Posts Tagged ‘柏レイソル



03
Dec
11

J.League title race goes to the wire

Today the 2011 J.League season comes to a close with three teams still in with a chance of becoming champions.

One of Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka will be celebrating this evening, and my preview explaining all the permutations can be found here.

30
Nov
11

It’s good to talk

Everybody makes mistakes. Why on earth don’t we talk about them though?

One of the things I enjoy most about league football is the way that everything is interrelated. What happens – or doesn’t (more on which shortly) – in one game can affect the fortunes of a team who are not even playing.

The end of the season is the most exciting and complex time to consider this relationship, with almost every game having a bearing on events elsewhere.

The final result of a match is the most obvious example of this – if Team A loses to Team B then Team C can stay top/escape relegation etc. – but there are countless other incidents that can also have knock-on effects.

I find the lack of attention paid to these other details very frustrating.

Take, for example, the varied goings-on in Shizuoka in Round 32.

Reysol weren’t the quickest out of the traps and just before half-time S-Pulse took the lead courtesy of a trademark piledriver free-kick from Eddy Bosnar.

S-Pulse came out at the start of the second half with their tails up and should have had the chance to establish a two-goal lead when Genki Omae was clearly brought down in the penalty box. The referee, Hiroyoshi Takayama, disagreed and waved play on.

Now, it is common knowledge that referees make mistakes. I am not saying that as a criticism but simply as a fact. Everybody – referees, players, coaches, you, even me (occasionally) – makes mistakes.

I have been told on numerous occasions that Japanese people are terrified of doing so, though, and that people would far sooner say or do nothing at all than risk being wrong. To point out somebody else’s error is thus also seen as hugely disrespectful.

I understand this way of thinking to an extent, but, really, it’s complete nonsense. To make a mistake is not a bad thing. In fact, getting things wrong is often the best way to learn.

Once, for example, I was speaking with a friend before a game at NACK5 Stadium. It was the middle of the hanami season and you could see the cherry blossoms behind the stands in Omiya Park. I pointed in their direction and instead of saying “Sakura kirei ne?” (“the cherry blossoms are pretty, huh?”) I said “Sakana kirei ne?” (“the fish are pretty, huh?”)

Needless to say, I am now clearer on the difference between fish and cherry blossoms.

Mr. Takayama’s error and the far-reaching consequences it could have had (if Reysol lost Grampus would have remained top), were not discussed after the game though. The highlights I saw didn’t even show the incident, and the only mention it got was when the commentators were discussing the game statistics and laughingly referred to Afshin Ghotbi’s declaration that his side should have had a penalty.

There was another incident in the game that was also completely ignored, when it really ought to have been highlighted.

Leandro Domingues, undoubtedly this year’s MVP and a wonderful player to watch, caused a fracas on the touchline by flinging himself to the ground and attempting to get S-Pulse’s Calvin Jong-a-pin sent off, suggesting he had been hit in the face.

From my vantage point on the halfway line it looked like nothing more than a regular coming together, and Leandro’s actions were disappointing.

Unsavoury – although, let’s be honest, fun-to-watch – incidents such as these are not given coverage either though, and I don’t understand why.

Leandro, who is far from a stranger to the darker arts of the game – I saw him avoid a blatant red card for an elbow earlier in the season, too – was not asked for his version of events after the match, instead being dealt the regular, formulaic questions about positions and formations.

Just because neither he nor Jong-a-pin were punished in the game doesn’t mean the event didn’t warrant discussion.

In a similar way to that in which one game affects another, what we do and don’t discuss now impacts on the continued development of the Japanese game.

Ignoring mistakes and gamesmanship and attempting to sweep them under the carpet doesn’t mean that they will just go away. In fact, the less coverage they get, the more likely it is that they will keep occurring.

30
Nov
11

Overseas experience boosts Japan’s Olympic footing

Japan Under-22s took one step closer to the London Olympics after winning their two most recent qualifiers against Bahrain and Syria.

