Thursday, June 30, 2011

Japan impress in Mexico

By Nobuyuki Tosey

Japan have performed well in Mexico
The U17 World Cup is a competition where footballing education should really be prioritised over the demands of silverware. The idea is that it provides a first taste of international tournament football and high class opposition in an unfamiliar environment for those involved. 

However, for developing footballing nations such as Japan - whose youth systems are still in relative infancy - these tournaments provide an important indication of how the level of the young players produced by the current system fair against the top nations.

Furthermore with Japan having had numerous foreign coaches for the national team over the last decade, there's an interest in whether Japanese coach Hirofumi Yoshitake could go toe to toe with his international counterparts.

Japan faced a tough task to qualify out of their group as they faced fellow underdogs Jamaica and two world heavyweights in France and Argentina. Coach Yoshitake hoped that the 4-2-3-1 formation exhibited in the past by both the full national team and recently the U22's, would be the system to help them to progress.

It's a formation that suits the type of ball playing, not so physical players Japan produces: focusing on possession, collective defending and requiring intelligent runs and quick passes to create chances. Having watched the National team be frustrated by a lack of penetration when using this formation it would be interesting to see if such a young side had the tactical awareness to utilise it to full effect.

Ishige in action against Jamaica
Getty Images
After a slow start it was the Jamaicans who came closest early on. Jamaica captain Omar Holness collected the ball, turned sharply and his shot from 30 yards struck the post with Nakamura beaten.

As Japan settled they saw more possession, but chances were few and far between for both teams and although Japan had a bright period towards the end of the half it didn't result in a goal. As is so often the case in tournament football, a substitution would change the shape of the game.

Yoshitake brought on Jamaican born Musashi Suzuki at half time to widen the attacking threat. It worked, Suzuki's width energetically supported by the left back Hayakawa often overlapping, stretched the Jamaican defence and resulted in more frequent chances for the Japanese.

The trend of Japan producing good attacking full backs as seen with Nagatomo, Uchida and now Sakai in the U22's, continues with this U17 team. A great run from the full back Muroya down the right gave the option for Matsumoto, who played a one-two with the marauding full back, took his first touch with his right and finished with his left.

With Jamaica searching for a winner, Japan nullified the threat with a mature display of possession football (61%) and the use of the physical, yet less technically gifted Suzuki as an outlet to close out the game. Although Japan hadn't been at their best and chances were scarce, their possession game and defensive organisation meant that they were unlikely to concede.

Suzuki - not the best technically but good on the ball
Getty Images
If the Japanese weren't wary of the French already, they would have had to have taken note when France destroyed Argentina 3-0 in their opening game. But in a sign of the growing belief that Japan is ready to compete at the upper echelons of world football, Yoshitake expressed his confidence of a positive outcome. Obviously impressed by what he had seen, he opted to use Suzuki in a central role and pushed Hayakawa up to the left of the attacking midfield three.

Despite a bright start, France's superiority in terms of individual talent and physicality began to tell. Lenny Nangis was giving Muroya all sorts of problems as he struggled to adapt playing left back and the strong and powerful Zouma was preventing much of an attacking threat. It wasn’t long until Japan found themselves behind; Zouma intercepted the ball just outside his penalty area, drove through the midfield and laid off the ball to Nkusu, he found Yaisien, who took a touch to set himself and from the edge of the area caressed the ball into the top corner. Japan seemed rattled and were perhaps lucky to stay in the game after not being punished for individual errors.

Towards the end of the half Japan were able to instigate their passing game, but Suzuki was struggling to be the focus of the attack and it was hard to see where the goal would come from. Yoshitake once again made a change at half time, moving Suzuki to the right and taking off Akino for the more natural striker Minamino.

With Minamino being able to provide a better focus for the attacking midfield trio to work off of Japan were impressing. After good work down the left from Hayakwa, Ishige burst into the box and was fouled for a penalty. He picked himself up and sent the keeper the wrong way for the equaliser. Japan were brimming with confidence and twice Ishige should have put Japan in front after both Suzuki (shot wide) and Hayakawa (shot blocked) managed to break down the left and cut back to the number 8.

They almost paid for not taking their chances, as but for a good Nakamura save from a Meite shot they could have lost. Having said that, Japan finished the game frustrated as after the interval they completely turned the game around, managed 62% possession and the better chances to get the winner.

Ueda celebrates scoring against Argentina
Getty Images
Knowing that they only needed a draw to advance, coach Hirofumi Yoshitake took the bold step of making six changes for the game against Argentina, leaving out all of those on a yellow card. However it wasn't long before the decision paid off, as once again a Japanese full back showed attacking qualities. Kawaguchi burst past his opposite man and into the penalty area, managed to toe-poke at goal and with the keeper spilling, 15 year old Daisuke Takagi was on hand to open the scoring.

Argentina responded well for a 10 minute period and put the defence under pressure. But after holding out centre back Ueda rose highest to head Japan into a two goal lead from a well delivered Akino corner. The Argentinians were obviously frustrated and after Zarate was booked for catching Takagi in the first half, Montero was given his marching orders in the second with a nasty stamp on Akino.

With a 2-0 lead and a man advantage the game was pretty much sewn up. This was made sure of when, yet again, Suzuki (on as substitute) ran down the left, crossed for Akino and who buried the rebound after his first shot was parried. A clean sheet would have been good for confidence and despite flapping for a few crosses, second choice goalkeeper Niekawa had done well and made a magnificent save from an Ocampos header.

