Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Reality Meets Art
ehimeorange.jpgSince some of you responded to the photo of Ehime FC's mascot the Orange in that post of photos I did a while back >>click to see page, I thought I'd follow up with information on the related manga before I forgot.

orange11manga.jpgOrange was published between 2001 and 2004 in the issues of Shukan Shonen Champion (weekly manga magazine), and now exists as a 13 part book series >>click to see covers of the 13 books. It was created by Tatsuki Nohda -- The story of a poor weakling club owned by a high school girl and it's main character star striker Musashi Wakamatsu as it fights its way to the first division (F league). The club is in dire straits at the beginning of the story, just as Musashi returns from Brazil and joins the club in order to fulfill a promise he made. If the club doesn't make it to F1 (first division) at the end of the season, the club would be finished.

What has made it attractive to readers is the amount of attention it pays to the supporter culture as well as the way the author involves the typical problems encountered by J clubs -- financial problems, injuries to key players, foreign players who turn out to be duds, problems with players getting pulled out for National team duties. The club is poor, and the city of Nanyo has to financially support a big chunk of the club, even while the Mayor of Nanyo is 100% a football-hater. In general the author sets up a host of characters who are laden with the ironic, but depicted with affection.

Ehime FC and Orange

The club, called Nanyo Orange, is an Ehime club (apparently the city of Nanyo is modelled after Yawatahama City), but its relationship to the real-life Ehime FC (which just made it to the J2 this season) doesn't end there. Ehime FC's mascot (pic above, the Orange), was designed by author Nohda. The mascot is similar but not identical to that of Nanyo Orange. And though Ehime FC had been using club colors of blue and white until 2005, they switched to orange after they joined up with Nohda.

orange_nohda.jpgAuthor Nohda also has drawn a bunch of caricatures for Ehime FC's supporters to decorate their area. In the pic left, you see the author himself standing by one of his works. He is often spotted attending games, and keeps a >>personal blog in which he posts thoughts and photos.

This is one of those manga that will not find international acclaim the way Captain Tsubasa has, the subject matter being way too Japan-specific in nature. It isn't even known inside Japan. But in a way, if you follow the J league, it could be fun because the author plays around with real examples.

SEGA joins in the fun

The naming of "F-league" was taken from Sega's version of the popular video game Sakatsuku -- in which you become an owner of a football club (my brother is currently in year 150 or something like that, so apparently it is addictive). SEGA returned the favor by including a character from Orange in it's 2004 Sakatsuku version -- the main character Musashi.

Quick Look at J2
The season opening day for J2 raised a few eyebrows:

Tokyo Verdy 4-1 Tokushima Vortis
A comfortable start to now 2nd division Verdy. Without question their only aim for the year is promotion back into the 1st division. Anything else is considered unacceptable. Pride and the future of the club are stake, and the media seems set on keeping the players (and especially charismatic Ramos) company though the long and arduous season.

Vissel Kobe 0-3 Thespa Kusatsu
Yikes, is all I can say. I had not been able to do much research on Vissel's new boss Stewart Baxter (>>here's a video interview of Baxter taken a few days before the match), but I hope they can improve. I like Thespa, but they should have hardly given Vissel this much trouble.

Ehime FC 1-0 Yokohama FC
A newcomer from the JFL (remember the orange?) got their first victory in the J. Congrats! Many other nonleague teams have been inspired by clubs like Ehime who realized their dream of playing the J, and this victory has probably been noted by them all.

Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Shonan Bellmare

Mito Hollyhock 1-1 Montedio Yamagata
Sagan Tosu 0-1 Consadole Sapporo
We've Won, Now Please Stay
Less than 24 hours after Gamba Osaka raised the Championship trophy this month, their J-league top goal scorere Araujo announced he would be leaving the club and returning home.

Now, inside a couple days of Ventforet Kofu's inspiring play-off ame against Kashiwa Reysol that gave them entrance to the J1 next season, the problems begin.

Bare, who scored six goals in Saturday's game (and the second most goals in the J2 this year), may not be able to remain at Kofu due to financial issues. With his performance this year, I can imagine the offers are coming in from other clubs. Bare himself has not been able to comment because he is not aware of the specifics of these other offers, just that he would prefer to stay at Kofu if he had the choice, all else being equal.

