March brings spring, cherry blossoms and a brand new J.League season. Things didn’t feel particulalry fresh after the first round of matches in J1 though…
The start of a new season brings fresh hope, and there is always plenty of talk of the positive changes that have taken place which will improve teams over the coming months.
This year was no different, and with eight managerial changes having occurred over the off-season period there was, if anything, even more discussion of ‘new eras’ than usual.
Then the games took place and it seemed as if we’d never been away.
The televised game in Round 1 pitted the two J1 sides most affected by the March 11th tragedy against each other, and Vegalta and Kashima played out a tense encounter that was decided by Taikai Uemoto’s goal. Sendai defending ruggedly and Antlers underperforming; as you were, then.
In the other 2 o’clock kick-offs there was a similar feeling of patterns continuing from the 2011 season.
Nagoya won 1-0. Their goal was scored by Josh Kennedy. When I saw that the Australian had given them the lead against Shimizu I tweeted, tongue-in-cheek: “Kennedy puts Grampus head against S-Pulse. Header or penalty?” Then NHK showed the highlight. Ah, it was a penalty.
Meanwhile, two of the newly-promoted sides, Consadole and Sagan, were making steady starts by earning their first points in J1 – against Jubilo and Cerezo, who clocked up 18 draws between them last time around.
Urawa Reds, too, had been expecting an upturn in fortunes but just as on the first day of the 2011 season their hopes were dashed with a 1-0 away defeat.
There was even a feeling of déjà vu with the new man in the dugout; a guy called Petrovic getting off to a disappointing start despite the positivity he had brought with him. Have I seen this before?
My opening question to Petrovic 2.0 at the recent Kick Off Conference was, “Last year Reds’ new coach was called Petrovic, this year too. How is this one going to be different?”
He laughed and said, “I know! Do you think the same things will happen?”
I didn’t then but there was an eerie similarity to their opening game defeat.
As there was in Omiya, where Ardija got off to a terrific start in their apparent quest to be the best hosts in the division by going down 1-0 to FC Tokyo.
Jun Suzuki’s side battered the 2011 J2 champions for the opening half-an-hour, but obliged their guests by failing to score and then conceding the only goal of the game after an hour.
Frontale’s 1-0 win over Albirex was slightly incongruous to the way that games between those two sides have gone in recent years though, and the remaining two fixtures also threw up some surprises.
Or did they?
This year’s souped-up Vissel Kobe did come out on top in their Kansai derby with Gamba, and Yoshito Okubo did manage to find the net twice and complete a game without a caution.
However, Yosuke Fujigaya was as clumsy as ever between the sticks for Gamba, and despite being far the poorer side they still managed to score two goals.
The arrival of Yasuyuki Konno to shore-up one of the leakiest defences in the game doesn’t seem to be paying off just yet, and as long as Gamba have a Brazilian or two around to notch at the other end it appears as if they’ll always be a threat.
(Assuming that the usual patterns will continue, that will only be until they head to the Middle East in the summer, of course.)
Aha, but the last – and best – game of the weekend was surely something new?
Kashiwa Reysol drew only three times on their way to the title in 2011 – just once at home – so their 3-3 draw with a new-and-improved Yokohama F. Marinos was a little unexpected.
Marinos’ quick-passing and aggressive attacking was also a refreshing change, and it looks as though I may have to retract their ‘Tsu-Marinos’ moniker if things continue.
But wait a minute.
Jorge Wagner claimed two assists and Leandro Domingues scored a beauty? I’ve heard that before.
And, come to think of it, didn’t Marinos also earn an impressive draw away to the reigning champions at the start of last season…
Does anybody else feel like this is Groundhog J?