But it wasn't to be, as Bruno Ferreira beat him from all of 40 yards with a magnificent strike. The game finished 3-1 and thanks to France drawing 1-1 with Jamaica, Japan had won the group and faced New Zealand in the quarter finals.

New Zealand 
Ishige in action against New Zealand
New Zealand proposed an interesting challenge for this Japan side. They too had only conceded two goals in the group stages and the coach Aaron McFarland emphasised the team ethic in his side as their main asset. The premise seemed to be that this New Zealand side would be tough to break down and with a quarter final against Brazil at stake, Yoshitake slightly changed the formation to be more attacking.

Mochizuki took up a sole holding role and Ishige was pushed up to play off of Matsumoto in a sort of 4-1-3-1-1. Iwanami and Muroya came back into the defence, meaning that once again Hayakawa was pushed up to the left of the midfield three.

The attacking intent was clear and after a scrappy start it began to be put into practice. Once again Muroya and Kawaguchi were tirelessly overlapping and Hayakawa was thriving in his advanced role.

The breakthrough came after Ishige, having already had one cross-cum-shot well saved by New Zealand keeper Basalaj, won the ball off the full back Colvey and saw his cross float over the helpless keeper and in off the back post. Soon after Japan were two up; the lively Hayakawa was played in over the top via a delightful ball by Mochizuki and he simply rolled the ball across to Ishige for his second. Japan's game plan to find gaps between the centre back and full back was working and it wasn't long before it was three.

Matsumoto dropped deep and played that same ball, this time on the right, and after Ishige rather selfishly shot at goal, Hayakawa tucked in the rebound. It got worse for New Zealand before half time, when a lovely one-two between Hayakawa and Mochizuki down the left resulted in his shot being palmed by the keeper into the path of Colvey, who could only watch it bounce off of him and go in for 4-0. Strangely, with no apparent injury forcing the change, Yoshitake brought off holding player Mochizuki for striker Minamino in the 44th minute. Perhaps he knew the game was won and was already experimenting for the Brazil game.

New Zealand were clearly intent on damage limitation but the second half continued in similar fashion. The fifth goal came when once again Matsumoto, doing well in his new role out wide, laid the ball off for the advancing Muroya and his cross was tapped home by Minamino. The Japanese showed no signs of seeing the game out and continued to foray forward.

Minamino was fortunate to see his pass come back to him off of the referee, found Akino, whose crisp pass was collected by Hayakawa who calmly finished. 6-0 and although New Zealand had been poor, Japan had been very good nonetheless and thoroughly deserved the chance to take on Brazil in the quarters. A nice touch towards the end saw goalkeeper Awaka brought on, meaning that Yoshitake has already used his entire squad in the tournament.

This Japan team has impressed a lot of people. They have averaged 60% possession and shown a surprising amount of tactical awareness and maturity so far. More importantly it's encouraging that the players and the coaches are addressing their faults after each game and consequently have improved and gathered momentum.

Despite having played well in the group stages the lack of clinical finishing was worrying - the scoreline against Argentina was largely glorified by awful goalkeeping and they should have beaten France but were wasteful. The changes in both personnel and tactics in the New Zealand game certainly addressed this issue.

Yoshitake has managed to find a system to accommodate the width Kawaguchi, Muroya, Hayakawa and Mastumoto all provide and in Minamino there is a lively goal threat. Akino is one of the more technically gifted players in the team and his new found role in the centre looks promising if the surrounding players can continue to give him options.

Perhaps most importantly, in Ishige, Japan have a player naturally gifted at arriving into the box at the right time and he could well be the source of their goals against Brazil.

Defensively the team looks good, yet bar the France game, they've been largely untested. They have looked most vulnerable when being hit on the counter and forced to run back towards their own goal.

With the talented pair of Piazon and Ademilson to deal with, they will certainly be tested in  this area. Add to that that the set piece delivery from Adryan is probably the best at the tournament and it's clear that if Japan are to progress the back four will have to work harder than they have had to so far.

Finally, whether Yoshitake uses two holding players or sticks to the formation that served them well today will be crucial. So far he has been bold with both his tactics and confidence in pre-match build ups and it's a difficult balancing act as clearly this Japan side are on a high, yet Brazil will have to be respected for the quality they possess.

In that space in front of the back four Adryan will need to be kept quiet, as will Ademilson, who has shown his talent for shooting from range by scoring three goals from outside the box already.

However, Ivory Coast showed that the game can be taken to Brazil and Japan should take confidence from that, let alone the performances that they have put in themselves so far this tournament.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not just a training match

By Ray Gunawan

Kashiwagi in action for Urawa in their training match
So normally a training match isn't anything to get excited about, but sometimes it is.

Our training match against Niigata might just be one to get excited about. The final score of 3-0 is impressive; more importantly it shows that we might just have signs of life in our attack and our defense might not have to rely on Tsuboi and Nobu Yamada when either Nagata or Spiranovic is unavailable.

This was the starting XI:

GK: Yamagishi
DF: Ugajin; Aoyama; Tsutsumi; Noda
MF: Nozaki (Youth); Kashiwagi; Kojima
FW: Umesaki; Sergio; Yajima (Youth) 

Sergio scored in the first half and Umesaki grabbed a double in the second half.

