サガン鳥栖 (Sagan Tosu) 3 ヴィッセル神戸 (Vissel Kobe) 0

An own goal and a strike apiece from Yohei Toyoda and Kei Ikeda gave Sagan Tosu what appears at first glance a surprising win, but after a contest in which Sagan were superior across every department, the only unexpected outcome is that Sagan’s margin of victory was not much greater. Manager Jung-Hwan Yoon, the former South Korean international who in his playing days was renowned as a gifted creative midfielder, and who guided his young side to promotion in his initial season as manager, will have been delighted with the attacking verve on display from Min-Woo Kim, Kota Mizunuma and Yohei Toyoda, but equally impressive was the resolute defensive performance in which Sung-Hye Yeo and Ryuhei Niwa were outstanding.

Sagan attacked Vissel Kobe from the opening minutes, and rarely was there any respite for the visitors. Barely two minutes into the match and they had their first sight of goal, Kei Ikeda controlling a long ball perfectly on his chest, before swivelling and volleying narrowly over the bar from 25 yards. 60 seconds later Min-Woo Kim, who would begin the match on the left-wing but later switch to left-back following an injury to Keita Isozaki, showed a clean pair of heels to Gakuto Kondo, who brought down the tricky midfielder and received an early yellow card. Despite his subsequent move to defence, the Under-23 South Korea international was relentless in his support for Sagan’s attacks, and his overlapping runs were likely a factor when Sagan eventually opening the scoring. First, however, Kim and Sagan were guilty of profligacy. After seven minutes, and with a clear goalscoring opportunity beckoning, Yohei Toyoda unselfishly chipped a cross across the penalty area from six yards to an unmarked Kim, who could only direct his header back across goal against the left-hand post, and Toyoda’s effort on the rebound deflected wide for a corner.

Vissel tried to get a foothold in the game, but any attempts to make a mark were dealt with by a well-organised Sagan defence, with their wingers working extremely hard to close down any attempts to use the flanks, and as a consequence any efforts on goal were largely opportunistic. After 10 minutes Hideo Hashimoto drilled a well-struck shot low from 22 yards after teammate Yoshito Okubo had been crowded out, but the ball flew beyond goalkeeper Taku Akahoshi’s right hand and post.

With a quarter of an hour played, Kota Mizunuma spurned a glorious opportunity to put the home side in front at the Best Amenity Stadium. Yohei Toyoda dispossessed Takahito Soma on the Vissel left, and sending his cross low into the penalty area, Mizunuma failed to connect properly. Shortly after, with Isozaki unable to recover from challenging at a corner and forcing a substitution on Yoon, the change of player may have resulted in a change to the outcome of the match. Ryunosuke Noda took the field midway through the first period, and five minutes later Sagan were in front, although they can count themselves fortunate with the manner in which the goal was scored. Noda’s very first touch of the tie was to slide with his left foot to reach a cross, and what appeared an attempted shot, which would have diverted harmlessly across the penalty area, evaded Kazumichi Takagi and deflected via the head of an unsighted Masahiko Inoha into the net.

Inoha would be an unwilling participant in Sagan’s second goal, which came two minutes before the end of the first period. Breaking quickly down the right-hand channel, Kota Mizunuma was found in plenty of space. He delivered a perfect low cross for Yohei Toyda, who swept the ball high into the roof of the Vissel net off the unfortunate Inoha, leaving goalkeeper Kenta Tokushige stranded.

Clearly stinging from a rebuke from manager Masahiro Wada, Vissel appeared for the second-half before the cheerleaders had left the pitch. However, whatever was said had little overall effect. Straight from the restart Sagan launched an attack, a lofted ball from Kei Ikeda over the centre-back pairing of Inoha and Takagi, who looked vulnerable all game, found Kota Mizunuma, who could have done better than to win a corner-kick. Moments later Vissel provided one of the very few moments in which Taku Akahoshi was called into action in the Sagan goal. Yoshito Okubo received a lay off in a central position three yards outside the penalty area, but his high shot swerved towards Akahoshi, whose strong palm sent the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

Sagan then provided a moment of brilliance which, had it been finished, would have been an early contender for goal of the season. An exhilarating counter-attack from the left-hand side of the penalty area in which no fewer than six players were involved, and with Ryonosuke Noda and Min-Woo Kim exchanging delightful intricate passes, Kim pulled the ball back across the penalty area to Kei Ikeda. The forward had the goal at his mercy, but couldn’t gather his feet and his left-footed shot from six yards spun harmlessly away.

