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Round 8, On Review
It may not be the smartest thing to watch the highlights clips before catching the broadcast of any game...sort of takes the excitement out of things. But alas, you can only be in one place at one time, and I am not strong on patience... Today I thought I'd catch up on the Round 8 games a little more. The schedule is getting so busy that it's getting difficult to keep the rounds straight anymore!

Reds 2 -2 Jubilo: This was actually a pretty "regular" game for both teams at this point. Both had difficulty finding that last finishing touch and having instinct for game flow. Jubilo was helped this game by Maeda's high-voltage performance -- he was really doing great work this game, and this was underlined by his powerful long-shot that gave Jubilo the lead in the first half. Reds weren't giving up that easily, and they caught up just before the first half ended. I was a bit ticked at Reds coach Buchwald; I don't know where the mikes were set up but his screaming voice made it into the broadcast it gave me a headache -- screaming in German is not my idea of good background music. He was prickly in the mid-game interview too, when the interviewer asked him if his was dissatisfied by the performance so far. The interviewer asked this because Buchwald had been up and shouting, throwing his arms up and down, etc., in the first half. Buchwald took offense for some reason and was like, "I don't know why you would say that, why would I be dissatisfied by the team. They played good attacking football in the first half.." in a rather hissy tone. Caalllmm dooowwwwnnn, dude. After the game, Buchwald had to be restrained by his players and staff -- he was worked up about something, but I guess it was the refs he was upset with? All I can say is that it's great to have a coach fight for the players, but he may make things harder for the players in the long run if he makes a habit of it.

The team basically needs more shrewdness in midfield, is my humble opinion. The Reds forwards tend to want to dribble up quickly after running to catch up to a ball, but by doing that they sort of leave everyone behind. So in the end the forwards are at a disadvantage numerically and are easier to block/mark. Also, as Hasebe said in his interview, if you always go for the dribble, you are going to get tackled, so it stops the flow of the game anyway. If they can better take advantage of possession knowing when to hold the ball and creating a little time for the midfield to arrive, the goals will come more easily. Maybe this is against Reds-policy.

Not to say that they shouldn't take advantage of their dribbling technique -- people like Emerson and Nagai each have a very unique rhythm to their dribbling. Nagai had some good moments in this game, and even got Reds their first goal. He's sort of a strage one, I wasn't quite sure how much or what to expect from him back a year plus ago. He sort of didn't help himself at the beginning by saying things like 'if football didn't pan out for him he'd thought he could fall back on modeling'. He was told by Troussier in the youth national team a number of years ago to "stop playing like a girl" (ouch!). And his debut with Zico Japan ended with a goal that no one was impressed with (they called it a "lucky" goal, and people were not convinced that he had the goods to play at the international level -- this was over a year ago). After that I heard he did extensive physical training, improved strength/power, and was able to show that improvement last year. He's yet another J-leaguer married to an "older woman" (there are a lot of those!); wonder if his double shoulder tattoos were a product of his beefing up period... I believe yesterday was the first time anyone (meaning us humble masses) had a peek at those tats. Anyway, enough gossip.

As for Jubilo, they were pretty evenly matched with Reds in the first half, but after that they sort of lost the energy and had to spend more time defending. They were able to get ahead with a pk from Gon Nakayama (he had to kick the pk twice, the first time was disqualified due to a teammate jumping into the box before the kick). The Reds players were quick to respond to the ref's awarding of a penalty though, and I thought maybe we'd have a repeat of past Reds self-destruction. The goalie ended up getting a yellow card for rushing the ref and yelling who knows what. Anyway, half the Reds team were creating the mob scene and the other half were calming them down...so I guess Reds have started to learn a thing or two from the past. Good to see. And, right after Jubilo got ahead with the pk, Emerson countered with a great run up for a goal. The shot had a nice punch to it, and he must have felt mighty good when he kicked it.

All in all, pretty much what I expected score-wise.

Marinos 1 - 2 Frontale: I already talked a little about this game in my last entry, but now that I saw the game there is one thing I want to add. Naoki Matsuda, you are a one-man-show, lol! Seriously, with Nakazawa out, I guess his sense of responsibility and fiery spirit were doubly apparent. By the end of the game, he had left Nasu behind to house-sit while he took off for the front lines. But considering it was Nasu who had the one goal under his belt that night and was also this close to having another, I wonder if it would have been better to let Nasu go up. Matsuda had been saying before the game that he was going to concentrate on defense and not go up that much; as a libero, he is often seen dribbling/running up as well as participating in most corner kicks. However, they had given up 2 goals to Frontale this night; and not in good ways, either. He also gets rather fired up in scuffle, but he did cost his team precious seconds arguing with opponent players and referees when he should have shut up and used the remaining minutes wisely.

Antlers 2 - 0 Vissel: I also already talked about this game yesterday, but I saw the game now and had just a couple comments to add. I hear that new Vissel coach Leao has been taking a whip to the team -- he ordered Mboma to join practice with the rest of the team (he had been training separately recovering from injury), had hours of meetings with the team, spent hours going over very specific detailed instructions on how each player should move, mark, etc. The team played an 11-on-11 game the day before this game, and the Vissel team in general has been working their bums off in the last few days. They looked really serious entering the stadium, and it was good to see the renewed sense of direction in their attitude.

Atsu Miura was actually pretty fun to watch in the omf position -- he put a lot of pressure on the Antler defense, a couple times creating some dangerous situations for the back line when he chased a long feed that landed right behind the defenders and in front of the goalie. He also had one powerful long-range shot, impressed the crowds with a Zidane-like turn with the ball to get rid of a mark, kicked a number of really nice corners, and all in all had a lot of contact with the ball. Vissel had about 20 shots on goal to Antlers' 8 (I think), so you can see that Vissel were no slouch in the game. They just couldn't make their chances count. Their game plan was pretty simple -- put lots of pressure from the front lines, clear balls simply when in danger, long feeds to the front, and look to fk/ck's for goal chances.

