Posts Tagged ‘Nagoya Grampus

08
May
12

On the spot

It is often assumed that penalty kicks are foregone conclusions, and some even suggest that strikers who inflate their scoring ratios from 12-yards should have their hauls judged accordingly. If you ask me that’s ridiculous… 

This week I want to take the opportunity to discuss the issue of penalty kicks.

Josh Kennedy, the J.League’s top-scorer for the past two seasons, has often had his achievement questioned in some quarters because of the fact that he is Nagoya Grampus’s penalty taker and thus is assumed to have an advantage in the race for the golden boot (and hideous sponsors’ trinkets).

Personally, I’ve always felt that was nonsense and recent events have served to back me up.

Three former World Player of the Year winners – Kaka, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – all failed from 12-yards in their Champions League semi-finals, and their misses prove that penalties are far from being as good as a goal.

When I played football back in England I was generally used as a fairly ineffective defender.

Because of that I wasn’t exactly a regular on the scoresheet, and any chances that did fall my way tended to end up anywhere but the back of the net.

However, when it came to penalties as an enthusiastic teenager I was always first to raise my hand.

I can still remember the first time I volunteered to take a spot-kick as part of a penalty shoot-out when I would have been 17 or so.

Several of my more attack-minded (and more talented) older teammates weren’t keen to have a go so I offered my services.

My manager pretended not to hear me and asked again who fancied one.

I again raised my hand and said I’d take the fifth kick – I fancied a bit of glory.

After realising no one else was going to volunteer he grudgingly accepted and I duly tucked my kick away and we won the game.

At the time I really couldn’t work out why my teammates were so nervous. To me it was just like completing a pass to a teammate. The goal wasn’t far away, all I had to do was pass the ball to the corner before the keeper got there; nothing to it.

Another penalty shoot-out came about and I again took last and again scored the winner. Having proved it wasn’t a fluke I was then installed as the team’s regular penalty taker.

Of course, as we all know, in every story the protagonist suffers a fall just when everything seems to be going well.

I had grown up watching Eric Cantona coolly slot home penalty after penalty and until that point my youth and naivety meant I was so full of confidence I would score it never entered my mind that I might not.

A couple of penalties down the line those doubts did eventually surface.

It was a bit of a windy day and as I was placing the ball on the spot I heard a teammate comment to an opponent that there was no way I would miss.

“What if do miss?” I thought.

And that was it. Suddenly the goal seemed tiny, the keeper looked huge and the breeze appeared stronger. I doubted if I could even reach the goal-line, let alone cross it.

Needless to say my attempt was saved and my confidence from 12 yards evaporated.

The level I was playing at was completely inconsequential compared to a Champions League tie – perhaps a couple of dozen spectators and the odd dog – and while J.League games are also a step away from the very elite level, keeping your emotions in check in front of thousands of expectant or jeering fans is no mean feat.

I put the question to Kennedy himself after a Grampus game earlier this season and he, too, insisted that spot-kicks are far from straightforward.

“Penalties are harder to score than people think,” he said. “If I had the choice between a sort of half-chance in the game or a penalty I’d rather have a half-chance.”

The fact that there is thinking time adds to the pressure, and it is dealing with that, more than the technique, which separates those who can from those who can’t.

Therefore, nothing should be taken away from Kennedy or any other players who bolster their records from 12 yards.

The man himself put it best.

“At the end of the day they all count. They all win games and that’s how I see it.”

25
Apr
12

A. Crap. League?

It is often said that the thrill is in the chase. The Asian Champions League may seem attractive but, for Japanese clubs, once the target is achieved it usually turns out to be more of a hindrance than a help…

Qualifying for the ACL always seems to me a bit like getting a full-time job.

A lot of time and energy is spent aiming for it, but once the target has been achieved the realisation kicks in that, actually, it’s going to be a bit of a nuisance and will prevent you from spending time concentrating on things you’d much rather be doing.

Before the season if you ask any player or coach from one of the 10 or so teams not anticipating a push for the title or relegation battle what their target is and they will almost certainly spout something about aiming for an ACL place.

It’s the idea of it, perhaps, and the status it appears to endow. Similar to a man going through a mid-life crisis getting a Porsche, an 18-year-old girlfriend, or Fernando Torres.

Once you’re sat in the driver’s seat, wandering around Disneyland or cringing at another missed open goal reality dawns and you feel a bit uncomfortable.

Oswaldo Oliveira frequently bemoaned the scheduling and amount of travel required for his serially-successful Kashima Antlers side, and at the start of this season two coaches of teams in the 2012 edition were equally as unenthusiastic.

Ranko Popovic of FC Tokyo – who was in no way at fault for the club being in the tournament having only taken over after Kiyoshi Okuma guided them to success in the Emperor’s Cup – spoke of the strain the extra games would have on the physical condition of his players.

