Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Who Knew?

Did you know I actually started this blog the week before the J season started this year? Yup. It seems an eon and a day ago, when I first, half out of curiosity about these "blog" thingies, set to task.

I'm actually amazed I'm still here, and thrilled to be joined by a bunch of enthusiastic visitors from around the world. In this tiny little corner of the internet, it's been my hope to convey at least some of the fun and flavor of Japanese football and footballers. I hope you have been having fun, since that is really the bottom line, isn't it?

The current situation in the league is astounding. I don't think anyone would have predicted this. In fact, it's the first time in J history that we've had 5 teams still in contention by the final round. Usually it's the bottom of the table that leaves any nail-biting at the end of the season (aside from the Championship play-offs until last year, with the 2-stage format). But this year, it was determined relatively early on who the bottom three would be, and now all eyes are on the five, yes FIVE, clubs up top -- separated by only 2 points. And all five are vibrant teams, each with a distinct style of football we can appreciate.

And how amazing is it that the schedule worked out that none of these five will be playing each other in this last round? This means that we will have to keep our eyes on five separate games!!

Who will win the League Championships? Leave your comments about what you think will be the final result, from 1st to 5th place. If anyone gets the answer dead on, I may send the perfect guesser a little prize... But only a perfect guess! :) I've started the process in the comments section.

cosaka.gifAs you can see from the Table (see bottom left column of this blog page), Cerezo Osaka already have their first foot on the Championship. Out of the five teams, they are probably the least "sexy" in terms of media sellability; but with some wildly loved players, especially in their veterans, they have performed with strength and spirit -- can you believe this time last year they were playing their bums off trying to avoid relegation? They made it to their current position with a "nothing to lose" mentality, great defensive pressure and physicality that I wish we could see more in the other clubs, but now that they actually have something to lose, it will be interesting to see how their nerves are affected. All they have to do is win....yeah, that's all.... Their Round 34 opponent is FC Tokyo, who are one of the teams who've picked up momentum in this last third of the season after a nightmarish summer. FC Tokyo I think has not lost a game in the last eleven rounds.
gosaka.gifGamba Osaka is a funny team. They are the kind of team that prefers to play a 5-4 game as opposed to a 1-0 game. In fact, they have rarely won a game 1-0 -- I think only once. In Japan, where a 1-0 game is seen to carry merit in terms of reflecting a wise game, this is unusual; however I think their presence in the league has given the kind of variety we need. Unfortunately, the recent problems with getting their key players on the pitch together showed their weakness (this last game where they were missing Araujo and Oguro was obvious). They have lost the last three games, and the momentum is bad. Not only that, there's the nagging doubt of recent history -- in the past couple years, they were this close to winning the stage and let it slip through their fingers. It happened again during this year's Nabisco, and people are still waiting for them to step up, stamp their foot down, and determine once and for all that they have the champion's mentality. They play a brand of no-fear football, in which they are willing to go ahead and take risks; it will be important for them to play and win using this same kind of vision, to play like Gamba should play. Gamba play Kawasaki Frontale next -- a team that will probably force Gamba to play a multi-goal game.
urawa.gifUrawa Reds. They have had a rocky year, but one reason to root for this team is that they never lost the Urawa flavor. Perhaps the best worst thing to happen was losing two of their key non-Japanese players in Emerson and Alpay. Acquiring Ponte was important for the team to regain balance and mature, and though they lost Emerson and then later Tatsuya Tanaka (to injury), the team has been able to score in crucial situations not only through Ponte, Maric, but also Tulio and Santos. Some may argue that they have quieted down too much in relation of the Urawa of recent years, but if they don't win it this year I believe they will definitely take it next season. There was a time that they could have allowed themselves to self-destruct; though they teetered, they straightened themselves up and now are in a good position at the title this year. They have a goal differential of 24, the top of the five clubs, certainly an advantage in this tight race. Urawa play Albirex Niigata in their last game.... a difficult call, considering Niigata tend to be inconsistent. But certainly a wonderful last-round game between the league's top two supporters organizations!
kashima.gifI'm not sure what to say about Kashima Antlers right now. They are just hanging on, by a fingernail. They don't quite lose, but they can't win. What happened to their finesse? They are the one club who should know how to control the game, and in stark contrast to Gamba, they like to play 1-0 wins. Some time in the summer, their weakest period in any year, they lost their magic, and have been eke-ing by. Luckily their first half of the season lead (at one point their lead was about 14 points) gave them a little room to cushion their recent mediocre results. But it still didn't stop them from slipping to fourth place now. Ogasawara's injury was a big blow to the team, and I wonder how much damage his sudden "recovery" to stand on the pitch last round has done to his overall healing. I do give the team credit for playing on the attack, taking risks despite their non-winning streak, but their biggest problem is inability to score goals despite creating many chances (sounds familiar..). Kashima encounter Kashiwa Reysol this weekend....but this is the same Kashiwa who just got their goal-getting legs back (they won 5-1 against Tokyo Verdy in last weekend's Play-offs vs Relegation matchup). If Kashima are uanble to score goals, Kashiwa may just wind up having to teach them a thing or two. Reysol's ace Tamada has been missing due to a leg fracture for the past few weeks, so they have bigger things (namely the play-offs in December) to worry about than this game against Antlers. But because the pressure will be on Kashima to win, Reysol may have an easier time at it in terms of the psychological.
chiba.gifAhh. Jef Chiba. If Jef were to win the Championships, I think it would make for a pretty picture. Given the state of manager Osim's health, there is doubt whether he will stick around for next season; and if Jef were to win any league year, it would be most appropriate for them to win under Osim. But that's just my sentiment. As you know, Jef like to portray themselves as the humble but spirited team -- a "poor man's" team, where the image is of small and young players without the technique seen among some other teams, and you often hear them say "we have no superstars so all we can do is run our hearts out". But it's a little misleading. They have some great key people in place to form the backbone, and though their type of football philosophy can be an exhausting ideal in terms of a long one-stage season, they have made it this far (and took the Nabisco Cup to boot). Unfortunately, for them to get the trophy, it will mean the remaining 4 have to all draw or lose... highly unlikely. Jef play the floundering Nagoya Grampus next.
kashiwa.gif ? sendai.gif ? kofu.gif
And if you think keeping your eye on 5 simultaneous games is not enough to satisfy one's attention deficit disorder, here's some more. In the J2, the two clubs vying for the 3rd place play-off spot Vegalta Sendai and Ventforet Kofu (to battle Kashiwa Reysol for a promotion to the J1) are separated by only ONE point AND will be each playing the top two clubs, Fukuoka and Kyoto respectively -- the two teams who are officially entering the J1 next season. Despite clinching their promotions relatively early, both Kyoto and Fukuoka have been maintaining a high performance and will give these two teams a good fight... I'm sure Kofu and Vegalta would have preferred something a little easier, but will be an appropriate hurdle to the play-offs.

