Tuesday, October 19, 2010

J.League delivers a weekend of shock results

Niigata players celebrate one of their four goals
against league leaders Nagoya Grampus

Despite league leaders Nagoya Grampus suffering a shock 1-4 loss to Albirex Niigata, others results meant they still finished the weekend with an eight point lead.

After returning from the international break, Nagoya faced a tricky assignment away to Niigata who have stumbled after a mid-season revival.

Niigata, who only began life as a J.League club in 1999 (starting out in Division 2), were on track for their best ever finish in J1, bettering their sixth place finish in 2007. However a run of five straight games without a win has seen them slip to tenth.

The match started brightly enough for Nagoya, with a couple of half chances early on, however a free kick on 31 minutes from Marcio Richardes, who is attracting renewed interest from Urawa Reds, managed to sail into the back of the net without getting a touch.

The lead would only last 3 minutes as the league’s leading marksman found the back of the net again. Josh Kennedy found the back of the net for his 15th goal of the season and put Nagoya back on level terms.

The home side wasn’t content with going in level at half time and just minutes from the break snatched back the lead courtesy of a sensational volley from midfielder Yuta Mikato.

Fellow midfielder Michael looked to be running out of room near the corner flag, yet somehow found enough room to whip in a cross which was met by Mikato with pinpoint precision.

Just moments later Niigata stunned everyone by scoring a third after carving open the Nagoya defence on the counter. Hideo Oshima was the man on the spot to tap the ball home after Michael played through Richardes, who chose to fire the ball across goal to his teammate rather than go for glory.

Nagoya’s afternoon went from bad to worse early in the second half when midfielder Naoshi Nakamura was shown a second yellow for a careless tackle on the edge o the box.

In the 74th minute Niigata put the game completely out of Nagoya’s reach when the first two goal scorers combined to score Niigata’s fourth. It was that man Michael again who played a delightful ball for Mikato to run onto. The midfielder then cut the ball back for Richardes to delightfully curled the ball around the keeper to seal his brace.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Urawa Reds played host to Cerezo Osaka in a mouthwatering encounter. Urawa are making a late run for an ACL spot, with four wins and three draws from their last seven games.

Haraguchi fires in the winner for Urawa
Cerezo on the other hand have only won one of their last four and are now in a dogfight for an ACL spot.

Urawa made the ideal start when Edmilson fired home in the 14th minute. Cerezo paid the price for dwelling on the ball in the box, coughing up possession and ultimately a goal.

Cerezo should’ve drawn level on 21 minutes.

Brazilian forward Adriano looked to be through on goal, only to be bought down on the edge of the box by the much-maligned Keisuke Tsuboi. Or so it looked.

The referee failed to blow for the foul, but the ball fell perfectly for Hiroshi Kiyotake, but he put his shot wide with only the keeper to beat.

Cerezo were unlucky again just before half time when Amarel saw his header bounce back of the woodwork and safely cleared by the Urawa defence.

Cerezo were doing all the attacking but couldn’t find a way past Norihiro Yamagishi and they were made to pay when Genki Haraguchi scored a contender for goal of the year on 79 minutes.

After collecting the ball wide on the touchline, Haraguchi cut back in and skipped past a number of defenders before firing in a rocket from the edge of the box.

That was enough to seal the three points for Urawa and move them to within 5 points of Kashima in second place.

After the match manager Volker Finke sang the praises of the spirit in the team after the performances in the last two months, which is now 5 wins and 3 draws.

“…the team is getting better as a whole and our team spirit is also getting stronger. For this reason, I think our team now can play as one in a true sense,” he said.

In other games on Saturday Kashima Antlers could be left to rue the two points dropped in their 1-1 draw with Shonan Bellmare. Despite sitting last, Shonan were able to stun the Ibaraki-based outfit with a 90th minute equaliser.