Antlers were suffering from the heavy pressure from Vissel, but they kept balanced and calm. The second goal was a perfect counter-attack, right after Vissel had a string of close shots on the Antlers goal. The ball got headed out by defenders, Mineiro picked it up and immediately passed it left to a running Nozawa. Mineiro kept running up and right, and Nozawa crossed a grounder back to Mineiro. Mineiro cut inwards while Nozawa cut up and diagonally right, and Mineiro sent a vertical pass to Nozawa just as the defenders marking the two overlapped and a narrow alley was created. All Nozawa had to do was push the passed ball through the legs of one defender, catching the goalie off. It was good to see that two Antlers forwards interweaving and playing off each other like this; especially since they also did such a good job supporting the midfield today. Nozawa was playing this game still carrying injury to his achilles, and I just hope he didn't strain himself too much. Antlers still have many players out to injury, and perhaps coach Cerezo was looking ahead to the next few games when he decided to sub in some young players in the end -- fw Tashiro was one, and he did show some promising moves in the last moments. I had been curious about him, so it was nice to have the opportunity to see a little more of him.
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2 Stage --> 1 Stage
This season, the J-league returned to a One Stage format. Previously, the entire season was split into two stages: at the end of the season, the winner of the two stages would fight it out in home/away games and decide the "true" champion of the year. In the 2003 season, Yokohama Marinos won both stages and asserted their quality. In 2004, Marinos won the first stage, Reds won the second stage, and the two teams battled in two stress-filled games that ended in a penalty shoot-out for a Marinos win. With the One Stage format, the now-18 teams in J1 have a long road to travel to arrive at the true "true" champion of the year.

Continuing in my log of interesting articles found in this past week's Weekly Soccer Digest No.780 (next week I will find a different magazine to read from), I found an article written by FC Tokyo coach Hiromi Hara (he wrote it prior to the start of the season) discussing the concerns surrounding the One Stage format. The season has already started, but with all the notable surprises in the rankings so far I thought it would be a good time to review this issue and see if we may be facing these concerns..

- Concerns Surrounding the One Stage Format -
The move to a One Stage format was a natural one, and I was in agreement with the decision. Who is truly the strongest team? There would be little doubt as to who the true champion is. This is a good thing. But is this system really good for all of us? It is important to view the One Stage format with some caution. Will this format cement itself in Japan? This is probably the question that will be asked of the Japanese football culture.

On the whole, Japanese are characterized by a short attention span, a tendecy to give up easily. This year, with the number of teams increased to 18, I wonder if the supporters of all 18 teams will stick it out to the end. I wonder if the total spectator numbers will decrease for each team.

From the position of coach, there are many surrounding aspects that I honestly cannot calculate. For instance, if the team loses three games in a row at Home, if the team gets off to a bad start to the season, I don't know how that would affect things.

If this was the Two Stage format, the supporters and the players are given a mental "reset" button at the end of the first stage (halfway through). They could say to themselves, "Well, there's nothing we can do about the first stage, but we still have the second stage. There's still a good chance for us." The two stages, the championship-deciding game -- these are a couple of extra things that help support the energy of everyone involved in the J-league. The Two Stage format had its advantages.

The 34 games that stand before us until December. It will be a long season, and if a team starts slipping in the rankings partway through it will become very difficult to maintain motivation within the team. And with that, my biggest worry is that the supporters may start losing interest.

My point is that basically the only aim will be to rank #1. In the European leagues, the top 4 have the Champions League, the top 6 have the UEFA Cup to look forward to. On top of that there is the excitement from the League champions-deciding games and the relegation-avoiding games. I think that it provides the teams and supporters with various things to get excited about. But in the J-League now there is only the latter two -- league champions and relegations. Once we get mid-way into the season, there will be little for "middle-ranking" teams to focus on or fight for. There is a danger that these teams in the middle will be left in a sort of vacuum.

So for example, from a personal point of view, it may be exciting to give the top 2 teams a ticket to the Asian Champions League. Or, have the league #2 team play the Nabisco Cup winner or the Emperor's Cup winner for the second ticket to the ACL. Or to also incorporate the A3 into things somehow. These things may spread the excitement out at bit more in the J-league.

In the J2, the top 2 teams make it to J1; and the #3 team fights it out with the J1 bottom team. The number of teams is much less than the J1, so the target of making it to the top 3 is a good possibility for all teams and it keeps motivation up for the majority of teams. The excitement lasts from start to finish.

I believe that this season's J1 will see many like-strength teams and we will see lots of bunching up in the rankings. This will help keep hope up for many teams and supporters. Of course, FC Tokyo will participate full throttle in that race to the finish line. So it would be a shame if we lost some of the excitement and energy that was there until last season. It will become important to have foresight and figure out new ways to maintain the energy and interest levels within the J league.

I liked Hara's suggestion about mixing up the different rather random Cups and Championships -- the Nabisco, the Emperor's, the A3. I mean, the A3 was -- what? -- practice? We had the Xerox Supercup (between the League champs and the Nabisco champs), and it was a fun little preview to the J season; however it was a rather meaningless game in the big picture. It's excitement lasted for that one day, and that was it. The A3 was even more bleak -- Marinos lost a number of players to food poisoning, flu, and injuries during the A3. Didn't help them going into the season and into the group stages of the ACL. (You could even argue that the chance to participate in the A3 should have gone to Reds or one of the other promising teams in the J. Marinos had way too much on their plate, and it ended up taking away from the quality of play overall.)

