Archive for the 'Daily Yomiuri / デイリーヨミウリ' Category


Cerezo beat Frontale to first big title

My report from the 2017 Levain Cup final, where Cerezo Osaka beat Kawasaki Frontale to a first major title…

The Japan News, 5th November, 2017

SAITAMA – Goals at the very beginning and very end of a closely fought Levain Cup final delivered a first major honor for Cerezo Osaka on Saturday, as they beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 at Saitama Stadium.

Kenyu Sugimoto got the ball rolling for Cerezo after just 47 seconds – capitalizing on a mistake by Kawasaki defender Eduardo before beating Jung Sung Ryong – and Brazilian Souza added the gloss in stoppage time, rounding Jung and nudging home from close range.

While Kawasaki reacted well to going behind so early and had the bulk of possession over the 90 minutes they struggled to penetrate Cerezo’s well-drilled defense and made few clear chances.

“We managed to win this title without losing a single game, and I want to thank my players for such an outstanding achievement,” manager Yoon Jong Hwan said of Cerezo’s 13-game unbeaten run to the trophy.

“Today we created new history for Cerezo. The players know what they have to do to keep sailing smoothly forwards. If we are able to do that we can become a team to be feared.”

Neither Cerezo or Kawasaki had picked up any silverware as top flight clubs since the J.League began in 1993, but Sugimoto wasted no time drawing first blood for his side in front of 53,452 fans.

Yoichiro Kakitani flicked on a Yusuke Maruhashi throw-in from the left, which it looked like Kawasaki centerback Eduardo would have no problem clearing to safety.

However, the Brazilian got his footwork all wrong, miscuing completely and allowing the ball to bounce through for Sugimoto to coolly convert from inside the area.

The Japan News, Sunday 5th November, 2017

The Japan striker’s goal against his former side meant Cerezo were then under no obligation to force the issue, and while Kawasaki built attacks tidily they found clear chances hard to come by.

Koji Miyoshi was positive on the left wing and kept Cerezo fullback Riku Matsuda on his toes, but all too often found himself crowded out once in or around the penalty area.

Meanwhile, Shogo Taniguchi had a half chance in the 40th minute but headed over from inside the six yard box, and Kengo Nakamura was similarly inaccurate from close range two minutes later as he screwed an effort wide of Kim Jin Hyeon’s right-hand upright.

The flow of the game was largely unchanged after the break with Kawasaki almost constantly in possession but unable to break Cerezo down, although Yu Kobayashi drew some oohs from the crowd in the 56th minute as he acrobatically volleyed an Akihiro Ienaga cross off target.

Substitute Tatsuya Hasegawa curled an effort wide from 25 yards just past the hour mark as Kawasaki began to throw greater caution to the wind, but Hiroyuki Abe sent their final effort high and wide from outside the area in the 87th minute.

Five minutes later Souza wrapped up the win in style for Cerezo, rounding off a quick counter after an unselfish assist from Kota Mizunuma.

For Frontale manager Toru Oniki – a player in the first of Frontale’s three previous League Cup final defeats in 2000 – there was more regret as Kawasaki yet again finished as the bridesmaid.

“In the beginning we conceded after a mistake but after that I feel we controlled the game well,” he said.

“However, we continued to make passing mistakes and so on and never quite solved the problem of how to break through.”


J.LEAGUE PREVIEW / Marinos move on after Nakamura departure

There were ructions at Yokohama F.Marinos in the off-season as club legend Shunsuke Nakamura departed in acrimonious circumstances, but coach Erick Mombaerts is unruffled heading into a new era for the Nissan Stadium club…

The Japan News, 24th February, 2016

Yokohama F.Marinos manager Erick Mombaerts insists it will be business as usual at Nissan Stadium this year, despite the headline-grabbing departure of captain Shunsuke Nakamura.

The 38-year-old Nakamura left his boyhood club for Jubilo Iwata over the offseason, with rumors swirling of discontent behind the scenes and an uneasy relationship between coach and player.

Former France U-21 coach Mombaerts is unfazed by the upheaval though, and remains firmly focused on the task at hand in his third year at the helm.

“Whether Shunsuke was here or not, the aim would be to improve on last year, to show a better performance than last season,” the 61-year-old said.

“Our style is based upon speedy play with good combinations, and the objective is to fine-tune that. That isn’t dependent upon which players have left or come in, but is always the target.

“The players who are able to play that style are the ones who will appear in the games. If Shunsuke was still here, that would be the aim, and it doesn’t change because he’s not.”