Vegalta Sendai and FC Tokyo in action
Vegalta Sendai heaped further misery on FC Tokyo. The capital club looked to be on track for its second consecutive win before two goals in the final five minutes gave Sendai all three points. Sendai now sit in 13th, seven points above the relegation zone and appear to have almost done enough to guarantee their survival for next season.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata played out a 1-1 draw, whilst Kawasaki got all three points against Montedio Yamagata.

Gamba Osaka thumped Omiya Ardija 5-1 to move into third position, displacing their cross-town rivals Cerezo in the process.

The other surprise result saw one-time contender Shimzu S-Pulse held to a 1-1 with Kyoto Sanga. S-Pulse now sit in seventh and on current form will struggle to take anything out of a season that looked full of promise early on.

The final game of the weekend saw Yokohama F.Marinos play host to Vissel Kobe. With Kobe placed in the relegation zone, they weren’t expected to put up much of a fight against an. F.Marinos side aiming for an ACL spot, even without their star playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura.

Kobe, however, should’ve taken the lead after 15 minutes, but Yoshito Okubu lacked conviction in his shot and hit it straight at the keeper.

Yuji Ono scored the winner for Yokohama against Kobe
Despite have most of the attacking play, F.Marinos were restricted largely to shots from distance, all to no avail.

Kobe’s task was made even harder when Hiroyuki Komoto was shown a red card in the 59th minute for a careless tackle on Yusuke Tanaka.

No less than four minutes later F.Marinos took the lead through Yuji Ono after a nice piece of interplay on the edge of the box.

And 1-0 is how the game would end, a result which took F.Marinos up to sixth position.

So close is the J.League that the teams from second to eighth are separated by just 5 points, which makes every game crucial and every point dropped an opportunity lost.

With just 8 games to go what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Friday, October 15, 2010

FOX SPORTS to broadcast AFC U19 Championships Final

Football fans in Australia can rejoice after FOX SPORTS confirmed today that it will broadcast LIVE & EXCLUSIVE the final of the AFC U19 Championships between Australia and DPR Korea.

FOX SPORTS confirmed to Asian Football Feast earlier this morning that they were looking to secure the broadcast rights and the confirmation came through early this afternoon that the rights had been secured.

Football Federation Australia CEO Ben Buckley was delighted with FOX SPORTS decision to broadcast the game LIVE.

“It is testament to Fox Sports’ commitment to football in Australia that they will broadcast this important continental championship match and we thank them for their support.

“The Qantas Young Socceroos, lead by Head Coach Jan Versleijen and captain Ben Kantarovksi, have had a very successful tournament in China so far and it is fantastic that Australian football supporters will now be able to watch and cheer them on for Sunday’s final.

“I am sure I speak on behalf of all football supporters in Australia when we wish Jan and the players all the best for the match and I am confident that whatever the result they will do Australia proud,” Buckley said.

The match is an historic one for Australia, with the Young Socceroos becoming the first mens team to qualify for an AFC tournament final since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation at the start of 2006.

The match will kick off at 10:30pm (AEDST), with coverage on FOX SPORTS 2 to begin at 10:25pm.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Young Socceroos provide glimpse into the future

Back in September I wrote about the bright future for Australian Football.

This was on the back of performances by Spiranovic, Holman and Federici against Poland. It’s not a view that everyone shared, but that is what is great about Football – everyone has their own opinion.

And after seeing the recent performances of the Young Socceroos at the AFC U19 Championships in China I have to revise my earlier prediction. The future isn’t bright. It’s positively glowing.

It might seem a bit of an overreaction, but I think anyone who has seen their performances in recent times will tell you the same thing – this group has some special young talents.

We already know some of them thanks to their exploits in the A-League, namely Tommy Oar and Matthew Leckie. Both are pegged as the “next big thing” in Australian Football. Their exploits in China have done nothing to dampen those expectations. If anything, they’ve only enhanced them.

A player who doesn’t get the same attention, but who has a future just as bright is captain Ben Kantarovski. Kantarovski has been a regular member of the Newcastle Jets team since he was 16 years of age. Given he has been around for a few years it’s hard to believe that he is still only 18.

