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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
The game started slow for the first 20 minutes, but then things moved when Marseille's Ribery dribbled up the left and centered back to Pagis. The shot from Pagis was initially deflected by goalie Pele but Maoulida finished for a goal off the rebound.

Right after, at 35 min, Le Mans' Hautcoeur sent a deep pass to Grafite on the left. Grafite sent in a perfect pass to Fanchone, who finished with a right footed shot. After that Marseille put on quite an attack, but Le Mans clung on to defend.

Daisuke Matsui played the full game. He had some attractive plays, but Marseille Beye's mark was quite tight on him. I guess Matsui is no longer an "unknown" in France, but the attention from opponents will hopefully force him to adapt and improve.

Le Mans are in 8th place, ahead of Paris SG.

Red Star supportersRed Star Remain at Top
Red Star 4-0 FK Budućnost Podgorica

The encounter with the 14th placed opponents ended with a very comfortable victory for Red Star. They continue to lead the league, with their fifth straight victory since the start of this second half of the season.

Budućnost Podgorica are at the opposite end, with only 3 wins this season after 22 rounds. The manager was sacked, and in recent games former Gamba Osaka player Drobnak is at the helm temporarily (he has been the technical coach).

Takayuki Suzuki was on the bench when the starting whistle blew. Right now the two forwards Žigić and Djokic are doing very well, and I don't foresee Suzuki bumping either of them out of the starting position as a forward. When he did go in at 53 minutes, it was after the third goal went in. Žigić came off, but instead of replacing him as a forward, Suzuki was put on the right as a midfielder.

Suzuki made pointed movements on the right and in the front to create space and make himself available, but the passes that came to him were not effective set-up passes. When he did get the ball though, he played simply and created rhythm, sometimes attempting through passes.

Of course the treatment of Suzuki in the local rags has been less than sophisticated. First there was a tacky "article" (if you want to call it that) about Suzuki being a "total playboy" in Japan and his poor treatment of women (completely untrue); now apparently someone is having fun at his expense again by poking at his 5-games-no-goal situation, saying he is a contender for the Guiness book. Uh, right. It seems Suzuki is the guy who gets bashed no matter where he goes -- even when he's in Japan, he doesn't get a break. And what makes it so sad is that he's so nice about it all; like the Takahara incident... but let's not dig up old graves.

First Goal for Fukuda
Castellón 2-0 Eibar

Kenji Fukuda scored his first goal in Spain yesterday at his new club second division Castellón. Apparently he has been looking very sharp during training in the past week, scoring two goals during practice games. That effort paid off, as he won a starting position for the game against Eibar. The team's first target is to stay away from the relegation zone, so this match against likewise lower ranked team was most important to win.

At 15 minutes, Fukuda responded to a cross from the left, but his header was saved the keeper. Then at 29 minutes, a cross from back left gave Fukuda his chance to score -- and a great volley shot taken with his right foot. The ball flew over the GK's head into the back netting.

Castellón allowed the opponents too much possession by playing too defensively, but the defense was able to keep the ball out of the goal. In injury time, a second goal was scored. After the match, Fukuda said that he was most grateful to the manager for giving him the opportunity to start, and that he wanted to respond to that trust with goals, so he was happy with the result.

Why Did They Keep Taka?
Hamburg SV 2-4 Dortmund

It looks like Naohiro Takahara has a long road ahead of him to gaining back manager Doll's faith. My question since Hamburg announced its decision to keep him has always been "why?". Even Takahara himself had seemed so ready to leave the club, that I wonder if keeping him worked against his natural sense of motivation. Especially since Doll has not changed anything since the winter break with regard to his use of Taka.

This weekend, after Hamburg lost to Dortmund (Takahara went in at the 86th minute), Doll commented that Takahara's current situation is a difficult one, one from which he (Taka) has no escape; all Taka can do is go to the back of the line, do not pass Go, do not collect a hundred...

No Sota Good
Heracles 0-1 Utrecht

Heracles played a valiant game against superior Utrecht, holding the opponent to 0 by the time the clock went into injury time. It was such a blockade they put up against Utrecht, that Heracles took 0 shots of their own in the second half.

The 1 point was what they were fighting for, but focus crumbled in the long 4 minutes of injury time. Utrecht's goalie had come up to the halfway line by this time, and when he kicked a long ball, Heracles had their back end packed. But still they allowed a small space -- Utrecht pounced on that. The result was a win for Utrecht.

Heracles were pretty shocked. Heracles players' bodies lay scattered across the pitch while Utrecht celebrated like it was 1999.. or like they had just gotten one step closer to CL playoffs -- which they had.

The defeat pushed Heracles down from 13th to 15th place. And their next game is against 16th placed Sparta. If they lose against Sparta, Heracles will be in 16th place. The 16th and 17th placed clubs will be heading into a playoff tournament.

Sota Hirayama was put it at 81 minutes, and told to mark Broerse to keep him from coming up to join the attack. Recent articles I've read (and Arne's comment) mention that Hirayama has been looking heavy overall in the past few weeks. During training as well, which is why manager Bosz has taken him out of the starting group and used Tamerus instead. Hirayama himself has said that he doesn't really think he's any different but does admit to having a general feeling of physical fatigue.
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