Posts Tagged ‘J.リーグ

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.

20
Dec
11

For the game? For the world?

Barcelona provided some sumptuous entertainment on the way to claiming the Club World Cup title, and Kashiwa Reysol also benefited from the tournament. The real winners were Fifa though…

At the start of the season I wrote in this column that I was pleased to see Kashiwa Reysol back in J1, ending with the line, “One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.”

Little did I know back then just how brightly the Sun Kings would shine. As well as becoming the first ever side to claim back-to-back J2 and J1 championships they also earned the rare opportunity to take part in the Club World Cup – with their momentum taking them all the way to an exciting semi-final against Santos.

Speaking after their qualifying victory against Auckland City, captain Hidekazu Otani – one of the unsung heroes of the team – epitomised the spirit behind Reysol’s success.

“It’s not just about participating, but the whole team feels that we want to leave a good result,” he said.

“The experience of every single match in this competition is valuable to all the players and the team.”

His coach Nelsinho agreed, reflecting on the growth of his side after they secured their place in the quarter-finals against Monterrey.

“My players now have more confidence, they are more mature. We have won J2 and, by taking it step by step J1 as well. By winning this game, we have more experience”

I have absolutely no doubt about that but, while the competition does provide a fantastic experience for clubs such as Reysol, I have to admit that I see it as little more than a charade to make FIFA even more money.

With the greatest respect to the likes of Auckland City – who, let’s not forget, are an amateur club – they don’t represent anything like the best teams in the world, and to suggest anything otherwise hints at either ignorance, stupidity or lies (none of which are particularly alien to the world’s governing body, of course).

Myself and a fellow English journalist (Ben Mabley of Football Japan) discussed the pros (mainly Ben) and cons (mainly me) of the tournament ahead of the kick-off, and while I agreed that, in principal, it was a good idea, in practice it just doesn’t work.

The concept of a tournament to determine the true ‘Best Club in the World’ is great on paper, but economic factors mean that each of the continental champions comes into the competition on a hugely different footing.

Regardless of whether they won the competition or not, we all know that Barcelona are the best team out there, and aside from yet another El Clasico against Real Madrid we’re hard pushed for someone to really challenge them for that crown.

The closest side from outside of Europe to being able to do that is probably Copa Libertadores champions Santos.

In his welcome address in the official programme for the Club World Cup (¥3,000 each – ‘For the game. For the World’), Kazu touched upon that fact – while at the same time performing perhaps the biggest name-drop I have ever seen.

“During a conversation with Pele the other day,” Kazu began, “he commented that, “People continually ask me about a game between Santos FC and FC Barcelona, but who said they will be in the final?””

Kazu then continued, “You could say there is a gulf in quality between the continents, but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. The will to win is universal and there is an equal chance for every team.”

Ben made a similar point, and while Reysol’s efforts against Santos were impressive I’m still not convinced.

Everybody in the build-up to the competition wanted to see the Catalans (and Messi) square off against the Brazilians (and Neymar) in the final, so what would have made more sense (but less money) would have been to skip straight to a game between those two sides – as was the case until the Intercontinental Cup came to an end in 2004.

 I’m all for trying to improve the overall level of the game around the world, but rather than just giving the African, American, Asian and Oceanian champions the chance to swap shirts with a celebrity player, FIFA could perhaps try and focus its efforts on distributing and regulating the obscene amounts of money in the game a bit better in order to create a more even playing field.

17
Dec
11

Club World Cup semis set up Barca-Santos final

It was the game everybody wanted to see before the tournament began, and after victories over Kashiwa Reysol and Al-Sadd, respectively, Santos and Barcelona are set to square off in the Club World Cup final on Sunday.

I was at both games and gathered reaction from the key players in Toyota (Reysol-Santos) and Yokohama (Al-Sadd-Barca) ahead of the final.

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.

29
Aug
11

The Back Post – Different approaches to same goal

As two surprise teams led the way in J1 I considered their alternative approaches to the game for The Daily Yomiuri..

Kashiwa Reysol play with boundless enthusiasm while Yokohama F. Marinos are a lot more reserved, and I discussed which, if either, was best suited to an authentic title challenge.

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

Tsumarinos

Recently I asked the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine why the fun was being taken out of football so often these days…

After the euphoria of the Nadeshiko victory and the sheer enjoyment and excitement of that tournament, watching Paraguay and Venezuela kick, moan, shove and bore their way to a 0-0 draw and their own penalty shoot-out in the Copa America semi-final was hugely depressing.

Paraguay managed to book their place in the final despite the fact that they won none of their games in the tournament, and thankfully they were eventually made to pay for their negativity as Uruguay swept them aside 3-0.

The day before that game a UAE player had made headlines after a penalty incident of his own.