He was also a member of Australia’s squad at the 2009 FIFA U20 World Cup. He has experience beyond his years. Earlier this year he turned down an offer to join Bayern Munich’s youth system. His recent performances will only increase the level of interest in the Novacastrian.

Mustafa Amini, who with his red afro will become a cult hero before too long, and Czech Republic-based Kerem Bulut have also impressed during the tournament.

It appears that new national team coach Holger Osieck will wait until after January’s Asian Cup to regenerate the ageing Socceroos squad. But he could do a lot worse than to start giving opportunities to these younger guys.

I’m not advocating giving them all starting berths for the next friendly against Egypt, but if we want to ensure that we have a generation of players coming through ready to step into the national team we need to start including them in the set-up.

Include these players in the squads and get them involved in the environment of the national team. They already have some experience of it at junior level, and Oar has the experience of being in the extended squad for the recent World Cup in South Africa.

With the Socceroos squad not getting any younger, there is going to be a large turnover in personnel for Brazil in 2014. By then Kantarovski will be 22, Oar will be 22, Leckie will be 23, Bulut will be 22 and Amini will be 21.

Whilst that is still very young, Germany showed this year just what can be achieved with a youthful side full of enthusiasm.

I’d wager that a number of this current crop will make it and appear at Brazil 2014 and given their age these youngsters will form the nucleus of the national team for the best part of the next decade, even longer.

By 2022 most of them will only be just turning 30…dare we dream that these youngsters be the players we watch and idolise when the FIFA World Cup is held on Australian soil?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why I support...

Urawa fans in full voice
In the latest edition of why I support, Ryan Steele from Adelaide explains his love for Urawa Red Diamonds.

“Why are you wearing this scarf?” an old lady – an Urawa supporter – asked me during half-time at Nagai Stadium. Urawa were away to Cerezo Osaka on a Saturday afternoon in the Springtime, and I found myself being the only foreigner in the away section.

It was a novelty for everyone involved and a tale for the supporters to tell their children and their children’s children.

I shrugged at the question. I sipped my bottle of water, wondering how it could be answered in the space of a half-time break. All I could think to say was, “We are Reds,” a universal phrase known across all Urawa supporters; a motto that reflects the passion and love that every Red Diamonds fan has for the club, one that’s even emblazoned on the jerseys of each season.

She nodded in agreement, as if to suddenly forget that I was a white man in a Japanese stadium, wearing Japanese clothes, following a Japanese team and leaving all of her curiosity behind.
I looked into his history and found that the man – a Japanese man – came from a team called Urawa Red Diamonds.

After a lot of thorough searching, I finally found some footage. Some of it was from earlier years – years when the likes of Masahiro Fukuda, aka “Mr Reds”, was scoring goals left, right and centre – and some small snippets were from the then-current years, being their stint in J2, and also video and pictures of their supporters.

I’m an Urawa Red Diamonds supporter. I have been for many, many years. It’s an ongoing story that throughout the years has become a little (very) blurry from many drunken nights in Tokyo.

Back in the early turn of the century, I was a big fan of Dutch football, notably of Feyenoord. One of the players, Shinji Ono, quickly became my favourite player after seeing many moments of brilliance in passing, vision and even the occasional goal (whenever he wasn’t injured from a heavy challenge).

The view from the away fans section at Nagai Stadium
for the game between Cerezo Osaka and Urawa Reds

I was thoroughly impressed; not in love, but definitely a fan. If Facebook was around at the time, Urawa would have been liked with the biggest thumbs up possible.

I did my best to keep tabs on the club. It definitely wasn’t easy back then; streaming video wasn’t very common or even well-known, nor was information in English (not to mention my limited knowledge of Japanese, which more or less came from friends in Japanese and an early school education).

Some amazing players came through the club; Emerson (now known as the controversial Brazilian-Qatari national team representative), Donizete and Tomislav Maric to name but a few.