Former Kashiwa Reysol forward Yuki Otsu opened his international account with a goal in each victory, and I considered the impact of overseas experience on the next generation of Japanese internationals for The Daily Yomiuri.

04
Nov
11

Raising the stakes

Three teams are neck and neck as we head towards the final straight of the 2011 J.League season. With Kashiwa Reysol, Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus matching wins with wins it looks like being a case of who blinks first…

Here we go again. The climax of the J.League season is upon us and as is almost always the case (last year excepted) it is looking like going right down to the wire.

Heading into the last four games things are perfectly poised with three teams neck and neck for the title.

Kashiwa Reysol have the narrowest of advantages in pole position, but with Gamba Osaka two points behind and Nagoya Grampus just one further back the slightest slip-up by anybody could prove fatal.

All three teams have proven they have the ability – never losing two games in a row, recording the most victories in the division, and, along with free-scoring, free-conceding Cerezo Osaka, scoring the most goals – but now it comes down to more than that.

When the chips are down, guts are crucial.

In the last round Grampus showed they have the stomach for a fight, and after their victory over Omiya Ardija Dragan Stojkovic was particularly pleased with his players’ ability to keep going.

“For us the most important thing is that we found the energy, we found our belief to give us the result and to bring three points home,” an exhausted Pixi said after watching his side go from 1-0 up to 2-1 down before eventually triumphing 3-2.

“I really wanted to play with all the cards on the table, nothing in my pocket and everything on the table. I think this tactic and this idea gave us the result.”

Reysol didn’t fold under pressure either and managed to keep their noses just in front, refusing to panic after their old-boy Tadanari Lee gave Sanfrecce a second half lead in Hiroshima and coming back to win 3-1.

That was the sixth time this season that the Sun Kings had recorded a victory after conceding first, and when I spoke to Hiroki Sakai a couple of days before the match he mentioned how important that ability had been to the side.

“If you compare it with last year we didn’t get many wins from losing positions,” he said. “This year, even if we are losing I still feel as though we can win the game though, and this gives confidence to the players.”

After their comprehensive 4-1 defeat to Grampus in Round 29 Gamba faced a tricky fixture against Montedio – a team fighting for their J1 place and which Akira Nishino’s men hadn’t beaten on either of their previous trips to Yamagata.

Their confidence and composure showed no signs of having been dented though – even without their ace, Yasuhito Endo – and their emphatic 5-0 win upped the ante in the title race.

Grampus may have been forced to go all in against Ardija, but when you have their strength-in-depth – the double change that turned things in their favour saw Kensuke Nagai and Mu Kanazaki introduced – that was not particularly risky.

Utilising the fullness of their impressive squad was key to Nagoya being crowned champions last season, and the fact that they were able to last the pace then should serve them will this time around.

Reysol also secured a championship last season though, so can see Grampus in that respect.

However, both teams wrapped their titles up with games to spare so the action wasn’t quite as intense last year as it is right now.

Gamba, too, are more than used to being in and around the top table come the final stages, and have only finished outside of the top three once in the past seven seasons.

Impressive as this is, they have claimed the jackpot just once.

Furthermore, while they held their nerve impressively amongst five hopefuls in 2005, that title was effectively sealed by a last-gasp Yasuyuki Konno goal for FC Tokyo against Cerezo who were on the cusp of the championship themselves.

So, it really is nigh-on impossible to choose a favourite and we are set for a gripping ride all the way to the finish.

My tip to claim the pot? Well, I have a sneaking suspicion about one of them but as my dark-horse (Omiya) and top-scorer (Carlao) predictions go to show, I think it’s probably best for all concerned that I don’t show my hand this time.

04
Nov
11

The Mixed Zone with…Hiroki Sakai

Last season’s J2 champions Kashiwa Reysol are still on course to complete incredible back-to-back league championships.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to the side’s young right back, Hiroki Sakai, as part of my series for the J.League website, The Mixed Zone with… 

21
Oct
11

Sakai aims to make history with Reysol

This season a new name is vying to add itself to the J.League roll of honour, with last season’s J2 champions Kashiwa Reysol well in the hunt with a handful of games remaining.