There should be a way to tie some of these things together. I especially like the concept of involving the A3 because J league teams are woefully unprepared for the ACL group stage games as it is. Very few teams have players experienced in non-J-League refereeing, playing in different countries, playing against K- and C- league teams (who play with emphasis on physical and have a different style), and so on. Not only that, most Japanese football fans have absolutely no clue or interest in other Asian leagues, teams, and players (aside from those with top NTs)... there is little understanding, appreciation, or respect, really.

On the other hand, there are issues of finances and scheduling that I can't debate because I have very little info on how these things get decided. Anyway, it will be something to watch for -- how will the supporter numbers pan out? how will the J league respond if the numbers start to dwindle? will they take preventative action or only act after the fact?
1 Stage" dc:identifier="http://footballjapan.blog14.fc2.com/blog-entry-122.html" dc:subject="Magazine Articles" dc:description="This season, the J-league returned to a One Stage format. Previously, the entire season was split into two stages: at the end of the season, the winner of the two stages would fight it out in home/away games and decide the "true" champion of the year. In the 2003 season, Yokohama Marinos won both stages and asserted their quality. In 2004, Marinos won the first stage, Reds won the second stage, an..." dc:creator="Rie" dc:date="2005-04-28T12:40:36+09:00" /> -->
Round 8 Thursday Nite
Beware the 40th minute... It seems like there are always a few games each round where the last 5 minutes of either half is characterized by a game-defining goal.

This 8th Round did not disappoint:

Jubilo (40 min 2nd half) 2 - 2 Reds (44 min 2nd half)
Ardija (41 min 2nd half) 3 - 1 Trinita
Chiba (44 min 1st half) 3 -1 Gamba
Grampus (40 min 2nd half) 5 - 4 Verdy
Sanfrecce (44 min 1st half) 1- 1 Cerezo (44 min 2nd half)

If you notice, the team that had a goal in the last 5 minutes of either half won. Where both teams had a goal in the last 5 minutes, the game ended with a tie. Coincidence?....Hmmm.

Anyway, my predicitions were far from the mark yet again this round. I should have done my homework a little more before making my picks. I missed key player changes -- players returning or missing due to cards or injury... Next round I'll see if I can do better by doing better info-gathering regarding the starting lineup possibilities.


I'll be catching the Antlers/Vissel, Omiya/Trinita, and Chiba/Gamba games on reruns/video broadcasts so I may add more later, but for now:

Frontale 2 -1 Marinos: Marinos captain and defense star Nakazawa was out of the game due to inflammation in his knee; Frontale point-getter Juninho was back in after a few weeks out to injury. If I had about this, I probably would have given Frontale the check mark on my betting chart. Both goals for Frontale saw some complacency in the Marinos defense -- the back line seemed more intent on appealing for an off-sides call rather than making sure they marked their opponent properly. Though Marinos got one back with a stubborn push-in from Nasu, they were unable to get the equalizer.

Chiba 3 - 1 Gamba: Jef Chiba was boasting the most goals and the most allowed goals coming into this game, so it was difficult to predict which way the cards would fall today. I said that Gamba would win because Gamba showed good stuff in their last game against FC Tokyo. Both teams came on strong on offense with a number of good opportunities for Gamba at first. The Mizuno-Maki goal came from a speedy rush up the side, Mizuno crossing in the perfectly placed ball to the far post a couple meters from the mouth of the goal. Maki just had to make it there in time and head it in. The second goal from Maki also resulted from his speedy overtaking of the defense line -- the cross from Haas came to him on the far side, he trapped once and the second time he touched the ball was his volley shot. The defenders and goalie had no time to prepare. And Maki got a congratulatory smooch on the cheek from defender Stoyanov (who had returned from his one game ban due to a red card during the Kashima game). The third goal also took advantage of Chiba's speed. A medium-paced grounder cross went from Sato on the left diagonally cutting through the defense (who looked like they were wilting) to Yamanishi at the right post; he tapped the ball back, and it looked like the ball was going in but a sliding scoop from Gamba defense momentarily saved Gamba. Unfortunately Mizuno (again!) was at the right place, and he was able to return the ball toward the goal. Gamba tried to put things right, but they just didn't have the perfection of timing and instinct that Chiba did to get three goals before the whistle. Chiba coach Osim, ever the wit, commented after the game that his team must have watched the Liverpool/Chelsea game last night and must have been inspired.

Antlers 2 - 0 Vissel: I have only caught a brief clip and commentary on this game, but it sounds like it was a difficult game for Antlers, who were not in control of the possession and had difficulty finding their tempo. But it was telling that despite the bumpy ride they were able to get the goals when the few chances came around. One thing that has been really fun to watch in the J-league as the weeks go by has been seeing what types of relationships arise between/among key players in the team. In Chiba, for instance, I've had my eye on how Haas has not only gotten goals but has set up perfect opportunities for teammates with an intelligent ability to see his teammates' positions. In Verdy, it was the influence that a star like Washington could have on the teenaged Morimoto.

In Antlers, the "debut" of Alex Mineiro and rookie Nozawa has brought the quality back in the team. Nozawa is a midfielder by nature, but his performance up front (due to fw Suzuki's month-long injury) has been impressive. Alex Mineiro has shown he can be depended on for goals, but he has also shown that he likes to mix it up with the midfielders. He has the ability to bring out improved performances from those around him. I also mentioned before that he and Motoyama have a good feel for each other. Today, he set up both goals (the first he received a pass from Nozawa and perfectly timed a through-pass to a sprinting-up Motoyama, and the second almost a duplicate of the first but this time to Nozawa for a through-the-legs goal). In a team like this, where they keep things relatively slow until suddenly speeding things up for that final play, it is important that all layers known how and when to participate. Otherwise it would be too easy for the opponents to predict the play if the same three people are always getting the goals. And then be vulnerable to counter attacks. (This of course is a completely different matter when you are talking about speedy teams like Chiba, FC Tokyo, Reds, or Frontale.)