Since regaining full fitness after a string of injuries Umesaki has been in impressive form for the Reds. When healthy Umesaki has been impressive for the Reds, it's just that he keeps on getting injured. I just hope that his injuries are behind him, imagine a front three which includes Genki and Umesaki on either flank; sounds appealing doesn't it?

All we need is a striker to slot in between them; hopefully we can find one in the Washington mould?

Yes I know it's just a training match, and I shouldn't get overly excited, but it is encouraging every time we shutout the opposition. Having Tsuboi and Nobu Yamada as your CB will do that to you. 

Seeing Aoyama playing well in defence along side our other younger defenders (Tsutsumi and Noda) is encouraging to see. I know Aoyama is naturally a defensive midfielder, but he does have the size and tools to play CB. Then we need to factor in Mizuki Hamada, who represented Japan U22 alongside Genki, can I start to hoping and believe we wont see Tsuboi and Nobuhisa in defense again?

What caught my attention the most from this training match was the performance of two individuals; Kashiwagi and Ugajin.

Both, from all reports, had solid outings after struggling so far in 2011. Coming into the 2011 season, both Kashiwagi and Ugajin were meant to be prominent figures, first team regulars but both haven't lived up to their expectation.

Kashiwagi came to the Reds at the beginning of the 2010 season from Hiroshima and was suppose to be our new playmaker. That didn't happen last year because Ponte was still pulling the strings; the offence went through Ponte as long as he was on the field. After Ponte left at the end of 2010 alot of us thought that the attack would be Kashiwagi's to run, but enter Marcio Richardes.

I wasn't too happy originally when they signed Richardes from Niigata as his game was similar to that of Ponte which would impede Kashiwagi's role on the team. I'm of the opinion that Kashiwagi's poor form this year is the result of bringing in Richardes, and Richardes hasn't been playing well this year. Is Richardes still on the field because we're paying him too much to be sitting on the bench? (Another time maybe?)

As for Ugajin, he was signed at the back end of 2009 from Ryutsu Keizai University and nothing was really expected from him. He was an ex-Urawa youth player so I guess it was an obvious choice for him to go back. When coach Finke gave him an opportunity he took it with both hands and didn't look back; that was until this year.

Americans call this phenomenon the "sophomore slump"; it happens to second year players who don't live up to the expectations (which are sometimes unfair), placed on them after a solid rookie season (first year). Ugajin exceeded everyone's expectation in 2010 and I do believe he will be back, hopefully sooner rather then later because he's an important piece to not only our defence, but our attack as well.

Imagine having Ugajin linking up with Genki on the left flank; the possibilities.

Ray runs the URDBLOG website focusing on all things Urawa Reds. Ray will contribute the occasional article to Asian Football Feast focusing on the happenings at Saitama.


Late goals punish teams in Japan

By Matt Collard

Mazzolla scored a late equaliser for Urawa
This weekend was the fifth match day in 15 days for the J. League clubs, and the heavy workload seemed to take its toll on the players.

There was the least amount of clean sheets in this round of fixtures than the previous four – only Shimizu S-Pulse and Yokohama F Marinos managed to shut out the opposition – as well as a host of late goals on show.

Just under half of the goals scored this weekend came in the final twenty minutes of matches – 14 out of 29 – including five stoppage time strikes.

The lack of concentration is alarming.

Cerezo Osaka, Urawa Reds and Kawasaki Frontale all grabbed equalisers on the road in stoppage time – Urawa’s coming in the 99th minute – and the next few weeks won’t get any easier with the rounds missed earlier in the season due to the natural disaster set to be played.

For Urawa it was a point against defending Champions Nagoya Grampus that keeps their heads marginally above water. While a draw in a tough away game is a good result, with just two wins and six draws the Reds are losing the winning feel and are deep in a relegation battle.

For Nagoya, it was a chance to set up a siege on second place dropped. With a game in hand and just the two losses, Grampus will be confident of a Asian Champions League placed finish but need to be weary of conceding too many draws.

Fellow Champions League hopefuls Kashima Antlers will also be furious with conceding the three points in the 90th minute after holding a 2-0 lead.

Yusuke Tanaka and Yu Kobayashi closed the deficit for Kawasaki in the final twenty to leap ahead of Sendai into third place. Kashima, even with two games in hand, have a momentous task if they want to play in Asia next season. They sit 13 points behind leaders Kashiwa Reysol and are struggling to pull together a string of consistent form. The defence needs to be tweaked and tightened up before a surge up the ladder can be considered.

Gamba scored five
against Sanfrecce
Free scorers Gamba Osaka toppled Sanfreece Hiroshima out of the top five with another thrilling win. Last week’s six goal match was trumped as Gamba surged to a 5-3 win, with five of the games goals coming in the second half.

Sanfreece Hiroshima scored in half time and full time stoppage, but conceded in too regular intervals throughout the 90 minutes. Gamba struck in the 3’, 34’, 55’, 78’ and 84’ with five different goal scorers.

The goal scoring ability from all over the pitch is a positive sign for Gamba having lost Usami to Bayern Munich, with Adriano also leaving the club.

For Kashiwa Reysol, it was back to business with a routine 4-1 away win after falling to Gamba Osaka last week. Worryingly for Reysol, though, they’ve lost their last three home games while winning the last three away – leaving a form guide of LWLWLW.