The ongoing shift to a younger, more dynamic Marinos is epitomized by the team’s new captain, Manabu Saito.

“He’s a very important player at this club and I hope he will take on the extra responsibility this season,” Mombaerts said of his decision to select the livewire forward as Nakamura’s successor.

“He’s a national team player and gives everything he has in every single game, so I’m sure he can lead the team.”

Saito, who will also assume Nakamura’s No. 10 shirt, was chosen ahead of more experienced members of the squad, but knows he has their full backing.

“Many people are supporting me — Bomber [Yuji Nakazawa], Machi [Kosuke Nakamachi], Yuzo [Kurihara] — and so along with their help I will try to add something of myself,” the 26-year-old said.

The Japan News, 24th February, 2017

“It’s not the case of wondering what will happen now that I’m captain, but instead to just work at improving the team. I think for that to happen it is important there are many voices being heard.

“There’s been a turnover of players and of course a legend has left, but Marinos will keep going.”

Cayman Togashi is another player who represents the emerging generation of talent at Marinos, and echoed the sentiments of both his coach and new captain.

“We want to continue with the things we were doing last year while also adding some new elements and trying to get some cohesion between the two,” the 23-year-old striker said.

“Of course, now we don’t have an absolute star player in the same mold as Shunsuke, but I feel that unconsciously the team is in the situation of feeling, ‘right, let’s get things done by ourselves.’

“Manabu has been made captain, but it’s not just up to him, and I think we are now in a position whereby all of us have to take responsibility.”

Nakamura played 338 times during two stints with his boyhood club — punctuated by a successful spell in Europe — but only appeared in just over half of his team’s league games in the two seasons since Mombaerts took charge.

In that time the club finished seventh and 10th in the overall table, and Mombaerts is looking to lift the team up a notch this campaign.

“Coaches all over the world say they want to win the league, that the target is to become champions, but that is easy to say,” he explained.

“What is actually important is to improve the performance of the team from last year to make the team better than before. That comes from working hard every day — not just words, but actually putting it into practice — and the results correspond with that.

“I want to raise the level of the team and have us move up the table and compete with the top sides. It is not words but playing quality that leads to results.”


J.LEAGUE PREVIEW / One shot at glory: Reds and Antlers renew rivalry as title favorites as league format reverts to winner takes all

Kashima Antlers emerged victorious from las year’s post-season play-offs to pick up the 2016 J1 crown, but over the regular season Urawa Reds claimed the most points. I spoke to players from both teams to see how they’re shaping up ahead of the new campaign…

The Japan News, 24th February, 2016

The J.League first division returns to a regular 34-game format this season after its two-stage system was drawn to a close in controversial circumstances in 2016.

Kashima Antlers’ shirt will be adorned with the official gold champion’s patch after the Ibaraki club won last year’s postseason “Championship” playoff, but defeated opponent Urawa Reds have every right to feel aggrieved having finished a full 15 points ahead of Antlers over the course of the season.

While that was a bitter pill for Reds to swallow, the players’ belief in their approach has not diminished as they head into the new campaign, which kicks off Saturday.

“We have the feeling of being the champion — we won the overall league with the most points in history, so we have confidence,” Reds striker Tadanari Lee told The Japan News ahead of the new season.

“However, Kashima then went on to play against Real Madrid and put in a great performance, so maybe everyone has forgotten [about our achievement].”

The former Southampton striker admits he was supporting Antlers as they did themselves proud as J.League representative at the Club World Cup — taking Real to extra time in the final before succumbing to two quick-fire Cristiano Ronaldo goals — and insists there is no extra desire to exact revenge.

“That’s not really a motivation,” he said. “We know if we play our football we’ll win the title — we just have to believe in that. Every team has brought in reinforcements, but the most important thing is the strength of the team as a whole.”

Defender Wataru Endo is reading from the same script.

“We know if we do the same thing as last season and get the most points, then we’ll be the champion,” the Japan defender said.

“On top of that, because we lost in the Championship last year, we weren’t able to compete in the Club World Cup, which is a competition I personally and the team as a whole really want to take part in.

“To do that now we have to win the Asian Champions League, so our two big targets this year are to become the champion in the league and the ACL.”

Antlers played the system to perfection last season, but know they will have to redouble their efforts in order to retain the J1 shield.

“This year it isn’t the case that you can win the first stage and know you are guaranteed a playoff place,” centerback Gen Shoji said. “We must aim to win the title outright.”