55 minutes had elapsed when it was Ryunosuke Noda’s turn to waste a chance to seal the result. Running on to a delicately lobbed throughball, and bearing down on goal, Noda could only fire his shot at Tokushige, when placing the ball either side of the goalkeeper would have secured a certain third for Sagan. As it was, Sagan’s failings in front of goal raised the possibility of Vissel mounting a comeback. Fortunately for Sagan, with twenty minutes left on the clock Yoshito Okubo failed to capitalise from 18 yards when he received the ball unmarked from a Hideo Tanaka cross, blazing over the bar. Any further opportunities were merely half-chances for the Hyogo club, and it was left to Kei Ikeda to tap in five minutes into stoppage time to complete the scoring. Taking a quick free-kick and leaving the Vissel defence with no time to recover, replacement Shohei Ikada placed a cross into his path, and this time Ikeda made no mistake. The result lifts Sagan Tosu into fifth place in the table, and a continuation of this kind of form will see Jung-Hwan Yoon and his team well-clear of the relegation spaces come the end of the season.

Sagan Tosu Vissel Kobe
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Masahiko Inoha (OG) 28
Yohei Toyoda 43
Kei Ikeda 90+5
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Keita Isozaki
Ryunosuke Noda
24 Takayuki Yoshida
Hiroti Mogi
Koto Mizunuma
Shohei Okada
75 Kang-Jo Park
Ken Tokura
Tomotaka Okamoto
Yusuke Inuzuka
90+2 Hideo Hashimoto
Kwang-Seon Lee
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Yohei Toyoda 67 Gakuto Kondo 3
Sung-Hye Yeo 87 Kazumichi Takagi 64
Takahito Soma 90+4
Yoshito Okubo 90+7

Sagan Tosu: 4-4-2 (Light blue); Vissel Kobe: 4-4-2 (Red)


J.League Division 1: Matchday Four Table

The elation is clearly etched on on Wilson's face after he opened the scoring for Vegalta Sendai in their 2-1 win at Cerezo Osaka. Vegalta's win sends them three points clear at the top of the J.League Division 1 table and are now the only club with a 100% record across both divisions (Image courtesy J's Goal/J.League Photos)

Position Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Vegalta Sendai 4 4 0 0 9 2 +7 12
2 Jubilo Iwata 4 3 1 0 5 2 +3 10
3 FC Tokyo 4 3 0 1 6 3 +3 9
4 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4 3 0 1 5 2 +3 9
5 Sagan Tosu 4 2 1 1 5 2 +3 7
6 Nagoya Grampus 4 2 1 1 6 5 +1 7
7 Cerezo Osaka 4 2 1 1 4 3 +1 7
8 Urawa Red Diamonds 4 2 1 1 4 3 +1 7
9 Kawasaki Frontale 4 2 1 1 3 2 +1 7
10 Shimizu S-Pulse 4 2 0 2 4 4 +0 6
11 Vissel Kobe 4 2 0 2 5 8 -3 6
12 Kashiwa Reysol 4 1 1 2 5 6 -1 4
13 Omiya Ardija 4 1 1 2 4 7 -3 4
14 Yokohama F-Marinos 4 0 2 2 3 6 -3 2
15 Gamba Osaka 4 0 1 3 5 8 -3 1
16 Albirex Niigata 4 0 1 3 3 6 -3 1
17 Consadole Sapporo 4 0 1 3 2 5 -3 1
18 Kashima Antlers 4 0 1 3 0 4 -4 1

J.League Division 1: Matchday Four Results

Defender Ryuhei Niwa (15) runs toward Yohei Toyoda (11) after the forward had scored the second of Sagan Tosu’s goals on 43 minutes. The match finished Sagan Tosu 3 Vissel Kobe 0 (Image courtesy J’s Goal/J.League Photos)