Recently I caught up with Hiroki Sakai, one of the team’s star performers in 2011, to find out the key to the team’s success, and just how highly he rated their chances of back-to-back titles.

07
Sep
11

Stage is set for Shizuoka Derby

Earlier in the season the Shizuoka Derby made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. The return fixture is this weekend and promises to be a good’un…

This Saturday is the most eagerly anticipated Shizuoka Derby for years.

While both Jubilo and Shimizu have had more successful seasons in the past, contesting the biggest prizes in the Japanese game, this match is special because there is something perhaps more important at stake; local pride.

To an extent this is always on the line in derbies, but the clash at Ecopa Stadium is the first time the sides have squared off since the incident involving the “Ghotbi Stop Making Nuclear Bombs” banner at Nihondaira in May, and as a result the atmosphere is sure to be electric.

While that matter is now officially closed – with Afshin Ghotbi having taken it in his stride, Jubilo banning the fans responsible and Shimizu reprimanding their supporters who became involved – the scars are not completely healed.

S-Pulse fan Daisuke Matsura, for example – one of the nearly 30 Shimizu supporters who forced their way into the Jubilo end to demand the banner and were subsequently handed three-match bans by S-Pulse – cannot wait for the match.

Matsura accepted his punishment – which encompassed the league games at home to Albirex and away to Cerezo, and the Nabisco Cup clash with Ventforet at Nihondaira – and explained to me why he and his fellow supporters broke stadium rules and entered the away section.

“We knew what would happen to us (banned from few home games) if we reacted under such a situation, but we soon decided to go and stop the Iwata supporters.  It was all for our pride against them because it was derby day and not to allow them behave as they wanted in our home stadium. 

“Many people may think that we rushed towards the Jubilo side right away, but that’s wrong. My fellow supporters and I actually had a brief discussion if we would really go or not before we started running to the other side. 

“What happened in the Iwata side was far away from violence at all.  No one got injured from either group of supporters. Us Shimizu supporters simply asked them to stop and give up the banner. Of course, the Iwata supporters didn’t respond right away.” 

Although obviously angered by the content of the banner he admits to understanding the potential motivation behind it, and suggests that if the Jubilo fans had expressed themselves differently the incident may not have become so out of hand.

“I guess they tried to show their intense hate towards Shimizu on the derby day.  I kind of understand this feeling because we have that feeling as well towards Iwata.  But I guess they just picked a wrong way to show it. If it was some sort of insulting chant, I guess we could take it differently.”

An instance of verbal abuse has also made headlines this season though – with Kofu’s Mike Havenaar allegedly being racially abused at Kashiwa’s Hitachi Dai Stadium.

While no culprit has been officially identified by the club, several of the core Reysol fans have since been served with lifetime bans for “repeated bad behaviour”.

Matsura is adamant that there are no problems of racism creeping onto Japanese stands on the scale of the scenes witnessed in Russia (Roberto Carlos had a banana thrown in his direction while playing for Anzhi Makhachkala) or Belgium (where Japan No. 1 Eiji Kawashima was subjected to a “Fukushima” taunt last month), though.

“There are actually a few supporters in all clubs who behave impulsively, but they are still a minority in J.League stands” he says.

And although he and his fellow fans are fired up for this game against their local rivals he insists that no specific acts of retribution are on the cards.

“This incident will surely have increased our tension, especially for those who actually got involved and banned.  At this point, we are not preparing anything. You might see some banners and actions in Shimizu stands, but they would be nothing special, I guess.”

While there may be ‘nothing special’ planned it is sure to be a heated occasion, and with S-Pulse’s new marquee signing Freddie Ljungberg also looking set to be making his debut in the game as well  all the ingredients are in place for a cracking game of football.