All final round J1 and J2 games will be played at 14:00 on Saturday December 3. I can already see the supporters at the various stadia across the country, keeping tabs on what's going on in other stadia via their handy dandy cellphone internet connections...

The Play-off games will take place on December 7 and 10.
kobe.gif tokyov.gif
The relegation situation is also rather shocking. We saw from the start of the year that Vissel Kobe were having trouble getting it together, and things were not helped by the way the management handled the manager-switching...twice. It's strange to think now how Kazu Miura was at Vissel at the beginning of the year, but because Vissel made it rather clear that he was not really needed in the team, he was forced to move to 2nd division Yokohama, where, surprise surprise, if he hadn't been in J2, Sydney FC would never have thought to go after him....and now Kazu is playing abroad and part of the team to play in the Club World Championships. And, congrats to Kazu for his first (two) goals in the A-league! >>see goal clips

But I've gotten off on a tangent. I guess what I hope to see from Vissel, is for them to figure out exactly what kind of club they are. The management in the past have relied on quick fixes, throwing money at a problem, but in the J2 they will be forced to put together a proper strong and stable team. I'd like to see class, creativity, vision. The process won't be pretty, but this season wasn't particularly pretty to watch (both on and off the pitch) either. Vissel will most certainly lose their popular players -- there are rumors already that Gamba is putting out an offer for Atsu Miura (Gamba is also apparently looking to sign FC Tokyo's Akira Kaji, but that's another tangent for later). And it has been announced that they have signed as their new maanger, ex-South Africa national team manager Stewart Baxter. Baxter has a pretty solid resume -- he coached Hiroshima in 92 and took Sanfrecce to the top of the 1st stage in 94; after which he went to Vissel and helped them make it to the J-league. After leaving Japan, he coached at a club in Sweden and also took over the U-19 national team for England.

Tokyo Verdy's 5-1 loss to Kashiwa Reysol last week left everyone pretty much speechless. Despite the fact that everyone doesn't like the idea of a club like Verdy going down, the fantastic way in which they lost some of their games this season, setting records in goal allowances, left us with little to sputter but to say that we hope to see them back in the J1 in 2007. Unfortunately, this will mean question marks for certain key players -- and I wonder how many will stay with the club and how many will get snatched up. I also wonder what will happen to young Morimoto...
kyoto.gif fukuoka.gif
And last but not least, an early ようこそ!("Youkoso": Welcome) to new J1ers, Kyoto Purple Sanga and Avispa Fukuoka. Kyoto are now 30 points ahead of the third place Sendai, and Fukuoka are 20 points ahead... so little question about whether they deserve the promotion and the opportunity to play in the top flight. This is the first time in 5 years that Fukuoka have seen the J1. I will certainly do my homework over the break and study up on these two clubs in the pre-season to see what kind of team they are going to put together for 2006.