But Yokohama F Marinos ensured the leaders had some pressure kept on them with a 2-0 win away to Montedio Yamagata – an important result that keeps Kashiwa in sight for the rest of the league after previously second placed Sendai lost their first match of the 2011 J. League season. 

Alex Brosque scored the 83rd minute goal which condemned Vegalta Sendai to their first deflated trip back home of the year. It was his fifth goal for S-Pulse and it delivered a win that typifies the unpredictable nature of their season.

The loss bundles Sendai out of the top three, as their draw tally is the highest in the top half of the table. All the matches where the spoils were shared have left Sendai with the worst goal difference out of the top four – only their rock solid defence making up for an average attack – and it costed them when they finally lost.

Omiya Ardija and Albirex Niigata are also prone to draws, and the two both had 1-1 results at home in their respective matches on the weekend. Omiya struck in the 83rd to draw with fellow mid-table side Vissel Kobe, while for Albirex it was dropped points they may come regret, with Cerezo Osaka’s equaliser coming in the 93rd minute.

Cerezo scored late against Albirex
The last-gasp equaliser cost Albirex a huge chance to grab their first win since early May and go ahead of Cerezo, putting a bit of distance between themselves and the relegation zone. But, instead they find themselves just one point above relegation with their J. League division one status far from safe.

For Avispa Fukuoka, though, the situation is much more dire. Two goals in the first half for Jubilo Iwata was a deficit to big, and their 73rd minute goal didn’t spark any sort of comeback. The loss, Avispa’s 12th out of 13 games, makes for continued embarrassing reading as they show no signs of earning some respectability.

Jubilo continue to score wins in between losses frequent enough to keep them in touch with the top four, and this victory ensures they stay ahead of arch rivals S-Pulse and sit just five points off second place.


Title race wide open in Singapore

By Chee Seong - AFF Singapore correspondent

Mislav Karoglan scores the opener for SAFFC
Week 18 of the Great Eastern Yeos S.League saw 11 matches played. The unusually high amount of games played was due to the rescheduling of ties involving Etoile FC and Hougang United, who were investigated for an unpleasant incident.

Results were as follows:

Tampines Rovers 5-0 Woodlands Wellington
Courts Young Lions 0-1 Tanjong Pagar United
Hougang United 0-2 Geylang United
Gombak United 2-0 Balestier Khalsa
Tampines Rovers 1-2 SAFFC
Woodlands Wellington 1-5 Home United
Balestier Khalsa 2-4 Hougang United
Etoile FC 1-2 Courts Young Lions
Geylang United 1-0 Albirex Niigata(S)
SAFFC 2-1 Gombak United
Home United 2-0 Tampines Rovers

Week 18 of the S.League saw Tampines Rovers lose its lead at the top of the table. Two consecutive defeats against chasing duo Home United and SAFFC meant that the title race is wide open once again.

Etoile FC, who will be deducted five points for their involvement in the infamous "Hougang Brawl", also lost to Courts Young Lions. Hougang United, the other victims of a point deductions, had mix fortunes in their two games last week. They lost at home to the Eagles, but defeated Balestier after coming back strongly from two goals down.

Woodlands Wellington, who occupy last spot, had no answer as they suffered two drubbings by Tampines and Home respectively. Nothing seems to be going right  for the nothern based club. 

Title chasing Albirex also suffered a set back as they went down 0-1 to Geylang United. The Eagles, on the other hand, are on a 3 game winning streak and the other positive for them is they havent conceded in those last three victories!

SAFFC are on a high as they cut the lead at the top to just three point, with a game in hand. The top of the table clash on 6 July, between Home United and SAFFC will be one to watch as it will have a bit impact on the title race.

Fixtures this coming week:

27 June
Tanjong Pagar United vs Etoile FC
Geylang United vs Woodlands Wellington

28 June
Albirex Niigata(S) vs Balestier Khalsa

30 June
Hougang United vs Gombak United

1 July
Tanjong Pagar vs Geylang United

2 July
Etoile FC vs Woodlands Wellington


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hong Kong gallant in defeat against Uzbekistan

By Yick Hong Lam - AFF Hong Kong correspondent

Hong Kong and Uzbekistan do battle
in the second leg of their 2012 Olympic Qualifier
With a hard fought effort in the first leg in Uzbekistan, the Hong Kong Olympic managed to get a 0-1 result.

Considering the difference in ability between the two teams, the coach and fans all agreed the result was indeed a good one, if somewhat lucky. Coach Liu Chun-Fai praised the team effort, and called for support in the second leg at home.

Attendance at Hong Kong football matches is always heavily affected by the weather, due to the lack of hardcore fans base.

A typhoon had been approaching the city two days before the match and came really close on match day.

2,782 is not a very good attendance in Hong Kong, but it's not that bad either. Strong wind and heavy rain would create very poor conditions for their passing game and the humidity and temperate will be difficult to adapt for the Uzbekistan players.

Therefore, discussion among the local fans was the weather was one of Hong Kong's secret weapons. The other, is James Stephen Gee Ha.

Nicknamed "The Bullet", the quick winger shared the best youth player of the year with the U23 striker To Hon-to and has just joined the league champion Kitchee during the off season. Fans and the coach hoped his absence in the first leg could see him surprise the Uzbek's with his pace on the counter.

However, James Ha was not included in the starting line up. The coach opted to deploy a defensive 4-5-1, similar to the first leg in Uzbekistan, which arguably only has three attacking players.