That task has been made even tougher by an unforgiving schedule.

Antlers’ 2016 campaign didn’t conclude until they defeated Kawasaki Frontale to also lift the Emperor’s Cup on New Year’s Day 2017, and after just a fortnight off, the team was back in preseason training.

Since then the Ibaraki outfit has taken part in warm-up competitions in Thailand and Miyazaki, beaten Reds 3-2 in Saturday’s curtain-raising Super Cup match, and also gotten its ACL campaign underway on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai.

However, Shoji is determined not to use the fixture congestion as an excuse.

The Japan News, Friday 24th February, 2017

“The only way to think about it is positively,” the 24-year-old said.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Ah, we didn’t have much time off to rest,’ it can be a positive for us if we look at it in the sense that our bodies are still in good shape, and it has been easier to get back into the swing of things.”

Chasing the J.League-ACL double

The strain on the Kashima squad will also be eased by several impressive signings, with goalkeeper Kwoun Sun Tae, defender Yuto Misao, and Brazilian pair Leo Silva and Pedro Junior all arriving.

“The club have brought in a few new players, but it’s not like there will be two different teams for the J.League and ACL,” Leo Silva said. “As a group we are all working together to become champion in the league and in Asia.

“Having the chance to join a team that achieved such good results last year serves as a big motivation. You don’t get so many chances in your career to win titles, so it is great to join a team like Kashima, which is always in the mix to win competitions.”

His compatriot Pedro Junior scored 11 times in the league for Vissel Kobe last season and is hoping he can help his new side build on the success of 2016.

“The aim has to be to achieve even better results than last season, especially when you consider that a club as big as Kashima has never won the Asian Champions League,” he said.

“The coach and his staff have clearly outlined what our targets are for the season, and each of us is playing with them in mind.

“Last year the two-stage-plus-playoffs system worked to Kashima’s advantage, but this year it is back to the team with the most points over the season being declared champion, so we are all concentrating on fighting together to achieve that.”

Reds have also added firepower though, and Endo believes this will make last season’s most consistent side an even tougher proposition.

“The number of players in the squad has risen, which adds an extra sense of competition for places,” he said. “In particular, I feel we now have a lot of options in the forward positions.”

Rafael Silva from Albirex Niigata and Japan U-23 striker Ado Onaiwu are the two out-and-out center forwards to have joined, and Onaiwu has detected a resolution in the squad to make up for last season’s disappointment.

“The atmosphere in the camp is really good, and everyone is very positive,” the former JEF United player said.

“Of course there is some lingering regret after the way last season ended, but everyone has the motivation to put that right this year. There is a desire to change the mind-set, in a good way, and approach this season with a new spirit to make sure we win the title.”

The race to the finish line is sure to be as fierce as ever, but when it comes to deciding the 2017 champion, there will be no ambiguity — this year there can be only one.


Reds lock up playoff slot with draw

Urawa Reds just about sealed first place in the overall rankings in J1 on Thursday, drawing 1-1 draw with Yokohama F.Marinos to finish two points ahead  of Kawasaki Frontale…

The Japan News, Friday 4th November, 2016

SAITAMA – Urawa Reds booked itself a place in the final of the J.League playoffs in front of a bumper 56,841 crowd on Thursday, despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Yokohama F.Marinos.

Japan midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi gave Reds the lead in the 66th minute, but Marinos substitute Quenten Martinus equalized in the 85th to make for a nervy end to the game for Mihailo Petrovic’s side.

Even so, Reds hung onto top spot in the overall rankings and earned a bye direct to the two-legged final as closest challenger Kawasaki Frontale surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at home to Gamba Osaka.

“Our target was to finish the season at the top of the table and I’m delighted we were able to achieve that,” Kashiwagi said.

“Last year we weren’t able to make it to the final,” he added with reference to Reds’ loss to Gamba in the 2015 semifinal. “Now we want to make sure we win both matches in order to become the champion.”

Had Frontale beaten Gamba they would have leapfrogged Reds, but despite establishing a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Tatsuya Hasegawa and Koji Miyoshi, they conceded three times in 12 second half minutes to finish on 72 points, two behind Urawa.

They will now face a semifinal bout against third-placed Kashima Antlers in the postseason Championship series on Nov. 23.

Back in Saitama, Reds started the brighter of the two sides and Shinzo Koroki headed the first chance of the game wide in the 8th minute.

