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Avispa's Matsuda Sacked
J1 club Avispa Fukuoka announced that they are letting current manager Hiroshi Matsuda go, pointing to poor results/performances as their reason.

The statement came on the heels of Avispa's elminination in the Nabisco Cup group rounds, which ended on Sunday. As you know, they just got promoted to the 1st division this year after a 5 year stay in the 2nd division. After the first eight rounds in the league, Avispa failed to win any games. Their current league results include only 1 win, 5 draws, and 6 losses.

The club is planning to choose the new manager in time for the Ishigaki Island (Okinawa) mid-season training camp to take place at the end of June.
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Exciting Nabisco Match-Ups
The Group rounds were completed yesterday, and the 8 teams who are going on to the next knock-out rounds are all very attractive teams with strong unique personalities.

For all the info on the Nabisco Cup, please >>click to go to this entry.

May 18 2006
Albirex Niigata 0-0 Jef Chiba
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 Ventforet Kofu

May 21 2006
Urawa Reds 4-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Avispa Fukuoka 0-0 FC Tokyo
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Kyoto Purple Sanga 1-2 Oita Trinita
Jef Chiba 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Albirex Niigata 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Cerezo Osaka 3-2 Omiya Ardija

Unfortunately, there were no upsets -- usually Nabisco offers a couple upsets in terms of advancement into the next round. But it is good to see Jubilo and Cerezo gaining momentum. Should be a very entertaining round.

2006 Nabisco Cup QuarterFinal Fixtures
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Gamba Osaka
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Kashima Antlers
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Jef Chiba
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Cerezo Osaka
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Jubilo Iwata
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Yokohama F Marinos
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Kawasaki Frontale
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Urawa Reds
Nabisco and the ACL
Meanwhile, we are still getting match news coming in from today's Nabisco games and Gamba's final match in the ACL group round.

Nabisco Group Stage Games

For the entire tournament information, >>click here.

Today's results:

FC Tokyo 0-0 Urawa Reds
Avispa Fukuoka 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Oita Trinita
Kyoto Purple Sange 2-1 Kashima Antlers (grrr)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Cerezo Osaka

Overall a day without any impact in the results department. But it is certainly significant enough to point out how well Kawasaki Frontale are doing these days. They have no internationals on their squad, and have maintained their flavor and style while getting the results -- they are currently ranked 1 in the league, and this win over Oita means they are through to the finals with one game left to play.

FC Tokyo's Moniwa, who started in the Nabisco match today, commented that he had actually not been in the proper state of mind to really play. But that he wanted to push himself and challenge himself to take responsibility out there despite the tremendous disappointment and hurt at not being selected for the World Cup team.

Others like Urawa midfielder Hasebe and Sanfrecce forward Sato also played a full game, though their expectations were probably not as high as Moniwa's.

Gamba, Verdy, say Goodbye to the ACL

While I was away from the blog, Gamba and Verdy failed to win crucial matches in their bid to make it past the group rounds of the Asia Champions League.

Gamba slid to third place after losing 0-2 to China's Dalian Shide on April 26 and then drawing against Korea's Chonbuk Motors 1-1 on May 3. Today, Gamba played Da Nang away in Vietnam, and won 5-1.

Verdy had only one team to beat (Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i) in the group but lost both legs, 0-1 and 0-2.
J1 Round 6 & 7 Goal Clip Links
Since I had to give up on the idea of trying to catch up with the Round 6 and 7 Summaries, I thought at least I'd record who scored goals and present links to the goal clips (streams) that are made available on the web by J's Goal. I'll be posting the Round 8 report next.

I have updated the results and table for this weekend's J1 games; scroll down and check out the bottom of the right column.

ROUND SIX

Yokohama F Marinos 1-1 FC Tokyo
YFM: Tanaka 62min
FCT: >>Masushima 89min

Cerezo Osaka 2-3 Ventforet Kofu
CO: Ze Carlos 44min, >>Nishizawa 75min
VK: Hasegawa 38min, >>Kuranuki 63min, 72min

Shimizu S-Pulse 2-3 Gamba Osaka
SS: >>Hyodo 44min, Yajima 44min
GO: >>Ienaga 22min, Ferndandinho 71min, Magno Alves 86min
continues
Nabisco Cup April 12th Group Games
Cherry Blossom seasonHappy Spring, but it's been raining or drizzling for a week!

It was a busy Wednesday night. Good news from the Gamba ACL match, but also some extra mid-week football goodness from our Nabisco Group rounds.