The idea is clear, keep the scoreline unchanged and a fresh James Ha would hurt the opponent when their stamina went down.

However, the tactics didn't work out as planned, with Uzbek captain Fozil Musaev scoring for Uzbekistan from 20 yards in just the 8th minute. Hong Kong U23 started the match slow and with a lack of confidence to hold the ball against the technically superior opponent.

Uzbekistan scored another goal in the 19th min, which meant Hong Kong had to score 4 goals to progress.

As the task had become a mission impossible, the Hong Kong players finally digested the pressure and started to press. In the mean time, Hong Kong substituted the ineffective number 10 Au Yeung Yiu-Chung with the secret weapon James Ha.

The weather didn't work out as the fans hoped, as the rain have stopped in the morning. 
Neither did James Ha.

The quick winger did add some pace to the team. But the two defensive midfielders didn't give the team any creative ideas. With the lack of support, Hong Kong's two best young players of the year didn't pull off anything up front, even though the Uzbekistan defense was not as assured at the passing game.

Still, the players fought hard in the entire second half, possibly thanks to the half time team talk. Uzbekistan didn't find it easy to split up the defense and couldn't pull off the attacking performance they had at home.

Both center halves for Hong Kong are not natural defenders, but their fighting spirit kept the team in game. Uzbekistan had two more chances to score but both were no real threat to goalkeeper Yapp Hung-Fai.

With this 0-2 loss, Hong Kong are now out of the 2012 London Olympic as most people expected.

Now all Hong Kong fans can turn their eyes to the new season, the last Hong Kong first division league before the Hong Kong super league project begins.


Worawi looks for a fresh start in Thailand

By Kitinan Sanguansak - AFF Thai correspondent
Worawi Makudi might have been relieved to retain his post as the Football Association of Thailand president for a third successive term but he will face the most difficult time in the seat he has held since 2007.
Even though the change of regime that many people had expected failed to materialise, the doubt on whether Worawi was a man who could take Thai football forward, still persisted in the public despite the emphatic nature of his victory in the voting barely two weeks ago.
A total of 123 from a total of 168 votes that Worawi received in the rescheduled election appeared inconceivable for people, who doubted whether the FAT chief would have been given such overwhelming support had the poll not been postponed last month.
Back then, it appeared a defeat staring on Worawi’s face after a secret survey suggested the incumbent fell behind his main challenger Virat Chanpanich, which was believed to be a real reason behind the controversial postponement of the election.
It proved difficult to think otherwise when looking into the association’s handling of the duplication of the member club’s authorisation letter. Worawi cited the problem as a reason to call off the voting last month. But, even though the rearranged poll was marred by a repeat of such controversy, it was allowed to proceed this time when the association acted decisively by stripping a voting right of a member club in question.
The question was why they did not do so a month ago?
That was because Worawi was certain that he could win this time around after resorting to his connection with a national politician to accrue more votes. In fact, he owed much to the political influence which allowed him to hold an election beyond a period stated by the law after his previous term ended in December.
So powerful was the political influence that Worawi received a number of votes that nearly tripled the amount Virat got (44), while another challenger Pichate Munkong received only one. What a pleasant man Worawi, who also sits in the FIFA's  executive committee, would be after surviving from personal storm unscathed with another term in the FAT office and having his name cleared of bribery allegations relating to the World Cup voting process.
Realising that he has much work to do to win his support back in the public following the Thai side’s miserable run of results in international tournaments during his reign, Worawi vowed to lead a reform of the national team setup.
Although Worawi did not elaborate on what he planned to do to revive the Thais’ fortunes, it was good sign that he eventually knew where the root cause of the team’s malaise lied. 
Unfortunately, it was relatively late since many of the neighbour countries, most notably Malaysia following its double successes in SEA Games and the ASEAN Championship, have made huge progress while Thai football came to a standstill.
Worawi marked the beginning of his third term with a decision to hire German trainer Winfried Schaefer as the new national team coach, with the two parties yet to sign a contract. Although the veteran tactician did not enjoy such glittering a playing career as his predecessor Bryan Robson, the reaction to his proposed move was positive since fans now realised fame on the field count for nothing following the former Manchester United captain’s ill-fated reign.
With Worawi now away in Germany due to his FIFA commitments at the Women’s World Cup, no one knows when the German would start his work despite the World Cup second round tie against either Palestine and Afghanistan looming next month.
That did not augur well for a new dawn he promised. And, it showed he was not aware of the potential risk that his tenure was only one poor result away from a fresh round of savage criticism from those people still unease with his prolonged time in the office.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Prince Ali visits Indonesia

By Milad Yaumil Karim

Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, the newly elected FIFA Vice President, concluded a trip to Indonesia last week to find out the status of the PSSI elections which has been shrouded in controversy.

“I am here to listen to all concerned parties in Indonesian football in order to help resolve the situation and allow Indonesian football to advance and take its place,” Prince Ali said.

While in Jakarta Prince Ali met several parties including the Chairman of the Normalisation Committee, Agum Gumelar, Chief of the Indonesian National Sports Committee Rita Subowo, members of the Appeal Committee, PSSI members representing different federations across Indonesia as well as General George Toisutto and Arfin Panigoro.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, according to Prince Ali, declared the election PSSI July 9, should be open and transparent. Zhang Jilong, the new President of the AFC, made comments along a similar line. Both agreed to ensure the smooth running of the PSSI Congress."I have discussions with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and AFC President Zhang Jilong. I believe it is essential to ensure the selection process must take place openly, transparently and in accordance with the statutes of FIFA and PSSI," Prince Ali was quoted as saying in the Jordan press.