But for Kofu, who are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination (their next season budget at 1.1 billion yen is the lowest in the J1) will have trouble meeting the offers they are getting.

But here is where the story gets interesting. Kofu had problems in 2000, where financial troubles threatened the existence of the club. At that time a group that supports Ventforet organized to call for help and essentially collected 10 million yen from ten thousand people in and out of their prefecture, assisting in the return of the club from its deficit.

That same organization has spoken up again, saying that they will organize a donations drive to collect money so that Bare can remain at Kofu. Whether it works (in keeping Bare) or not, I think it's pretty cool.
Kyoto Purple Sanga One Away to Promotion
Kyoto Purple Sanga have been stunning the J2 this year, and for a long time now people have been making it a question of when, not if, the team would clinch their promotion.

In this last round game against Tokushima Vortis, a 5-1 win and a draw result from the Yokohama FC vs Yamagata Motedio match, means that if Kyoto can get a tie result or better in their next game against Mito Hollyhock it will give them the 2nd or better standing they need to head to the 1st division.

Things started to look a little hairy for the leaders, in the 25th minute when Vortis caught up 1-1. There was a bad vibe on the pitch. But Daisuke Nakaharai's goal off a tricky little heel pass from Alemao gave their side the momentum they needed to get back to business without looking back.

It's always interesting to see how some teams have difficulty winning that one game they need to get the Championship or get promoted. We are our own worst enemies sometimes.

I'm looking forward to seeing Kyoto next year, seeing how they compare to the performance put on by Frontale this year. From what I hear, the technical standard in the J2 has really improved, and many say that the gap between the two divisions is decreasing. The biggest difference of course is still those one or two plays, either in defense or offense, that are acceptable in the J2 but not in the J1.

It's been two seasons since Kyoto have seen J1 play, but I have a feeling they may have become a tougher wiser team.
Showing Disgust but Supportively?
Though I had been trying to keep up with the J2 news I've been unable to keep up J2 news for the blog due to other priorities. But I do enjoy the 2nd division league and all the stories that are going on there.


Which is why it was sad to hear that there was supporter trouble during Vegalta Sendai's game against Tokushima Vortis. And the very visible visual kind too, which means the impact of the events is that much bigger in the eyes of the club as well as the league in general. Many football blogs are commenting on how sad they are to have witnessed this, regardless of whether these bloggers were Vegalta fans or not. In Japan, where supporters emphasize cooperative unity and non-violence, every incident (instigated by a small minority) makes a big ripple. So maybe those of you who are visiting from coutries where the football supporter/hooligan scene can get frighteningly violent at its worst may think "what's the big deal"... but there you go, football is still new here, and the overall attitude is highly critical on any form of violence, whether it is verbal or physical. And it does impact the enthusiasm of borderline football fans to come to see games; especially those who think it's unsuitable for children.

Above is a photo (click to enlarge) of several very nasty banners that say things like "Tsunami (the manager), Get Out!", "You should Die, for the sake of Sendai", and "We're sick of hearing excuses!! We won't accept anything but a win", and "Stop further destroying our Sendai, Give us back our Sendai". In particular, the "die" remark has been met with a lot of criticism among all league watchers, as it is seen as going too far.

Then, after the game, where Sendai tied 2-2, the players were making the rounds of their home stadium. As they passed under the area where the above banner was displayed, things started to fly out of the stands, including plastic drink bottles. Some of these objects hit players, and the players got into a shouting match with the supporters in question.

>>Click to watch Video of incident

The big prize when you are a team fighting in the 2nd division is getting to the 1st division. And for Vegalta supporters, this was supposed to be the year they headed in that direction. But with each game, the lead of the front-runners grows and grows (Vegalta are currently 6th out of 12), and the inability of the team to get the full 3 points for each game they play means the team's chances for making it to the J1 are that much more slim.

We have seen before that one incident like this can have lasting repercussions on the relationship between the club and the supporter groups. Last season, there was the incident of Kashima Antler supporters jumping out of the stands and wrestling with some players. Even now the Antlers supporter groups are warily navigating the balance between demanding good performances and showing support for the team during difficult times. Even now there is a bit of awkwardness between the two. This season, we saw how one instance of Kashiwa Reysol supporters invading the away supporter seats after the game (after being goaded by these supporters) ended with two major supporter groups disbanding to show their remorse. And the incident of one person throwing the lid of a public ashtray at opponent supporters during an FC Tokyo game ended with (I believe) an arrest.