As for Vissel, new coach Leao's work visa did not get issued on time, so he watched from the stands. As I reported earlier, Atsu Miura had been used as an offensive midfielder (though Leao expressed the position as "more like a third forward") instead of his spot in right side. I am really looking forward to seeing this game, and seeing Miura play in a fresh position after all these years. I hope he was able to discover some new things about himself during play -- either way I don't think it could hurt him or his motivation any to have the coach place great trust and some new challenges on him. Since Miura can kick with either foot, and has a great mid/long-range shot, putting him in the middle is not a crazy idea. He certainly has the experience and character to direct things from that position. Getting back to the team, it sounded like they had control of the game but were just not able to get the ball in. From the clips, it looked like Kazu and Bando were creating some good chances up front. But perhaps the difference between the teams was the interaction they had (or didn't have) with the midfield. I'll know more when I actually watch the game.

Jubilo 2 - 2 Reds: I watched this game live. But I will comment on this in the next entry as I am quickly running out of steam... will also include additional comments about other games if I find any interesting things to add after viewing.
Round 8 Predictions
Hey, it's that time of the week, folks. This week there is another "extra" round shoved in on Thursday night. Not a lot of time to catch our breaths from the weekend (and making this blogger feel a mite rushed).. But hey, here goes.

My Round 8 Predictions are as follows: click to enlarge


The tough calls were the Jubilo/Reds, Cerezo/Sanfrecce, and Chiba/Gamba games.

I called a draw on the Jubilo/Reds game because both teams are just in the process of getting their rhythm. I could be completely off, and one team may roar into the match like a typhoon, but I think the score may end up see-sawing back and forth. Ultimately, this could mean that the final whistle blows when one team is one goal ahead, but I'm thinking the probability may be for a draw. Up front, it's about time for Cullen to score for Jubilo again. I wonder if Fukunishi will still be out to injury. And for Reds I'm thinking Tanaka may upstage Emerson with a goal. Other than that, I look forward to seeing Hasebe (dmf, Reds) set up a goal, and also will keep an eye out for Chano (def, Jubilo) who has got to be the most invisible member of the NT... I can't quite remember what he looks like half the time! But in recent games he's actually been showing lots of good technique, strong physique, and hustle.

Cerezo/Sanfrecce...hmm. Toughie. I called a draw here too (see a trend?) but I do think the advantage is on Sanfrecce. Both teams are on a three-game winning streak, and both teams have a very apparent and clear picture of what their game plan is, what plays to rely on, etc. Sanfrecce has the better defense, and probably will be harder for Cerezo to score against them compared to Reds. Cerezo are at home, and after their win against Reds, they won't be playing shy football against Sanfrecce. They will come out -- probably when Morisaki or Komano can send a long feed up to Gauvao or someone and go for a quick counter. Theirs is very effective, and especially against a defense like Cerezo's, who tend to be a little wishy washy about organizing the back line. But Cerezo are on a roll too, so I'm chickening out and calling a draw.

Chiba/Gamba: [Oh, before I forget, I forgot to mention in my review of the Gamba/FCTokyo game last Saturday one fun thing. When FCTokyo was taking a freekick, the Gamba players in front of the goal did the can-only-use-once trick of taking a step forward in unison just before the kicker kicked... in other words they went for the off-side trap on a free kick. On slow-mo, you could really see it well -- absolutely in perfect synch. I wonder if that was a Miyamoto suggestion. He loves that kinda stuff. ] Okay, back to the topic. I called this game for Gamba. I think that they have finally begun to find themselves. Chiba is a classy team, but they tend to be light on defense. If they are going to win this match, it will be a matter of whether their defenders can play with stability against the likes of Oguro, Juninho and Futagawa. The Gamba offense is high caliber, and they usually do unexpected things or do things faster than you'd expect. I don't think Chiba will be able to keep up with that. But I predict a multi-goal game here. I sort of see this as a repeat of the FCTokyo/Gamba game -- FCTokyo missed key defense players and the caliber back there was compromised; they still had the attack though but it wasn't an easy job against the Gamba defense. I think Chiba will play a similar game, scorewise.

Grampus/Verdy: will also be a match to look forward to -- especially if the team you like is currently fighting it out in the top half of the rankings! Nagoya are currently in second place. Their goalie Narazaki is on a roll, and they have some inspired young talent like Tsuda. Verdy still seems too fragile to play against a no-nonsense sturdy team like Grampus and come out winning. Then again, Verdy have a lot of players that can pull out sudden bursts of magic.


Behind the Scenes with Verdy
I did promise in this entry (at the end) that if I learned anything more/new about that Round 5 game between Verdy 1 - 4 Sanfrecce I would follow up. Well, I had totally forgotten that I slurred my way through that game -- and didn't even finish the commentary. Oops. Sorry!

Well, it's a long time back now but I read an article in this past week's Soccer Digest No. 780 written by Verdy's Kentaro Hayashi regarding what went on surrounding that terrible match. I thought it was interesting to hear about what happened off the pitch regarding that game:

It was a chilly night with a harsh northern wind. April 13, Ajinomoto Stadium. We were facing Sanfecce at home. Verdy returned to the lockerrooms after a first half devoid of any commendable play 0-1. When we got to the lockerroom, we were greeted by our coach "Ossie", fuming with anger. "The content was tragic. If you're going to lose with content like that anyway, you may as well take the risk of giving up 5, 10 goals and at least show some ambition for the goal. I am feeling absolutely no passion from you guys," he said. The tone of his voice was no different than usual, but his bright red ears gave away his inner emotions. We had been on a non-losing streak for 11 games counting back to last year, but the Frontale game (Round 4, 0-1) gave us a taste of defeat we hadn't had in a while. So before this Sanfrecce game, Ossie said to us, "The key to today's game will be to think of it as a new beginning, a fresh start. This is an important theme for us to digest emotionally." He had stressed the importance of the spirit in times like these.