Setanta confirms J.League schedule for July

Setanta Sports Australia has confirmed their J. League schedule for the month of July, and it is another feast for fans of the Japanese games.

The J. League was originally scheduled to take a month of in July, however due to the earthquake and tsunami that struck the country in March, the postponed games were rescheduled in July.

Together with their live action, Setanta continue to show the J. League Highlights Show each Thursday night.

Be sure to tune in and show your support for the J. League!

02/07/2011 - Cerezo Osaka v Kashiwa Raysol
03/07/2011 - Kashima Antlers v Vengalta Sendai
13/07/2011 - Yokohama F Marinos v Montedio Yamagata
16/07/2011 - Kawasaki Frontale v Kashiwa Raysol
24/07/2011 - Yokohama F Marinos v Vissel Kobe
31/07/2011 - Jubilo Iwata v Gamba Osaka


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Goals galore in midweek J. League action

By Matt Collard

Shoki Hirai celebrates Gamba's second goal last night

If last season’s top four were reliant on a run of mid-season form to catapult them up the table, they were handed a rude shock on Wednesday night.
While Nagoya Grampus, Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers all picked up three points on the road – with Cerezo Osaka suffering another loss and displaying the consistency more true to the relegation battle they find themselves in than the form of last season’s third place finish – all of the top five, except for leaders Kashiwa Reysol, also won.
It was a change to see all the usual top names snaring wins but with the other surprise packages sitting high on the table taking home the three points also, the top seven could very well run away from the rest of the league.
A congested fight for Asian Champions League places and the crown of J-League champions is set to occur despite a large chunk of the season still to be played. With Gamba Osaka possessing two games in hand and Nagoya also having played a game less than the rest of the league, the top four battle is set to become even more competitive.
Gamba Osaka are yet to play in a game with less than three goals scored and they once more lived up to the high expectations formed of a team covered in a thick coat of creativity and attacking prowess.
Their away trip to another of the league’s free-scorers, Kashiwa, wasn’t reason enough for them to play with any hint of caution and they romped to a 4-2 win.
It was an uncharacteristic faulty defence from Reysol after they worked tirelessly in the early stages of this season to fix up a leaky defence – they had the same amount of losses and just two less goals as sixth place Urawa Reds in the season they went down, but their leaky defence lead to too many draws.
But poor defence was a recurring theme on this night of midweek fixtures as five other teams also conceded three or more goals.
For Cerezo Osaka it was only their second match featuring four or more goals. Their 3-2 home loss was only sugar-coated by a 90th minute consolation goal as their Champions League hangover seems to be lingering strong.
Their equaliser in the 42nd minute was short-lived as the reigning Champions capitalised on their high confidence, brewed from an undefeated streak of five games, and ran away with the match.
Tadanari Lee celebrates his
goal for Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Two other games ended 3-2 with both third placed Kawasaki and fourth Sanfrecce Hiroshima simultaneously taking the lead in their respective matches.
As if in direct competition with each other, Koji Morisaki scored from the penalty spot to get ahead of Montedio and his Sanfrecce team leapfrogged Frontale on the ladder. But their third place celebrations lasted just 60 seconds when Kawasaki took an 81st minute lead through Yu Kobayashi with 10 men away to Shimizu S-Pulse.
Alex Brosque and Ono Shinji closed a 2-0 deficit though it wasn’t enough for S-Pulse who stay seemingly bound to mid-table mediocrity.
It was only Vegalta Sendai who weren’t made to raise a sweat out of the sides in Champions League places, as they cruised to a 4-0 win and summoned Ventforet Kofu to the last relegation spot.
The Sendai domination was welcom news in Urawa as the Red Diamonds finally clawed out of the red-zone with a 3-0 win over the hapless Avispa Fukuoka – who have just the one point to show for their troubles.
The Reds triple strikes all came in the second half and they claimed their third clean sheet of a so far miserable season. For Sendai it was a typically solid performance as they show no signs of their surprisingly strong start fading.
Only Kashima’s 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe and Yokohama’s triumph by the same margin over Albirex Niigata also had clean-sheets in this match day. Kobe and Niigata are no strangers to low scoring games and are last and second last respectively in terms of goals scored in the matches they play in.
Kobe’s matches average 1.75 goals a game and Niigata’s matches average two goals a game. The lone strikes on the half hour mark in both games stayed true to the trend of goal-dry matches for these teams.
Jun Kanakubo celebrates a late winner for Omiya
Jubilo Iwata dropped an opportunity to slightly close the gap between them and the runaway teams towards the top end of the ladder with Omiya snaring a 95th minute winner in the fixture between the pair.
Jun Kanakubo was on the pitch for just five minutes before he broke the hearts of the Iwata home crowd in a stunning end after the match had been goalless for 80 minutes. Jubilo took a 2nd minute lead before Omiya equalised in the 15th. The match was then held at a stalemate until the 95th minute winner.