>>click to go to the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Info page I set up for all the tables and points and results and upcoming fixtures.

Urawa Reds 3-1 Avispa Fukuoka
AF: Alex 8min
UR: Horinouchi 25min, Yamada 55min, Tulio 83min

The only thing that came as a surprise was that Urawa allowed Fukuoka to score the first goal. This was the first time in all the league and cup games this season that Reds have allowed the opponent to score first, but they carried the game through to the end with level heads getting the win they wanted. Urawa's Ono has injured his ankle (oh, no, indeed), and Washington and Ponte were rested for this match. But they have more than enough quality players that did not disappoint the Reds domination.

Fukuoka's goal came when they got through on the right side with a counter. The ball was sent over to the left where sideback Alex had charged up and then scored. Reds equalized when a Soma corner kick met Horinouchi's right foot. In the second half, Reds' attack really warmed up. Yamada intercepted an Avispa pass, took the ball up himself for a one-on-one showdown with the goalie. Yamada got by the goalie and flicked a pretty loop shot for goal. The third goal came in the last minutes of the game. Soma got to the ball inside the box just at the goaliine, and he sent a cross to the far side where Tulio met it with his head.

Yokohama F Marinos 2-0 FC Tokyo
YFM: Kanou 57min, Kubo 89min
Could this be the start of a "different" Marinos? The Brazilian Triangle broke apart this past week after both Magrao and Marques suffered injuries that would take them out of play for at least 2-4 weeks. They had not won the past 3 games in the league, and I've been looking forward to seeing what manager Okada would do. He took a leap of faith and changed a bunch of players around, saying that he wanted to create/nurture a new backbone to the team by forcing the players to think for themselves.

Okada's gamble was a success, and Marinos played an aggressive and energetic game creating many opportunities. FC Tokyo, whose blueprint strategy is via the sides, were forced to pass around only in their own portion of the pitch. They could not go forward for fear of Marinos' speedy intercept-and-attack.

Marinos could have scored much earlier, given their chances, but finally the moment came at 57 minutes, when Sakata's cross from the left was tapped down by Tokyo keeper Doi. Substitute Kanou was there to push in the loose ball for the goal. Tokyo got a very good chance a few minutes later when Kajiyama sent a cannonball towards goal, but Marinos keeper Nemoto blocked. In injury time, substitute Kubo leapt forward to meet an Ueno free kick. Kubo lightly chipped the ball past the goalie for a comfortable 2-0 result.

Kashima Antlers 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale
KA: Alex Mineiro 39min, Ogasawara 63min, Fukai 89min
KF: Ganaha 85min

I actually had a feeling that Kashima would lose this one. Kawasaki afterall have only 1 Loss in the league, and after that disappointing loss to Gamba last weekend (the one in which Antlers gave away a PK in injury time when the score had been 0-0) the issue of Kashima's state of mind zipped through my head. I know, how disloyal or me, right? :)

Where other teams have had to rest many of their regulars for the Nabisco games, Kashima's Autuori directed all his regulars (with the exception of Fernando who still carries the knee injury) to get out there. And Kawasaki returned the favor with all of their best as well as the return of Ganaha. But here I was suprised to find that Kawasaki were fumbling around in the first half, and missed the two really Key opportunities that were presented them. The first was at 4 minutes, when a Nakamura through pass sent Ganaha through for a one-on-one with the goalie; but there instead of taking a quick shot he tried to dribble around the goalie and missed his chance. The second was at 60 minutes (in the second half, when Frontale had woken up to play more aggressively), when Motoyama took down Juninho as he entered the box. But Juninho's penalty shot was touched by the goalie, and bounced innocently off the bar. If either of these two had gone in, things may have turned out completely different.

Kashima were able to play exactly as they wanted to. They prevented Kawasaki's attackers from doing much, and their characteristic posession style was working for them. At 15 minutes, Alex Minero's pass got to forward Nozawa, but his goal was called off sides. At 39 minutes, it was rookie Uchida again, as he dashed up the right side. The corner kick that resulted from Uchida's effort was taken by Ogasawara, and Iwamasa met fast ball on the near to deflect, and Alex Mineiro dived in to head the ball for goal.

Kasawaki had to pull Marcao out, and his replacement Nishiyama was no match for Kashima's young sideback. Uchida made a run into the box with the ball, and Nishiyama fouled. The PK was taken by Ogasawara who converted for goal 2. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Autuori substituted in little speedy Fukai, who made good use of his opportunity to play -- running full speed about 65 meters to finish an effort by Alex Mineiro.

