Posts Tagged ‘Cerezo Osaka

23
Mar
12

Groundhog J

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?

08
Mar
12

2012 J.League Preview

The 20th J.League season gets underway on Saturday and my preview is in today’s Daily Yomiuri.

It’s in three parts, the first of which is key info and a prediction for each team. The second is an interview with FC Tokyo’s new coach Ranko Popovic, while the third features comments from Dragan Stojkovic (Nagoya Grampus), Nelsinho (Kashiwa Reysol), Yoshito Okubo (Vissel Kobe), Jorginho (Kashima Antlers), Jose Carlos Serrao (Gamba Osaka), Mihailo Petrovic (Urawa Reds) and Nobuhiro Ishizaki (Consadole Sapporo) on the upcoming season.

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.

08
Jul
11

The only way is up

The 2012 season will see the final promotion place from J2 decided by an English Championship-esque play-off, and as the level of the league continues to improve I think it’s a very good idea.

 

The J.League recently announced plans to introduce a play-off system in J2 from the 2012 season, meaning that the teams finishing third to sixth would all be in with a chance of moving up to the top-flight.

While opinion is fairly divided on this – with some asking how the sixth-placed side is likely to fare in J1 when considering the abysmal top-flight form of Avispa Fukuoka, who came third in J2 in 2010 – I am all for it and think that anything which adds to the competitiveness of the second tier is good for the Japanese game.

Avispa have certainly struggled – and nothing short of a miracle will keep them from relegation this year – but prior to them the only side to have moved up to J1 from the final promotion place and been relegated straight away is Shonan Bellmare.

Before this season 11 other teams, including Shonan, had come up in the last available spot and four of them – Reds, Omiya, Kobe and Yamagata – are still there. Four  more – Sendai, Cerezo, Sanfrecce and Kofu – went back down but are now re-established in the top-flight, while the final two sides are last year’s relegated pair of FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga – the former of whom are strong favourites to make a return next season.

Although they have recovered slightly from their far from impressive start to life back in the second division, Tokyo’s promotion is definitely not a foregone conclusion though, and the growing competitiveness of J2 was demonstrated by JEF’s failure to gain an instant return last year.

JEF’s head coach Dwight Lodeweges is well aware of the difficulty in gaining promotion, and insisted before the season that just being a big club is not enough to secure a spot in the top-flight.

“It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things. What I’m trying to do now is to build a foundation but it just doesn’t happen like that, it’s not just like pushing a button and there you go. We have to do the right things and make the right choices.”

Alongside JEF and FC Tokyo this year’s J2 also features two more giants of the Japanese game who could be revitalized by a return to the top table, in Tokyo Verdy and Yokohama FC – although both sides are admittedly shadows of their former selves at this moment in time.

Add to these the likes of Tochigi, Sagan Tosu, Tokushima Vortis and Roasso Kumamoto and you have almost half a division who have either the tradition or ability – or both – to make a go of it in J1.

Indeed, the introduction of a play-off system as opposed to three automatic promotion spots may actually help sides with the ambition of gaining promotion.

While, of course, it would be foolish to claim that any team had ever achieved promotion by accident, it could be suggested that some teams have made the step-up after a season of over-achievement – which they had perhaps not fully anticipated before the first ball was kicked. 

If teams know that there are twice as many berths available with the potential to take them to J1 though, then they may be able to better equip themselves for life in the top tier if and when they get there.

The instant success enjoyed by Cerezo, Sanfrecce and, so far, Reysol after re-joining J1 backs up this argument, with each team having had promotion as their realistic target throughout their season in the second tier. 

Just as importantly, if not more so, play-offs would also add to the excitement in the division by ensuring that more teams actually have something to play for as the season nears its climax. (Relegation, something else that I believe urgently needs to be introduced, would also serve this aim).

Furthermore, just because the sixth-placed team is in with a chance of gaining promotion to J1 it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will take it, and they’ll still have to beat two of the teams above them to earn the right.

And, anyway, even if they do they can’t really do any worse than Avispa, can they?

16
Jun
11

Ono confident of success for Marinos

Last week I visited Yokohama F. Marinos training ground and interviewed their young striker Yuji Ono.

Despite being just 18 he has his head very much screwed on and has high hopes for this season and beyond.

27
May
11

One step Atsu time

Although Atsuto Uchida didn’t make it to the Champions League final this time around, his progression, and that of many other Japanese players, suggests it won’t be long before a member of the Samurai Blue is contesting the biggest game in club football.

This weekend is the Champions League final. While Park Ji-sung’s participation means there will be one former J.League player on the once-hallowed-but-now-just-dangerous Wembley turf, we were tantalizingly close to having the first ever Japanese player in the final this season.