Rebuilding that trust and that relationship is extremely hard, and it's even harder if the team in question continues to perform poorly. I know the Vegalta supporters, even those who are 100% against the above acts, are more than a little dissatisfied by the team and the frustration of seeing J1 within the horizon but never quite reaching it is going to keep building. But I hope they will discuss things now and try and stop things from getting any uglier. I guess it's always the million dollar question when you are a supporter: where is that line between supporting whole-heartedly and showing disgust and anger?

But there is one thing I do want to add here at the end. The thing is that in most of these cases the people in question are acting as individuals, not as part of the supporter organization. I think it's important to separate the "individual" from the "organization" and see what goes where. And to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.... I mean, there were supporters who were crying as they saw the bottles flying at the players. The true spirit of support is still alive here, and I hope this will be a positive turning point for everyone.
Goals Goals Goals: Kyoto Purple Sanga
Without a doubt, Kyoto Purple Sanga have players who can score. Goals. Lots of 'em. Enough to win. And looking at both J1 and J2, this is certainly a rare characteristic. Japanese teams of late have been characterized by trouble on the finish -- they have great passing, good crosses, speedy midfielders or forwards. The ball goes riiigggghhhtt there, goal. In fact, if you read most post-game comments by players or coaches on any given day, you will find plenty of quotes that say something like, "we couldn't get the goal when we should have."

Kyoto Purple Sanga were favorites to get the J2 championships last year. But they couldn't quite find the wins they needed and slid slowly down the rankings finishing the season in fifth place. Coach Hashiratani came into the team in the middle of last season, but I guess it wasn't enough time to implement all the changes he would have liked. And at the end of last season, Kyoto lost some key goal-getting players like Kurobe (now Cerezo), Choi Yong soo (now Jubilo), and Atsuta (now Verdy) -- people were convinced this would do lasting damage to the Kyoto attack.

But... in the 2005 pre-season, Kyoto got two confidence-boosting "helpers" (ie, players from abroad) in Alemao and Paulinho (both forwards). Hashiratani spotlighted the two Brazilians and said they played with a high quality of direct one-touch passing -- this greatly helps in putting on a speedy attack. In the side positions, Hoshi and Kato came from Yamagata and Shonan respectively and strengthened the team's ability to attack from the sides as well. In defense, Washida came from Jef, Ricardo from Sanfrecce, and right side specialist Okubo brought a lot of options for the coach who had been trying to get the team to ambitiously create attacks using the sides. Their 4-back system was centered around Ricardo's great decision-making abilities. The look and feel of the team had really changed.

The 2005 theme put forth by Hashiratani is "aggressive". Three forwards, Tahara, Matsuda and Alemao are tall powerful players who are particularly aggressive goal-getters, and so Kyoto started off the year with a team that was focused on the Win. Many reviewers had predicted that if Kyoto were able to function in the optimal way, getting the ball to the front using variation and speed in the midfield while also getting the sidebacks to participate, Kyoto would no doubt burst forth and finish the race lengths ahead of any of the other teams.

Well, so far we are 16 games into the season and Kyoto have shown that they just may be living up to expectations. But looking at the content of many of their games so far, it is not like they are completely overwhelming their opponents. In fact, the opponents are well aware of Kyoto's strengths and have made good efforts to squash particularly the two Brazilian forwards. It's just that wnen they do have the opportunities they get the ball in the goal more times than not. They are able to outnumber their goals allowed with the goals gotten (goal differential +17) and are now 15 points ahead of second place Avispa. Even after Paulinho got injured in the Bellmare game, the team were still able to play their way to wins until his return.

Perhaps the next challenge for the team is, now that they have a confident and ambitious base to build on, to use better passing sequences when on the attack. So far, their main weapons have been to use long balls from the back and crosses from the sides, hauling the ball in front of the goal. Though you could argue that this is the best strategy given how much pressure Kyoto particularly gets from opponent teams (who are probably hoping for at least a draw against them).