Full results:
Vegalta Sendai 4-0 Ventforet Kofu
Cerezo Osaka 2-3 Nagoya Grampus
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-3 Kawasaki Frontale
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 Omiya Ardija
Kashiwa Reysol 2-4 Gamba Osaka
Urawa Reds 3-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 Montedio Yamagata
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Kashima Antlers
Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 Albirex Niigata

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

JSoccer Magazine is almost here

The cover of the first JSoccer Magazine
After months of hard work the day has almost arrived when JSoccer Magazine launches it's first ever issue.

The brainchild of Alan Gibson, an English ex-pat living in Japan, JSoccer Magazine will be the only magazine on Japanese football in English.

JSoccer started out with modest goals, but the response from Japan and all over the world has been overwhelming, with the launch pushed back as more people came on board.

The J. League has even endorsed the magazine, opening up a whole new world of possibilities.

The first issue is due out at the end of June and features:
  • Exclusive interviews with the present and future of Japan - Yasuhito Endo and Takashi Usami;
  • Signed items from Endo and Usami;
  • Atsuto Uchida - article and pics;
  • Nagoya Grampus - article and pics;
  • FC Tokyo - from rags to ruin in just over a year!?;
  • Pics from the Team As One match;
  • Football Saves Japan!;
  • Complete Guide to J1 and J2 teams' web sites;
  • English language web sites on Japanese football - the world over;
  • Rising Sons - focus on the next generation;
  • FC Ryukyu - feature;
  • Japanese football - A View From Down Under;
  • Unpredictable J.League; and
  • Kosuke Kimura - Colorado Rapids
The magazine comes at a cost of only 1000 yen and can be purchased from eBay (click here) or by sending an email to who will email a PayPal Invoice.
This is a fantastic step forward for the Japanese game and will help spread the message of Japanese football to the english speaking world.
We encourage everyone to purchase a copy and support what is a fantastic project.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Schaefer to take over the reigns in Thailand

By Kitinan Sanguansak

The Football Association of Thailand today reached an agreement with former Cameroon manager Winfried Schaefer to hire the German on a three-year contract as the new national team coach.

Worawi Makudi’s first task after retaining his post as FAT president for a third successive term last week was to fill the post left vacant by former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson’s resignation, given that the Thai team are due to embark on their World Cup qualifying campaign next month.
The FAT chief had earlier said that the next Thailand coach could be a local, but after receiving suggestions from the public via, Worawi seems to have favoured a foreign trainer.

Rumours had been rife that the 61-year-old Schaefer was favourite to succeed Robson, who ended his illfated two-year tenure earlier this month, citing health problems as the reason for his resignation.

With the World Cup secondround qualifier against either Afghanistan or Palestine looming, the Association came to the conclusion yesterday that the veteran coach, who built his coaching reputation at German outfit Karlsruher, was the right man for the job.

“After talking with several members of the executive board, we all agreed Schaefer ticked every criteria we set for the national post. He has possibly the best pedigree of any foreigner we have ever hired to coach the team.

“Schaefer’s record speaks volumes, following successful spells with small clubs such as Karlsruher as well as his achievement in international coaching with Cameroon by guiding them to the World Cup finals in 2002 and winning the African Nations Cup title that year.
“We’re hoping that he can bring similar success to our team,” said Worawi, who also sits on FIFA’s executive committee.

Worawi added that Schaefer’s immediate task was to steer Thailand into the final stages of the Asian World Cup qualifiers.

“I made it clear to him that we want to at least reach the last 10 teams round in the Cup qualifiers. Should we manage to achieve that, then we can start dreaming of making it to the World Cup for the first time, because anything would be possible by then.

“He’s also known for nurturing many of young German talents such as Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl. Hopefully, he hasn’t lose his touch, and he can help develop our young players,” said Worawi, who declined to reveal the value of the contract.

The two parties were due to sign an agreement at Bangkok’s Golden Tulip Sovereign hotel later tonight (Tuesday).

Meanwhile, Worawi confirmed Thailand’s hopes of overturning their disqualification from the Olympic qualifiers had been dashed after the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the appeal.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Singapore Cup kicks off in style

By Chee Seong - AFF Singapore correspondent

Atsushi Shimono scores the second for Albirex
The first round of the Singapore Cup matches concluded with Hougang, Gombak, Albirex Niigata (S), Tampines Rovers, Home United, Etoie FC, SAFFC and Okkthar United (Myanmar) progressing to the quater finals.

In the opening match up between Hougang United and Harimau Muda (Young Tigers, as they're known), the hosts needed an injury time winner by Mamadou Diallo to earn its place in the last 8. 

The Young Tigers from Malaysia with an average age of 17.5 yrs, put up a creditable fight and pushed the Cheetahs (Hougang) all the way to the final whistle. The Young Tigers played some lovely football and reminded spectators at Hougang that age isnt a factor on the pitch. There were a couple of occassion Hougang had to survive the prospect of mutiple attacks which fortunately for the Cheetahs, the Young Tigers couldnt apply the finishing touch.

The Cheetahs were also left fuming their bad luck as they themselves had two brilliant shots rebound off the cross bar. The match ended 0-0 in regulation time, but Mamadou Diallo settled matters in the 4th minute of injury time.

At the Jurong West Stadium, Gombak United had to come back from a goal down, to sink Balestier Khalsa 2-1.