Looking to buy Japanese football kits/jersey/uniforms?
Japan Football Shopping

I have gotten many requests for help this year in looking for and purchasing jerseys and other goods from people who live outside Japan.

There are very few (if any) proper shops in Japan who accept purchases from outside Japan, which makes it very hard for many of you in foreign lands. The stuff on auction I have already heard from a number of you turn out to be questionable/fakes upon delivery.

If you are interested in buying a jersey / kit (J league club or National team) or other goods, please contact me. Payments will be accepted through, but I will give you the details of that when you contact me.

I won't take any orders that are huge unless we talk it over first. (I do this in my spare time, and issues of large payments and large orders frankly are a bit much for me to deal with) In order to make up for the cost it takes me to go to the shops and to cover the paypal transaction fee, I will need to tack on at least Yen 2000 to each order (this fee increases the more you order because of the paypal fee which is based on a %; and also if I have to go to more than one shop to buy the things you want).

I am not aiming to make a profit, so your orders must also be of a personal nature... in other words, no large orders for resale. I'm flexible though, so we can talk about it and see what we are comfortable with.

The total cost to you will be:
Price of the item + 5% sales tax
International delivery cost (Express mail with tracking or regular air mail)
Yen 2,000 or more to cover Paypal transaction fee and my transportation; if your order includes many items that require different sources, I will need to increase this to included added expenses incurred by me.

I will always buy from an official store or supplier. Only jerseys, small accessory items like key chains/towels, and manageable things like books/magazines/dvds etc. In other words, things that fit inside a reasonably-sized box. The items will be sent to you with the official store bag and receipts/invoice.

email: Rie.FJLIT(at)gmail(dot)com
Nibble for Now
Hi everyone, sorry I am unable to update new entries right now, PC has quit on me. Have to access by cellphone, so this entry is short. Sorry for inconvenience, will take a few days to restore PC.

Nakamura assisted in Celtic's 3-0 win over Rangers -- a little dribbling, finding a opening, and sending in a perfectly timed cross for Balde's header goal. Nakamura played a part in setting up the first and third goals as well. Good to hear he contributed by scrambling on the defense, as the game was quite 50/50 for most of the match despite the final score.

>>Celtic 3-0 Rangers (November 19 2005)

Sota Hirayama scored a goal for his Dutch club Heracles in their 3-0 game against RBC. The 20-year old entered the game in the 71st minute, and at 87 mins scored a left-footed goal against 2 defenders that was pretty sweet. This is his third goal of the season.

>>Hirayama goal clip
Japan vs Angola Analysis
Sorry it's been a couple days since the game. Finally have some time to write. Thanks to all of you who have left comments and/or emailed me about the game!

The start:

-- Takahara - Yanagisawa
Santos - Nakamura - Komano
------ Hide - Ina
Nakazawa - Miyamoto - Tanaka
------- Kawaguchi

The 3-5-2 starting formation was ironic. I think the reason Zico used the 3-man defense line was to give the defenders (all three who are still injured or recovering) a break. Though the defense did not have to do as much work against Angola as I had anticipated, the biggest areas of their instability was in their passes. I said before, the feeding capabilities of the defenders are one of their greatest weaknesses. Even Zico mentioned after the game that the feeds from the defenders into midfield were horrible. They are always below par, but in this game it was probably the worst I've ever seen. Practically everything they fed forward got intercepted by Angola and the defenders just made their own jobs harder by handing the ball over to the opponent so easily like that.

On a strategic level, the 3-back defense line was a waste. Angola's system placed only one forward at top, and Japan basically wasted players with so many on the defense line. I don't know why Zico did not change the system to 4-4-2 right at half time, instead of waiting for another 20 minutes.

The other irony was that Nakazawa, who was the most vociferous against Japan's switch to the 4-4-2 back in March before the Iran game, looked awkward in this return to the 3-5-2. When the system was switched to 4-4-2 in the second half, Nakazawa switched his position to being on the right (not left) of Miyamoto, and he looked better.