Atsuto Uchida’s Schalke may have been unceremoniously dumped from the competition by Manchester United in the semi-finals thanks to a combination of naïve tactics by their coach Ralph Rangnick (who, it turns out, once attended my University in England and played in the same county football league as me) and a gulf in overall quality between the sides, but the player’s rapid progression should not be underestimated.

Just over 12 months ago I sat down with “Ucchi” after his Kashima Antlers side had beaten Montedio Yamagata 3-1 in the J.League.  The right-back was in a relaxed and friendly mood, and after some small talk about his birthday – he turned 22 that day – we moved onto the prospects that lay ahead for him, about which he was clearly excited. 

He was not able to talk openly about a transfer to Europe at the time, but it was clear that there were possibilities opening up for him, and with the World Cup finals also on the horizon things were looking good.

Although an untimely injury (and the excellent form of first Yasuyuki Konno and then Yuichi Komano when filling in for him) meant he didn’t get on the pitch in South Africa, the move to Europe did materialize, and in July he bade farewell to Kashima and joined the ever-growing exodus of J.League talent moving to the Bundesliga.

While Uchida’s potential was never in doubt I did have my reservations about his lightweight style in the far more aggressive environs of the European game, and these concerns were added to when he displayed an apparent lack of belief in his own abilities when I pressed him on which clubs he fancied signing for.

I reeled off the names of some teams and asked if he would like to play for them, and at the mention of Manchester United he said, “No, I’m not ready for that level yet,” before grinning and following up with, “That’s a typical Japanese answer, huh?!”

And it is. Or at least, it was.

Since moving to Schalke shortly after the World Cup he has become a fixture in the side’s first XI, and no doubt boosted by this he also regained his starting berth for the Samurai Blue and was an integral part of Zac’s Asian Cup winning team in Qatar in January.

Such drastic improvement is becoming a recurring theme of late, and the likes of Shinji Kagawa – not so long ago a J2 player with Cerezo Osaka – and Yuto Nagatomo – last season a member of the ultimately-relegated FC Tokyo side – are also forging impressive reputations in the biggest leagues.

Anyway, we found out if Uchida was “at that level yet” in the semi-final against United and, sadly, it seems that he was right.

However, while he struggled – along with his teammates, including the esteemed Raul – to cope with United’s vast experience in the competition, his mental approach to the game certainly seemed to have improved and he was far more self-assured and confident in his ability.

Speaking to Kyodo ahead of the first leg, for instance, he declared, “I’m a professional footballer just like they (Manchester United’s players) are. I can’t allow myself to be intimidated if I want to do my job.”

Such spirit was a far cry from the self-effacing response at Kashima Stadium a year earlier, and this was evident again in his comments after the second leg at Old Trafford, when he dismissed claims that to get to the Best 4 was a great achievement in itself.

“I wanted to win,” he said. “It was only the people around who were saying that to get to the semi-final was good enough. The players all wanted to win.” 

He may still be a little short of the elite in world football, then, but if his perception of himself continues to grow and he carries on maturing as he has over the past year then another graduation is surely not beyond him.

21
Mar
11

An exodus of talent

More and more players are leaving the J.League for Europe in what is mostly a positive development for Japanese football.

The lack of money coming in to compensate for these departures is a concern though, as I discussed in Number 1 Shimbun this month.

19
Mar
11

The mark of champions

After the first round of J.League matches had concluded it was easy to see why it is likely to be the same teams chasing the title in 2011.

None of the title contenders have had an easy start to the J.League season, but while they have not had everything their own way they have shown exactly why they are the teams who will be challenging for the championship come December.

Gamba, for instance, had a difficult opening match against local rivals Cerezo – which came soon after both teams had been in ACL action in midweek – but they demonstrated tremendous resilience to recover not just from that rarest of thing – a missed Yasuhito Endo penalty – but also to re-take the lead almost instantly after Cerezo had got themselves back in the game.

Such recoveries were also on display in both Kashima and Nagoya, with the league’s other two heavyweights being frustrated on their own patches by the resilient and adventurous Omiya Ardija and Yokohama F. Marinos.

While defeats looked to be on the cards for both teams as the clock ran down, they both managed to salvage crucial points at the death though. These last-gasp goals not only ensured the sides didn’t start the season with a loss, but they will also have served as psychological boosts which will benefit the teams in two ways.

Firstly, they themselves will take great confidence from their refusal to give up, and the realization that they always have a goal in them will serve them well as the season progresses.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, opponents will always have lingering doubts in the backs of their minds about the possibility of securing a win against either side.

Omiya had the lead three times against Antlers, and Marinos were beating Nagoya until the fifth minute of injury time but both teams took just a point back home with them instead of three.

This is no coincidence, and the results came about largely because the best teams always know how to adjust to their current set of circumstances.

Before the season kicked off Daiki Iwamasa and Oswaldo Oliveira were both asked if it was strange to come into the season not as defending champions. Their answers demonstrated the resolve that drove Kashima to three successive championships.