Urawa Reds v. Yokohama F.Marinos, Saitama Stadium, Thursday 3rd November, 2016

Reds continued to dominate possession for the remainder of the first half, and Toshiyuki Takagi went closest to opening the scoring with a couple of decent efforts, one of which was headed off the line by Park Jeong-su in the 30th minute.

Reds came out with extra impetus at the start of the second half and almost took the lead in the 48th minute, as Wataru Endo tested Tetsuya Enomoto from close range after a Kashiwagi corner.

Manabu Saito fired a warning shot for Marinos in the 51st minute, but his effort was blocked by a combination of Takagi and Shusaku Nishikawa.

Reds began to turn the screw in the final half hour, with Takahiro Sekine and Tadanari Lee both drawing saves from Enomoto, and the home side’s superiority was rewarded in the 66th minute.

Sekine drew yet another stop from Enomoto after a tidy passing move, but Kashiwagi made no mistake with the rebound, slamming home from inside the six yard box.

Martinus made Reds sweat on their fate as the clock ticked down, racing onto a through ball from Sho Ito and converting in style to equalize with five minutes to play, but the scoring ended there and Reds’ point was enough to keep them top.

Elsewhere, Nagoya Grampus was relegated for the first time after losing 3-1 at home to Shonan Bellmare. That let Albirex Niigata off the hook after its 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, as well as Ventforet Kofu, which lost 1-0 to Sagan Tosu.

Meanwhile, Jubilo Iwata made sure of its survival with a 1-0 win away to Vegalta Sendai, Kashima lost 1-0 to Vissel Kobe, Omiya Ardija went down 1-0 to FC Tokyo, and Kashiwa Reysol hammered Avispa Fukuoka 4-0.


Reds win Levain Cup on penalties

My match report from today’s Levain Cup final between Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka, for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Saturday 15th October, 2016

SAITAMA — Urawa Reds picked up their first domestic silverware in a decade on Saturday, winning the Levain Cup by defeating Gamba Osaka 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Saitama Stadium.

Japan Olympic captain Wataru Endo was the hero for Mihailo Petrovic’s side, slamming home the decisive spot kick to deliver Reds their first trophy since the 2006 J.League title.

Ademilson gave Gamba the lead in the 17th minute after a sensational solo effort, but substitute Tadanari Lee leveled things up with his first touch in the 76th minute. With neither team able to add to the score after that the final went to extra time and then penalties, where Endo delivered Reds’ second League Cup crown.

“Until now as a team, and for me individually as a coach, we have been unable to achieve success in the decisive matches, so we were playing this game under that kind of pressure,” Petrovic said after winning his first top flight title in Japan and bringing Reds’ dry spell to an end, to leave them in with a chance of claiming a clean sweep this season.

“They say that the first title is the most difficult to win, but after their coach [Kenta Hasegawa] won his first many more followed,” he added with regards to Gamba’s treble in 2014. “Hopefully the same will now happen for us.”

The first meaningful action of the game came in the 9th minute when a Takahiro Sekine effort from range was tipped past the post by Gamba goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi.

Gamba’s first half-chance came in the 14th minute as Ademilson tricked his way into the penalty area with some fancy footwork, but Reds managed to scramble the ball to safety after his cut back.

The Brazilian was celebrating three minutes later though, after giving his side the lead with a superb individual goal.

Levain Cup final 2016, Gamba Osaka v. Urawa Reds. Saitama Stadium, Saturday 15th October

Yasuhito Endo won possession midway inside his own half and stabbed the ball forward to Ademilson, who shrugged off Wataru Endo before applying the afterburners. He left Tomoaki Makino and Ryota Moriwaki in his wake and then kept his composure to nudge past the advancing Shusaku Nishikawa from inside the area.

Reds rallied well after falling behind and almost pulled level in the 21st minute as Makino headed narrowly off target from a corner.

The J.League leaders continued to have the better of things in the second half and made a handful of presentable chances, with Sekine missing the best of them after being denied by Higashiguchi in a one-on-one in the 55th minute.

Reds did manage to pull level 20 minutes later, as Lee made an instant impression off the bench.

Toshiyuki Takagi saw an effort tipped past the post by Higashiguchi in what would be his last contribution before being replaced by Lee, who lost his marker with ease from the resultant corner and headed home to make it 1-1.

Neither side was able to find the net again in the remaining 14 minutes or half an hour of extra time — although Hiroto Goya went incredibly close for Gamba in the very last minute, seeing an effort hit the post and then roll agonizingly along the line before being hacked away by Moriwaki.