What Happens When You Can't Get Goals

Japan had the majority control of the first half, creating numerous opportunities. But as time went by, and they kept missing shots, the momentum started to disappear. Despite having the ball so much, Japan fell into their lethargic mode. The fact that they created different types of opportunities -- low/fast crosses from Alex to a light volley shot from Takahara, a low/fast cross from Alex to chest trap and volley from Taka, another low/fast cross from Santos to Yanagisawa, a mid-range shot from Komano, a light trap-and-pass from Hide inside the box to Yanagisawa for a swipe shot that went right at the gk, a Takahara post play to Nakamura for a mid-range shot, a Nakamura free kick to Takahara's header/shoulder shot, and so on. My favorite has to be the interchange of position and overlap between Nakamura and Yanagisawa that led to two effective vertical passes that ended with a shot from Yanagisawa.

In the second half, Angola came back looking much more confident and started to take advantage of Japan's obvious lack of gusto. They were probably buoyed by the fact that Japan had so many chances but couldn't get the goals. The first twenty minutes of the second half was strangely awkward from Japan's side. Nakamura had to go back to help the defense, and the hole he left made it that much harder for the team to switch from defense to offense when they got back possession. That lag time was irritating to watch, as there were a couple instances where Japan had good opportunitity for a counter-attack. But instead Japan gave Angola time to regroup their defense, and ended up resorting to the slow process of build-up. This was not Nakamura's fault entirely, but probably has more to do with positioning and most of all the ability to see ahead of the game and quickly run ahead so the person with the ball actually has someone to pass to.

We're More Comfy In 4-4-2?

At 65 mins, Zico switched the system to 4-4-2, substituting Matsui in for defender Tanaka. Matsui took the right and Nakamura shifted to left. Then Oguro was put in for Takahara, and later Abe for Inamoto. Oguro has mentioned from the summer that he has chemistry with Hide Nakata, and there was one Hide to Oguro loop pass that got Oguro through the defense for an angled shot from the right -- but it rolled a couple feet outside the far post.

-------- Oguro - Yanagisawa
-------- Nakamura - Matsui
------------ Hide - Abe
Santos - Miyamoto - Nakazawa - Komano
------------- Kawaguchi

With the switch, the team started to look a little more energized again. In particular, the consensus seems to be that Daisuke Matsui was the dash of pepper sauce the team needed. He showed not only that he was the player most willing to fight to get on the squad, but also that he brings something to the team that no other player has recently. His dribbling has always been his forte, and in this game he showed that he is able to keep the ball despite persistent checks; he also contributed to the defense by winning the ball back a few times, and most importantly he brought a sense of speed to the attack. His crosses still need work, and in one case where his cross was a couple feet off, you saw him give himself a disgusted look.

The Last-Minute Goal

Of course, the sense of his "arrival" to the team is reflected in the fact that he scored the game-winning goal. The play was actually started a few minutes before -- Nakamura used dribbling to give the opponent a bit of the run around before sending a very nice vertical pass to Matsui who twirled inside the box to flick it between the defenders. Unfortunately, Hide's bum got in the way and Angola scrambled to clear. The cleared ball was thrown in by Komano to Nakamura, who was open for a free-kick-like big looping ontarget cross to the far post goalline area, where Yanagisawa nodded the ball in. The ball sailed right in front of Matsui. He had to only jump and make sure to hit the ball properly with his head for the goal.

Last Year's U-23 Finally Growing Up

The goal itself was not Matsui's best, but it was symbolic. He was called back to the squad after a looong period away, and in the games against Latvia and the Ukraine, he definitely brought a new dimension to the team. His performances improved each game, and I guess you could say it culminated in this end-of-year game with the goal. His time in France has obviously paid off, and the amount of confidence/toughness and especially the physical improvement is the biggest difference from how he was over a year ago when he was still in the J-league.

Another relative newcomer, Komano, is also worth a note. The right side position (along with the left) has been a no-try zone for a long time. Kaji has the merit of being physically capable of lasting a game running up and down the length, but people still question the quality of his crosses. He had an attention-getting performance in the Confed Cup, got his first international goal in the Iran game, then got hurt. Komano started getting his chances during the EAFF Cup, and has been playing in the last three games.

In this Angola game, Komano showed a really nice stability on defense, not losing his cool but persistently keeping his focus. He's shown that he is learning with each game, and now if he can step up on the attack, not hand the ball off to Nakamura/Nakata every time he has possession, that would be a big improvement. I've been watching him closely at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and he has some great low speedy crosses that get right in between the forward and goalie; he also has some good early crosses, if my memory is correct. Anyway, it's good to know that he is getting confident playing with the A squad.

Existentially Speaking

After friendly matches, Japanese often ask the question, did this game have meaning? "Meaning" is an umbrella word for many things -- did the game provide us a place to work out and overcome trouble spots? was the opponent appropriate for our needs? did the game provide a chance to test something new? did we come out of the game having discovered a new dimension/possibility/facet?