Then, joy of joys, Shinji Ono returned to the Red Diamonds. My attention became more serious through that amazing 2006 season. They won the major double that year – the J. League and the Emperor’s Cup (and the Super Cup at the start of the season) – and I fell more in love with them each game. The players, the formation, the manager; it all seemed brilliant.

Shinji Ono left after winning the AFC Champions League in 2007, when his contract ended, signing a contract with Bochum. I found that my attention didn’t leave the club.

Urawa's home ground - Saitama Stadium - in all its glory

I was captivated. I soon realised it wasn’t just Shinji Ono, it was Urawa that I liked so much. They had become a part of me and I had formed a link that was so strong, so unbreakable that Urawa was part of my heartbeat.

I’ve been to JapanTokyo, specifically – several times in recent years and I even lived there for a very brief spell in 2008. I’ve made a lot of friends through football in Japan and I have a lot of memories; most of which are good.

The J. League, and Urawa specifically, has unexpectedly been a large factor in who I’ve become today and I find it hard to imagine a life without the Red Diamonds.

If I had said that to the old lady, we would have missed the rest of the game. I think “We are Reds” sums it up nicely and it’s exactly how I feel today.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Important weekend ahead for Football in Australia

Heart and Melbourne Victory prepare for tonight's
first ever Melbourne Derby in the A-League
Is this weekend the turning point?

The point where all the negativity surrounding Football in Australia disappears, replaced by a renewed sense of optimism.

I think I speak on behalf of all Football fans when I say – let’s hope so!

The A-League has copped a hammering from all quarters so far this season, and I am not going to pretend that the league isn’t without its problems. It is. But it must also be remembered that the league is only five years old. Growing pains are to be expected.

But what a wonderful sight we will see tonight when
Swan Street
(aka AAMI Park) will be packed to capacity for the first ever Melbourne derby. The atmosphere inside the stadium will be something that Football has rarely seen in this country.

This stadium, it should be remembered, was built largely off the back of the success of Melbourne Victory.

In giving Melbourne a proper Football stadium, the A-League has already been a success.

FFA Chairman Frank Lowy is in no doubt the A-League is here to stay, telling those in attendance at last night’s Australian Football Awards that, “…the A-League is here to stay, will succeed and will achieve its objectives.”

Perhaps this Derby is the kick start the league needed this season.

Whilst most eyes will be centered on Melbourne tonight, a Football match in the small Chinese town of Zibo is also crucially important for Australia.

It’s not a final, it’s not even a quarter-final or semi-final, but tonight’s clash between the Young Socceroos and Korea Republic in the U19 AFC Championships could go a long way to deciding the fate (in the immediate term) of a talented generation of Australian footballers.

The Young Socceroos prepare for action
at the U19 AFC Championships

The winner of tonight’s clash will qualify top of Group D, thus avoiding a tough quarter-final clash with perennial underage powerhouse Japan. It’s a clash both sides want to avoid, and for good reason. Whilst they have never won the tournament, Japan have finished runner-up in five of the last eight editions.

A top place finish will mean a clash with either the UAE or Vietnam, and an easier path to the all important semi-finals. Qualification for the semi-finals guarantees a place at next year’s U20 FIFA World Cup in Colombia.

Given the talent in this squad – Leckie, Oar, Kantarovski, Bulut to name just a few – it would be a travesty if this group of players did not play at an U20 FIFA World Cup. Jan Versleijen’s men have a slight edge given the fact a draw will be good enough to see them qualify top, but it won’t be easy.

The experience gained from playing at an U20 FIFA World Cup will be invaluable, especially for a handful of players who will do so for a second time (Kantarovski, Oar), especially one on South American soil given some of these players will likely feature for Australia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup (should we qualify).

Also this weekend, the Socceroos are in town, playing host to Paraguay. Whilst the game may be a “friendly”, the action on the pitch will be important.

