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Japan 1-0 Ecuador
I will do a full match review tonight or by Saturday, but in the meantime I thought I'd start the process by posting the basic info and some links to photos and video.

Japan 1-0 Ecuador
Jpn: Sato 85 min

Japan Starting Formation

---- Kubo - Tamada
Alex - Ogasawara - Kaji
---- Fukunishi - Ono
Nakazawa - Miyamoto - Tsuboi
------ Kawaguchi

Oita's Big Eye Stadium

>>a link to the goal video can be found on BS forum

>>here are some game photos (click the thumbnails on the page to enlarge)
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Japan vs Ecuador tonight
mar29.06_nt_atbigeye.jpg(click pic to enlarge)
Oita's Big Eye stadium.

I must admit to being rather nervous about this game. Because this is pretty much it. At this time, we don't have any other friendlies scheduled between now and the announcement of the World Cup Japan national squad to take place in mid-May. C'mon Nippon, show us something inspiring, give us some ray of hope to hold onto until June!

Yesterday's NT practice was mostly the team going over set piece strategies and defense, as is the usual tradition. According to Zico, the sudden switch to the 3-back system was because Endo withdrew from the squad -- Zico liked the option of switching to 3 from 4-back, and putting in Tsuboi, instead. Ono was not kicking free kicks during practice because he felt some vulnerability in his ankle -- not a good sign.

As usual, I will aim to have a match report up this weekend.
Nabisco Cup Chat
The first 2006 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup group round games took place last night. You will be able to find the most recent games results at the bottom of the left column, and all of the tournament fixtures and results listed on >>this entry (this page will be updated as the rounds continue).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyoto Purple Sanga 3-4 Kawasaki Frontale
KPS: Hayashi 29min, Alemao 71min, Paulinho 83min
KF: Nakamura 6min; Marcus 11min, 68min, 79min
A truly multi-goal game typical of these two clubs. Kyoto were desperate to catch up after allowing Kawasaki to take a 2-goal lead in the second half, putting in Alemao and Paulinho, but it was just not enough to catch up in time. Sanga's defense line fell apart, and it took them a little time to get it back together. Kawasaki's Marcus ends the night with a hattrick -- what is this, the third hattrick for a Frontale player?
Goal clips added to Round 5
The links to goal clip streams have been added to the >>summary of the Round 5 J1 games. The links are embedded in the entry, under the respective game summaries.
NT Training Day 2
mar28.06_NTcamp.jpg(Click pic to enlarge. Oita's Big Eye stadium can be seen in the distance.) A chilly and windy afternoon yesterday in Oita. The team, now joined by Tamada and Kubo, but missing Endo (who has withdrawn due to injury to his thigh), played a practice game against a local high school team.

Zico surprised players by suddenly informing the team there and then that they would play 3-5-2 system. A big surprise considering we had been 4-4-2-ing it for most of the recent games; plus it was important for the team to iron out the kinks in the 4-back system after things fell apart in the Bosnia game.

Here are some bits and pieces reported in the sports rags.

3 defense: Nakazawa - Miyamoto - Tsuboi. Miyamoto was reportedly in a grumbling mood after the game, apparently displeased with the way the defense line performed. He claimed there was too much distance between the defenders. Miyamoto has had a slow start to the season, being off the starting squad for Gamba in the first four games -- after Monday's training session, he remained on the grass after the others had left, to practice feeds with the staff. Reports say that Tsuboi showed stability overall, and I guess he has edged Tanaka out of the spot.

Ono, who admits he is stil at about 40%, seemed to thrive in the 3-5-2 system. Claimed it felt like there were more people in front of him to pass to, and since he is a passer he set up many good plays.

Tamada and Kubo started. Zico likes the idea of having two lefty forwards, and if both are fit enough, is planning on starting these two against Ecuador. In the practice game, they were awkward with each other, trying to get a feel for the other's movements. Though they did try some one-touch zigzagging moves. But very little interaction between the two, and did not look effective.

In the second half, (40 min halves) Zico substituted nine players in, but the change that attracted comment was pushing Tamada down a line to play as an offensive half. From here, he fed many good balls into the two forwards Maki and Sato. Tamada, who had not initially intended to play the full game, ended up playing the whole 80 mins. Although it does sound like an added option in theory, in the end it just means we have one more forward who actually can play better as a midfielder....sigh!

The game ended 10-0. With goals from Tamada, Kubo, Sato, Kaji, Nakazawa, Abe, Maki

As for Zico himself, he has been uncharacteristically avoiding detailed questioning from the press, and has not uttered any comments in response to news about Yanagisawa's injury. Insiders say that he was extremely saddened by the Yana news. He avoided commenting altogether on Monday, and on Tuesday rushed past the press while making jokes that it was too cold to move his mouth. I am always intrigued by the way Zico behaves/responds when it comes to his players; especially when something bad happens to any. There's a fierce sense of loyalty and emotion.

Thursday's Ecuador game is reported to be sold out already, and as it is a holiday, the city expects a nice surge of agme-related tourist activity.
NT Camp Starts for Ecuador Friendly
The National Team gathered in Oita Monday (yesterday) to begin practice ahead of the Kirin Challenge Cup friendly against Ecuador that will take place on Thursday night.

>>The squad for the game

And then there was two...