We Have A Disease

The problem of the finish still looms like a massive cloud. This inability to get goals is now officially a Disease. Takahara hit the post twice, and you can almost argue the probability of hitting the post/bar is smaller than actually getting the ball in the goal... One can only shake your head and sigh. Anyway, it is going to be an ongoing problem for the team if no one can finish properly. The fact that we created chances and finally did get the win at the end, not losing sight of that will to win in the dying minutes, was a good thing. But why we keep painting ourselves into the desperate situation of having to score in the last minute to win ... that is probably the biggest mystery. My only recommendation at this time is having a team psychologist or hypnotherapist...really, I'm stumped.

Another problem I see with the team is their weird passing rhythm. Having a weird passing rhythm is actually part of this team's character, but what it lacks is the strong pass. The kind of doof-doof-doof heavy passing. Every time a player passed, the ball drizzled and lacked weight -- like the player had hit the ball off-center.

The team had been talking about working on a quick attack during their training camp, but they were not able to take advantage of their opportunities at counters, as I mentioned above. People were just not running as they should have; but I'm not sure if it has to do with low energy reserves in the second half, or the fear they were feeling when Angola started to look very confident in the first part of the second half. Still, there should have been some unity of thought, that a few of the players should watch out for these opportunities and take the risk and run.

The other thing I was disappointed in was the level of motivation. From what I saw of Hide after the game, he seemed overall disgruntled with the fact the team is not communicating more on the pitch -- sort of revving each other up. Despite the fact that he has a leading role on the team, it has become very apparent that he is not the kind of person who can inspire the team to change or gain confidence or increase spirit. I think the only person who is in the position to do that and get a response is Nakamura right now -- the only problem is that Nakamura is not that kind of guy.

It's become a very cerebral team, this one. I think that may be what we are seeing when we say "the team lacks energy". Miyamoto and Nakamura are extremely cerebral, and they are the other leaders in the team besides Hide and in some ways Kawaguchi. The only hope can be placed on some of the younger players like Matsui and Komano, and hopefully later on Okubo or Tatsuya Tanaka, who may not have the "right" (by heirarchical standards) to shout at the team, but can change the speed and spirit of the team by showing the others up in terms of ambition and fight.


From a spectator's point of view, it is always interesting to see teams from different parts of the world. Zico Japan has not seen an African opponent in years, and I think it was important to at least get one match-up under our belts before the year ended. My general opinion was that Angola probably played much better games during their qualification matches. Japan was helped by Angola's over-use of the long-range shot and their inability to target the ball inside the framework. They seemed to lack ideas on the attack as well, and did not provide too much trouble for our defense.

Overall, I think Angola enjoyed the experience of coming to Japan and playing our team. After the game, A few Angola players had their cameras out and were snapping away at the crowds -- a full Kokuritsu Stadium. And they must have ripped the jerseys of Nakamura and Nakata as they were shirtless the minute the final whistle blew. The Angola players chatted and exchanged jerseys with the Japan players, and the general mood was very amicable. The game itself was devoid of nastiness, and the refs were surprisingly invisible.

The Angola manager said after the game that they had such a great time coming to Japan, that they were hoping to re-schedule another match next year in Angola. He seemed rather taken aback by the Japanese media's long list of questions and show of interest in the Angola team.

I think I heard somewhere that Angola are one of the few countries in Africa that have developed their team without the same degree of mass support from European countries that the more famous footballing African nations had. The fact that they made it to the World Cup is commendable, and it will be their very first time, so very exciting for the country!

Eight Years Later

This night was the 8 year Anniversary of the Joy of Johor Bahru -- the night Japan finally got their first ticket to the World Cup (France). It would have been a more festive night had Japan gotten half the shots in that they took. But I suppose it is somewhat fitting that this team will continue to keep us guessing on the edge. I will return with an NT Wrap Up next month to finish the year off.

But first we have the J-league Championships to look forward to!
Japan 1-0 Angola
matsui_angola.jpgClick Image to go to Original website -- you can click the thumbnails to enlarge.

>>Click to see more photos from the game

As most of you have heard by now, Daisuke Matsui scored in literally the last minute of the game (89th minute) to give Japan a 1-0 win to conclude the year's international schedule. This is Matsui's first international goal.

Unfortunately, I'll have to watch the tape of the game first before I can report on it..! Will post an analysis of the match within the day or so.

>>Goal clip
Live Update Japan vs Angola
Here's a link to the Live Update pop up window >>Click. The image below shows you which link to click to launch the pop up window.

Wednesday 16 November 19:20 kickoff (Japan time).


Today's training was the usual: mini-games, and of course the free kick and shooting practices to finish the day off.