In this last Round 16 game against Fukuoka, Fukuoka controlled the rhythm of the game and used passing sequences and varied speeds on the attack, to get by Kyoto. Kyoto defense were focused and did not allow Fukuoka the shots they wanted. But again, though Fukuoka were closer to creating more of the opportunities (and in fact got the first goal of the game off Alex's bicycle kick), they ended up losing 2-3 to Kyoto. One of Kyoto's goals came from a PK, and another from an Own Goal. The winning third goal came right after coach Hashiratani sent in Paulinho (78 min) -- Kato, who had been creating a lot of momentum with his speed on the attack was fouled in a good position, and Paulinho took the free kick for the goal.

We have seen in the J1 this year the notable performances put on by Omiya Ardija and Kawasaki Frontale (just up from J2 this year) so far. If you are planning on sticking around for at least another year of J-league football (and why wouldn't you?), it is definitely worth it to get a head start and get to know Kyoto Purple Sanga. It's still a long way to the end of the season, but with the J1 league on break right now it's a good time to browse (or check out future

P.S. If you are wondering where they got the name Purple Sanga: purple was the team color they carried over from their Kyoto Shiko Club days. The "Sanga" comes from two things. One is that it is the sanskrit (they like the temple imagery of sanskrit) word for "circle of friends/group". The second is a sort of a play on words with the Japanese word "sanga" which indicates the "mountains and rivers/natural surroundings" of Kyoto. The club changed to this name upon promotion to the JFL 1st division in 1993.
[photo from]
J-league soccer football japan
Going into the Next Rounds: J2
Wide Margin Lead

Since no team got relegated from J1 last season, the general prediction about the J2 this season was that it was going to be a close season for many of the higher-level teams. But what do we know? Kyoto Purple Sanga have taken a huge lead over the other teams -- after 13 rounds, they have 10 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss. Like Sanfrecce Hiroshima of two years ago, and Kawasaki Frontale of last year, Kyoto have leapt ahead.

One of the main reasons for Kyoto's great results this season is none other than their great goal-getting ability. In the J2, there are almost no teams that are able to control the majority of a game. So, regardless of who is supposed to be the stronger or weaker team in any matchup, both teams have many opportunities to score. And in Kyoto's case, they have been able to make the goals consistently happen when the chance comes around because of their non-Japanese forwards like Paulinho and Alemao.

When you look at the defense, though, you don't see the same sense of strength. The basic style of Kyoto's defense has been for the back 4 and middle 4 to assert their lines properly -- they lure the opponent into their area and steal back the ball from there. They have some tall centerbacks who can defend against crosses, and the defensive midfielders (like Meta and Saito) pick up the ball from there. This has been the general policy in the team continuing from last year, and everyone involved is absolutely aware of their responsibilities. However, as a whole the team does not have a united concept of defense, and the general feeling among reviewers is that Kyoto's defense may prove too fragile if we were to put them in a J1 environment right now. If you look at the 0-3 defeat to Sagan Tosu in the 12th round, the centerbacks were unable to respond well when Sagan were able to get the ball into the area behind the sidebacks despite the fact that their defense line wasn't kept that high. But Kyoto have been able to maintain a decent amount of stability overall because they were able to add good players to their roster in the preseason -- even when their main defenders like Teshima and Okubo could not play, the defense line did not crumble. The new recruits like Washida and Ricardo have been performing well in their place.

Part of the new transfers this season included a trio who have played under coach Hashiratani during his Yamagata days. These guys quickly understood the coach's strategies making things much easier for the team as a whole. Of course all these new transfers were made possible by Kyoto's advantageous financial situation. So even if we look with a little concern to their defense, on the whole we have to acknowledge that this team certainly deserves to be way ahead in the table.

Race for Second Place

First of all, Ventforet Kofu are playing high quality football. The overall impression is that all the players have a very clear understanding of coach Ohki's strategy, what he wants from each of them. For instance, what do the other players do when one of the forwards gets the ball, who goes to support the forwards, who runs into the spaces created, etc. The same goes for the defense as well. The back 4 and the middle 4 keep disciplined lines and know exactly when and where to put pressure on the opponent. Though Kofu are currently in 5th place overall, many reviewers are looking to Kofu to put on a good fight for the top (or at least second). Particularly important in their future performance is Bare. Because the team as a unit has a very clear understanding of how to create opportunities, all they need next is someone to finish things off with a goal. Bare's got speed and physical strength and has gotten 7 goals so far. [Oops, I seem to have fallen behind the times: Bare scored a hattrick in this weekend's game so now his goal total is 10! Thanks to Furtho for pointing out my error!]