Goya’s suffering was compounded in the shootout after Nishikawa saved his kick to hand Reds the advantage. Lee then converted to put Reds in front, and although Yasuhito Endo kept Gamba in the contest by scoring his penalty his namesake then did the same for Reds’ to seal the victory.


Reds roll closer to 2nd stage title

Urawa Reds picked up an impressive win over old rivals Gamba Osaka on Saturday, cruising to victory and the top of the table…

The Japan News, Sunday 2nd October, 2016

SAITAMA – Urawa Reds kept themselves in pole position for the J.League second stage title on Saturday, crushing Gamba Osaka 4-0 at Saitama Stadium.

Toshiyuki Takagi set Reds on the way to victory in just the sixth minute, before Yuki Muto doubled their lead five minutes after half time. Tomoya Ugajin added a third in the 83rd minute before substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic added the gloss with three minutes to play.

Reds’ fourth consecutive win also leaves them locked in a tight battle with Kawasaki Frontale for the overall title, putting them top of the combined rankings for a few hours at least with Frontale to play away to Vissel Kobe later Saturday night.

Mihailo Petrovic’s side is already guaranteed a place in the postseason playoffs having ensured a top three finish overall, but the team with the most points combined over the two stages progresses directly to the final.

“For us we’re not looking at anything other than being the yearly champion,” Ugajin said postmatch.

“I think most of the players didn’t even realize we’d already earned a ticket for the playoffs. All we’re targeting is to be this year’s champion, and that enabled us to put in this kind of performance.”

Reds certainly started with intent in front of 43,415 fans in Saitama, flying out of the traps and penning Gamba back in their own half before moving in front after a crisp move in the sixth minute.

Yoshiaki Komai carved in from the right and found Yosuke Kashiwagi lurking on the edge of the box, with the Japan midfielder instantly playing a ball into the area for Muto to cross. Shinzo Koroki couldn’t quite make contact at the near post but Takagi was on hand in the center to tap home.

Urawa continued to dominate possession after moving in front, and Gamba – whose chances of winning the second stage or overtaking Kashima Antlers to earn a playoff spot in the overall rankings were all-but extinguished here – were limited to a tame Shu Kurata shot from range in the 23rd minute, which went straight to Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.


Muto provided a cushion for Reds in the 50th minute when his effort from just outside the area took a slight deflection off Gamba defender Takaharu Nishino before flying past Masaaki Higashiguchi.

Gamba’s afternoon went from bad to worse nine minutes later when forward Ademilson was shown a straight red card for lashing out at Tomoaki Makino, and Ugajin calmly sidefooted a volley into the net to make it 3-0 in the 83rd minute.

Ljubijankic stabbed home the final goal of the game from close range four minutes later, after fellow substitute Tadanari Lee had kept the ball alive in the penalty area.

The comprehensive win ended Reds’ run of four straight defeats to Gamba, and Petrovic was delighted to finally get the better of his club’s bitter rival.

“We could have won any of the recent games against Gamba too, but if you just look at the results they have all been negative,” he said. “We attacked well but made mistakes in those games and were hit on the counter, so preparing this week we knew we had to be more disciplined here.

“Today we played really aggressively. I think we outdid the opponents in terms of movement too, and were attacking from the outset.”

Elsewhere, the battle for first division survival is also heating up, with Nagoya Grampus and Albirex Niigata both picking up vital victories in their bids to avoid relegation.

Grampus claimed their third win in four games and moved out of the relegation zone for the first time since slipping down to 16th on 9 July by cruising past Avispa Fukuoka 5-0. Kensuke Nagai claimed a hat-trick while Ha Dae-sung and Ryusuke Sakai also found the net.

With their loss, Avispa were assured of filling one of the three relegation spots.

Meanwhile, Koichiro Katafuchi got off to a dream start as Albirex manager as Ryohei Yamazaki scored an 89th minute winner to deliver a 2-1 victory away to Jubilo Iwata and lift them to 14th in the table.


Kashima focused on big prize after 1st-stage title

Despite winning the first stage of the J1 season at the weekend, Kashima Antlers aren’t getting carried away and  the players are keeping their eyes on the bigger picture…

The Japan News, Monday 27th June, 2016

KASHIMA, Ibaraki — Kashima Antlers won their first league trophy since 2009 on Saturday, but the addition wasn’t a cause for mass celebration.