Jef Chiba 3-2 Albirex Niigata
JC: Nakajima 39min, Hanyu 69min, Maki 82min
AN: Suzuki 20min, Okayama 63min

Albirex started the game putting a lot of pressure on Chiba in their defense, creating momentum and energy on their side. It was Niigata that scored first -- Miyazawa took a shot, but the rain-wet ball slipped out of goalie Kushino's hands for Suzuki's goal. Jef equalized via a loose ball off a free kick.

What was strange was that in the second half, the Jef players decided on their own to have two of their players change positions, hoping to regain rhythm and stability. The two players in question, Mizumoto and Sakamoto were able to get more involved on the attack, and Jef looked to be improving their situation. However, an error in a kick by Jef goalie Kushino gave the ball to Niigata forward Okayama, who had only to dribble and finish to get his team ahead. The error was really bad timing considering Jef had finally started to get things running nicely, and psychologically should have been damaging.

It was interesting to read that after the game Niigata's goalie Nozawa applauded Chiba's attitude after that goal: "After we got that second goal, the Jef players showed amazing mentality." Instead of letting shoulders sag, they went after the win and ran and ran. Six minutes later, Hanyu scored with a drizzling shot to the right of goal. Albirex, who had been dominating in the first half, were by this time low on energy -- not being able to compete with Jef's running philosophy. And they allowed Maki that one opportunity to get his head on the ball -- that "once" was all Maki needed for the 3 points.

Shimizu S-Pulse 2-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
SS: Marquinhos 15min, Edamura 77min
SH: Koji Morisaki 32min, Sato 45min

A solid performance from both sides, making the draw less than satisfying for either teams. Sanfrecce's diamond midfield, arranged that way to care against Cho and Marquinhos, suffered from lack of cohesion in the first half. They got pulled apart, forcing the defense line to recede deep into their area, and the strategy of a compact formation fell apart.

First goal from S-Pulse was at 15 minutes -- a cross from the left to the far side of goal found Marquinhos free to head it in. However, Sanfrecce stayed on track to adjust slowly, creeping up the field and adding their numbers forward. At 32 minutes Komano on the right had an open space to receive a pass, and quickly sent in an early cross. Koji Morisaki dashed up from midfield to head the ball for the equalizer. The second half began with a lack of focus from S-Pulse this time, and a long ball right after kick-off to Ueno in the front allowed Sato to slip through and recieve a through pass for a finish with his left foot. But then things evened out again when S-Pulse persisted confidently on the attack, and they were rewarded when a loose ball picked up by Ichikawa for a mid-range shot ended with a goal. Both teams continued to keep compact formations and were aggressive on the attack, but in the end the draw may prove constly for both as fellow Group C Jef Chiba have now created a 4 point difference in the table.

Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Nagoya Grampus
NG: Honda 35min
CO: Furuhashi 55min

Both teams came to the game having to leave out 3-4 of their key players due to injury or fatigue. Both managers were more interested in damage control going forward, but I think Cerezo were the ones who came out of the game the more buoyant of spirit. Cerezo were more aggressive on the attack in the beginning, and also did well to put good pressure on defense. But it was Nagoya that scored first -- a free kick facing the goal almost dead center. Nakamura tapped it sideways to Sudo, who then tapped it sideways to Honda for the shot; a nice free kick play. After that Nagoya should have controlled, but they were unable to get any organization on the build-up process for the attack, and eventually Cerezo got their chance. Cerezo kept up their energy levels without losing motvation. In the second half a through pass was gotten to expertly by goalie Narazaki, but the ball he batted out was picked up by Furuhashi for goal.


Oita Trinita 2-1 Kyoto Purple Sanga
KPS: Matsuda 57min
OT: Takamatsu 59min, Own goal 73min


Ventforet Kofu 2-2 Jubilo Iwata
JI: Funatani 13min, Nishino 89min
VK: Yamazaki 49min, Hayashi 76min
Gamba Osaka 3-0 Dalian Shide
Asian Champions League Group Round

Gamba Osaka 3-0 Dalian Shide
GO: Endo 48min, Magno Alves 56min, 71min

The game took place tonight at Gamba's Banpaku (Expo 70 Commemorative) Stadium against the China side Dalian Shide. First half was 0-0, as Dalian Shide were scrapping for counter attacking moments. But Gamba were playing with care even as they went forward, not allowing Dalian to set up promising opportunities via Jankovic (Dalian's biggest threat).