“I worry about the fitness, how much of an influence it will have on the players. Tired or not tired? How many are tired? How long for?”

He then added the faintest praise for Asia’s take on UEFA’s global phenomenon, sounding in the process rather like a contestant on a television game-show.

“We must first in our heads be ready for this trip and say, “Ok, this is nice, the Champions League,” we must be happy to be in a competition like the ACL, to enjoy it and do our best and see ultimately what we can do.”

He concluded thusly, “And also we must use these games to make us more ready for the championship.”

These comments were almost completely mirrored by Nagoya Grampus’ head coach Dragan Stojkovic.

Physical strain? Check.

“As I said many times of the ACL, it’s a good competition but the travel, the jetlag, this is the main problem,” Piksi said.

“When you’re back from one zone to Japan and two days later you have to play an away game it’s very hard.

“The other team is waiting for you with high motivation, full of power and it’s very difficult to respond. This is the problem of the ACL.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Dragan from Nagoya!

“We will try this year. First of all to win the J.League and secondly, if we have a chance, a space, a possibility, why not the ACL.”

And the main target?

“Everything is possible. Let’s see. But priority number one for us is the J.League.”

My experiences at ACL games have been just as underwhelming as the (lack of) hype around them.

This season I have been at Reysol v. Guangzhou and FC Tokyo v. Beijing, and on both occasions the overriding impression was that everything was a bit half-hearted.

Everybody seemed to just going through the motions and keeping up appearances. Making sure they did the bare minimum to pay the competition lip-service.

Even making a proper run of their uniform was too much of a nuisance for FC Tokyo, who chose instead to run a lottery for a chosen few supporters to win a shirt that would be worn less than ten times.

There are usually a fraction of the fans that attend league games, players are rested and even the stewards – usually the most officious people in the stadium – appear disinterested.

A Beijing fan clambered onto a low railing to raise his scarf as the teams came out for their game with Tokyo, a clear breach of the rules, and a uniformed guy wandered over and signalled for him to get down. When the fan refused the steward just sighed and ambled back to his position.

To me, that wonderfully summed up the ACL. He just couldn’t be bothered.

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?

16
Mar
12

Piksi and Ossie

This year marks the 20th season of professional football in Japan, so for Soccer Magazine this week I got the opinions of two wise old heads on the development of the game since 1993…

The J.League’s 20th season is now underway, and Japanese football has come a long way since its inception in 1993.

Last week, ahead of the season openers, I was able to get the impressions of two huge names in world football on the league’s progress and where it can go from here.

Dragan Stojkovic, of course, played for Grampus from 1994, and now as the manager of the team he has seen first-hand the steady improvement made over the past two decades.

He was, unsurprisingly, hugely complimentary about the development of football in the country.

“Regarding 20 years ago and today, of course it’s a big difference,” he said. “A big difference in a positive way for Japanese football generally.”

“From 1998 until two years ago they have participated in [all] the World Cups.

“But also, J.League teams in many aspects have shown improvement.”

Ossie Ardiles is back for the celebration, too, as head coach of new J2 side Machida Zelvia.

The Argentinian legend has been in and out of the country since 1996, when he took charge of Shimizu S-Pulse, also having spells in charge of Yokohama F. Marinos and Tokyo Verdy.

He is also impressed with how far the game has come.

“Now it’s established itself in, I would say the second tier,” he said when I asked him how he perceived the Japanese top-flight.

“It’s not elite, it’s not Spain or England. No, this is the next step and this is the most difficult step.”

Piksi agreed with that assessment.

“They are not in the same level. No, there’s huge money there,” he commented.

“Look at Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona. They pay huge money for players. Give me 200 million Euros and you can see which team I can make, no problem.

“This is a big difference. Don’t compare J.League with European leagues, it’s not fair. But the Japanese should be happy which kind of football they have.”

Ardiles didn’t rule out another step up entirely, though, and suggested that it was his job to assist in that aim.

“I always think that [the job of] not only me but all the kantoku here is to improve the football.  I believe that Japanese football has improved tremendously from the moment that the J.League was formed.”

When I asked how to achieve such a lofty target he admitted it was tricky, though.

“Ah! Ah! This is the one million dollar question. The next step, to make Japanese football elite, is the most difficult one,” he said.

“It’s not like you have a magic wand and say, ‘wow we are going to play this way or we are going to copy one style’, say Barcelona or whoever it is,” he continued.

“It’s a lot deeper than that; it has to do with cultural things.”

He used the example of Lionel Messi (“the best ever” in Ossie’s opinion – “Don’t tell Maradona, though!”) to illustrate that point.

