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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.
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