It was the second half that saw movement on the board, when Endo converted a penalty kick. The penalty was given after defender Liu Yu took down Kaji as he dashed into the box.

Then it was two from current ACL top scorer Magno Alves. The first, Futagawa's through pass meeting well for Magno to finish. The second was from Futagawa again, this time with some passing inside the box.

Magno Alves, Endo, Kaji, IenagaKaji's wife just gave birth to a baby (I don't know if it's a girl or boy) this very day, so as you can see from the pic the goal celebrations were the now predictable baby-rocking dance.

It was important to win this one of course, but even more convincing because they were able to hold the opponent at 0. Gamba are currently at the top of the table thanks to the 15-0 result from the game against Da Nang.
Nabisco Cup Chat
The first 2006 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup group round games took place last night. You will be able to find the most recent games results at the bottom of the left column, and all of the tournament fixtures and results listed on >>this entry (this page will be updated as the rounds continue).

Since I don't have access to viewing all the games, I can't do game reviews. But here are some highlights.

With the group rounds taking place while the national team players are missing, one of the highlights of these games is to see rookie and young players used and see what kinds of changes managers make to their squad.

Jef Chiba: current title holders Jef had apparently declined the option given to them to skip the group rounds and leap ahead to the knock-out tourney. The club is holding fast to their work ethic, saying that for the growth of the players and club they wish to force themselves to earn the right to make it past the group rounds.

Jef Chiba 2-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
JC: Hanyu 2min, Sato 81min
SH: KMorisaki 46min
I think a predictable victory for Jef, though they are still a little shaky in the second half. Yuto Sato (whose twin brother Hisato has been called up for the NT friendly against Ecuador tonight) scored the winner for Chiba. Sanfrecce's Koji Morisaki (who also shares the J leaguer's career with twin brother Kazu, also a Sanfrecce player) was placed in the forward position (he's usually a midfielder) by manager Ono. He's been in a funk and has been out of the league games, so this was a good way for Ono to bring K.Morisaki back into the game.

Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Avispa Fukuoka
YFM: Magrao 12min
Fukuoka will have to wait until April to get their first win in the J1. This match-up with Yokohama resulted in only 6 shots taken (only 1 shot in the first half), reflecting the degree Marinos overwhelmed them. Avispa are hurting, with many regulars injured. The club's priorities for the league outweigh Cup responsibilities. This meant that in order to rest most of his players for league duties, manager Matsuda switched out 6 regular starters -- two of the switched-in players were making their professional debut -- allowing them to just eke past the Jleague rules concerning player selection. (The rule for the Nabisco is that 6 of the players have to have started in 1 of the 5 league games so far.) Avispa have 2 losses 4 draws but still 0 wins.

Kashima Antlers 4-1 Oita Trinita
KA: Tashiro 11min; Masuda 37min, 89min; Honda 82min
OT: Osmar 59min
When Osmar scored for Oita at 59 minutes, the atmosphere in the team was on the up and up. They had closed the gap to 2-1 at that point, and motivation to catch up and surpass Kashima was high. Oita boss Chamusca made sure express his irritation at the 82nd minute PK call by the ref, which game Kashima their third goal. "We were trying a new system with some new players, and just as we were getting things together in the second half the ref destroyed our motivation." (Chamusca) Kashima's Tashiro scored his first goal in almost a year -- a header off Araiba's free kick. Tashiro injured ligaments in his left knee last summer. Antlers' Masuda also made an impact with two goals.

Urawa Reds 2-0 FC Tokyo
UR: Escudero 62min, Sakai 89min
Escudero marked his first official match goal last night. At 17 years 6 months and 28 days, this makes him the second youngest player to score a J goal (after Verdy's Morimoto). Escudero, as you know, is currently holding Spanish and Argentinian dual citizenship, but dreams of playing for Japan in the future.

Kyoto Purple Sanga 3-4 Kawasaki Frontale
KPS: Hayashi 29min, Alemao 71min, Paulinho 83min
KF: Nakamura 6min; Marcus 11min, 68min, 79min
A truly multi-goal game typical of these two clubs. Kyoto were desperate to catch up after allowing Kawasaki to take a 2-goal lead in the second half, putting in Alemao and Paulinho, but it was just not enough to catch up in time. Sanga's defense line fell apart, and it took them a little time to get it back together. Kawasaki's Marcus ends the night with a hattrick -- what is this, the third hattrick for a Frontale player?
Nabisco Cup 2006 Schedule
The first games for this year's Yamazaki Japan Nabisco Cup will be played on Wednesday March 29.