>>Click to see today's photos page 1
>>Click to see today's photos page 2
Japan Squad, Minus 4
I have to thank the people who broadcast the International Un-Friendly Match between Argentina and England yesterday -- it got me to change gears from the domestic league to the situation on the national team front. But boy, that was quite a game...

The Japan National Team started their training camp today for the friendly against Angola on Wednesday night. >>Click to see the call-up list

The first portion of bad news. 4 players have been withdrawn from the squad due to injuries: Mitsuo Ogasawara mf, Keiji Tamada fw, Teruyuki Moniwa df, and Akira Kaji df.

I'm especially worried about Ogasawara because it seems the situation is quite serious. He forced himself to play the past two league games despite problems with his thighs, and now he's hurt another area (hip/back?). I don't know the details, but I hear he will be out of play for 3-4 weeks -- considering what a crucial figure he is at Kashima, it is quite devastating. Antlers are currently in second place and are 3 points behind leaders Gamba -- losing someone like Ogasawara...well, I'm just truly bummed about it.

On the national team level, it is disappointing that Ogasawara and players like Kaji will not be able to play in this week's game. It's been a very long time since they've been with the team, and they were starting to show their "fit" on the squad during the Confed Cup. But right now our biggest problem originates in the defense line, so an important part of this week's game is for the team to push themselves in the areas of speed and physicality.

Click to See(Click photo to see original: Nakamura and Hide)
Today the team played a practice game against a local high school football team. From what I can piece together from articles, the system looked like this:

First half 3-5-2
----- Taka - Yana
Alex - Nakamura - Komano
----- Hide - Ina
Nakazawa - Miyamoto - Tanaka
------- Kawaguchi

Second half 4-4-2

--------- Taka - Yana
------- Nakamura - Hide
---------- Abe - Ina
Matsui - Miyamoto - Nakazawa - Komano
---------- Kawaguchi

Click to see more(Click Matsui photo to see more pics of team training)The overall look of the team was reported to be poor, players not looking very sharp, with errors in front of goal. Some of the first half goals came off CKs by Nakamura to Ina and Nakazawa, and in the second half additional goals came from Yanagisawa and Abe with playmaking coming from Hide.

From the way the system started off with a 3-back, people are assuming Zico will start the game with a 3-5-2 system. But there is one more day left in training, so it's possible he will end up going with the 4-4-2.

The Angola squad arrived in Japan this weekend, and had already started their training on Sunday.
J1 Round 30 Summary
Click photos to see original enlarged at J's Goal website. Please see the bottom of the left hand column for the updated J1 standings after this Round 30.

Gamba Osaka 2-1 Urawa Reds

Click to EnlargeThis win for Gamba was bigger than just the three points added to their row on the table. After having given viewers a peek at their weaknesses in the physical (and a little of the psychological) during last weekend's Nabisco Cup final and the Emperor's Cup round 4 game this Wednesday, and several players out or carrying injuries, a lot of people were saying that Gamba would be lucky/happy with a draw against Reds.

But it turned out to be a rather evenly-balanced game. If I were to point to any one thing that determined the winner here, it would have to be individual performance. Gamba's go-to guys like Araujo and Fernandinho came through with individual dribbling and ball control that got them past the defense singel-handedly. It was almost embarrassing to see how Fernandinho faked-out NT defender Tsuboi twice inside the box for an angled grounder to the right side netting for the first goal. And the way Araujo took the rebound from the goalie's block, kept his cool to tap it in just inside the post, well it's easy to see that is the kind of level-headedness that has made him the top scorer in the league.

Reds came back with a goal off Santos's free kick at the 85th minute, but the one set-piece goal is not an accurate reflection of the amount of effort they threw to their attack. Urawa played a good game, and there were some great passes. Unfortunately, Maric and Nagai (and others) just couldn't finish properly despite having clear shots. It's also disappointing that next week they will have to play without Nagai and Hasebe, who've accumulated cards.

Kashima Antlers 1-1 FC Tokyo

22 shots from Antlers. I tell ya, it is one of the most frustrating things to sit through. You can taste a goal in the air, but it never comes. Kashima out-played Tokyo without question; in fact you can say it was pretty great content, one of the best in this latter half of the season. But the shots would either get deflected by the on-fire Tokyo GK Doi or just inches wide of the goal. Lots of mid-range shots seemed to work against the defensive Tokyo, but in the end it was a free kick from Ogasawara to defender Iwamasa's stretched-out tippy-toe for a goal at 17 mins.