The most successful club in J.League history wrapped up the J1 first-stage title after Shuto Yamamoto and Shoma Doi found the net in a 2-0 cruise over bottom-placed Avispa Fukuoka, but the players took the triumph in stride and have their sights set on the ultimate prize at the end of the season.

“We’ve won the first stage but you can’t call that a real title,” captain Mitsuo Ogasawara said.

“What we have to do now is also win the second stage and then go on to become overall champions. We can’t be satisfied with just this and need to keep winning from now on, too.”

That was also the way Ogasawara’s central midfield partner Gaku Shibasaki reacted to the success, seeing it as little more than a checkpoint on the way to becoming the yearly champion.

“Of course we’re delighted with this, but we won’t get carried away,” the 24-year-old said.

“I think we are capable of completing the perfect sweep of titles, but every team starts back at zero now and we have to just start working toward winning the second stage title.”

The J.League’s top flight returned to a two-stage format last season, with up to five teams qualifying for a postseason playoff series to battle for the crown as the year’s champion.

By winning the first stage Antlers have secured one of those spots, and Daigo Nishi is confident they can go on to finish the job.

“I think it’s really big for us to have gained a ticket for the playoffs,” the fullback said.

“We know we have an aptitude for knockout football. We’re still not the finished article, but I sense the team is growing bit by bit, and if we can keep going in that vein until the very end then I think we’ll do OK.”

Kashima Antlers lift the J1 first stage trophy - Kashima Saturday 25th June, 2016

Nishi believes that victories over the division’s other big hitters were vital to enabling his side — which only moved top of the table for the first time on June 18 — to pip Kawasaki Frontale to the post by a point.

“Beating Urawa [Reds], [Sanfrecce] Hiroshima, and Gamba [Osaka] was big,” he said. “I think we were able to become the champion because we won those games.”

Naomichi Ueda agreed, singling out the 2-0 win away to Urawa on June 11 as especially key.

“I think every game has been important, but the Urawa match was particularly big for us,” the Olympic centerback said.

“Since I joined Kashima [in 2013] we hadn’t beaten them, and so winning that game gave us real momentum.”

Goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata suggested the impetus for Kashima’s achievement came even further back, citing last season’s Nabisco Cup success — when Masatada Ishii’s side swept past defending champion Gamba 3-0 — as a turning point for the team.

“I think having that experience played a part in enabling us to win the first stage,” said the stopper, who has won the league six times with the club.

“It gave us confidence and now we’ve gained even more by picking up this title. We have to take advantage of that in the second stage.”

Ueda was in full agreement and dismissed claims that the team now has one hand on the trophy.

“What’s really important is to be the champion at the end,” said the 21-year-old, who is likely to miss a handful of games for his club while away with Japan at the Rio Games in August.

“Winning this title doesn’t mean we are the champion, I think everybody understands that. Everyone now wants to switch their focus to the next stage, and we just have to fight to become the second-stage champion now.”

That quest gets under way Saturday, when they welcome Gamba to Kashima as the second half kicks off.


Japan Learns from Bosnia Loss

Japan have had things all their own way for the past year or so, but were served a reminder of their deficiencies against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday night…

The Japan News, Wednesday 8th June, 2016

SUITA, Osaka — Tomoaki Makino believes Japan’s 2-1 Kirin Cup loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday night was just the tonic to prepare the Samurai Blue for the final round of World Cup qualifiers, which get under way in September.

Vahid Halilhodzic’s side cruised through the second round of qualification for Russia 2018, topping its group without conceding a goal, and just four days before the reverse against Bosnia it chalked up a baseball-like score by downing Bulgaria 7-2.

Despite taking the lead through Hiroshi Kiyotake’s 28th-minute strike, however, Japan didn’t have things all its own way in Osaka, and a Milan Duric brace dealt Halilhodzic his first home defeat as Japan boss.

Urawa Reds defender Makino wasn’t despondent after the loss though, and thinks that conversely it will help the team in the long run.

“Today, although it didn’t produce a positive result, I think the team gained something big from the game,” he said.

“We were able to experience things we don’t often get. From now on we have to display the mentality to show resilience and bounce back. [In the final round of qualifiers] we have games against Australia, teams from the Middle East, and difficult away trips, so we have to have that mental resilience.”

Makino started the game on the bench, replacing Yuto Nagatomo for the final 20 minutes, and felt that gave him an extra sense of perspective on proceedings — particularly considering with whom he was viewing the game.

