Tuesday, November 2, 2010

J.League title Nagoya's for the taking

Josh Kennedy celebrates the
winner against Cerezo Osaka
The J.League title appears headed for Nagoya after a weekend that delivered a number of upsets, allowing Nagoya to extend their lead to 11 points with just six games remaining.

Nagoya went into the round with an eight point lead over second placed Kashima Antlers, who still held out hope of a record breaking fourth straight title.

Both sides faced tricky assignments, with Nagoya playing host to Cerezo Osaka and Kashima making the trek to Niigata for their game against Albirex.

The Nagoya-Cerezo clash was played at Toyota Stadium, away from Nagoya’s normal home stadium of Mizuho Athletic Stadium. It was their fifth game at the larger venue this season, with their previous four games resulting in two wins (vs Kobe and Urawa) and two losses (vs Kawasaki and Kashima).

Cerezo received a boost before the game when Tulio Tanaka was forced to withdraw.

But it was Nagoya that started brightest, with a shot from Keiji Tamada sailing just wide and a header from Mitsuru Chiyotanda well saved inside the first 15 minutes.

The opening goal would soon after though when Josh Kennedy was body checked in the box, leaving the referee with no other option than to blow for a penalty.

And it was the Australian who stepped up to the spot and knock home the penalty and his 16th goal for the season.

Cerezo created a couple of fantastic opportunities in the second half, but there was no way past Seigo Narazaki in the Nagoaya goal, who pulled off a number of outstanding saves to keep the score at 1-0.

Takashi Inui did what many on his side couldn’t just five minutes from time…beat Narazaki. Unfortunately for he and Cerezo the crossbar still stood in the way, with the ball cannoning back off the crossbar to safety.

That was enough to see Nagoya take all three points and go 11 points clear at the top.

In torrential rain Shimizu S-Pulse played host to struggling FC Tokyo. Both clubs were desperate for the three points, but for different reasons. Shimizu were trying to keep touch with the top three in the hope of stealing an ACL spot that looked assured for the first half of the season.

FC Tokyo were fighting to keep out of the relegation dogfight.

Sota Hirayama scored the opener for FC Tokyo

Despite their respective positions it was FC Tokyo that shone brightest early on the dark and dreary day, with Naohiro Ishikawa coming closest with a long range free kick that just went wide after 17 minutes.

Shimizu had their first real chance in the 25th minute, but it was a half chance at best.

FC Tokyo’s domination got the reward it deserved in the 32nd minute when Sota Hirayama headed home from a corner to breath life into the capital clubs fight for survival.

Shimizu should’ve scored before half time, but two guilt-edged chances inside a minute were both excellently saved by Shuichi Gonda.

The home side came out from the break determined to get back on level terms, but it was FC Tokyo that struck first after a defensive mistake allowed Masashi Oguro to tap home a simple goal to give FC Tokyo a surprise 2-0 lead.

Substitute Genki Omae made an immediate impact off the bench, scoring just one minute after coming on to give the home side a chance with 12 minutes remaining.

FC Tokyo put the game beyond doubt just two minutes before time when a long-range free kick bounced awkwardly for Yohei Nishibe who fumbled the ball over the line…or so they thought.

Unspeakably the linesman didn’t see the ball cross the line before Nishibe bought it back in to play and the goal wasn’t allowed. Replays clearly show the ball crossed the line.

It mattered little however as FC Tokyo held on for the final few minutes to record just their sixth win for the season, moving them two points clear of the relegation zone.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Vegalta Sendai surely condemned Kyoto Sanga to relegation after recording a 1-0 win at home and at the same time all but ensuring they remain in J1 next season.

Urawa Reds and Montedio Yamagata do battle

Urawa Reds missed a golden opportunity to climb further up the table after a 0-1 loss at home to Montedio Yamagata. After a strong recovery from a now traditional mid-season slump, Urawa has lost two on the trot to kill off any hopes of a top six, or higher, finish.

Kawasaki Frontale also missed a golden opportunity to put pressure on the top three when they drew at home to Jubilo Iwata.

In arguably the biggest shock of the round, Gamba Osaka inexplicably lost 2-4 at home to relegation-threatened Vissel Kobe. A win would’ve seen Gamba jump to second and go close to securing an ACL place for next season.

On Sunday Yokohama F.Marinos hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in what promised to be an intriguing mid-table clash.

F.Marinos, playing at their second home ground of Mitsuzawa Stadium, came within inches of opening the lead early on after a long-range bullet from Norihisa Shimizu sailed just wide.

It would be Sanfrecce that would open the scoring though Yojiro Takahagi after 22 minutes to stun the home crowd.

In a bizarre incident after the goal, the Sanfrecce players took their positions for what looked like an elaborate goal celebration when the referee came over to break up the party.

Yuji Ono scored again for Yokohama

Yokohama equalised in equally bizarre circumstances when a harmless volley was deflected forward by Yuji Ono, wrong footing the keeper and bouncing in to the open.

Both sides created good chances in the second half and just when it looked like it might be headed for a 1-1 result, up stepped Shimizu to smash in a goal from the edge of the box to send to home crowd wild.

That was enough to see F.Marinos hold on for a 2-1 win and move to 45 points, equal with Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse, just four points behind Gamba and Kashima.

The final game of the weekend saw Albirex Niigata host Kashima Antlers in a must-win game for both clubs.

The first half failed to live up to expectations with both sides reduced to speculative shots from distance that never really troubled either keeper.

It took all of two minutes though for Niigata to open the scoring in the second half when a bullet from Marcio Richardes found the top corner.

That prompted Kashima into action and it was just over ten minutes later that scores were level thanks to a classy finish from Toru Araiba.

It looked like Kashima might steal it in the 89th minute, but two spectacular saves back-to-back from Masaaki Higashiguchi saved Niigata.

Niigata players celebrate the winner against Kashima

The saves proved important as Niigata went down the other end to score the winner in the 90th minute. Isao Hommer hammered home the ball after having it cut back for him on the edge of the box.

The Kashima players were left devastated at an opportunity lost.

It sets up the most mouth-watering of mouth-watering clashes next week when Kashima host Nagoya next Sunday.

You’d have to think if Nagoya takes anything from that game the title is theirs…if it isn’t already.

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