Over the last 18 months, the Socceroos have lost their box office allure. Many point the blame at Pim Verbeek’s dour tactics, others at an overkill of games in one particular area. For whatever reason, the ‘Roos aren’t as popular as they once were and there is a chance the Melbourne Derby could draw a bigger crowd.

But if the signs from the first two games are anything to go by then the Socceroos under Osieck look to be a more attacking unit. Australia rejoyced in the performance against Serbia at the World Cup, and if Australia can continually put on performances like that, it won’t be long before the crowds come flocking back.

With this weekend our first chance to see the Socceroos on home soil under Osieck, first impressions are important. Let’s hope the attacking flair shown in Switzerland and Poland finds its way to Australia.

Equally important is what will be happening behind the scenes this week. Make no mistake about it, this game is not just a friendly, a chance for the players to cut their wares against a top international opponent. There is a particular reason that Paraguay was chosen as an opponent.

That reason is a man by the name of Nicolás Léoz.

CONMEBOL President Nicolás Léoz

Léoz is President of CONMEBOL, the confederation that controls South American Football and is also a powerful member of the FIFA Executive Committee. The same committee that will vote on the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup’s in December.

It is widely reported that CONMEBOL’s three FIFA Exco members – Léoz, Julio Grondona from Argentina and Ricardo Teixiera from Brazil – will vote as a bloc come December. So getting Léoz onside goes a long way to securing their all important vote.

Australia is going all out in its bid to win Léoz’s vote. In September FFA CEO Ben Buckley travelled to China at the same time that Paraguay were playing a friendly there. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Buckley was there.

If Australia can impress Léoz enough during his time here it may help in convincing him, and CONMEBOL, to give their vote to Australia.

At all levels of the game, this weekend is important. Whether it is the turning point, only time will tell.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Young Socceroos qualify for AFC U19 Quarter Finals

Australia’s Young Socceroos, the national U19 football team, has qualified for the Quarter Finals of the 2010 U19 AFC Championships.

Under the guidance of Dutchman Jan Versleijen, Australia has backed up its billing as one of the pre-tournament favourites with two comfortable victories.

In their first outing, Australia easily accounted for Yemen 4-1 after falling behind early. The man on everyone’s lips in Australia, Matthew Leckie, starred and only enhanced his reputation as one of Australia’s most promising young talents.

Were it not for this tournament there is every chance he’d be part of Holger Osieck’s Socceroos squad for this weekend’s friendly against Paraguay.

This afternoon the Young Socceroos scored another victory, this time over middle-eastern power Iran, keeping a clean sheet and scoring three at the other end.

Australia did get lucky with a quarter of an hour to play when Iran captain Payam Sadeghian missed a penalty and a chance to get back in the game.

But in the end goals to Mustafa Amini, Kerem Bulut and Terry Antonis allowed Australia to register a 3-0 win and seal a place in the Quarter Finals.

The win was soured, however, with a last minute red card to Marc Warren and a possible injury to Kofi Danning.

Australia will now become fans of Yemen, hoping they can spring a surprise and take something from their clash with South Korea later tonight.

Australia’s final group stage game will be against the Koreans on Friday. Whilst it is likely that both teams will have already qualified for the Quarter Finals, neither team will be holding back as top spot in the group is all important.

The team that finishes top will likely take on the UAE in the Quarter Finals and avoid a clash with perennial powerhouses Japan.

Teams need to qualify for the Semi Finals in order to seal qualification for the 2011 U20 FIFA World Cup in Colombia.

After two strong performances and seven goals in two games, it is looking likely that Australia will qualify for its second consecutive U20 World Cup.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Setanta confirms J.League schedule for October

Setanta Sports Australia have confirmed their J.League schedule for October.

The news is good for fans of Shimizu S-Pulse, Kyoto Sanga, Vissel Kobe, Nagoya Grampus, Urawa Reds and Montedio Yamagata.