Going into the second half with renewed energy, my position changed from the back line to midfield; but we ended up allowing an early goal again. A wet blanket was thrown over us mood-wise, and we couldn't quite grasp our tempo. We tried to "show ambition for the goal" but I ended up getting my second yellow card and had to leave the game. It was truly like having the rockets die out before we even had liftoff. I wonder how long it's been since I've experienced such humiliation. It was completely understandable for Ossie to get angry. At the meeting the next day, Ossie dealt with our psychological damage. "Yesterday's game was the worst game I've seen since coming to Japan. It's one thing if we play our very best, and it just turns out that the other team was just a little better than us and we lose. But we basically gift-wrapped the win for them. Luckily for us, we have another game soon (3 days later, game against Omiya) that will give us a chance to leave that humiliation behind. So let's get properly prepared and work. We won the Emperor's Cup, we won the Xerox Super Cup, and then things got weird for us. Until then we were making a really good effort to play well. But the moment we got to that level, we stopped making that effort."

Always rise to the challenge. We have to express this feeling on the pitch. That night...with the cold northern winds scattering the sakura blossoms, the sign of Japan's spring... that night is over. And the warmth is returning. Now that our bodies and hearts have reclaimed the heat, we have to recall the forgotten spirit of rising to the challenges. We will be aiming for the crucial four wins during the game-packed Golden Week period.
Movement
Wow, all this news just popped up today. Lots of movement on the individual people front.

The Fujita Transfer a Go
Well, it's official. Toshiya Fujita will be leaving Jubilo. Where? That has not been decided yet -- but his choices are Reds, Verdy, Vissel, and Grampus. Personally he should keep clear of Vissel; they have a bad habit of throwing money at players and trying to get a quick fix by acquiring "star" players but don't have proper backup in management (at least, until now -- with the new coach Leao it may change). Verdy or Reds might be fun for him.

The biggest thing that I think helped him to make a decisive move was probably Jubilo's poor behavior during this whole period. First, they were very quick to retort to Urawa's offer -- they did not touch base with Fujita, and they added insult to injury by saying to Urawa that "At this period with all these injuries, we can't possibly let go of Fujita now." Well, gee thanks, boss! Nice to know I'm just a fill-in for injured players... Anyway, Fujita immediately asked for a meet with the management where he told them that he would like to look at the offers more closely. They have basically been trying to keep him in the dark regarding the content of the offers. Now, out of respect for the team, Fujita has agreed to stay on for two more weeks, until some of the injured players return. In that time, he will be able to make his decision regarding which club to choose. Urawa's Buchwald is asking for a meeting with Fujita himself -- I guess they want to throw the final pitch.

Yamase back for new home Marinos
After 221 days out to injury, former Reds playmaker Koji Yamase will be returning to a real game. Last September while still with Reds he injured his left knee. He transferred to Marinos while still injured, and received a huge vote of confidence by getting the legendary Number 10 jersey (worn by superstar playmakers Kazushi Kimura and Shunsuke Nakamura) from coach Okada. He will be playing in a practice game against HouDai. "I won't know until I play in a game. But I don't feel any sense of fear about the injured spot." Despite his reassurances, club staff will be asking the opponents to avoid tackling Yamase during the game.

Yamase certainly has had some tough disappointments to overcome in the recent years -- in 02 it was his right knee that kept him out for 8 months; last year he was cut from the Olympic team just before Athens; and then just as returned to Reds to get back to business he hurt his left knee and has been out for about 7 months. The disappointments and false starts that he experienced led to his desire to change teams and start afresh, which is how he got to be at Marinos.

Kaji from another Planet
Well, it's probably the first thing that people say about FC Tokyo's Akira Kaji, but his body is not a normal Japanese one. Usually they are talking about his ability to run up and down the pitch, but this time the media is noting his super-fast recovery from an ankle injury during the v.Jubilo game. The prognosis was that it would take 4 weeks to heal, but it's now only been about 2 weeks. He has told coach Hara that he would be able to play a full game against Kashiwa. He still has a little pain, but if the coach tells him to go out there and play, he said that he could do it. Hara is a little more cautious, and won't be using him until at earliest the next game against Oita.

Ueslei Out of Nagoya?
Thirty-three year old Brazilian Ueslei has been deemed not a viable part of Nagoya's blueprint and there are rumors that he will be leaving Grampus. The club is looking for transfer possibilities within Japan as well as abroad.

At the end of last month, Ueslei made public comments criticizing the club and coach after a practice session. For that he's had to pay with a form of "house arrest" -- since the beginning of this month he has been training on his own. But despite his absence the team is in 2nd place overall and doing exceptionally well. From 2001 to 03, Ueslei recorded over 20 goals each season, a total of 81 goals.

Yanagisawa Transfer Permanent?
Well, it seems that Messina are certainly interested in getting Yana completely, but it's still in the negotiating stages. Still, you'd wonder why they would want Yana after not using him for practically the entire time. He's actually quite popular there, I hear. And more importantly the region that Messina's located (Southern Italy, esp Sicily) is trying to make a big push for the tourism angle with regard to Japanese consumers. And I guess they think Yana will be an attractive incentive for visitors. Though someone should tell them that it's not going to help if he's warming the bench or watching from the bleachers! He seems to be having a decent life in Italy, and I guess some of it may depend on how the team comes through by the end of the season. (It may also depend on how his ex-model wife will react to the prospect of returning to Japan!) Anyway, Kashima Antlers seem to be optimistic about it.