FC Tokyo got their equalizer during that period when Kashima were losing their concentration/interest. Just before the end of the first half. FC Tokyo had a free kick, and the ball zinged around a little before ending up on the right side of the box right where Konno was standing a small distance from the crowd right in front of the goal. He turned and kicked, catching GK Sogahata off with a straight shot just inside the right post. Kashima sideback Aoki said after the game that FC Tokyo sometime increase the numbers inside during set pieces; this time defender Moniwa entered the mass just before the kick was taken and Kashima's marking went off with the added man.

FC Tokyo looked very energetic when the second half started, and there was one great chance when a cross from Baba on the right when perfectly to forward Abe's head. He had beaten the defenders to the ball, but the shot was saved by the goalie. Kashima regained their rhythm when Moniwa hurt his ankle and was taken out of the game. Still Kashima continued to be denied the goal they were looking for, and the psychological damage from this game may play a part in their next couple crucial rounds. They have allowed Gamba a three point lead now, and Cerezo Osaka are breathing down their necks.

It's also not great news for the National Team, as Moniwa and Kaji seem to have been injured during this game. And Ogasawara played the game despite the pain coming from problems with his left thigh. Whether these three will be taken out of the national team squad list will probably be announced tomorrow (today, Monday).

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-4 Oita Trinita

Hisato Sato said after the game that this was Sanfrecce's best first twenty minutes of a match. And it's true, Hiroshima was all up in Oita's face for the first portion, with some great plays, quality crosses, and a couple of perfect goal chances that unfortunately missed the mark. Oita were forced to desperately defend.

So what happened? Well, it is true that when you take off on a flying start like that it becomes more difficult to maintain focus as time passes once those great opportunities are missed. From what I could gather, Oita manager also directed some of the relevant players to focus a tight mark on Kazu Morisaki. After that, the rhythm seemed to drift slowly towards Oita. Getting to Morisaki was key, since he had been the one creating the game in midfield.

At 21 mins, Oita grabbed the chance they got off an interception and the ball was dribbled up by Magno Alves for a shot that hit the post and got swallowed up into the net. Sanfrecce kept on the attack, but were punished for their earlier inability to finish properly when Umeda got the second Oita goal with a lovely mid-range shot just before the end of the first half.

You can't deny Oita has terrifying counter-attacks. And lately their defense has been very focused and patient. They allow the opponent to come as far as possible, patiently waiting for the right moment to throw up the block and deny the opponent a proper shot. It's true, they allowed Sanfrecce a couple free shots in those first minutes, and had Sanfrecce gotten those goals the game would have been something else altogether -- but you still have to hand it to players like Oita's Magno Alves, who continuously know how to make the few opportunities count.

For Sanfrecce it was their 4th consecutive loss at Home. The strange thing is that they have blown away the opponent in various Away games, and I wonder whether it's just coincidence or some hidden reason behind the inconsistent performance. In this game against Oita, Sanfrecce fell to the opponent counters. Sanfrecce have indeed been weak against the counter -- losing the ball in dangerous half-way areas. And some people also say they tend to get discouraged too easily, especially when they allow the first goal of the game the tend to lose their confidence. Still, it was a good game -- now they just need to figure out how to care against those counters and work on the psychological factor...

Oita are on such a high right now, they are quite dangerous. It's scary, considering they will be playing Kashima Antlers next week....Eep!

The rest of the results:

Tokyo Verdy 0-1 Cerezo Osaka: Verdy outplayed Cerezo, playing some solid Verdy-style football, but the stubborn Cerezo side seemed to deny and deny again. Cerezo made things worse for themselves when the ref showed a red at 76 mins, and they had to play on with ten men. Cerezo took the one shot they got -- a lovely free kick from Furuhashi. Because Zico was expected to attend this game, the press had honed in on fw Furuhashi as a player to keep an eye on....
Albirex Niigata 2-2 Kashiwa Reysol: Kashiwa clung on by catching up twice. Despite a disappointing missed shot by Tamada...I guess for Kashiwa, who are right now third from bottom, 1 point is better than none.
Click to EnlargeOmiya Ardija 3-2 Nagoya Grampus: The shops at Omiya were selling a limited edition Omiya Ardija sake (japanese rice wine, photo), which I thought was taking the entrepreneurial "spirit" (aww, bad pun!!) -- they also have plaques that hang on the walls of Saitama stadium that you purchase to have your name engraved on. The game: Omiya's win was a result of their fighting attitude. I especially liked Leandro's goal at 52 mins, a fast shot off Nagoya defence's poor clearance.
Jef Chiba 2-2 Jubilo Iwata: Whereas Gamba were able to maintain their concentration and get the win they needed, Jef Chiba started off great with a 2-0 lead but ended up allowing Jubilo to catch up. I guess Jef supporters' booing (because they lost Chano and Murai, two of their top players to Jubilo this season) did not do the trick. It's too bad, because Jef had used their weapons well in the first half -- Abe's header off a corner for the first goal, then Stoyanov's run up the center (he's a defender) for a nice cross for Sato's goal. Jubilo's left side Murai played a role in both goals, snaking his way into the box for crosses, which was good to see.
Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Vissel Kobe: Though it was great to hear Vissel fw Bando got a goal for the first time in something like 7 months, this was yet another loss for Kobe, and that ain't good. In fact, I think it could be as early as next week that their relegation may be officially determined.
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-1 Yokohama F Marinos: Shimizu actually played the better game, but Marinos got the goal they needed and walked away with the three points. Good to see Kubo starting and playing the entire game. At the end, Shimizu put three men in front and aimed for some power football, but Marinos were able to keep them goalless.
J1 Live Score Updates
I should have posted this sooner, I guess it didn't occur to me.

