Posts Tagged ‘Jリーグ

30
May
12

Feeling down

It’s a league where anyone can beat anyone. Unless you’re Consadole Sapporo, it seems…

Regular readers may remember that around this time last year I travelled to Sapporo in the hope of watching a game at the Dome. 

The schedule changes brought about by the earthquake sadly meant that wasn’t possible, but a trip to Miyanosawa (and a couple of bars in the city) left a positive impression so a couple of weeks ago I headed north to pay Consadole another visit. 

This time I was able to see a game at the World Cup venue, but even though the visitors FC Tokyo won 1-0 I am still yet to see a goal there.

After taking plenty of pictures around the venue (including one, of course, from behind the goal where David Beckham scored that awful (yet brilliant) penalty against Argentina in 2002) I had to hurry up to the press seats and missed the kick-off.

By the time I got there Kajiyama had already put Tokyo ahead (in the goal I’d just been crouched behind), and some great saves by Shuichi Gonda and awful misses by the Consadole front-line meant that was to be it as far as the scoring went.

That summed up the home side’s season so far, and as many predicted they have struggled to pick up points back in the top-flight.

When I spoke to their manager, Nobuhiro Ishizaki, ahead of the season he anticipated such difficulty, and stated that his aim was purely to keep the club in J1.

“The target is not to be relegated in the first season, which happens often,” he said.

“If a team manages to stay up, the players gain experience and it all gets much easier. The most important thing is to manage to stay in J1.”

In recent seasons unfancied sides promoted from J2 have caused a few surprises, and I had a sneaking suspicion that Consadole may have been the one to do so in 2012.

Of course we know how reliable my predictions are, and it turns out to have been Sagan Tosu who have carried their strong form up with them.

All is not lost yet, but things are not looking too good for the side and it’s vital they improve quickly if they want to stand any chance of avoiding an instant return to the second division.

Defender Jade North was understandably downbeat after the defeat to his former side, although he pointed out that, up to and including that game, Consadole had yet to be truly taken apart.

“It comes to a point where you think “what do we have to do to pick up points?” It’s not as if we’ve been losing by big scores, we fight right to the death, but…”

I suggested that, in a strange way, it may actually be better to get hammered 4- or 5-0, as that makes it easier to identify the things that need improving, and he could well have been paying attention as the team’s next game was the horrendous 7-0 reverse at Kashima Antlers.

That result will produce one of two outcomes: either it strips the players of any remaining confidence they may have had and they will slide inevitably to their doom, or, alternatively – and, admittedly, less likely – it will shock them into action.

“I think anyone can beat anyone on the day,” North told me after the Tokyo game. “It’s all about who turns up.

“For us now it’s battling to stay up. We’re just over a third of the way through.

“I think it becomes a mental thing after a while. With us at the moment it’s just hard to find that win. When you’re losing you forget how to win sometimes.”

The psychological drain of consecutive defeats is undoubtedly the largest hurdle to overcome, but North is not feeling sorry for himself and is well aware of what he and his teammates need to do to change their luck.

“We’ve got to find that winning mentality. Just pick ourselves up and roll our sleeves up.”

If they can do that and start to rack up some points soon you never know what effect that may have on the teams just above them.

They’ll have to be quick about it though, as they’ve given their rivals a hell of a headstart.

22
May
12

S-Pulse among new contenders as old guard struggles

The J.League is steadily earning a reputation for being an open and competitive division. The first third of this season has been no exception, and while some of the bigger clubs struggle in the lower-reaches of the table several unfancied sides are leading the way in J1.

On Saturday I was at Saitama Stadium to see two of these sides – Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse – go head-to-head, and gathered some thoughts from those involved on their title chances in 2012.

16
May
12

All bets are off

When it comes to calling the outcome of games my luck has been well and truly out of late. Then again, is anybody able to predict what will happen in the J.League…? 

I’m tempted to give up.

I always like to try and call the outcome of games with fellow journalists and fans ahead of matches, but in recent weeks almost every single prediction I have made has been wrong.

Perhaps worryingly for somebody in my profession my woeful inaccuracy is actually starting to become something of a defining characteristic.

I have never been one to benefit financially from betting on games, at university I used to buy a weekly “accumulator” – where a couple of pounds could become hundreds if the outcome of a handful of matches was correctly guessed – without ever coming close to striking it lucky.

Granted, I never did quite as badly as a friend who burst into the living room one Saturday afternoon with a list of about 20 matches which would have earned him tens of thousands, only to discover that the first one had already finished unfavourably, but my poor form did continue with my first few Toto attempts in Japan.

I’m now ¥100 a week better off after kicking that habit.

Rather surprisingly considering my lack of form in the field, last season I provided J.League game previews for a sports gambling website, part of which involved me having to guess the result.

After the first two rounds I had a fairly poor record and was reminded that my success rate would have an impact on whether or not I held onto the job.

I usually try my best to take negative feedback on board, but not that time.

I pointed out to my employer that part of the beauty of football – particularly in Japan – is that you never know for sure who is going to come out on top, before adding that the entire betting industry is built upon the premise of people thinking they know what is going to happen when they don’t.

They said they understood and I didn’t receive any more complaints – although, as I said, I no longer have that job. Hmm…

Anyway, thankfully it is not only me who struggles, and J.League players, too, are bemused by the lack of predictability in their division.

I recently interviewed Urawa Reds’ Tomoaki Makino, and he cited the erratic results in J1 as his favourite aspect of the domestic league.

“Compared to other leagues you don’t know which team is going to become champions,” he said.

“In Spain it is Barcelona or Real, Germany is Bayern or Dortmund. Japan is not like that. Every team has a chance to win the league. That’s the best, most interesting thing about football in Japan.”

Makino’s former Sanfrecce teammate Mihael Mikic agrees that the almost random nature of results makes for a fascinating competition.

“It’s unbelievable. At the beginning of this year I was thinking about who can be champions, and I thought it would be maybe from five or six teams,” the Croatian told me after his team’s 4-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale moved them into second place.

“Then I was thinking about who will go to J2. I thought maybe Sapporo, Tosu and, I was thinking third, I don’t know.

“But now Tosu is up and only Sapporo stays [lower down], so I don’t know who will go to J2 next year! It’s unbelievable how this league is so close.”

The three most recent champions – Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus, and Kashima Antlers – all found themselves in the bottom half of the division after ten games, while unfancied sides such as Tosu, Shimizu S-Pulse and, of course, early pacesetters Vegalta Sendai are riding high.

It is tempting to suggest that those clubs will of course slip-up at some point soon, and that the natural order will be resumed, but recent seasons suggest that may not be the case.

Nobody expected Reysol to be so consistently good last year (or appalling this), for example, and Mikic feels that psychology is vital.

“I think this year the race will be very, very tight and who keeps their nerve and their confidence will win the league.”

Well, I think it’s fair to say that I’m losing my nerve, and my confidence is shot so perhaps I should give the predictions a rest for a while and just enjoy the games?




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