Friday, November 5, 2010

History beckons for Nagoya

Will Nagoya be celebrating
this weekend?

Both clubs have been in the J.League since its inception in 1993 and both clubs are chasing history, and their clash this weekend could see one of them achieve just that.

Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers are the two teams in questions and their histories couldn’t be any more different. Nagoya, founded in 1939 as Toyota Motor SC, has never won the J.League. Kashima on the other hand are the J.League’s most successful club.

Seven titles, including the last three, three J.League Cups and three Nabisco Cups. 13 trophies in 17 years, a stunning record in any league.

But this year it is the Nagoya based club that is taking all before it. 19 wins from 28 games tells the story of their dominance. Their target man, the lanky Josh Kennedy, has caused nightmares for defences across the league and leads the golden boot award with 16 goals.

Heading into their clash this weekend, Nagoya enjoy a comfortable 11 point lead over second placed Kashima. A win, whilst not guaranteeing anything, would surely secure Nagoya their first J.League title.

Two of their stars will face last minute fitness tests, with Tulio Tanaka and Mu Kanazaki both trying to overcome injured hamstrings suffered in their win over Vissel Kobe two weeks ago. Latest reports suggest Tanaka could return via the bench, although Kanazaki is likely to miss.

Despite this, with the prospect of clinching the title, especially against the team that has won the last three, I can’t see Nagoya not getting the three points.

Further north, Gamba will be looking to bounce back from a demoralising 2-4 home loss to Vissel Kobe when they travel to the capital to take on FC Tokyo.

Gamba Osaka will be hoping Yasuhito Endo fires
FC Tokyo are trying to avoid the drop to J2 for the first time in more than a decade. Last weekend’s shock win over Shimizu S-Pulse helped the cause, but they still have work to do if they want to avoid the drop.

Gamba players were copped some heated abuse after their loss last week and Akira Nishino’s men will be out to make a point against another relegation contender.

The strike pairing of Shoki Hirai and Takashi Usami, who have scored 14 and 7 goals respectively this season, will likely lead the line for Gamba. Usami starred for Japan at the recent AFC U19 Championships and will need to produce that form to ensure Gamba stay inside the top three.

FC Tokyo will welcome back midfielder Takuji Yonemoto, but will lose Yohei Kajiyama through suspension.

After sacking manager Hiroshi Jofuku in September, the club has got its season somewhat back on track with two wins and a draw from their last five games.

But with Gamba baying for blood, it’ll be a brave man that will back FC Tokyo to take anything from this game.

After winning their first piece of silverware since winning the Emporer’s Cup in 2003, Jubilo Iwata will be on a high when they host fellow mid-table outfit Albirex Niigata.

A win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the Nabisco Cup final during the week was a welcome return to success for the club that became accustomed to success in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Jubilo Iwata celebrate their
Nabisco Cup triumph
During that time the club won three titles (1997, 1999 and 2002), three times runner-up (1998, 2001 and 2003), one J.League Cup (1998), one Emporer’s Cup (2003) and the Asian Club Championship (1999).

It is a record that rivals that of Kashima Antlers, yet the club has gradually slipped down the table since and narrowly avoided relegation in 2008 after it finished 16th.

Despite a horror start to the season, just one win from the first seven games, Iwata has slowly recovered and sit in 11th place. Their last two weeks has seen them take all three points against Urawa, take a point against Kawasaki and win the Nabisco Cup.

The club can have genuine ambitions of finishing inside the top ten. Whilst it may not sound spectacular, after their start to the season it would be some small consolation.

They have one of the better front men in the league at their disposal in Riyochi Maeda and as such pose a threat to any team they play against.

Niigata had a similarly horror start to the season, but went on a barnstorming mid-season run that at one stage saw them in with a chance of clinching an ACL spot. However they have fallen away since and are now in a myriad of teams aiming for a top six finish.

Whilst they have no real chance of silverware this year, despite still being involved in the Emporer’s Cup, they have already had a big say in the outcome of this season’s J.League.

A last minute winner against Kashima last week all but ended the Antlers title hopes.

Other games this weekend include Sanfrecce Hiroshima hosting Urawa Reds in another mid-table battle. Sanfrecce will likely be a bit flat coming into the game after their extra time loss in the Nabisco Cup final.

For Urawa, they will be looking to arrest a two-game losing streak that has all but consigned them to a mid-table finish this season. The match is also important for their manager, German Volker Finke. There is still some doubt as to whether the German will keep his job next season and a strong finish to the season will help his cause.

The last two weeks wont have helped, with some reports during the week suggesting that ex-Japan coach Takeshi Okada could be a possible replacement.

Cerezo will take on S-Pulse
Both Shonan Bellmare and Kyoto Sanga are already resigned to the fact they will be playing their Football in J2 next year and both face difficult tasks this weekend; hosting Yokohama F.Marinos and Kawasaki Frontale respectively.

Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse have one chance left to stay in the hunt for an ACL spot when they meet at the Nagai Stadium on Saturday.

Also on Saturday is Vissel Kobe hosting Vegalta Sendai and Omiya Ardija hosting Montedio Yamagata.

But all the attention this weekend will be on the top of the table clash in Kashima on Sunday.

Dasher’s Predictions
Shonan Bellmare 0-3 Yokohama F.Marinos
Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Shimzu S-Pulse
Vissel Kobe 0-0 Vegalta Sendai
FC Tokyo 1-4 Gamba Osaka
Jubilo Iwata 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Montedio Yamagata
Kyoto Sanga 0-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 Urawa Reds
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Nagoya Grampus

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