Gombak's achievement was marred by controversy. Balestier went ahead after 48 minutes when an umarked Anaz Hadee blasted a rocket into the top right hand corner of the net. Gombak equalised thru substitute Zulkifli Hassim's debatable goal, with claims by Balestier that he had handled the ball past the defenders to go clean through on 67 minutes. Chang Jo Yoon scored the winner in the 77th minute when he was play through by Park Kang Jin.

Paul Cunningham could have levelled the scores right at the death but he skied his shot high and wide. For this achievement,  Gombak qualifies for the last 8 for the first time in 3 years.

In the first of the two "all foreign" affair, Albirex Niigata (S) brushed South Melbourne aside with a 3-0 win at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

South Melbourne were missing key players such as Fernando De Moraes as well as regular skipper Steven O'Dor. Albirex were at full strength and the game also marked the return of skipper Shimpei Sakurada. Albirex led 1-0 at the break courtesy of Shotaro Ihata. The striker nodded home after some great work by Tatsuro Inui.

South Melbourne almost got themselves back into the game when Jesse Krncevic, the gaffer's son, rock the upright with a thumping header midway through the first half. As fatigue set in, due to the travelling and the climate change, South Melbourne finally succumbed to pressure. Atsushi Shimono and Shimpei Sakurada compelete the job in the 85th and 89th minute to take the White Swans into the next round. A brilliant game of top notch football, not one to be missed to be honest!

The eastern derby always produces a good games and this tie continued in that vein.

Depleted Tampines Rovers beat Geylang United 2-1 with the winner coming in the 88th minute from "little master", Aliff Shafaein. Aleksander Duric had given the lead on the half hour mark, and Vasile Ghindaru levelled the scores just before the hour mark. As the tie seemed destined for extra time, Aliff poped up unmarked to pounce home from close range after Yazid Yasin did well to parry a shot onto his path.

Tampines will probably feel a little fortunate that the tie was concluded in regulation time, as they had only 2 senior players on the bench. Had it gone to extra time, it might have gone the other way.

At the Bishan Stadium, Home United brushed aside Woodlands Wellington with a convincing 5-1 victory in a pretty one sided affair.

Firdaus Idros opened the scoring when Rams custodian fail to hold on to a high ball in the 29th minute. Kenji Arai, then score the simpliest of goals when he nod home right at the goaline from a Valery Hiek's flick. In the second half, substitute Asraf Rashid score within four minutes of his introduction onto the pitch.

Adrian Butlers pulled one back for the Rams, before Qiu Li's double completed the rout. Woodlands were delpeted from injuries and International call ups and had to make do with several reserve players for this tie. The Protectors (Home United) will now play traditional rivals Tampines Rovers in the Quater finals in August.

This will be a mouth watering clash as the winner of this tie will probably stand a big chance of securing the Cup come 5 November.

Reigning S.League champions Etoile FC were made to work against a very deligent Tanjong Pagar United side, which saw Taufiq Rahmat and Cyril Bagnost playing instrumental roles in this tie.

Despite the defeat, Tanjong Pagar took heart from their performance on the pitch and head coach Terry Pathmanathan is optimistic on big things to come for the remaining of the season. Jonathan Toto scored a brace, and both goals, were due to two defensive lapses during the game. Other than the goals, it was a pretty evenly fought match which we saw the Jaguars (Tanjong Pagar) came out to attack for once.

Gone were the "bus parking" tactics and there was industry and creativity in every area on the pitch. Etoile look solid as ever, despite being out of competitve action for close to a month. At the end of the day, there was only one team that could progress and Etoile took their chances and their ticket to the next round were booked.

At Choa Chu Kang stadium, three-times Singapore Cup winners SAFFC finally broke a two-year streak of crashing out in the group stages. Singapore Selection team midfielder, Erwan Gunawan justified his recent call up with a splendid display, scoring two goals, as well as assisting Indra Shahdan in between his goals. Substitute Fazrul Nawas scored within minutes of coming on to ensure there's no way back for Phnom Penh.

A realtively one sided affair but Kingsley Njoku, former Gombak United's striker, was a constant threat to the Warriors defence. At the end of the day, SAF proved too strong for the Cambodian champions and set up another mouth watering clash with Albirex Niigata (S).

In the second of the "All foreign" encounter, Myanmar side Okkthar United led by former Singapore National Coach PN Sivaji overcame their rivals Pattaya United 2-1 in an interesting encounter. About 1200 Myanmar fans turned up at the Jalan Besar Stadium for this match which was telecast live and these people made their intention know - to qualify for the next round. 

Okkthar United drew first blood in the 7th minute of play when Aung Moe cleverly lobbed the Pattaya goalkeeper and with a huge slice of luck, the ball spin off the bounce and onto the upright and into the net. The fans went wild.

Prior to this, Okkthar United had never played a game under floodlights as the National league's games are all played at 3:30pm local time.

Jean Roger Lappe Lappe then doubled that advantage when he scored within minutes of coming on as a substitute. The second half was dominated by Pattaya but they couldnt find a way past Cameroonian Pierre Djanal, who kept goal for Okkthar. Somchai Singmanee scored a consolation in the final minute of added on time, but it proved too late as the side from Myanmar book a meeting with Hougang United in the next round.

The quater-finals will be scheduled between 14 August to 21 August. Games will be played over 2 legs.

The fixtures are as follows:

Home United vs Tampines
Etoile FC vs Gombak United
SAFFC vs Albirex Niigata (S)
Hougang United vs Okkthar United (Myanmar)