Awana Diab spun around as he reached the penalty spot before backheeling the ball (rather tamely, I’m not sure what the goalkeeper was doing) into the net. He was immediately substituted by his coach and threatened with fines and possible expulsion from the national team.

Then Mario Balotelli of Manchester City suffered a similar punishment after showboating instead of simply scoring in a pre-season friendly against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

I don’t really understand all this. Why is football suddenly supposed to be so serious? It is a sport that is meant to be enjoyed by players and fans alike, and if an individual has the ability (and the guts) to try something a little different then why not?

Neither of these games were especially important (UAE won 7-2 against Lebanon, Man City were trying to “expand their brand” in the USA), and football players have always had their own way of dealing with opponents (or teammates) who try and show-off.

Tricksters are fully aware of the fact that a kick from a defender – or, as in the famous picture of Vinnie Jones and Paul Gascoigne, a more painful attack – or a bollocking from a colleague if it doesn’t come off are the justifiable punishments they run the risk of receiving.

It is with this over-emphasis on seriousness and winning at any cost in mind that I for one say ‘no, it’s not’ to Kazushi Kimura’s question, “Is it ok to win this way?” after Yokohama F. Marinos beat Vissel Kobe 1-0 in Round 6.

At some point last season – when I had learned enough Japanese to start making some (bad) jokes – I began to refer to Kimura’s side as Tsumarinos (mixing tsumaranai – boring – with the team’s name).

This was because the team rarely offered up any particularly exciting football, sat in the no-man’s-land of mid-table mediocrity and, most importantly, played their home games in without doubt the worst football stadium in Japan – Yokohama International Stadium.

Through absolutely no fault of the fans – of whom there are often upwards of 20,000 – the place is a soulless vacuum, and perhaps if they played every match at Mitsuzawa then my initial impression of the team would have been different.

Marinos started this season brightly though – winning three of their first five games, scoring ten goals in the process – and in Yuji Ono they have one of the most exciting young talents in the J.League. After his explosive cameo in the rollercoaster 3-2 win against Avispa back in May it looked like I was going to have to re-arrange my position on the side.

But then things took a turn for the worse.

In recent weeks the team have maintained their strong form and returned to the top of the table for the first time in years, but they have done so by playing some fairly uninspiring football – usually sealing the three points by one-goal margins.

The best example was perhaps their game against Montedio Yamagata at Mitsuzawa (great atmosphere) when they scored within 15 seconds and then tried to bore poor Montedio into submission for the next hour. Yamagata persevered with their quick passing style and found a way back into the game though, only for the point to be snatched cruelly away by Kim Kun-hoan’s 95th minute winner.

Of course, the fans and players probably couldn’t care less how the wins come about – and last-gasp winners like Kim’s certainly bring excitement – but I personally like to see a team playing to their full attacking potential and winning games – or losing them – with a bit of bravado.

 Tsumarinos have the potential to do that, but do they have the guts?

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.

31
Jul
11

Northern Leagues United

Onagawa Supporters, who I introduced to readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine back in April, are still going strong and recently received assistance from some friends in the north of England to help those in the north of Japan.

In the weeks after the tragedy of March 11th a great many statements and pledges were made declaring unity and a desire to help out whatever the cost during a time of great need. 

Whether it was celebrities competing to see who could donate the most millions of yen or clubs and federations vowing their flexibility, it seemed that nobody could do enough to make the recovery process easier.

T-shirts were printed – and are still being, apparently Lady Gaga and Posh Spice designed some to help raise their profiles… sorry, money for the victims – CDs were recorded and commercials quickly made to help the situation.

While a great deal of these efforts were made with the best of intentions and have undoubtedly helped people in real need, sadly a lot was little more than empty rhetoric.

Consider, for example, the failure of the J.League, JFA and clubs of overseas-based players to arrive at a compromise and the Samurai Blue’s consequent withdrawal from the Copa America; Team as One? ‘Well, yeah, but not if we have to do without our best players.’ Stand with Japan? ‘Of course, but we have pre-season training then so sorry, he’s not going to Argentina.’

And while this is disappointing, unfortunately it is unavoidable.

Sadly, as time goes by the impact lessens and people, however well-meaning, start to lose enthusiasm. Just how much Japan playing in the Copa America would have helped is very much open to debate, for instance – even more so when you have a multi-million pound footballer who could be getting injured there and missing the new season for you.

While several of the grander proposals have fizzled out or been caught up in bureaucratic red-tape though, a great many smaller campaigns are still going strong and bringing about real change in the affected areas.

Some of you may remember that back in April I wrote about the plight of Cobaltore Onagawa and the group that was founded to help the club stay in existence, Onagawa Supporters.

This was, essentially, two English football fans with loose attachments to Onagawa who wanted to help out somehow.

