Posts Tagged ‘Shimizu S-Pulse

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.

20
Apr
12

Newly promoted Zelvia has rock-solid leader in Ardiles

Last week I attended a dinner at which Argentinian football great Ossie Ardiles was the guest of honour.

After a long and distinguished career as a player and coach Ardiles is now in charge of J2 side Machida Zelvia, and he is in no mood to slow down just yet. Here is my feature on him from today’s Daily Yomiuri.

17
Apr
12

S-Pulse snap Jubilo streak in Shizuoka derby

This weekend I was at Nihondaira Stadium for the Shizuoka Derby between Shimizu S-Pulse and Jubilo Iwata.

I provided a match report from that game and a round-up of the rest of the J1 action for The Daily Yomiuri on Monday.

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.

07
Dec
11

The Mixed Zone with…Freddie Ljungberg

There aren’t many big-name foreign players in the J.League at the moment, with the money that used to attract them now in the oil-rich regions in the Middle East.

Not all players are just in it for the cash though, and my interview with Freddie Ljungberg revealed a player who is interested in a lot more than his pay-cheque.

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.

16
Nov
11

Former Arsenal star Ljungberg aims high with S-Pulse

Freddie Ljungberg’s arrival at Shimizu S-Pulse was completely unexpected and served to revitalise the side in the second half of the 2011 J.League season.

Last week I sat down with the former Sweden captain to find out why he chose to come to Japan and what he is looking to achieve in his time here.

22
Sep
11

S-Pulse ready with Freddie

Shimizu S-Pulse are aiming for the very top, and their latest signing shows that they are serious about getting there…

The question on everybody’s lips was how? How did Shimizu S-Pulse manage to sign Freddie Ljungberg?

During the J.League’s early years, players in the twilight of their careers often turned up for one last pay-day before retirement, but now the money is in the Middle-East, not Japan.

Ljungberg will almost certainly have been offered better terms by clubs in other parts of the world, then, so why did he choose Shizuoka?

The answer seems to lie with Afshin Ghotbi’s powers of persuasion.

“I have a lot of relationships abroad and I spoke with a lot of different people about him – people that have played alongside him, people that know him – and we spent almost two weeks on the phone every day talking to each other,” S-Pulse’s head coach explained to me.

“I think he likes my regime, I like his mentality. He will be a great addition to our team and hopefully he can get S-Pulse to the championship that we desire so much, sooner rather than later.”

Ghotbi believes that the capture of the former Arsenal man means everything is now in place to achieve this ambitious aim.

“I already have Shinji Ono and [Naohiro] Takahara who are icons of Japanese football and I think Freddie is an icon of international football. So it could maybe complete creating the leaders in the team to bring our younger players faster to the level that they need to come to.”

As well as creating success on the pitch, he also believes it can improve the image of the club and the J.League overseas.

“I’ve no doubt he’s going to be an icon for the league and a great attraction for the J.League on an international scale.”

The early signs on this front are good.

When I arrived at S-Pulse’s Miho training ground the day after the Shizuoka Derby, for instance, Mamiko Fujioka was already there.

Fujioka-san had lived in Sweden for a year, during which time she developed a keen interest in Swedish football – and of course the country’s then-captain, Freddie.

She had travelled from Kyoto for the Jubilo match and arrived over an hour before the public training session began the next day in the hope of meeting her hero.

As the signed Sweden shirt she had on proved, she had succeeded in this aim, and was literally jumping for joy.

Of course, Freddie also has a great deal to offer on the pitch, and he explained at his unveiling just how he could improve the side.

“[The coach] wants me to help move the ball and help us to maybe be a bit more calm and to create chances for my teammates – to use my experience of big games and winning things and get that mentality to the other players.”

Indeed, despite having made his name at Arsenal as an attacking midfielder, he entered the action a little deeper on his debut, a position that Alex Brosque feels he is perfectly suited to.

“That’s mainly to try and get him on the ball as much as we can. If we’re able to do that with him and Shinji on the field I think we can be a bit more dangerous.”

He actually replaced Shinji in that game though, so I asked the S-Pulse captain if he felt there was room for them both in the side. 

“Yes, I think so,” he replied, eagerly. “If we want to play football then maybe I need to get the ball further back from closer to the defenders and manage the team from defensive midfield.”  

Ljungberg agreed, and insisted that having them work in tandem was eventually the aim.

“Of course we can, otherwise there wouldn’t be any point (in me coming to Shimizu). He’s a good football player so, of course. I’m looking forward to that.

“It depends how we play, whether I play forwards or if we play with two defensive and I’ll play just in front. Sometimes here they play with one in behind and two in front and then we share the responsibility. It’s up to the coach.”

Having such a wealth of options and talented players certainly looks great on paper, and if Ono and Ljungberg can both stay fit then S-Pulse really could have a chance to turn the theory into practice.




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