Vissel's Leao makes Atsu the Key Man
New coach Emerson Leao has arrived and immediately set to work at Vissel. With the team currently in last place overall, his job will be hard and easy. Hard because, well, the team is slumping terribly. Easy because, well, it can't get any worse than this!

So I had been curious about how he would start changing things around, and lo and behold there are reports from the practice sessions saying that the "Right-side specialist" Atsu Miura was seen occupying the position...in offensive midfield! Atsu himself said that he was taken by surprise, that he hasn't been in that position since when he first arrived at Verdy in 2001. On top of practice, Atsu got a 20 minute private session with the coach, getting plenty of advice on free kicks. "I've never gotten much advice on free kicks before; but it was great advice." He did not reveal the exact contents of the discussion.

Currently Holvy is in the omf position. But he has been out to sickness (I think a cold), so this turn of events is probably a temporary thing. If Holvy doesn't make it to Thursday's game against Kashima, we just might see Atsu running around the middle....lol. No offense to Holvy, but I'd LOVE to see Atsu play there. I don't think it will be that strange, really. Leao said that when Holvy returns, he'll go to dmf. If he goes to omf, Leao wants him to be like a "third forward". So there is a possibility.... hmmmm.
Weekly Soccer Digest No 780
Well, the internet is chock full of places where you can read plenty of articles and get lots of information; however, once a week (or two) I like to hit the bookstores and stand in front of the magazine racks and browse. In Japan, this is called "tachiyomi" (literally "stand-reading")...and is a big part of traditional Japanese culture....sort of... well, everybody does it!

The two main football magazines that most people go to first especially for J-league content are Weekly Soccer Digest and Weekly Soccer Magazine (lovingly referred to as "SakaDai" and "SakaMaga" for short). There are other magazines that tend to feature better more in-depth interviews (like Sports Yeah!) but they are not 100% football-related so I figured I would start off introducing the football-only magazines first.

This week I bought the Digest. (pic of cover for next issue,featuring FCTokyo's Ishikawa and Konno) The cover of the issue I'm holding now is a full-body shot of Emerson running (Urawa Reds forward). The content was written after the 6th Round (so now that we are almost at the 8th Round it's a bit behind, but...). The first article I thought I'd bring to the blog is an interview with Makoto Hasebe mf for Reds. He is one of the rising stars in the J league right now, and there was a bit of speculation a couple weeks ago when scouts from Italy came to Japan and made a point to attend his games. He is my favorite player in Reds, and since I haven't done any entries about Reds players yet (I think) I thought this was a good interview to use as an intro to Hasebe. The translation I promise will be awkward and amateurish, but hopefully it will get the point across. (good luck, me!)

Interview with Makoto Hasebe (Reds):

Q: First of all, people watch your play from last season and they are basing their great reviews/opinions of your performace as a dmf, not as an omf (which is Hasebe's "true" position). How do you feel about that?
A: The fact that people gave me good marks as a dmf is a good thing. My play options have grown. Considering my career in the long run, this experience won't impact me negatively.

Q: But what if because of it you no longer get to play as an omf/playmaker anymore?
A: There is a difference between the kind of position and responsibilities the coach expects of me and the kind of position that I personally prefer. But it doesn't bother me, I don't mind if people think I've been doing a good job as a dmf.

Q: Don't you ever feel like "I don't want to play any position other than the one I want to play"?
A: That's...yeah, it doesn't go that far. I do have a preference, a special place in my heart for that position, but I'm not stubborn about it.

Q: Have you come to experience some enjoyment from playing as a dmf?
A: Hmm.. I've gotten more comfortable there. I know now what plays work better in which situations. But I've also gotten challenged/tackled pretty harshly from behind a lot now -- when that happens, I'd like to use one-touch passes more; that would make the job more difficult for the opponent.

Q: You have been getting tackled much more now, haven't you?
A: For me, I have the option of dribbling up from my dmf position to the front. For the opponent, it's easier to mark/challenge the dribbler. When that happens, the option of passing becomes available. My main characteristic is passing, so I hope I'm able to take advantage of those situations like that.

Q: In your mind, what do you feel is your most effective play?
A: I guess it's my instinct to utilize open spaces and send passes with a follow-up play in mind.

Q: But many of the Urawa players tend to like getting the passes sent to their feet, not to spaces in front of them.
A: But if it's near the goal, I could send a vertical pass through the defenders and Emerson would definitely run after it. But if it's a little distance from the goal, it's true we like to first get the ball at our feet and then take a long-range shot. Also, in Alex (Santos)'s case he receives the ball at his feet; but recently he's been giving me the option of passing through to his left side on the other side of the defender -- I guess people trust me more and my teammates are making an effort to run to open spaces more.

Q: Urawa's weak point, it could be said, is that if you get scored on first the team starts to panic and the quality of the play goes down.
A: In order to control the game more, I do believe that we midfielders should connect the ball between us more and try to calm things down when that happens.

Q: It's important to embody the kind of football that the coach envisions, but it would also be good to take that up another level and stimulate some growth within the team -- for instance, making more of an effort to increase possession.
A: Our team invariably likes to take it forward as quick as possible -- it's part of the team's agreement. But within that understanding, it would also be nice to add some spice to our plays by throwing in different things. For that we'd need to develop a consciousness for that kind of change in tempo as a group though.

Q: Also, I'm sure you'd like to ultimately take some shots at the goal as well, I'm sure.
A: I'd like to get goals, sure.

Q: You always take the shot with a very specific course for the ball to go.
A: Yes, I usually go for those just-in type shots. Which is why during practices I end up hitting the post most of the time. Or I miss the goal altogether. (laugh)

Q: When did you start taking shots with this type of thinking?
A: Hmm. I'm not sure.