Shonan Bellmare: This team is currently in 6th place, but the overall comments have been that their games have promising content. The presense of newly acquired players seems to have shaken the rest of the team, motivating everyone to play better. One player to focus on would be Sato, who came from Cerezo Osaka. Though many think of him as a left sidehalf, his move to defensive midfield at Bellmare has proved a very smart move. Organizing the team from that position, he creates a good rhythm for the team and uses his accurate passing skills to mix long and short passes, giving the team different options on the offense. He likes to use the sides too, so if the team is stumbling against persistent pressure from the opponent Sato will use long balls to poke at the back side area for opportunities. Coach Ueda stresses a compact team, and the players seem to understand that.

With regard to Avispa Fukuoka and Montedio Yamagata, they are doing okay but have been getting too many tied games (Fukuoka have 8 draws, Yamagata 6). They should have been doing better, securely getting the three points in a number of matches they ended up tied. It is possible that this inability (by these two teams to get the wins) is the reason behind the congestion of teams vying for second place in the J2.

Sagan Tosu: I did a review of Tosu last week already, but just to touch on them in the context of the entire J2... Tosu have been able to put a better performance this year because they have made great improvements to the individual quality of players as well as the team strategy. Lots of new players with better abilities have been brought in. And there is a defensive awareness in the team that starts higher up on the pitch -- not just back at the defense line. By putting on the pressure higher up near the front line, they have been able to put together swifter offensive plays.

What about the Newbies?
A little painful to watch are the teams new to the J2 -- Thespa and Vortis. Though Thespa Kusatsu has gotten a new coach in Tetsuka, who had started off by declaring he wanted to create an attacking team, the players have not been able to either understand or put into play his wishes. At the 11th Round, they switched the formation back to 3-5-2. Though they haven't seen the results yet, the return of experienced playmaker Yamaguchi may prove to be the next piece of the puzzle. Thespa have players who can put on a solid/decent performance, so all that the team seems to need in order to make improvements is to have a clearer understanding of what the coach wants from them -- and put it into practice. As for Tokushima Vortis, they seemed to have everything lined up -- 7th year coach Tanaka and new players with experience at the J1 level. But these new players aren't fitting in well. One article said "the rest of the team is trying to fit themselves to the new players, not the other way round." By doing this, the team has basically ignored all that they have learned and built up to this year. Plus the injuries to Hayashi and Kataoka (who were key players during Tokushima's fight to the top of the JFL) have been a blow to the team.

The Season is Long...

After 13 rounds, this is just the beginning. Perhaps after another 12 rounds or so (which would put us at the midpoint of the season), we will start to see a pattern of performance that clearly separates the top 4-5 teams. As the separation becomes clearer, we will also see some teams start to pull away in the opposite direction downwards -- teams that feel like they have no chance at J1 and therefore the performance starts to slide along with the motivation. (Though last year we saw Fukuoka do just the opposite. They put on a fierce fight upwards in the second half of the season just as everyone was writing them off.)
Follow Up on Sagan Tosu Round 13
I'm always worried that when I discuss in depth a team that is finding its groove in this blog, I am somehow going to jinx them. Which was why I was a little worried about seeing the J2 results today; I actually put it off for a while. Of course, I HAD to look eventually, and what a relief to find that after all I went on about them yesterday, Sagan Tosu were able to get a clean win against Sendai 1-0. And the first time at their home stadium too. The goal was a beautiful long range shot (30 meters) from Takabayashi. The story of new heroes continues for Sagan, as this was Takabayashi's first league goal. In 13 rounds he's made it to the bench 3 times, and this was his first time starting, so he is another one of Sagan's fresh new "lucky boys".

Anyway, whew! I'm not bad luck afterall!

Sagan are now in 2nd Place, another first for this team's history books.
J2: Sagan Tosu
The Nabisco games are starting up against this weekend, but I thought I'd take this break from the J1 period to spend a little time with some J2 teams. I did consult with Furtho about where I should first start...when you're 12 rounds behind, it's almost impossible to do a proper catch-up, I admit. But he did give me a few places to look, and I thought I'd start off with a little peek at how things are going for Sagan Tosu.

