Archive for August, 2018


Antlers in ACL ascendancy

Japan’s most successful club is aiming to create more history after Kashima Antlers confidently put one foot in a first ever ACL semi-final this week… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, Thursday 30th August, 2018

Rarely can a quarter-final have been so one-sided.

Kashima Antlers sauntered past Tianjin Quanjian in the first leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday night, and the 2-0 score-line hardly did justice to the ease with which Go Oiwa’s side established control ahead of the second leg on 18 September.

Antlers burst out of the traps with plenty of intent against their lethargic visitors, keeping Paulo Sousa’s side penned back in their own half for the majority of the first period and winning seven corners in the first half-hour alone.

They were unable to make that supremacy count, however, and with things scoreless at half-time there was a lingering fear this game could follow the pattern of so many others in which a Japanese team lacking a killer touch is punished for their profligacy by a more ruthless opponent.

Such concerns were dispelled as soon as play resumed after the break though, with the flow of the game picking up exactly where it had left off and Tianjin offering absolutely nothing to counter Antlers’ increasing pressure.

That finally paid off on the hour mark, when Leo Silva latched onto a loose ball headed into the area by Yasushi Endo and drilled it beyond Zhang Lu in the Tianjin goal to give the hosts a richly deserved lead.

Even falling behind didn’t spark any kind of recovery in the visitors, and 12 minutes later Serginho followed his compatriot’s lead and rifled home Kashima’s second to give them some breathing space at the halfway point in the tie.

“In the first half we were attacking a lot but unable to make the breakthrough, but we didn’t grow impatient and stuck to the way we wanted to play, which in turn led to us scoring the two goals,” Shuto Yamamoto said after the game.

“We did everything we needed to do with regards to dealing with Tianjin, which meant we were able to keep our composure when attacking. We were able to play the football we wanted to at home and keep a clean sheet, and I think we have picked up a result which will help us looking ahead to the next game.”

The eight-time J.League champions are now clear favourites, but surely won’t find things so straightforward in China.

Football Channel, 30th August 2018

They were utterly dominant over the 90 minutes, racking up 68.3% possession, making more than double the passes of their opponents – 437 to 214 – and achieving an 80.3% passing accuracy rate as 83.4% of the game was played in the middle or Tianjin thirds of the pitch.

On top of that they notched up 15 corners to Tianjin’s one, attempted an incredible 46 crosses to Tianjin’s 10, and took twice as many shots, 21 to 10.

Even so, they were served a warning in the final minute of regular time after an uncharacteristically sloppy clearance from Yamamoto fell to Yang Xu, who drew a smart stop from the impressive Kwoun Sun-tae.

That is exactly the kind of complacency Oiwa will be desperate for his players to avoid in Tianijin next month, especially in the early stages when the CSL side can be expected to throw some caution to the wind.

Their talisman Alexandre Pato is certainly not expecting his team to put up such a timid showing in the second leg, and cut a philosophical figure after the defeat.

“Ok, we lost but we have another game at home and we can do better than today,” he told “Two-zero is not over, we have another game and we need to have more concentration at home and try to do our best.”

The former AC Milan star pointed out that Tianjin’s preparation had been far from ideal after they missed their initial flight two days before the match – something which certainly seemed to affect them and would go some way to explaining their sluggish performance.

“We arrived one day before the game – it’s not good. We needed to arrive two days before but we had some difficulties with the trip. It’s not an excuse, but of course if we have two days to recover our legs it’s better than one day.”

And the 28-year-old was adamant that a composed opening in Tianjin could still see his side progress at Kashima’s expense.

“We need to think about the game,” the Brazilian said. “We need to start good and try to do the best and then try to think about the goals.

“Of course at home we have the advantage and the supporters and we will try to do our best. They played better than us today, but we still have another game.”

Be that as it may, on this showing a spot in their first continental semi-final is now Kashima’s to lose.