Q: Some players say if they just take a shot with a nice strong kick it tends to go in. But you don't think that way?
A: Maybe it's just my play style. Rather than pure strength, to go for a specific course.

Q: So in that way, you have your wits about you when you take a shot, enough to aim so narrowly like that. Though you do get emotionally charged up.
A: (laugh)

Q: From your comments in the media, the image of Makoto Hasebe is someone who's pretty bold. But in ordinary life you're pretty normal, right?
A: When it comes to games, I just change -- it's been that way since grade school.


Q: You're yelling at everyone..
A: All the time.

Q: Right now you're young on the team and not the captain so you may keep a lower profile, but back when you were in school, you must have been pretty vocal to your teammates, scolding, encourageing.
A: Yes, I wan't shy about opening my mouth...and pretty unsparing about it. Even now I'm still pretty vocal. (laugh)

Q: But it must be great to have a place to get that charged up in life.
A: So true. But to be honest, normally I hardly ever get angry. I guess I burn up all my stress out on the pitch. (laugh)

[photo from soccer.yahoo.co.jp]
There are a couple more articles (not interviews) that I wanted to document for this blog, so I'll work on that asap. If anyone reading has any requests about translating a specific article or wanting to get more info on a specific team/player, let me know by leaving a comment. I'll keep my eyes peeled for relevant articles that have enough meat that it would be worth reading.

Round 7 Sunday
At the beginning of the season, when Japan's baseball leagues were still in training camp, there were a number of different options for someone wanting to catch a game on the tube (not the subway tube, the tv tube). Well, not to make excuses, but it's true...I've only watched two games from this weekend, so I have to wait another day or two to say anything mildly educated about Round 7 matchups in general.

But by then it will already be Thursday, Round 8. So I thought I'd go ahead and start going over this weekend's results anyway. Oh, and I also thought I would start doing an entry on interesting magazine articles I've read during the week. Stuff you can't find on the internet for free, translated into English by yours truly (can't promise a great translation, but hopefully it will be worth reading).

Okay, enough chitchat, let's get on with it! Starting with Sunday's games first since they are more immediate in my mind.

Squirrels Go Nuts

Ardija 2 -1 Marinos: what a deserved result for Omiya, especially after the heartbreaking game last week against Verdy. The biggest difference between the two teams? The consensus seems to be the degree and maintenance of focus through the course of the game, particularly by the back line. Omiya scored first when Nakazawa's foul on Christian afforded them a penalty. This wasn't entirely Nakazawa's fault -- Marinos defender Nakanishi's lame backward pass to the goalie caught him hesitating, and the ball got picked up by Hisanaga who sent in a speedy cross to Christian. Nakazawa scrambled to challenge Christian in the air and ended up fouling. Though Marinos had been setting the pace and creating many scoring chances, it was this millisecond difference in focus that had Omiya 0-0 at halftime despite a barrage of attacks. Though Marinos caught up with a penalty of their own, the drama was at 89 minutes (when else?). Fujimoto dribbled up to the goalline and sent back a cross to Sakurai who took it through the Marinos defense and quickly swiped his left foot for the shot. It was a comeback game for Sakurai (he'd been absent due to injury), but I heard he wasn't playing at full health -- he had some pain. I hope it doesn't mean he made things worse for his full recovery...

Antlers Lock Horns with Saxon Blue

Antlers 2 - 1 Jubilo: Another beautiful afternoon for the relatively great crowd turnout Sunday for this classic matchup. Despite Jubilo's poor performance so far, Antlers' fans were not taking anything for granted. And they were right not to. Jubilo had a number of injuries (big one being absence of dmf Fukunishi), and put Fujita in omf. The strange thing about this game was that Jubilo really had their hands on the reins for most of the game. They were playing very actively, putting pressure on the characteristic slow passing of Antlers. They went after the ball in numbers, and Antlers had a number of very scary situations that came from both pressure up front and lack of focus in back -- the defensive players looked like they were caught daydreaming.

10 seconds into the game I was already working up a sweat of dread seeing how animated Jubilo seemed. And at 1 minute, my mouth was hanging wide open as Antlers fw Fukai faked out, dribbled up and around to the left and sent a sharp and speedy shot through the narrow gap between two defenders to goal right. Wha? It was early yet and Jubilo still had plenty of chance (and were probably doubly motivated now that they were a goal behind). But it was Antlers at 17 minutes who came through with another goal. After Antlers stubbornly passed and held on to the ball outside of the box, Fukai sped forward to receive the pass and took a powerful shot from the left -- the ball was deflected by the goalie and rolled timidly into the space. All Ogasawara had to do was beat Nishi to it, and tap it in. Jubilo kept the pressure on (and very high quality active passing) throughout the rest of the game, and Antlers were sweating it out something fierce. Jubilo's goal came in the second minute of the second half when Jubilo connected well and a pass back from the goalline to Ohta found him free to take a very nice low shot straight ahead to the very right of the goal. Unfortunately for Jubilo, they were not able to find the equalizer.

But a "great performance" pat on the back to Jubilo is not going to do the team much good if they can't get results. And Antlers did show their strength by getting the goals in the limited chances they got, but the players are not happy with the fact that they were unable to control the game or go for the third goal.

So Kashima is now the pink elephant in the middle of the room that no one in the media seems to want to acknowledge. It's rather funny. Seriously, no one wants to talk about Antlers, no one wants to discuss how well they are doing, and no one wants to create any buzz in that direction aside from noting bare boned results. Well, as I said before, the media (and particularly tv) is known to be very fluffy when it comes to sports -- they want to go for the attractive story, and so they will continue to speculate over when Emerson will be back to full power and so on. Part of the deal is that Reds is the "young new star" in the J arena; part of it is that Kashima is old news -- they have been so strong for so long (starting with the birth of J-league) and people are like, "oh, not you again". Part of it is that the football climate in Japan right now is one of hypeing up the offensive aspects -- it's easier to sell, and makes football look good to the wider audience. It is much harder to get jazzed over the esoteric strengths of a team like Antlers. And some of it, I suspect, is that all of the retired football players-turned-sportscasters who probably have a big say on how to produce their segment come from non-Kashima teams. We have a few from Reds, Verdy, S-Pulse, etc. Many football blogs have mentioned how Antlers has been given the cold shoulder by the tv media; I personally like the lack of hype -- it means the players are being relatively unmolested by press and can concentrate on their game! Let the pink elephant be.