Omiya Ardija Small Omiya Ardija
Kanakubo 55′
1 Nagoya Grampus Small Nagoya Grampus
Danilson 48′
FC Tokyo Small FC Tokyo
0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima Small Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Sato 56′
Jubilo Iwata Small Jubilo Iwata
Maeda 26′
1 Kashiwa Reysol Small Kashiwa Reysol
Urawa Red Diamonds Small Urawa Red Diamonds
Popo 10′
1 Kawasaki Frontale Small Kawasaki Frontale
Yajima 59′
Cerezo Osaka Small Cerezo Osaka
Bando 85′
1 Vegalta Sendai Small Vegalta Sendai
Wilson 34′
Akamine 51′
Albirex Niigata Small Albirex Niigata
Alan Mineiro 5′
1 Gamba Osaka Small Gamba Osaka
Rafinha 22′
Shimizu S-Pulse Small Shimizu S-Pulse
Takagi 49′
1 Consadole Sapporo Small Consadole Sapporo
Yokohama F-Marinos Small Yokohama F-Marinos
0 Kashima Antlers small Kashima Antlers
Sagan Tosu Small Sagan Tosu
Noda 28′
Toyoda 43′
Ikeda 90’+5
3 Vissel Kobe Small Vissel Kobe

(Matches played 31 March 2012)

J.League Division 1 Liveblog: サガン鳥栖 (Sagan Tosu) v. ヴィッセル神戸 (Vissel Kobe)

0 Min: Welcome to today’s liveblog. Sagan Tosu, promoted to J.League Division 1 for the first time in their history, welcome Vissel Kobe to the Tosu Stadium in Saga Prefecture. I’ll have team news for you shortly.

0 Min: Sagan Tosu – Akaohoshi; Niwa, Kobayashi, Yeo, Isozaki; Okamoto, Fujita, Mizunuma, Kim; Ikeda, Toyoda

0 Min: Vissel Kobe – Tokushige; Kondo, Inoha, Takagi, Soma; Hashimoto, Tanaka, Park, Nozawa; Yoshida, Okubo

0 Min: A change apiece for Sagan Tosu and Vissel Kobe, both in the midfield. Tomotaka Okamoto replaces Yoshiki Takahashi for Sagan, while Kang Jo Park comes in for Masatoshi Mihara for Vissel.

0 Min: While we’re counting down until kick-off, you can enjoy the highlights of a previous meeting between the two teams here.

0 Min: The teams are out of the tunnel and on to the field, pre-match photographs and handshakes complete. We’re just moments away from kick-off, captains Naoyuki Fujita and Takayuki Yoshida contesting the coin toss.

0 Mins And at 11:04 BST/19:04 Japan time, the whistle blows to get the match underway.

2 Mins: The first shot comes from Kei Ikeda for Sagan Tosu taking a long ball on the chest, and turning and volleying from 25 yards. A reasonable effort that clears the ball by a couple of feet.

3 Mins: Left back Min-Woo Kim is brought down by Gakuto Kondo having beaten him with pace, and Fujita’s free-kick is headed away for a corner. The corner subsequently fails to beat the first defender, and Vissel clear.

5 Mins: Potential danger for Vissel as a long ball causes panic in the defence, but Kei Ikeda attempts to handle and the referee pulls play back for the offence.

6 Mins: A frenetic opening to the match, Vissel now attempting to control possession and slowing play down.

7 mins: POST! Min Woo Kim’s header hits the post from Toyoda’s cross, who was superbly found from Kota Mizunuma’s angled ball from the right-hand side, and the rebound is luckily deflected for a corner. The corner yet again fails to beat the first defender.

9 Mins: Super defending from Sung Hye Yeo to clear an arkward cross from the Vissel right, Yoshida and Okubo both lurking in the penalty area.

10 Mins: Hideo Hashimoto drills a low long range effort wide of Akahoshi’s right-hand post, after Okubo is crowded out on the edge of the penalty area.

11 Mins: A much better corner from Sagan Tosu, but an infringement in the penalty area for pushing means the opportunity is lost.

13 Mins: Takayuki brings down a swept cross from the right on his chest, and with Fujita’s potential handball missed by the referee, his shot is weak and straight at goalkeeper Akahoshi who easily saves. Takayuki’s appeal for handball, however, was muted.