Iwamasa put a positive spin on the situation, saying, “In one respect it’s good that we can start the season as a challenger. We’re at a point where we have to be modest and humble about ourselves so it’s good.”

Oliveira, meanwhile, made it clear that his side must now react to the position they find themselves in, “(It’s) not strange. It really was a disappointment, but we have to know how to deal with this situation.
 


He then continued by exhibiting the enjoyment he gets out of having to adapt in this manner. “I love to prepare football teams, I love to see players growing and doing their best. This is what keeps me motivated.”

In a sense he approaches each season as if it were a puzzle, and relishes each new challenge as he looks to rearrange and fit the pieces accordingly to achieve success.

He pays fantastic attention to detail, and on the rare occasion that the pieces don’t fall into place, he does his utmost to work out why and how best to remedy the situation.

“We can see numbers of the last J.League (season): our defence was the best, we were the team who lost the least number of games, (but) we drew 12 matches – at least 6 of them we should win. So I think this made the difference for us. What you have to do now is try to identify the points and work on it.”

Dragan Stojkovic displayed a similar flexibility last season, and was rightfully proud of the fact that his team never lost back-to-back matches in the league in 2010.

Of course, a home draw on the opening day of the season would not have been what Oliveira was after before the game with Omiya – as his frustration after full time showed.

Teams from lower down the division will always cause the odd upset though, and after a little time to cool off he will almost certainly see this point as one gained rather than two lost, and make his next move accordingly.

Such sense of purpose is what sets the best apart from the rest.

19
Mar
11

Nothing like the real thing

As the 2011 J.League began I used my Weekly Soccer Magazine column to explain why there is nothing quite like the full domestic season.

Phew, the new season is finally here!

And 2011 begins with Japanese football very much on the up. The country have become the champions of Asia for a record fourth time, more and more players are getting their chances in the big European leagues, and there are some fantastic young players emerging in the J.League to take their places.

I know football doesn’t really ever stop and since the 2010 J.League season wound up we’ve had the High School Championships and the Asian Cup to keep us occupied, but you can’t beat the season proper can you?

These tournaments provided some fantastic moments of entertainment and gave us addicts the fix we needed to see us through until March 5th, but they are only bite-size versions of the real thing; they are like the Hollywood movie version of a really good book. All of the key events still happen and you enjoy it while it’s there, but there is never quite the same sense of anticipation or involvement. It all comes and goes too quickly.

With the full season every emotion is longer-lasting. You find yourself caught up in it and it begins to take over your whole week. The newspapers, websites and (of course!) magazines are checked daily for the latest updates on the injury to your star striker, the joy of victory stays with you until the next game and fills you with optimism and hope, while the frustration, anger and pain of defeat lingers and lingers.

The start of the season is unique too, because it is the only time that everybody is feeling optimistic. At the J.League’s Kick Off Conference, for instance, I spoke to players and coaches from eight different clubs – seven of them were talking about becoming champions of their respective leagues.

Before a ball has been kicked there is a clean slate, a fresh page and anything is possible. Regardless of the improbability of your side winning the league (or even staying in it), there is always that sense of what could be.

We all try to predict what will happen and are sure that these teams will be relegated, this guy will be top scorer and that so-and-so will be playing for Barcelona in a year’s time. But it is never that easy, there are always surprises and shocks that nobody could have foreseen, and this is why the game is the most popular in the world.

Consider, for example, the fates of FC Tokyo and Cerezo Osaka last year. No-one (and you are lying if you say you did) will have predicted that the Nabisco Cup champions of 2009 would be relegated to J2 or that the newly promoted side would play their way into the AFC Champions League. In fact, if it had been announced that one of those teams would finish third from top and one third from bottom it would have been unanimously decided that Cerezo would be heading back to where they had come from.

Indeed, this is why no good football movie has ever been made. Trying to replicate the natural drama, tension and surprises of the football season is an impossible task.

Even as you read this I am almost certain to be looking a little foolish, and my predictions from last week’s magazine will already have taken a knocking after the first round of matches (or I’ve got everything right and will be receiving a visit from the police shortly with regards to match-fixing).

Everybody’s heads are in the clouds at the moment, and it is a shame that the majority of them will be brought crashing back down to earth over the coming weeks and months.

Here too drama, twists and turns are available in spades though, and while the more ambitious aims may be shelved once a few knocks have been taken, there is still plenty of room for excitement.

Just consider the joy on display at Saitama Stadium on the last day of the 2010 season. Vissel Kobe would not have set out to stay up by one point, but each setback brings about a new set of targets – and achievement of them is just as enjoyable.

Only one team will win the league, but there will be lots of room for celebration in 2011 – that’s a prediction I am confident about.

04
Mar
11

J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm




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