The games are as follows:

Saturday 16 October - Shimizu S-Pulse vs Kyoto Sanga @ 9pm
Sunday 24 October - Vissel Kobe vs Nagoya Grampus @ 10:15am - DELAYED
Sunday 31 October - Urawa Reds vs Montedio Yamagata @ 10:15am - DELAYED

Of course, October actually started last weekend when Setanta broadcast the Montedio Yamagata vs Gamba Osaka game.

Setanta Sports will also continue to broadcast the J.League Highlights Show each Thursday night at 7pm, so be sure to tune into that to catch all the latest action.

Whilst it is fantastic that Setanta Sports is broadcasting one game per week from the J.League, the choice of games, which I recognise is out of the control of Setanta leaves a lot to be desired.

Once again in October we are left with games between top clubs and bottom clubs, whilst many games involving two top clubs go un-broadcast.

For example, in Rd 26 (Sat 16 Oct) we are shown Shimizu vs Kyoto, yet that same weekend there are games between Urawa vs Cerezo and Albirex vs Nagoya that would be more attractive.

In Rd 27 we see Kobe vs Nagoya, but miss a classic between Kashima and Yokohama and then in Rd 28 we see Urawa Reds and Montedio Yamagata and miss out on Nagoya vs Cerezo Osaka or Albirex vs Kashima.

It is known to Asian Football Feast that there is only one game per week broadcast from Japan with English commentary, and it is commendable that they "share the love" by showing almost (if not all) the teams in at least one game across the year.

But when you're getting to the tail end of the Championship race, or even if there is just a big game taking place (Osaka Derby for example), you want to view the best action and unfortunately we don't always get that.

Don't even get me started on widescreen...

Nagoya extend their lead...again!

Kennedy celebrates his 14th J.League goal
They did it the hard way, coming from a goal down, but Nagoya have once again extended their lead at the top of the J.League table.

Their 2-1 win over Vegalta Sendai, which was only sealed two minutes from time when Yoshizumi Ogawa scored on the break, puts them nine points clear on top with just nine games to play.

Vegalta shocked everyone when they took the lead in the 22nd minute through Ryang Yong-gi’s beautiful strike from the edge of the box. They almost doubled their lead just seconds later when a thunderbolt from all of 35 yards from Naoya Tamura clattered into the crossbar.

Nagoya should have equalised in the 28th minute when Colombian Danilson Cordoba was played through, but he fluffed his lines and pulled his shot wide.

Sendai had their goalkeeper to thank for still being level at half time, with two wonderful saves, one on the goal line, frustrating Nagoya as they went into half time 0-1 down.

Just before the hour mark, however, Nagoya were gifted a chance to equalise when Kodai Watanabe was adjudged to have fouled Australian striker Josh Kennedy in the box.

After winning the penalty, Kennedy then stepped up to the spot and sent the keeper the wrong way to get Nagoya back on level terms. The sighs of relief could be heard all around Mizuho Stadium.

The goal was Kennedy’s 14th of the season and puts him two clear on top of the Golden Boot standings.

A goal line scramble in the 61st minute almost saw Japanese international Tulio Tanaka slot home a second for Nagoya, but he couldn’t quite get enough power on his shot.

Both sides continued to create scoring chances and it looked as though Nagoya would drop points for the second time in three weeks before Ogawa’s late strike.

In Saitama battle lines were drawn as Omiya Ardija and Urawa Reds fought for local bragging rights in the Saitama Derby.

Much to the annoyance of the Ardija faithful, the club once again decided to play their “home” game at Urawa’s larger Saitama Stadium instead of at their usual home ground, NACK 5 Stadium, which has a capacity of just 15,500.

Whilst from a financial point of view it may have worked, with more than 33,000 attending, the loss of a true home ground advantage was crucial.

Already angry Ardija fans would have been ropeable after Urawa scored twice inside the opening 20 minutes.

Kashiwagi celebrates his goal in the Saitama Derby

The first came after just 5 minutes when Yosuke Kashiwagi’s delicate chip inside the box found Hiroyuki Takasaki, who headed home the opening goal.