03
Sep
11

All for One

After the tragedy in March the J.League acted swiftly and en masse to help the situation. Further to the official recovery efforts the side closest to the disaster hit region, Vegalta Sendai, embarked upon a fantastic run of results that saw the usual minnows vying at the top of the table.

I spoke to several Vegalta fans to find out just how much of an impact the side’s efforts had had in the area for No. 1 Shimbun.

29
Aug
11

Giving hope

The good results may have dried up a little of late, but Vegalta Sendai are playing for more than just points this season.

Last month I was at Hitachi Dai for the J.League game between Kashiwa Reysol and Vegalta Sendai, and before the match I spoke to a few Vegalta fans about their club’s incredible form since the events of March 11th.

I wanted to know just how much they thought the team were being spurred on by the disaster during their spectacular 12-game unbeaten run at the start of the season and, vice-versa, how the players’ efforts were motivating those most affected.

Two supporters I chatted with, Mihoko Konno and Seiko Abe, were in no doubt that a productive cycle of encouragement had been produced by the tragedy.

“The expressions on the players’ faces are different,” Konno-san said. “Watching them really fight in the games is encouraging, and I think they’re giving hope to Sendai and to Miyagi.”

Abe-san agreed and, paying reference to the number of late goals the team had scored, drew a parallel between the on-pitch struggles and those of a far more serious nature.

“I think there’s the message that you shouldn’t give up until the very end. If you lose emotionally, that’s the end.”

I’d already heard many good things about the passionate home support at Yurtec Stadium – one of only two in J1, along with Grampus’ Toyota, that I hadn’t been to – so I decided to make my way to Sendai for the return fixture with Reysol to see for myself.

Even before arriving at the stadium (after a lunch of gyuutan, of course), I could tell the place was unique – it’s right there, basically at the station.

While this is true of most football grounds in England I was caught by surprise as I’ve become used to having to walk miles before getting to J.League stadiums. Not having to do that on this occasion meant I was already a fan.

Then, just a couple of minutes later inside the ground, I was even more impressed. The pitch is right next to the stands and it became apparent that as well as the emotional bond between fans and players, there is also a physical closeness between the two at every home game.

This reminded me of a comment by another supporter I’d spoken to in Kashiwa.

We were discussing Marquinhos’ departure as a result of fears over the nuclear situation, when Junichiro Kawamoto made a very astute observation.

“Society’s smallest unit is the family,” he said. “When families expand, it becomes a town, which become cities; so if you’re concerned about your family I think (Marquinhos’ decision to leave was) an obvious choice.”

And observing the fans, staff and volunteers of the Vegalta family doing all they could to raise money and morale provided a wonderful example of just how close-knit communities can pull together in times of need.

There was an authenticity to their efforts, and while taking some pictures on the concourse I was asked to write a message on a fan which, along with thousands of others, would be sent to children in Kessunuma.

As I struggled with the kanji (“This is support from England. Sending you our best wishes.”) a young boy next to me offered his help, writing them extra large for me to copy.

I was then enthusiastically thanked by the man co-ordinating the scheme, and told with genuine feeling that a message from England would be received with great excitement.

Shortly afterwards I witnessed another act of altruism – although this one possibly had slightly ulterior motives.

As the teams warmed up I spotted a ballboy flinging himself passionately about as stray shots fizzed wide of the goal.

Initially I thought he was perhaps a goalkeeper and was getting in some extra training, but then I noticed (I hadn’t spotted them before, honest) that he was in fact putting his body on the line to prevent the team of cheerleaders behind him from getting hit!

Soon afterwards I had shivers down my spine as I stood in front of the home fans as ‘Country Road’ rang out.

The game itself sadly failed to live up to the rest of the experience, although one aspect of the 0-0 was constant; Sendai weren’t defeated.

29
Aug
11

The Mixed Zone with…Tadanari Lee

For my most recent Mixed Zone with… I travelled to Hiroshima to meet Tadanari Lee.

You can read my interview with the Sanfrecce and Japan striker here.




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