Patience is said to be a virtue, and Sagan have indeed kept things slow and steady. The pre-season spotlight was on Sagan's dedication to development over time. Second year coach Matsumoto (63 years old) has been planning for this season since the middle of last year. The long-term focus is on building a team that can properly participate at the J1 level... in other words, without falling apart the minute they start playing J1 teams. If you look at the new additions to the coaching staff, you'll see human resources have been plucked from among people with J1 club experience like Verdy, Jubilo, Grampus, and Antlers.

We've even seen drastic changes in the player list. At the preseason, half the players were newly acquired. Sagan had done really well in the first leg of last season, climbing up to fifth place at one point. However, as they entered the second half of the season their strategies were being easily analyzed by opponents, and they ended up not getting the results they needed. It is said that this experience may have pushed the club to change so many players this year. And the focus is not just on getting new faces, but choosing new players with specific outstanding characteristics -- height, speed, or ability to think&act during a game. So on top of the usual team strategies, each player is expected to use his unique characteristics to add that x-factor to the pot.

This is a very young team, but with an experienced staff, so the way the coaches could develop the team from the preseason through the 44 league matches will probably decide whether they crash and burn mid-way or pace themselves nicely through to the end. Some of the fan favorites include goalie Junnosuke Schneider who provided a lot of exciting moments for viewers in the Mito game. Then there is Ochiai, who was converted from def mf to defense core -- he has always been good at responding to dangerous situations, but while he was at Kashiwa Reysol, he was beaten out by teammate Myojin for the spot. (Unfortunately, he got a 5 game ban penalty for "expessing his anger" at the Ventforet game so the team wasn't able to depend on him for most of the past few weeks. Hopefully he's learned his lesson!) Also, Sagan just got a new addition in April -- Takachi (previously at Kyu-League's FCRyukyu), who started just two days after officially signing with the team in the Thespa and Mito games and showed his dribbling strengths and contributed as defender to the team's wins.

After twelve rounds (about a quarter of the way through the season), the J2 rankings have Sagan in 4th place with 19 points. But Kyoto Purple Sanga have already broken ahead with 29 points for first place. In second and third place are Montedio and Avispa with 20 and 19, so Sagan is sort of clinging onto the top half grouping right now.

At this point, the thing most J2 watchers will bring up if you mention Sagan Tosu is their 3-0 victory over Kyoto Purple Sanga in the last round. Kyoto, who were undefeated for the first eleven games of this season. Looking at the Sagan supporter blogs, even they are astonished and sheepishly cannot hide their joy over this unexpected result. (Two years ago, Sagan only won 3 games total; this year they've already won 5). From what I hear, the first twenty minutes or so was Kyoto's to take -- but the Sagan defense line, controlled and focused, thwarted crosses in and managed to successfully catch Kyoto in off-side traps about five times in the first half alone. Worth mentioning is Biju's move to defensive midfield -- he helped the team successfully nab the ball nearer to their forward line making it easier to invite mistakes from Kyoto's defenders and screwing up their offensive buildup as well. It was also nice to see that fw Suzuki, who had been a replacement for Ujihara (who comes from J1's Grampus), brought the golden touch to the team this game. Suzuki scored twice.

I think Sagan has stayed alive in the rankings because they've been able to maintain some amount of stability in defense -- with 5 wins and 4 draws so far, and only 11 goals allowed (more than half the J2 teams have allowed 14 or more goals already). The other strange thing is that they haven't been able to get a win at Home -- whether that signifies anything or not... But their last game at home was a 0-0 draw with Shonan, a game that was a perfect example of how difficult it is sometimes to get that ball to go inside the goal one measley time. In fact, Sagan should have by all logical predictions won this game against Shonan. A red card to Shonan's Shirai in the 23rd minute gave the home team a numerical advantage. Sagan was also recorded to have made 16 shots on goal -- 6 shots more than the average for a J2 game and 14 more shots than Shonan made in the entire game. But alas, Shonan was focused and able to follow instructions from their coach to "stay calm and go for a counter-attack when you get possession". Sometimes it's just easier to be cornered into having only one way to fight -- keeps things uncomplicated and easier to focus.