The groups are split as follows (Note: due to ACL scheduling, Gamba Osaka has been seeded, and will participate after the group rounds):

nabiscoPoster.jpg

Points - Goal Diff - Team
so far...

In BOLD go to the second round

Group A
16 | +9 | Urawa Reds
10 | +1 | Yokohama F Marinos

5 | -4 | Avispa Fukuoka
2 | -6 | FC Tokyo

Group B
15 | +6 | Kawasaki Frontale
9 | +3 | Kashima Antlers

9 | -3 | Oita Trinita
3 | -6 | Kyoto Purple Sanga

Group C
13 | +3 | Jef Chiba
8 | -0 | Shimizu S-Pulse
6 | -1 | Albirex Niigata
5 | -2 | Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Group D
12 | +3 | Cerezo Osaka
10 | +1 | Jubilo Iwata

8 | +1 | Ventforet Kofu
7 | -1 | Omiya Ardija
3 | -4 | Nagoya Grampus
----

2006 Nabisco Cup QuarterFinal Fixtures
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Gamba Osaka
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Kashima Antlers
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Jef Chiba
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Cerezo Osaka
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Jubilo Iwata
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Yokohama F Marinos
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Kawasaki Frontale
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Urawa Reds



March 29 2006
Urawa Reds 2-0 FC Tokyo
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Avispa Fukuoka
Kashima Antlers 4-1 Oita Trinita
Kyoto Purple Sanga 3-4 Kawasaki Frontale
Jef Chiba 2-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Albirex Niigata 3-3 Shimizu S-Pulse
Nagoya Grampus 1-3 Ventforet Kofu
Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Jubilo Iwata

April 5 2006
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Omiya Ardija

April 12 2006
Urawa Reds 3-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Yokohama F Marinos 2-0 FC Tokyo
Kashima Antlers 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale
Oita Trinita 2-1 Kyoto Purple Sanga
Jef Chiba 3-2 Albirex Niigta
Shimizu S-Pulse 2-2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Ventforet Kofu 2-2 Jubilo Iwata
Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Nagoya Grampus

April 26 2006
FC Tokyo 1-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Avispa Fukuoka 1-3 Urawa Reds
Kawasaki Frontale 4-1 Kyoto Purple Sanga
Oita Trinita 1-0 Kashima Antlers
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 Albirex Niigata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-4 Jef Chiba
Omiya Ardija 2-3 Jubilo Iwata
Ventforet Kofu 1-1 Nagoya Grampus

May 10 2006
Ventforet Kofu 0-1 Cerezo Osaka
Nagoya Grampus 1-2 Omiya Ardija

May 14 2006
FC Tokyo 0-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Yokohama F Marinos 1-2 Urawa Reds
Kashima Antlers 3-2 Kyoto Purple Sanga
Oita Trinita 0-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 Jef Chiba
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-0 Albirex Niigata
Omiya Ardija 1-0 Ventforet Kofu
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Cerezo Osaka

May 17 2006
FC Tokyo 0-0 Urawa Reds
Avispa Fukuoka 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Oita Trinita
Kyoto Purple Sange 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Cerezo Osaka

May 18 2006
Albirex Niigata 0-0 Jef Chiba
Jubilo Iwata 1-2 Ventforet Kofu

May 21 2006
Urawa Reds 4-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Avispa Fukuoka 0-0 FC Tokyo
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Kyoto Purple Sanga 1-2 Oita Trinita
Jef Chiba 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Albirex Niigata 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Cerezo Osaka 3-2 Omiya Ardija
The group stage is complete, I will lay out the tournament in the space below.
J1 Round 5 Summary
cerezo_comic.jpg Cerezo Osaka 3-1 Albirex Niigata
CO: Furuhashi 20 min, Ze Carlos 30 min, 82 min
AN: Edmilson 52 min

>>Ze Carlos goal clip
>>Edmilson goal clip

First let me explain the comic strip on the left. A talented fan of J mascots (and personally a supporter of Albirex) presented the strip on his blog >>here at Marchan's Illustration and Albi Supporter Diary. The illustrator depicted Cerezo's pre-Round 5 situation in "Gambare Robbie (the name of the Cerezo mascot -- well actually his full name is "Nobre Valiente Ace Robhito de Cerezo"; though I think I spelled most of that wrong)". 1) Last season they were this close to winning the league title, but currently 4 games 4 losses and 0 points, in last place. 2) He has nightmares of the past 4 games, as depicted by scary-looking versions of the mascots of the teams they have so far played... my favorite is the Marinos duck holding a shotgun. 3) He wakes in a sweat, to shout, "We were unlucky in having had tough fixtures against strong teams so far!" (which to be honest is true, compared to some of the other teams). 4) What's that in the distance? Who's our next opponent? 5) I--It's.. Albi-kun (the Albirex mascot).. "Doh". 5) With eyes alight, Robbie's fighting spirit is back: "W-we just might be able to with this one!" (Obviously not a dys on Albi since the illustrator is a fan, but probably an accurate reflection of some of the hope Cerezo fans clung to as they headed into Round 5.)