Like Francefan mentioned in a previous comment, Kashima forward Atsushi Yanagisawa is indeed out for about 2 months. The club doctors and Yana himself are putting on an optimistic/brave face, saying that it isn't impossible to heal this injury (Yana has elected to operate on the injury) in 6 weeks. Luckily, this bone fracture was not a stress fracture (like Ono's last year), which means that the possibility for a better/faster recovery are higher. It is really unfortunate for Yana, since he did come back to the J league in order to play more and prepare for the World Cup. With about 74 (?) days left until the World Cup begins, I'm sure all players are treading that fine line between playing really hard and not wanting to get injured.mar27.06_NTcamp.jpg

No player has been called to replace Yana's open spot.

Zico had mentioned that he is looking forward to seeing the DragonBall duo (the "Tatsu" of Kubo's first name means "dragon"; and the "Tama" of Tamada means "ball") up front. However both players were a no show at the practice grounds. Both players due to some form of fatigue. I understand Zico's sense of expectation -- this duo has played together in 5 games, but in all these games they got results. But right now, if I were to have to choose, I would not use Kubo or Tamada.

It is rather sad that after all the hubub of Zico announcing 5 forwards to the squad, we end up with 2 on the first day of practice...! :( But both Maki and Sato are apparently keeping the competition tight. Personally I think a Maki/Sato pairing would be interesting to watch. Both have been scoring for their clubs, and both are obviously more fit and ready for the game. Though they are at the bottom of the totem pole, I think they deserve this chance to start.
mar27.06_NTcamp2.jpg
Hey, nihongo dekimasu ne...

I mentioned before that since FIFA is not going to allow a second person (translator) into the technical area during the World Cup, countries like ours where the players and the manager speak different languages would have to adjust fast.

Well, Zico apparently has. In yesterday's practice sessions, Zico was out on the pitch with the players sans translator Suzuki. And he was seen shouting directions to the players in both Japanese and Portuguese. The players are not unfamiliar with Portuguese, since almost every club has a Brazilian player or two or three (plus managers and staff) in it. And translator Suzuki has shared with the press that Zico actually can speak conversational Japanese no problem. But his policy up until now has been to rely on the translator because he wanted to be able to communicate at a more sophisticated level, with more acuracy in detail and nuance. Now Zico is changing that rule in anticipation of being translator-less during games.
Nabisco Cup 2006 Schedule
The first games for this year's Yamazaki Japan Nabisco Cup will be played on Wednesday March 29.

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

nabiscoPoster.jpg

Points - Goal Diff - Team
so far...

In BOLD go to the second round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

April 5 2006
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Omiya Ardija

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 21 2006
Urawa Reds 4-2 Yokohama F Marinos
Avispa Fukuoka 0-0 FC Tokyo
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Kashima Antlers
Kyoto Purple Sanga 1-2 Oita Trinita
Jef Chiba 1-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Albirex Niigata 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Cerezo Osaka 3-2 Omiya Ardija
The group stage is complete, I will lay out the tournament in the space below.
Weekend in Europe
News and gossip about our players in Europe.

Celtic Home Stretch
Livingston 0-2 Celtic

It is a relief to see Shunsuke Nakamura starting for the team again after a shaky past month. He played his full game in weeks in the CIS Insurance Cup, then started against Inverness (marking 1 assist), and yesterday against Livingston (one assist). Now Celtic are in a position to raise the league trophy with 6 games still remaining. If they win the next game against 2nd placed Hearts, they will have increased the gap to 20 points. So the upcoming Hearts game will be It. (And finally, finally, they will broadcast a Celtic game on Japanese network tv.)

Shunsuke's performance seems to be getting back to norm. True, Livingston are at the bottom of the table, but from what I saw he created good rhythm in the midfield dispersing passes well, and along with Maloney and Zurawski found some good touchwork.

His assist was not the prettiest one he's marked, but a quick-reflex featherlight touch on the ball that slightly redirected it to avoid the defender's foot and go through a the legs to reach Zurawski for goal number one. After the game, Nakamura said that as he reached for the ball that came to him from lefy (Maloney), he realized he wouldn't get enough foot on it, so instead toed it over. He said he was glad he didn't mess it up, and the ball went smoothly thru.

As you know, Shunsuke has never won a league title; at Yokohama he won the Stage title, but not the League. And at Reggina his team was mostly struggling to avoid relegation, so psychologically this must be a refreshing position to be in for him. The 10 days waiting period that exist between this last Livingston game and the deciding Hearts game is rather long though -- will it be an advantage or will it mess with the team's momentum?

Not Enough for UEFA?
Le Mans 1-1 Marseille
Adidas continued
A follow up to the Nakamura+10 vs DelPiero+10 commercial that I introduced before >>here.

Now the two teams play an actual game. No translation necessary.

>>Click here to see the commercial Click Enter, and then the middle link on the right, that say Movie (under the link that has "Recruitment")

There will be a rematch, and Japan is looking for members!
J1 Round 5 Summary
cerezo_comic.jpg Cerezo Osaka 3-1 Albirex Niigata
CO: Furuhashi 20 min, Ze Carlos 30 min, 82 min
AN: Edmilson 52 min

>>Ze Carlos goal clip
>>Edmilson goal clip

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

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