“Watching with [Keisuke] Honda and [Shinji] Kagawa, we were talking about the best way to defend against this kind of team,” the 29-year-old said of the Bosnian side with an average height of 187 centimeters.

Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate winning the 2016 Kirin Cup

“Of course, when it comes to playing against physical and tall opponents, there is no point trying to match them. Instead you need to try and take up better positions and anticipate things.”

Makino’s fellow defender Masato Morishige agreed.

“They had power and it wasn’t for us to try and counter that with power,” the FC Tokyo centerback said.

“Playing to suit the opponent’s style is what they hope for, so we have to think about exhibiting our own strong points. Of course there will be times in the game when the opponent is controlling the flow, and at that time we have to be able to stand strong.”

For Kagawa — who didn’t make it off the bench for this game but did score twice in the rout over Bulgaria in the previous match — the expectation is not for Japan to merely go toe-to-toe with the better teams it faces, but that it comes out on top.

“We have to win against this kind of opponent,” the Borussia Dortmund star said. “When the game became a little congested, I feel we lacked a clear idea of what we needed to do to get that second goal. It’s the same issue we always have: we aren’t able to change the rhythm when the game stalled, and then conceded on the counter.”

Honda was unable to play any part in either the Bulgaria or Bosnia games on account of a knee injury, but has no doubt about which of the recent friendly results are more beneficial for Japan.

“Absolutely the Bosnia game,” the AC Milan midfielder said. “When you lose, it brings with it a sense of danger, which the players now have to pay attention to. Now we have to start looking ahead.

“Speaking frankly, everyone thought we would beat Bosnia, including me. But soccer is not as simple as that. There are many things in the air and during the game they change, meaning the line between victory and defeat is paper thin.”


Okubo brace puts Kawasaki on top

Yoshito Okubo was the main man again for Kawasaki Frontale this weekend, finding the net twice to send his side top of J1…

The Japan News, Sunday 15th May, 2016

KAWASAKI – Kawasaki Frontale moved to the top of the J.League first stage table on Saturday afternoon, coming from a goal down to beat 10-man Vissel Kobe 3-1 on the back of a brace from Yoshito Okubo.

Kazuma Watanabe had put Vissel ahead in first-half stoppage time, but a second-half brace from Okubo and late Elsinho strike enabled Yahiro Kazama’s side to leapfrog Urawa Reds, who could only manage a 0-0 draw at home to Albirex Niigata.

Okubo’s double against his former club also lifted him to joint top of the scoring charts with Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Peter Utaka on nine goals, as the 33-year-old targets an unprecedented fourth consecutive season as the most prolific player in J1.

“We moved the ball well in the first half and had chances but were caught out right at the end at a set-piece, which we weren’t happy about,” Kawasaki coach Kazama said.

“At half time we spoke about moving up a gear, and knew that if we pressed a bit higher we’d have opportunities to score. In the end that was how things went and I think it was a good win.”

Kawasaki dominated from the start of the game, and had its first sight on goal in just the 4th minute. Ryota Oshima played a neat one-two with Yu Kobayashi on the edge of the area before advancing and cutting back again for Kobayashi, but the Japan striker sent his effort narrowly wide of the far post.

Oshima almost worked a scoring chance for himself 20 minutes later, but couldn’t quite control after a quick exchange of passes with Eduardo Neto set him free through the middle of the pitch, and Takahito Soma was able to scramble the ball away to safety.

Kobayashi missed an absolute sitter six minutes before the break, controlling an Elsinho cross from the right wing and moving the ball out of his feet well, but then skewing his effort high and wide from eight yards out.

Vissel then opened the scoring against the run of play in the third minute of time added on at the end of the first half.

Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Vissel Kobe, Saturday 14th May, 2016

Kawasaki defender Tatsuki Nara was stretchered off after fouling Asahi Masuyama 25 yards from goal, and Kobe took the lead in fortuitous fashion from the resultant free kick.

Watanabe sent his effort into the defensive wall, but the ball deflected off Kengo Nakamura’s head and wrong-footed goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong before squirting into the far side of the goal.

Frontale only needed 12 minutes after the restart to draw level, though.

Masatoshi Mihara fouled Kobayashi inside the area and referee Masaaki Iemoto had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, with Okubo showing equal conviction from 12 yards to make it 1-1.

That was his 164th J1 goal and he didn’t have to wait long for his 165th, poking home in the 63rd minute after a chipped ball into the area from Kyohei Noborizato.

