata last time around, with Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura in vintage form. It’s the sort of form that, if he produced consistently, would see Yokohama further up the table.

They will have some concern over defender Yuzo Kurihara, who had to pull out of the Japanese squad after the Paraguay game because of injury.

Kawasaki, who lost ground on the top two after a 2-0 loss to Shimizu in the last round, will be eager to getting back to winning ways. They’ve also lost striker Renatinho since their last encounter, with the out-of-favour striker sealing a move to Portugal.

They have one important factor though…home ground advantage. In their 10 games at home this season, they’ve won eight and drawn two. All of their six defeats this season have been on the road.

This game could also have big implications for either side’s hopes of an ACL spot. If Yokohama lose, they risk slipping eight points behind third place, whilst for Kawasaki they could slip seven points behind. That’s a lot of ground to make up in just 11 games.

The Todoroki Stadium will be bursting at the seams come Saturday night and I think Kawasaki’s home form will be too good for Yokohama.

Prediction: Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Yokohama F.Marinos

Kyoto Sanga vs Vissel Kobe
The less said about this clash the better.

Kyoto is struggling, big time. And they don’t look like getting out of their slump anytime soon.

Kobe are only outside the relegation zone due to the fact they’ve scored four more goals than Omiya Ardija.

Kobe will get the job done, just, but it won’t be worth writing home about.

Prediction: Kyoto Sanga 0-1 Vissel Kobe

Kashima Antlers vs Vegalta Sendai
Kashima, who have slipped up in recent weeks, shouldn’t have too many problems disposing of Vegalta.

The Sendai outfit, despite the support of a vociferous crowd, have struggled this season, winning only 5 games. Like Kobe, they only sit outside the relegation zone thanks to goals scored.

Kashima, who looked on their way to a fourth straight title just a few weeks ago, will be looking for Shinzo Koroki to continue his run of scoring as they look for their first win since the end of July.

This one could be get ugly for Sendai, who concede almost 1.5 goals a game on average.

Prediction: Kashima Antlers 3-0 Vegalta Sendai

Albirex Niigata vs Gamba Osaka
If Kawasaki vs Yokohama is the match of the round, this one isn’t far behind.

Niigata, despite suffering a 3-0 loss to Yokohama last time around, has been on an amazing run of form after a horror start to the season.

Gamba Osaka also made a stuttering start to the season and are slowly clawing their way back into contention. They currently sit in sixth, having won five of their past seven. They are the great entertainers of the league, always playing attractive Football however it hasn’t delivered results on a consistent basis.

There are question marks over their playmaker Yasuhito Endo, who withdrew from the Japan squad after the Paraguay game due to injury.

This one could go either way, but I feel Niigata in front of their parochial fans will just get the job done.

Prediction: Albirex Niigata 2-1 Gamba Osaka

Montedio Yamagata vs Nagoya Grampus
This is a golden opportunity for Nagoya to maintain their lead at the top of the table.

Montedio are no pushovers, but struggle to score goals and Nagoya has one of the best defences in the league, lead by Japanese international Tulio Tanaka.

They also have the league’s leading scorer in Australian Josh Kennedy. Kennedy should be right for this game after being forced to pull out of Australia’s squad for their recent friendlies against Switzerland and Poland.

I’m predicting a comfortable win for Nagoya.

Prediction: Montedio Yamagata 0-2 Nagoya Grampus

FC Tokyo vs Urawa Reds
The final game of the round should be an intriguing match-up.

On paper you’d suggest Urawa should get the job done, but they’ve struggled in recent times, winning only one of their last six.

Tokyo is similarly struggling and are without a win since 25 July. They are one of four clubs sitting on 21 points, but are outside the relegation zone courtesy of goals difference.

Urawa is mathematically in with a chance of an ACL spot, but they chances would be less than 2%. After a bright start to the season, they have fallen in a heap and at best will finish top six if they can get a run on.

Pressure will be mounting on both coaches if they lose this game. After two successive top six finishes, the Tokyo faithful will not be happy with their current predicament and Hiroshi Jofuku, who took over in 2008, will be the man in the firing line.

If for no other reason than I support them, I’m tipping Urawa to get the job done.

This game will be shown on delay on Setanta Sports at 10:30pm on Monday night. Be sure to tune in.

Prediction: FC Tokyo 0-2 Urawa Reds

No comments:

Post a Comment