(more to come later...)

Round 7 Saturday
Well I still haven't watched any of the games from Saturday except for the Gamba/FCTokyo game, but I thought I'd start off with some comments in response to what clips I've seen.

Gamba 5 - 3 FCTokyo: In a weekend full of 0s, 1s, and 2s, this score is rather startling. Mostly startling because we knew Gamba would generally control the game...startling because they gave up 3 goals...statling because they got 5 goals. On the offensive side, Oguro was obviously the star of this show -- he struck in 3 goals, among them one of the prettiest trickiest goals we've seen in the J for a while: a pass from Endo to Oguro, who slowed the ball down with a tap from the sole of his right foot, let it bounce behind him while he turned 180 around to face the goal and left-footed a volley shot. Sort of a Marseille Roulette (that turnaround manouveur that Zidane is so famous for) but in the air... Oy vey.

Tokyo started off the game very nicely, with an Ishikawa-->Toda goal in the 2nd minute. The game stayed that way to halftime, but then it all became crazy in the second half. It started with an own-goal to Tokyo -- Yamaguchi took a shot from the right and the keeper Doi was able to block; Toda went to clear the ball with a big kick, but it bounced off the shin of a teammate and went into the goal. I thought it would deflate the team, but Tokyo were able to get ahead again with a dynamic header from Ishikawa at 50 minutes. Oguro, who had been threatening all along, finally got his first goal, a header off a semi-long cross from dmf Endo from the right. And then, a mere minute after that, a Futagawa through-pass found Oguro passed the defense line on the right for his second goal. (This is where I started to get a headache...) Tokyo kept hope alive when Lucas scored a header off an Ishikawa cross from the right.

But then the third goal from Oguro came, and it was certainly the kind of skillfulness that would shut anyone up. Tokyo were not able to score anymore, and Gamba added lemon juice to Tokyo's wound with their fifth goal. SIGH!! The thing that struck me most about this game was the momentary lacks of focus in the defense -- particularly still-young Masushima. You definitely felt the absence of Moniwa in these last several games. But mostly great job by Gamba. Tokyo's goals resulted from speed -- speedy running, speedy crosses and speedy shot. All the goals caught the Gamba defense without enough time to prepare, which is a Tokyo specialty. It's too bad they couldn't quite keep Gamba's goals from going in, but hey, this was just Oguro's day.

Sanfrecce 2 - 1 Frontale: From what I've seen so far in clips, Frontale did have some slick offensive moments: nice back and forth passing to break down the very tight and strong Sanfrecce back line. However, Frontale's Hulk was not at his sharpest and he missed a number of great chances. Sanfrecce on the other hand played to their strengths -- they actively put pressure on their opponents, and use long feeds and quality crosses to get their result. As I predicted (yay, I actually got this one right), Morisaki and Komano played a significant part in the two goals. The first goal was from a PK. Morisaki sent a precision long feed up to Gauvao who was racing between two Frontale defenders. The ball bounced straight up just in front of him and he caught the pass with his chest. He was just about to let it drop for a shot when the goalie came crashing into him.

Frontale got back with a beautiful long grounder from Nakamura that slid through the defenders. The back line was positioned somewhat high, and Kurotsu (who is filling in Ganaha's position up front) just slipped through and found himself all alone as his dribbled comfortably and took a shot with the outside of his left foot. Nakamura sent the vertical pass from a very strangely twisted position (his body being off balance and facing another direction), and it was too unexpected for Sanfrecce defenders to properly set the off sides trap. Sanfrecce were able to get ahead fifteen minutes into the second half when right sidehalf Komano ran up the side to receive a pass and then sent in a perfect cross to just right of the penalty spot; it bounced once right in front of Mogi who swung his right leg in a large arc for a very difficult volley shot. [japan soccer football j-league round 7]

Cerezo 2 - 1 Reds: The most interesting thing about this game was the comment by Reds' Emerson after the game: "We were overconfident, we had this mentality that we could win this game any time. We have to keep our heads up and overcome this difficult period by becoming adults/mature." I apologize, I really haven't had time to get a lot of background/research on Cerezo, but from what I've seen it looks like Cerezo came with a very definite game plan which helped them focus. They took advantage of the chances they got -- mostly due to momentary lapses and slowness in the Reds defense. The first goal was a short vertical pass from Furuhashi a few meters outside of the box. Tulio, who was marking Nishizawa, turned and tried to catchup with the ball but was no where near it when Nishizawa took the shot. The second goal from Cerezo came off a cross from Shimomura -- he took the ball up the right side and faked out Hasebe. The ball went right to the center a few meters in front of the goalie to an unmarked Nishizawa who headed it in. There were five Reds players sort of ball-watching inside the penalty area against two Cerezo players. And yet Nishizawa was able to stand there for the ball to come to him without anyone challenging him.

Reds were able to save some face when a free kick from captain Yamada met Tulio on the far side, the ball crossed back and Yokoyama headed it in. Reds had some great great buildup for the finish -- the goals just never came.
Le Mans Video clip (vs. Nancy)
You can find the clip from this last week's Le Mans 3 - 1 Nancy game here. (right click and download) Note the shot of the Japanese cameraman...wonder who he works for??
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