15 Mins: Yohei Toyoda does brilliantly to dispossess Takahito Soma and his low cross is met first time by Kota Mizunuma, but he fails to connect properly. A superb chance for Sagan Tosu goes begging.

19 Mins: Takuya Nozawa flights a good cross from the Vissel left, headed behind by Keita Isozaki for Vissel Kobe’s first corner. Nozawa’s corner is headed away at the near post, finding left-back Takahito Soma central on the edge of the penalty area, but his effort is poor and cleared.

22 Mins: Injury worries for Sagan Tosu as Keita Isozaki stays down in obvious discomfort. Isozaki is carried off the pitch, with midfielder Ryunosuke Noda to come on.

25 Mins: The commentator ridiculously suggests that neither side has had a clear opportunity to score.

26 Mins: Yoshito Kubo forces Vissel Kobe’s second corner. Nozawa sends a right-footed cross over, but it’s a very crowded penalty. Defender Kazumichi Takagi rises to meet the cross but it’s behind him, and both from distance and unable to generate sufficient power, the header plops into goalkeeper Akahoshi’s hands.

27 Mins: GOAL! (Masahiko Inoha – Own Goal) Noda’s very first touch is to divert a cross towards the goal from the left edge of the penalty area, which unsighted defender Masahiko Inoha deflects into the net via his arm for an own goal.

27 Mins Sagan Tosu 1 Vissel Kobe 0

31 Mins: The goal is little more than Sagan deserve and certainly in keeping with the balance of play.

35 Mins: Into the last 10 minutes of the first period, Mizunuma plays a pass to Yohei Toyoda, and holding the ball up well with his back to goal, he turns and shoots, blocked by Masahiko Inoha for a corner. Yet again the corner fails to clear the first defender. Sagan Tosu’s corners must improve.

38 Mins: Vissel Kobe have another corner. Nozawa steps up to take from the Vissel right, swung in to the edge of the Sagan penalty area, but they have large numbers back and it’s easily cleared.

43 Mins: GOAL! (Yohei Toyoda) Hideo Hashimoto appered to have been bundled over for Vissel, but the referee fails to award the free kick. A quick break for Sagan Tosu releases Kota Mizunuma down the right-wing, and his low cross is met by Yohei Toyoda from eight yards and he sweeps the ball, via a deflection off Masahiko Inoha’s head, into the roof of the net.

43 Mins: Sagan Tosu 2 Vissel Kobe 0

45 Mins: We’re into added time at the end of the first half.

45 Mins+2 And that’s half-time. There’s plenty for Vissel manager Masahiro Wada to worry about, as his team have failed to break down a very well-organised Sagan Tosu defence.

45 Mins: Back underway, and a chipped throughball from Kei Ikeda finds Kota Mizunuma, who wins a corner. Taken by Min Woo Kim, it’s another awful corner, and fails to clear the first defender.

47 Mins: Yoshito Okubo tries from 24 yards in a central position, but his swerving effort is met with a strong hand from Akaohoshi to put the ball behind for a corner. The corner is cleared.

49 Mins: A brilliant move from Sagan Tosu’s defence is so close to being a third, and really should have been. Interplay between Ryusuke Noda and Min Woo Kim sees Kim pull the ball back across the area but Kei Ikeda misconnects from just six yards.

53 Mins: Yoshida beats two players on the edge of the Sagan Tosu penalty area, but with three teammates in better positions, he chooses to shoot left-footed which is very high, and very wide.

53 Mins: Captain Takayuki Yoshida is replaced by Hiroto Mogio for Vissel Kobe.

55 Mins: Ryosuke Noda this time has the opportunity to score Sagan’s third, but bearing down on the keeper after a lovely lofted throughball from Yohei Toyoda, he can only send his shot straight at Kenta Tokushige. Either side of the Vissel goalkeeper and that would have been three.

58 Mins: If the result does not go Sagan Tosu’s way, they will be left cursing their profligacy.

58 Mins: Yoshito Okubo is in a dangerous area to the right of the penalty area, but he is expertly challenged by Sung-Hye Yeo.

60 Mins: A Kenta Mizunuma cross is just too high for Kei Ikeda, and the return ball from the right-hand side finds Ikeda in an offside position.

