Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Bolton 1-0 Portsmouth w/video
Hidetoshi Nakata started for the first time in the Premiership in this match against Portsmouth. From what I hear, he did quite a good job and was a presence on the pitch.

>>Click to go to download page of highlights video clip
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Le Mans 0-0 Paris SG
Le Mans Daisuke Matsui had a relatively poor game, but the young MUC73 men held Paris off to the final whistle. I've linked to some Matsui video clips from the game:

>>Right-click and download clip 1

>>Right-click and download clip 2

... And Matsui is subbed out
>>Right-click and download clip of Matsui getting subbed out
J1 Round 25, highlights part 2
orange.jpgEat 'em, Beat 'em!
Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 Omiya Ardija

That was Frontale's call for support as they welcomed Omiya Ardija at Todoroki Saturday. It was a silly but fun concept, having people buy and drink fresh orange juice before the game. In Japan, we often "eat" the opponent before the game -- for instance, if we play India, eat curry. Or if we play Korea, we eat kimchi or the Korean barbecue (Yumm... you don't need to give me an excuse to eat these!).

So to beat Ardija and keep their winning streak going, the club used Ardija's club color of orange to rally. After the game, I saw one of the Frontale players downing a whole glass in one glug.

I don't know if it was thanks to the OJ, but Frontale did win 2-0. It sounded like a great effort from Omiya, but again, like they did last week against Jef Chiba, they put on a good show but failed to convert. It's not the best habit to get into -- I mean, with 9 games left you'd rather have them play poorly but eke out a win rather than the opposite. Frontale's first goal, six minutes after the second half began -- a wonderful long feed from scrawny but promising Nakamura gave Ganaha just the perfect speed to burst forth and slap the ball in. It was an elegant performance from the striker. And only six minutes later, a free kick was awarded Frontale on the left. Manager Sekizuka put up a froth to object to the dangerous charge on Juninho, and that could have been what caused Omiya's momentary lack of focus. The ball was met by Minowa's head and gave him the opportunity to celebrate his daughter's birth with mates on the pitch.

Frontale players said that last year Omiya's tight defense didn't allow them to move forward with effective vertical passes. Omiya were known to have given Frontale many problems when the two were in the second division. "But today there was openings in several places," Nakamura said, "I think it was because they were using zone defense."

Playing Catch-Up
Urawa Reds 0-0 Yokohama F Marinos

This match-up was the "other" spotlight game of the weekend, and came hours before the Kashima Gamba hoopla. Reds in particular wanted to win this one and push closer to second-place Kashima. Marinos dwindling in 10th also wanted to start a string of winning performances as we headed into the final third of the season.

It could have been a back and forth scoreline, but instead ended in a draw. Both sides created a large number of great chances, but it was interesting that we didn't see many mishaps in defense. With Reds Tulio and Marinos Matsuda sitting out the game, the two back lines were somewhat new -- Nakazawa was shifted to a rare start as a center in the back 3; Horinouchi for Tulio.

Where Reds may have missed Tulio most were the set pieces. He has come through on a number of difficult games with his power in the air and fighting spirit. And where Reds lacked Tulio, Marinos had Nakazawa -- who was involved with about three great opportunities off set pieces. If Nakazawa had been a few centimeters on target, he could have easily scored; Reds were not marking him as well as they could have...

On the whole, Marinos were possessing better, using passing and working their way through the midfield for better setups. Reds used individual dribbling to dash through to the other side, and didn't use the sides as well as they could have. What was a little frustrating was that Reds sidehalfs were not able to go up much, and instead Tatsuya Tanaka and Nagai were spending a lot of time on the sides to make up for it. Which is a one good option, but there should have been more variation.

Marinos's defense has been really stabilizing since they returned to the 3-back, and despite the position shift of Nakazawa I didn't see anything weird about him in center. It's a good indication of his flexibility, both at club and on the NT.

With difficulty getting through the defense, it was not surprising that both teams rocketed many mid and long range shots. But nearly all of them lacked accuracy, and to be honest I really hope the level of mid-range shots gets better in the J-league. I think it's half mental and half a technical problem -- a few small adjustments and more clear thinking building up to contact. I guess it's easy for me to say.

Ponte for Reds and Oku for Marinos, both did a good job directing traffic. I was also liking Magrao, Marinos' newest acquisition. He's played a few rounds now, and in this game was great at picking up balls and intercepting. I think he is part of the reason the Marinos defense has been stabilizing.

The sides -- sigh. This continues to be a problem. Alex Santos was pretty much invisible this game, and Yamada did make some crosses but overall Reds used the central path too much. The amount of work that forwards did was commendable, but in the end unnecessary if Reds had a clearer plan on how to get by these tough situations. Marinos sides have had a challenging year too. Hayuma Tanaka returned to the pitch for the first time since his car accident, and put on a spirited effort but he sort of looked like he was in his own bubble a bit. Dutra was surprisingly off too.

Towards the end of the game, Reds really shifted their gears up. They created some good overlapping sequences, pushing numbers forward. But there seemed to be confusion on "who's gonna get that?" on that last pass. Maric came on in the second half with a black face guard/mask on -- it was good to see him in play after his injury.

The score could have swung either way, back and forth, but in the end stayed still. I think it was an entertaining match, but looking at position-by-position issues, especially on the midfield (sides and offensive halfs), I think it wasn't as sophisticated a game as we should have seen from such quality teams. Given the content, I'd say a draw was fair.

Screw the Finger
Jef Chiba 2-1 Shimizu S-Pulse

Another dramatic finish from Osim's men. I like the Chiba sytle, Osim Football, but lately their game content hasn't been all that great. The media picked up on the Maki-broken-finger story -- apparently the doctors said that if he compounded the injury he'd probably have to operate. Maki said screw it and played anyway. Lucky for the team that he did. Shimizu had the lead at 32 mins, a perfect header from Cho Jae Jin. But Abe's penalty kick equalized matters seven minutes later. The PK was awarded when two defenders clobbered Maki during a set piece.