J's Goal provides live score updates for all the games. Saturday November 12 Round 30 games will be played in the afternoon (Japan time).

>>Click to go to Live Updates list.

autoscore.jpgClick on this image to enlarge. It lists kick-off times too. I've translated all the teams so you can pick which games you'd like to follow. Leave a comment if you have any questions.

You can see from the game schedule that all nine games will be played at once. If you want to know how all the teams currently stand, I've added a little chart of the J1 Table at the bottom of the left hand column of this blog.

For calculating time zones, I usually use this site.

Tidbits Update
Bolton 1-0 Tottenham

Hidetoshi Nakata was on the bench for the first time in three games, substituting in at 59 min. It was a tight game, and Bolton managed a crucial win -- they are now in 3rd place.

Nakata's Nari-colleHide arrived back in Japan I think yesterday. I'm not sure if you already know this but his arrival at Narita airport and the subsequent comments in the sports papers about what he was wearing, characterizes each of his returns home. The fashion couture unveiling in Paris each season is referred to as "Pari-colle" (Paris Collection) in Japan; and when Hide walks out the arrival doors, it's unofficially called "Nari-colle" (Narita Collection), because he usually appears wearing quite the "outfits". In fact, some say that he actually gets off the plane and changes into his outfit before coming out the arrival area...but that's a rumor.

It was no different this time, the sports papers taking jibes at his ride 'em cowboy ensemble -- the hat, the poncho, the plaid shirt, the boots. I think it's a hoot. (click image to see enlarged original)

Anyway, really silly stuff, but it is one facet of Japanese football "news".

Celtic 2-0 Rangers

I know a lot of Celtic supporters were biting their nails ahead of this Cup game against their arch Glasgow rivals. I was able to catch the second half of the game, and it was quite a good show.

Frankie was kind enough to leave his comments >>click to see Frankie's comments about Celtic and Shunsuke Nakamura's performance in the previous entry, and I thank you Frankie for taking the time to tell us about it! I hear the second half was better than the first, so I was lucky to have been able to catch that portion of the game.

click photo to see originalClick photo to see enlarged original. It's a great shot of his right ankle/foot position.

Particularly interesting, with regard to Nakamura, was Frankie's comment that Shun seemed to be more aggressive about going after the ball. It's good to know that he has gained confidence and settled into the atmosphere. But more importantly, the team has really become something new in these past few weeks compared to the start of the season. The second goal came off of two Nakamura plays -- first, Shun took the ball up the right side, and took a very nice shot with his left foot from an angle. The keeper reached up in time to send the ball out for a Celtic CK. The kick was taken by Nakamura, a short corner which was then passed back to him, and he sent in a cross that ended up being the second goal. I say "ended up" because it was recorded an "own goal" by Rangers keeper Klos. Like Frankie said though, Nakamura contributed more in midfield, directing the ball to his mates.

Celtic are now in the semi-finals of the Cup.

Yanagisawa Warming Up at Kashima

Atsushi Yanagisawa has been out of play at Messina for a few weeks after hurting his ankle. But he returned to Japan early and has been spending time at his old club Kashima. His ankle seems to be ok now, but the problem is his fitness. Luckily he has the fortune of having the national team physical therapist Ricardo at Kashima with him (Ricardo is the pt for Kashima), so they are training and trying to build him up for next Wednesday's game against Angola.

Soma to Retire

34 year old midfielder Naoki Soma, now at Kawasaki Frontale, has announced this will be his last year playing in the J league. If you have been following the Japanese national team for a long time now, you'll remember him from the 1998 France World Cup squad where he played left sideback. Soma entered the J at Kashima Antlers, and has also played with Tokyo Verdy before going to Frontale in 2004. J1 total games played: 286, Goals:10. National squad games: 59, Goals: 4.

The Frontale website currently has a slideshow up of photos of him in action at Kawasaki >>Click to see website.
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