Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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.


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