Upstarts on the charge

The teams relegated from J1 last year are having far from impressive campaigns in the second tier this season, and as Omiya Ardija, Ventforet Kofu, and Albirex Niigata toil away in the mid- to lower reaches of the table it is instead two of the J.League’s younger clubs that are setting the pace… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, Friday 10th July, 2018

Matsumoto Yamaga started the season without a win in their first six games but have lost just twice since then to ensure they sit top on 53 points, while Machida Zelvia have won four in a row and are breathing down their necks on 49 points.

In a division that remains frustratingly unpredictable both sides have exhibited impressive levels of consistency, establishing themselves as the teams to beat and each losing just two of their last 15 games.

Under the guidance of the wily Yasuharu Sorimachi, who remains an accomplished tactician 10 years after leading Japan at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Matsumoto have exhibited an impressive ability to adapt to the style of whichever team they are playing.

They can fight and play aerially, break down teams that try to pack bodies behind the ball and counter – as they demonstrated most expertly in the 5-0 dismantling of Zweigen Kanazawa on 12 May – and also go blow-for-blow with the more proactive teams, as evidenced in their 1-1 draw away to Tokushima Vortis on 26 May and the back-and-forth 3-2 on the road to JEF United last weekend. 

That victory was their seventh in an eight-game unbeaten run, and a wealth of quality all over the park has enabled them to settle into an intimidating stride atop the rankings.

Solid at the back and in possession of the third best defence in the division, conceding just 25 goals in their 27 games and keeping 12 clean sheets, Yamaga also have an enviable wealth of attacking players, with Hiroyuki Takasaki, Ryo Nagai, Daizen Maeda, and Serginho a formidable array of options all capable of occupying opposing defenders in a variety of ways.

Indeed, the club have so much strength in depth up front that former Mito Hollyhock hotshot Kohei Mishima has become a forgotten man and can’t even make the bench, while they were also able to let Kohei Kudo and Naoki Maeda move elsewhere recently without any effect on results.

They may only be four points clear in first (so the fans who were wondering after the win over JEF whether the team could put a star on their shirt if they win the league were getting a little ahead of themselves), but seeing as they sit 11 points clear of seventh place it would take an impressive collapse now for them to fall far enough from grace that they don’t make the play-offs at the very least.

Football Channel, 10th August, 2018

The only other team that has demonstrated a similar level of ruthlessness is Machida, who made the step up to J2 in the same year as Matsumoto in 2012 but have had a rockier journey since.

Zelvia finished bottom that year and dropped straight back down to the JFL, only returning to the second tier after finishing as runners-up to Renofa Yamaguchi in the 2015 J3 season and beating Oita Trinita in the promotion/relegation play-off.

This year, however, their fifth under Naoki Soma in his second stint at the club, they have motored steadily up into the battle for supremacy at the top of the table and are the closest side to Matsumoto in the automatic promotion places.

What makes the small Kanto outfit’s form all the more remarkable is the fact that even if they were to upset the odds and finish the season in the top two they won’t be promoted to the first division as they don’t fulfil the J.League’s licensing requirements.

That hasn’t stopped them putting together their formidable run of form though, and even if they are to run out of steam as the season wears on it certainly won’t be for a lack of motivation on the part of the players. 

Considering the position Soma played during his career Machida have traditionally been a solid, no-nonsense defensive unit, but as they have looked to become more expansive this season they have been no more than average in that regard, conceding 31 times in the process – more than mid-table Montedio Yamagata and Mito Hollyhock, and only once more than Tochigi SC (17th) and Ehime FC (18th).

Going forward, however, they have posed plenty of threat and are the third highest scorers in the division, notching 44 times thanks to 16 different players finding the net.

Yuki Nakashima is their most prolific marksman with eight goals, while fellow forwards Koji Suzuki and Taiki Hirato have also contributed five each. The defensive players have left a mark at the other end of the pitch as well, with centre-backs Kodai Fujii and Kota Fukatsu scoring three apiece and Naoki Otani and Koki Shimosaka also amongst the goals.

They welcome JEF to Nozuta Stadium on Sunday, when they will no doubt be looking to lay down another marker against one of the J.League’s original members and show that in football history counts for very little – it’s what you do now that matters.

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August 2018