Well, the group is still going strong and has raised enough money to replace the kits of the Cobaltore Under-12s, -15s and -18s, all of which were destroyed in the disaster. 

Also, while the top team will not be playing at all this season as the players are helping out in the town in more practical ways, the Under-18s have returned to competitive action – in their new uniforms – and recently took part in the Tohoku Club Youth tournament alongside the likes of Vegalta Sendai and Montedio Yamagata.

Furthermore, as a result of the publicity created by Onagawa Supporters, a unique charity event – Northern Leagues United – took place in the north of England at the start of July to raise further funds to keep Cobaltore’s youth teams in operation in 2011.

Three matches were played at the home of Birtley Town Football Club (who play in the English Northern League) – including the inaugural ‘Onagawa Cup’ – and Mike Innes of Onagawa Supporters described the event as “an expression of support for Cobaltore from the grassroots football community in the north-east of England”.

Nearly 300 people were in attendance – breaking Birtley’s record – and hundreds of pounds were donated to help the cause.

While the money raised sounds modest, 100% of it will go directly to Cobaltore and will help cover the real, day-to-day costs of keeping the club in existence.

A message from General Manager of Cobaltore, Koichi Ohmi, was read out to all in attendance at Birtley by Susan Andrews of Onagawa Supporters, which said:

“I want us all to keep going, to make the people we love and the community we love happy once more.  Together, we will stand up, and walk on towards a brighter future.”

Indeed, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a slogan and song that has been adopted by Japan as the nation works to rebuild.

The actions of a small town in the north of England – in which, like Onagawa, the football club provides a central focus – demonstrates the extent to which this message has spread, and provides further proof of the power of football to create meaningful relationships and bring about real change in even the toughest circumstances.

             *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

続けていくことが

復興への第一歩に

3月11日の東日本大震災以降、人々は被災地を助けるため、さまざまな行動を起こしてきた。これまで、多くの芸能人やお偉いさんが義援金を寄付しており、この働きかけはまだ続いている。

レディー・ガガやポッシュ・スパイス(ビクトリア・ベッカム)はTシャツをデザインし、売り上げを義援金に回している。CDをリリースする人がいれば、CMをつくる人もいる。もちろん、こういった働きかけは、被災者の方の手助けになってきたはずだ。同時に、ただ単に美辞麗句を並べ立てた物もある。

例えば、日本人を抱える海外クラブが選手を出し渋り、日本代表はコパ・アメリカに参加できなかった。「シーズン前の練習があるから、アルゼンチンに送り込むことはできない」というクラブ側の声が聞こえてきそうだった。

悲しいけれど、どうしようもない。

残念だけど、どんなに衝撃的な出来事も時間が経つと心の中から消えていく。善意があっても徐々に熱意を失ってものなのだと思う。日本がコパ・アメリカに出場していたら、どれほど国民に勇気を与えていたかも分からない。クラブからすれば、週に数千万円を稼ぐ選手にケガをさせたくないものなのだろう。

ただ、力は小さくとも、被災地の復興のため、義援活動を続ける地域もある。4月、僕はこのコラムで、コバルトーレ女川の存続のため、あるグループを創設したことについて触れた。2人のイングランド人が何とか資金を集めて、日本のクラブを助けようというものだ。

活動は今も続いており、コバルトーレ女川のU-12、U-15、U-18用のユニフォームを買いそろえることもできた。女川のトップチームが今季プレーするのは無理だけど、Uー18は本格的に活動を再開。仙台ユースや山形ユースとともに東北クラブユース選手権に参加した。

また、イングランドの女川サポーターが広告を続けたことで、ユニークなイベントも行なわれている。7月上旬、女川のU-18を支えるため、ノザン・リーグ・ユナイテッドという義援活動を開催。バートリー・タウンFCというクラブのグラウンドを使用し、3試合行なった。この試合にはバートリーの新記録となる300人の観衆が集結。すべての義援金は女川に届けられた。

このイベントが始まる前には、コバルトーレの近江弘一GMのコメントも読み上げられた。

「人々や地域が幸せを取り戻せるよう、この活動を続けていきましょう。一緒に立ちあがり、歩んでいきましょう」

イングランド北部の小さい町での行動だけど、そのアクションは日本のユースチームの再建に役立っている様子。サッカーを通じて連係を深め、生活に変化をもたらせることは、十分可能なのだ。

23
Jul
11

Asian Cup hero Lee looking for new challenge

Last weekend I visited Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s training complex in the mountains of Yoshida, and while I was there I sat down with their No.9 Tadanari Lee.

The Japan striker spoke about the way perceptions of him have changed since the Asian Cup, his decision to switch allegiances from South Korea to Japan, and the rumours about a move overseas.




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