Okubo almost had a hat-trick three minutes later as Kobe’s defense struggled to cope with Kawasaki’s onslaught, but goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu was able to palm his drive from range behind.

Vissel’s job was made even more difficult in the 70th minute as Mihara’s miserable afternoon was compounded with a second yellow card for another foul on Kobayashi, and Kawasaki never looked like losing control of the game from that point on.

Kobayashi had a couple more chances as the clock ran down, before Elsinho added the gloss in the 90th minute, keeping his calm to loft home after Yusuke Tasaka’s ball into the area from the right wing.

“I’m not sure if the players are playing with enjoyment or not,” Kazama said of his team’s impressive display. “But if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then you can’t build confidence within the team and win games.”

Meanwhile, Akihiro Ienaga’s strike earned Omiya Ardija a 1-0 win away to Vegalta Sendai and saw them jump into fourth, while Hisashi Jogo scored the only goal of the game to deliver Avispa Fukuoka just their second win of the season at home to fellow struggler Shonan Bellmare.


2nd straight Japan rout still leaves questions

Japan made it comfortably into the final round of World Cup qualifiers, but know that improvements need to be made once the next stage gets underway…

The Japan News, Thursday 25th February, 2016

SAITAMA – Japan may have secured progression to the final round of World Cup qualifiers with back-to-back 5-0 wins over Afghanistan and Syria, but the players aren’t resting on their laurels and are determined to improve as they edge closer to the 2018 finals in Russia.

Vahid Halilhodzic’s side made sure of top spot in Group E of the second round of qualifiers on Tuesday courtesy of a Syrian own goal, a Shinji Kagawa double, and strikes from Keisuke Honda and Genki Haraguchi.

The final three goals all came in the last eight minutes of the game, however, with the Samurai Blue also presenting Syria with a number of sights on goal in an open second half.

The manner in which we kept pushing forwards was good and we created many chances, but on the other hand we left gaps at the back and gave the opponent a lot of opportunities to score,” Shinji Okazaki, made captain on his 100th appearance but unable to add to his 48 international goals, said after the game.

“Maybe that was ok today, but from now on we’ll be playing against stronger teams and whether to take risks or not when we have a one-goal lead is something we will have to keep in mind.”

Maya Yoshida agreed, and was adamant that the team needs to tighten up if they want to make it to a sixth consecutive World Cup.

“The next round will be more difficult for us so we need to organize much better than today,” the Southampton centerback said.

“If we give away chances like today it will be a problem for us, because the opponents’ level is completely different [in the final round of qualifiers].”

The shutout against Syria meant Japan made it through the eight-game stage without conceding once, but goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa also spotted areas in need of fine-tuning.

“We did very well and pressed well from the front, winning the ball in good areas,” the Urawa Reds stopper, who started six of the second round qualifiers, said.

Japan v. Syria, Tuesday 29th March, 2016

“In the second half maybe the forward players got a little bit tired, so at those times it’s important that we organize well, and I have to contribute in that way by giving instructions.”

Honda sounded another note of caution, pointing out that the manner of qualification is ultimately irrelevant if, as in Brazil in 2014, the team doesn’t perform at the finals.

“In the end, if you don’t achieve results at the World Cup it doesn’t matter what you did beforehand. It’s a harsh world but all you are judged on is whether those three games [in the initial group stage at the World Cup] are good or bad.”

Indeed, the most recent such setback is still fresh in Yoshida’s mind.

“I remember the first game against Ivory Coast in Brazil, we had a little bit of a shock and panicked and we couldn’t manage the recovery.”

The 27-year-old thinks the team is better placed to cope in that respect now, though, with the majority of the squad increasingly accustomed to the top leagues in Europe.

“When players are used to playing against top class players it helps a lot in international games,” he said.

“For example, I’m always training with a Dutch international, Portuguese, Italian; that’s a lot of experience for me, and I’m going to try to give that to other players in Japan. That’s really important for the World Cup in Russia.”

Honda believes that the bond between the players and Halilhodzic is also vital to the team’s chances of success.

“He respects people underneath him and there’s no betrayal or blaming people in either direction,” he said. “I think he’s the kind of boss who can make a group who fight together until the end.”

The draw for the next round of qualifiers takes place on Apr. 12, with South Korea, Iran, and Asian Cup holder Australia potential opposition.

If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

Receive an email each time I post something new and/or interesting by...

Join 40 other subscribers

Back Catalogue

what day is it?

March 2023