Sagan's coach Matsunaga had said after this game that it showed that the inexperience of the young players made it difficult for them to solve their problems on their own, figure a way out for themselves. The players commented that the problem was partly because they did not have enough options in offensive plans/strategies. It's interesting to see this gap between the two sides -- the players blamed the fact that they weren't prepared with enough back-up plans, whereas the coach was hoping that the team or individuals could take some leadership and figure out things independently. Sometimes it is more difficult to play a game like this, when the opponent is so defensive, because it forces the other team to come up with something that puts psychological pressure on the defensive team, something different, clever, or truly high quality. Perhaps Sagan will be able to develop this area as they play through more games this season.

Well, I wanted to go back to the older rounds too, but this entry will get too long. The next game is Sagan vs. Sendai. Sagan won the first meeting 2-0 away, and now will have to finally prove that yes indeed they can win at home too. They have been unable to play with the ideal starting lineup so far, what with injuries and bans; but they have been able to stay true to their type of football (of putting pressure quickly, active running) and each game has introduced a new hero to the drama (from goalie Schneider, Arai, Miyahara, Hasegawa, to now Suzuki). And don't forget that they have held opponents to 0 in 7 games. But Sendai are just coming into their own as well, and most predict that Sendai will control possession of tomorrow's game. I am curious to see how Sagan will enter this game, after their confidence-boosting win over Kyoto and before a home crowd that is getting impatient for a home win. The team being as young as it is, I wonder how Matsumoto will control his players' psychological state going into the match -- will they be gung-ho on the attack? or attempt to play a little more mature and patiently?

If you're just getting interested in the J2 now, Sagan is a fun team to root for. Their current standing teetering just on the edge of the top clump, the youth of their players, new heroes being born every week, the well-thought-out player selection by coach Matsumoto, keeping the level of nervous excitement just high enough to make us curious about their performance over the remainder of the year. If you live in the area, it may also be fun to go watch one of their games at the Tosu Stadium (pic) -- which allows 25,000 capacity (the largest in Kyushu) and is located right by the JR Tosu station.
J2 for a Change...Kusatsu vs. Sapporo
I haven't had the time to follow the J2 season at all. I feel a little bad, considering last year I was rather inspired by the Kusatsu team's spirit and was looking forward to following their adventures in the J. I also love their name "TheSpa". This weekend the matches for the Nabisco Cup begin. J2 continues with the 3rd Round of matches.

I thought I'd put Nabisco to the side for today and take a look at the upcoming Kusatsu : Sapporo game. Both teams will be arriving at the match without a win this season. From what I've read, the general opinion is that Sapporo have the advantage despite the away environment. Kusatsu have allowed three goals and made none per match up to now, and coach Tezuka is insisting it's not a direct result of defense line issues. Coach Tezuka, who joined Kusatsu this season, has his heart set on a 4-back formation. Outside analysis seems to point the finger at the back line, which appeared to be full of holes due perhaps to the lack of player understanding/comfort of the new system. Tezuka feels that it is more an issue of the entire team being able to grasp the flow of the game and being able to attack and defend as a whole.

Kusatsu also have to contend with midfielder Yamaguchi's injury. He had just been released from suspension due to a red card in the Emperor's Cup games, when he promptly injured himself. Forward Yoshimoto received a red card in the previous match and will not be able to play this weekend. On top of that, I've read that Takasu may be shifted over from his central omf position to left half to strengthen the side, but it leaves the question of whether his position can be filled so quickly by another as effectively.

In comparison, Sapporo is not hurting so much. They have a full starting lineup. They understand that a big mental factor to this game will be to get the first goal. They are also looking to pierce Kusatsu's weak sides.

From what I've read of Kusatsu's previous two match reports, they do play a spirited attacking game with an almost three-player forward line (this is what coach Tezuka is aiming for). The recurring theme for teams like this is whether they are able to play a mature game -- avoid yellow/red cards (they got 3 yellows and 1 red just in their one game against Kyoto last week), maintain a level of patience, not lose spirit/focus when they allow a goal, etc. And when you have such an attacking team, the defense responsibilities of every player (not just the four defense players) is crucial.

It is going to be an interesting match to follow -- really, anything can happen (and probably will!). I will be rooting for Kusatsu; hopefully they can keep their heads and enjoy the game too.
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