And Cerezo did finally get their first win. After the game, manager Kobayashi (who's neck could have been on the line had his men been unable to perform with conviction in Round 5 and 6, it was rumored) breathed a sigh of relief -- and who wouldn't, after aballsy (can I use that word?) change that he made to his right side. Up til now, Kobayashi had been switching the players around on the right side, from Bingo to Yamada to Kawamura. But this time round, he put 21 year old Sakamoto (who only played 7 league games last season) in the right wingback position. It was a risk, but perhaps at the end of his rope a leap of faith was in order. Sakamoto created
J1 Round 4 Summary
Round 4

Kashima's Rigth sideback 17 yr old Uchida makes differenceKashima Antlers 3-1 Ventforet Kofu
KA: Uchida 26 min, Alex Mineiro 56 min, 76 min
VK: own goal, 72 min

>>Uchida goal clip

So, after Kashima's almost too-thrilling game against Sanfrecce in the opening round, they have been struggling to find that sense of strength. In the first round, the first goal (a PK) was awarded when 17 year old right sideback Uchida (pic) challenged the Sanfrecce defenders just inside the box. I was really proud of him because given his sudden promotion to the starting team and it being an important opening match, he took the risk and the challenge and instead of passing to someone else to make a play he took on the responsibility himself.

In this game, it was Uchida again who made the first goal and assisted the second. And in this team with all its veterans and players with international experience this teenager was the one to make the difference and has started to solidify a place for himself.

I am especially rooting for the youth generation of players who are playing/starting in side positions at their clubs (which is why I am putting this game review first today). Especially sidebacks. The Japan national team (and Japanese football on the whole) is sorely in need of experienced sideback specialists. This came from the fact that up until recently most J teams were playing with a 3-back defense line to stabilize defense and utilize the numerous quality midfielders. Sideback is a very difficult position, and even looking at other countries and clubs around the world, we see there aren't many truly stellar sidebacks. Currently in the J, we are starting to see vacancies in the sides get filled with the young players -- they are getting experience from an early age at the pro level, which is very good indeedy.

Back to the game: It was a warm spring afternoon at Kashima stadium -- in fact I think it was the official sakura (cherry blossom) blooming day in Tokyo (this is an announcement by the people who go around counting how many cherry blossoms are flowering in different areas of Japan, and declaring when the blossoms are officially "open for business"; in other words, when Japanese people can swarm the parks and eat and get drunk under the sakura trees to enjoy and celebrate the arrival of spring before the petals all flutter to the ground. For a sample photo, >>click here. This photo was taken in Nagasaki in a prior year, and looks like it was taken when the trees were in full bloom).

Okay, back to the game again...

Kofu's "Mr #10" Fujita returned to the starting squad, and Ishikawa who had been filling in for Fujita was able to return to his original position up front. Kofu started off with a 4-3-3 system similar to the one from the end of last year. Kashima's defensive half Fernando had reinjured his knee and was off the team altogether. Masuda filled the spot. It was actually good to see manager Autuori not push Ogasawara down to defensive half like Cerezo did last year when they needed someone to quickly fill in for Fernando. Though the circumstances are a little different now than they were back then, for Kashima's attack to work Ogasawara really needs to be close to the front.

Antlers dominated from the beginning with technique and elegant passing. But they couldn't quite find the space to move forward against a very defensively united Kofu who were waiting for the opportunity to counter. It was starting to look like the same old story of Kashima dominating the midfield but unable to find the final pattern for a clean shot on goal. Though Kashima were able to prevent Kofu from creating anything dangerous, they themselves were stuck as well, and it was starting to feel flat and uncomfortable.

It was then that Uchida cut through the stale air. At 26 minutes, he received a ball on the right side from Aoki, and slid around the oncoming defender while holding furiously on to the ball. He dribbled in towards goal, and took a nice left footed shot for the goal. With that goal, the team was able to revive its spirits.
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copyright 2005 - football (japan) lost in translation
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