Shimizu had the upper hand in the first half, but Jef seemed to come out of the lockerrooms more collected and improved in the second. But the game dragged on without any change to score, and just when we thought that was it, a very nice approach from Jef allowed Maki a winning goal. Mizuno attracted the defense, sent a through to Kurita, who crossed (shot?) from the right. The ball went horizontally to the far where Maki slid in to push it carefully in. It was the 89th minute. He's not a skillful player, but he certainly uses what he has and makes the effort to contribute in any way he can!

This was Jef's last game played at Ichihara stadium -- I was surprised the crowd was so thin. I guess no one really had any personal attachment to the stadium, but after watching the packed crowds at the Gamba and the Reds stadiums, it felt rather lonely.
J1 Round 25
Gamba Osaka 3-3 Kashima Antlers

From joy to despair to... relief...?

vsgamba_rnd25.jpg

With the four offensive players maintaining pressure up front, Kashima forced Gamba's sides to retreat back and support their three-man defense line. The resulting space created in the midfield allowed Mitsuo Ogasawara to make good approaches up from defensive midfield.

I scared my neighbors by letting out a loud "YES!" when Ogasawara scored at the 9th minute. Alex Mineiro controlled the cross from Masashi Motoyama and waited a second for the Antlers captain to dash up through the back line. A soft through pass and Ogasawara had the course he needed to take a quick left-footed swipe to the right of goal.

With a whopping 64 goals under their belt this season, and two-thirds of that coming from their offensive triangle (Oguro, Araujo, Fernandinho), it was only a matter of time before Osaka would snap out of their stiffness and squeeze out a goal of their own. After receiving from Fernandinho, left sidehalf Takahiro Futagawa's cross vetoed Masashi Oguro's head and fell perfectly to an open Araujo at the far post for a well-timed volley at 23 minutes. The home side could have made that a double when a counter-attacking Araujo found himself face to face with goalie Hitoshi Sogahata 13 minutes later. But the uncharacteristically hesitant shot was smothered by defender Goh Oiwa.

Ogasawara's free kick five minutes before the end of the first half won his side a valuable lead heading in to the lockerrooms. A low near-horizontal kick from the left of the box zipped past all and curled comfortably to the inside netting untouched.

Upon returning in the second half, Gamba's resurgence was lent a helping hand by goalkeeper Sogahata when he mishandled a back-pass at 51 minutes and assisted forward Oguro to his first goal in four games. Gamba took this as their opportunity to retrieve their rhythm and spirit, and both sides put on a dizzying fast-paced show. Sogahata redeemed himself 20 minutes later when he deflected a shot from Yasuhito Endo in a dangerous one-on-one encounter. Kashima got a few shots of their own, the most promising an Ogasawara through-pass to Takuya Nozawa for a direct effort which was caught by keeper Yohsuke Fujigaya.

Both managers upped their attacking ante with a total five substitutions to their front lines in a span of fifteen minutes. The home team used individual dribbling and technique; the visitors, multi-player overlaps and mid-range shots.

All seemed lost for Kashima when Banpaku stadium erupted in joy at the 89th minute. Oguro caught the ball to the left of goal, and instead of taking the shot himself gave the honors to Araujo. The prolific striker aimed calmly and notched his 27th of the season. Normally composed manager Akira Nishino threw his hands up on the sidelines, relishing this valuable moment over the four-time League Champions.

The story should have ended there. Two minutes of injury time was all the elated home side needed to endure. But here again is Gamba's style -- they remained unwaveringly on the attack.

It was topsy-turvy time, as Antlers centerback Daiki Iwamasa was sent up as a third forward. A long feed from the back dropped to an open area on the left via Iwamasa's pressure in the air. Takayuki Suzuki picked it up. Outnumbering the Gamba defense, it was simple matters for the former Heusden-Zolder lefty to slap the ball over to a waiting Alex Mineiro. A truly dramatic last-minute equalizer.

If any of the supporters had hoped today's match would presage this season's ultimate Champions, they may have been disappointed by the 3-3 scoreline. But with only a point separating the two clubs and nine rounds still remaining, any result tonight would have been a premature indicator. As we head into the homestrech, these two stylish clubs will most surely be in the spotlight.

The Gamba players were NOT happy after the game, giving up their win for a draw like that. In particular I wonder how much Miyamoto's thoughts will influence the team awareness going forward. Should there really have been only TWO defenders in the bottom half of the pitch in the last minute of a winning game? Personally, if I was a Gamba supporter, I'd be pretty ticked by that. Kashima outnumbered Gamba 3 to 2 on that last minute goal. I don't understand what all the other players were thinking. Nishino seemed unperturbed by that allowance, strongly sticking to his party line of being an attacking club. But "attacking" should not mean "unwise".
SPL: Celtic 2-1 Inverness w/ video
A day of deft touches and good vision from Shunsuke Nakamura, and great finishes from Craig Beattie for both goals. Celtic allowed Inverness the first goal in the second half after some poor finishing in the first.

Soft touches from Shunsuke and Shaun Maloney gave Beattie entrance for his first shot.
>>Click for video clip download page of first goal

Shunsuke quickly leapt to fix his error and set up a great lone run by Beattie for his second.
>>Click for video clip download page of 2nd goal

Bonus!
Cup game against Falkirk that took place mid-week.

Shunsuke's pass from right to Maloney zipping up left, and thru to Zurawski for goal.
>>Right-Click and download video clip of goal

Perfect cross from Shunsuke to Hartson for an extra-time winner.
>>Right-Click and download video clip of goal
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