Just ten minutes later, Edmilson’s run carved open the Ardija defence before the Brazilian cut the ball back for that man Kashiwagi to score Urawa’s second with a delightful chip/shot from just outside the box. Takashi Kitano had no chance of keeping it out.

Just before half time, a mistake from Wilfred Sanou, who has been called up to represent Burkina Faso in an upcoming African Cup of Nations qualifier, gifted Rafael with an opportunity to score, and it was one he took full advantage of as he gave Ardija a sniff going into the break.

Urawa’s most experienced striker, Tatsuya Tanaka, missed a golden opportunity to further extend their lead when Sanou made a great run forward and put in a pinpoint cross to find Tanaka. The Japanese international could only direct his header wide and the chance went begging.

It mattered little however as Urawa held onto their 2-1 lead to record their fourth win in their last seven games and extend their unbeaten run to seven games. It sees them sit in 8th spot and just a handful of points away from the top five.

Their manager, German Volker Finke, was full of praise for his side after the game.

“Our team controlled the game really well and the players were proactive in building up their own style of game during the first half of the match today. Considering the difficult situation we have at the moment, this is something I have to praise,” he said.

But he did recognise that given their form this season, a number of their players got nervous and lost their way when Ardija scored just before half time.

“When we lost a goal, naturally, some of the players started to get a little nervous.

Many of the players are really aware that our team lost many points unnecessarily during this season. For this reason, some of the players started to feel rushed and lost control of the ball after we lost the goal.

I thought that our team was not able to perform well when this happened,” he continued.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Shimizu held Kashima to a 1-1 draw, a result that did neither time any favours as the season draws to a close. Kashima now sit 9 points behind Nagoya with Shimizu a further four points back and now surely out of contention.

Kashima and Shimizu could only manage a 1-1 draw

Sanfrecce Hiroshima did as was expected and defeated struggling Kyoto Sanga 3-0 thanks to a second half brace from Tadanari Lee and a first half strike from Tomoaki Makino.

Just as easily, Kawasaki Frontale accounted for Vissel Kobe 4-0. A brace from Juninho and goals to Masaru Kurotsu and Yusuke Tasaka allowed them to leapfrog Shimizu into fifth place.

Cerezo Osaka returned to form with a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata who, after a stirring run mid-season have hit the wall, losing four of their last five games.

The result will delight the pink half of Osaka who moved back into third, replacing crosstown rivals Gamba who suffered a shock 2-1 loss to lowly Montedio Yamagata.

Gamba took the lead on the hour, but two goals in three minutes to Yamagata sealed their fate. They now sit 11 points behind Nagoya and you’d have to think their title challenge is over for another year.
On Sunday, Yokohama F.Marinos were held to a surprising 0-0 draw to Jubilo Iwata, who now sit well above the relegation zone and just five points behind the Yokohama outfit.

It’s been a great recovery from Iwata, who won just two of their first nine games.

The last game of the round was a relegation battle and saw FC Tokyo, desperate to avoid the drop for the first time since 1998, take on Shonan Bellmare who sit last and are certain to return straight back to J2 next season.

FC Tokyo celebrate their first win since July
Two goals in two minutes to Masashi Oguro and Naohiro Ishikawa just before half time sent the home fans into raptures and gave Tokyo a crucial 2-0 lead going into half time.

It was a margin they held until the 84th minute when Ricardinho slotted home a third to give Tokyo their first win since 25 July, ironically also against Shonan Bellmare.

Their last win that wasn’t against Shonan was all the way back in May, when they recorded a 3-0 win over Montedio Yamagata.

It was a winless streak that totalled ten games, saw them plummet into the relegation zone and saw coach Hiroshi Jofuku given the boot.

They face another relegation threatened side in Vegalta Sendai next week. They’ll go into that match with renewed confidence knowing a win is crucial in their fight for survival.