“For example, can a Messi be produced in Japan? [That’s] very difficult because for a Messi to be produced not only do you have to be brilliant in terms of skill and so on, but the culture of the country has to help.

“Basically, Messi from the day he was born he was playing football. In Japan that doesn’t happen. Yet.”

Piksi was more content to focus on what Japan does do well – particularly considering the recent violent troubles his family had experienced back home in Serbia.

“What they keep, and what they prove again, is that Japan and Japanese football is the number one league for fair play,” he said.

“This is a very amazing result regarding what happens with hooligans, what happens with other stupid things around football and in football around the world. This is a fantastic achievement for them.”

When also bearing in mind that this past weekend’s round of matches marked one year since the tragedy in Eastern Japan that is perhaps even more important to remember.

“Let’s be happy and enjoy the football,” he continued.

“Let’s deliver the good things and the happy things to the people who come to the stadium. And provide them [with a] safe arrival and safe departure after the game. This is very important.”

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.

06
Dec
11

My Team of the Year

Last night was the J.League’s annual awards ceremony, where the official word was had on the best of the 2011 season. For this week’s Soccer Magazine I decided to pick my Best XI (and a substitutes bench, just to cover my back a little).

A 4-1-2-2-1 (ish) formation best suited the players I went for – although I did have to crowbar a couple into slightly unfamiliar positions – and I tried my best to take into account players’ individual achievements rather than those of their club as a whole.

Anyway, enough excuses, here’s my team.

Goalkeeper: Takuto Hayashi (Vegalta Sendai): Ever-present in the league and a fantastic presence between the posts. Kept clean sheets in nearly half of his matches and provided a great base for the side to build from and enjoy their best ever season.

Right Back: Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa Reysol): A constant threat when his side is attacking and supplements his aggressive and direct approach play with fantastic crossing ability. Doesn’t shirk at the back either, and is the model of the modern full-back.

Centre Back: Makoto Kakuda (Vegalta Sendai): Strong in the tackle, a good organiser and, like his goalkeeper, has been integral to Vegalta’s success. Has also chipped in with a couple of goals and assists and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game at either end of the pitch.

Centre Back: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus): Still an intimidating presence at the heart of the Grampus defence. Not the quickest and, yes, he does get too much respect from referees and opponents alike, but his attitude has helped to build that persona and his performances invariably back it up.

Left Back: Jorge Wagner (Kashiwa Reysol): OK, he’s not really a left-back but that’s where he started the season and it’s where he’d play in my team. Always uses the ball intelligently and rarely loses possession. On top of that his goal tally is in the double figures.

Defensive Midfield: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka): Yet again he has been the conductor in the Gamba midfield. Always composed and totally controls the pace of the game, as well as popping up with numerous defence-splitting passes and timely goals. Pure class.

Central Midfield: Takuya Nozawa (Kashima Antlers): Usually lines up wider and further forward but, in this hypothetical team, I would use him more centrally. Another calm-and-collected player who is always thinking two or three passes ahead. Scored or set up nearly half of Antlers’ goals.

Central Midfield: Leandro Domingues (Kashiwa Reysol): Like Nozawa and Endo, Domingues is responsible for controlling the speed at which his team plays. Comfortable when collecting the ball from his defenders or in the final third and deadly in front of goal.

Right Midfield: Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Reds): A coach at Reds suggested to me earlier in the season that without Genki Urawa would already be in J2. At the time that seemed a little bit of an exaggeration but if it weren’t for his guts and goals then just think where the side would be…

Left Midfield: Ryang Yong-gi (Vegalta Sendai): Yet another great leader – can you have too many? – who plays with fantastic poise. His set-pieces provide a constant threat but he can do it in play too. Never flustered in possession and knows exactly when to release the ball and when to delay the pass.

Striker: Mike Havenaar (Ventforet Kofu): Other players perhaps have better all-round play, but his scoring record for a side at the bottom of the table is an incredible achievement. Has struck a wide variety of goals, and is about much more than his height. 

Subs: Hiroki Iikura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Naoya Kondo (Kashiwa Reysol), Wataru Hashimoto (Kashiwa Reysol); Shingo Hyodo (Yokohama F. Marinos), Hiroki Yamada (Jubilo Iwata); Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata)

That’s my team, and I’m sure that you’ll have spotted many ridiculous inclusions and glaring omissions. Please feel free to point them out and tell me who you’d have in your side, either below the line or on Twitter @seankyaroru.

06
Dec
11

Rare double has Reysol raising its bar

This season Kashiwa Reysol became the first Japanese side ever to win J1 the year after claiming the J2 championship.

I was at Saitama Stadium to see them complete their historic triumph, and got some reaction from the key players for The Daily Yomiuri.

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.

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.

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.




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