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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.
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