61 Mins: Min-Woo Kim angles a ball from the left, which is just out of reach of Kei Ikeda’s attempted lunging volley.

64 Mins: Nozawa standing over a free-kick from 40 yards on the Vissel left, but Sagan’s defence is resolute. They break with Min-Woo Kim running 40 yards, but his pass to Ikeda is cut out by Gakuto Kondo.

65 Mins: A potential triumph of youth over experience? The average age of this Sagan Tosu side is 25, compared to over 30 for Vissel. And a moment of youthful stupidity from Yohei Toyoda gets him booked, failed to retreat at a free-kick.

70 Mins: Yoshito Okuba misses a gilt-edged chance to bring Vissel back into the match. Hideo Tanaka pulled the ball back for him to fire unmarked from 18 yards, but he sends it well over the bar.

72 Mins: Always rising and under pressure, Yohei Toyoda bends a shot narrowly over the angle after a quick break for Sagan Tosu.

75 Mins: Takuya Nozawa picks up a ball from 25 yards, but his effort is to the right of Akahoshi’s post, who probably had the effort covered.

75 Mins: Second substitution for Sagan Tosu, Kota Mizunama, who has been excellent, replaced by Shohei Okada.

76 Mins: Chesting the ball down from a Takuya Nozawa header, Yoshito Okuba has a chance in the Sagan Tosu penalty area, but before he can get his shot away Teruaki Kobayashi throws himself in front of the ball, and goalkeeper Akahoshi follows up. The goalkeeper has injured himself in the resulting collision.

78 Mins: Vissel take the opportunity to make a change, Hideo Hashimoto making way for Kwang-Seon Lee. Akahoshi is okay to continue after some strapping is applied to his right knee and shin.

80 Mins: Entering the last 10 minutes of normal time, but there will be reasonable amount of stoppage time to play. Vissel have a free-kick, to be taken by Nozawa, deep into Sagan territory on the touchline. Goalkeeper Akaohshi punches unconvincingly clear, and Nozawa wins another corner off Ryuhei Niwa.

82 Mins: The corner from Nozawa is to the back post, but the header back is claimed by Akahoshi.

84 Mins: The ball bobbles around the Sagan Tosu penalty box, but no Vissel player can finish the chance, and Sung-Hye Heo calmly knocks the ball away to the Sagan Tosu left. Could that be their last chance?

86 Mins: Sung-Hye Yeo is the second player into the referee’s notebook, for a seemingly innocuous challenge. A few decisions seemingly going against Sagan Tosu at the moment.

87 Mins: Sagan Tosu temporarily down to ten players as Yohei Toyada requires treatment for a blood injury.

90 Mins: Nozawa wins a corner into stoppage time. His corneer is headed away, and with the ball returned to Nozawa, his cross is claimed by Akahoshi at the second attempt.

90 Mins+1: Sagan’s final substitution, and Tomotaka Okamoto makes way for Yosuke Inuzuka.

90 Mins+2: Ryosuke Noda wins a free-kick close to the Vissel touchline, but they waste the chance to run down the clock.

90 Mins+3: Vissel’s first player to receive a yellow card is Takahiro Soma, bringing down Okada to the right of the penalty area.

90 Mins+4: GOAL! (Kei Ikeda) Sagan take a quick free-kick, Shohei Ikada sending a ball across the Vissel penalty area which is tucked away by a completely unmarked Ikeda. Awful defending from Vissel, but no more than Sagan deserve.

90 Mins+4: Sagan Tosu 3 Vissel Kobe 0

90 Mins+5: The referee draws the match to a close. An excellent, spirited and hard-working performance from Sagan Tosu, and a well-deserved 3-0 victory. Thank you for joining me, and a full match report will follow later today.

The Daily Round-up

(2011 AFC Young Player of the Year Hideki Ishige scores for the J.League selection in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup 2011 Next Generation match)

The Asahi Shimbun reports that Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund is prepared to offer Shinji Kagawa double his current salary to retain his services until 2016. The attacking midfielder, who has been in scintillating form for the reigning champions in their attempt to win back-to-back league titles, and become only the third team in Bundesliga history to have won consecutive championships on two or more separate occasions, would see his salary increase to approximately €58,000 per week should he choose to accept the extension to his contract. Kagawa has previously confirmed that he would like to remain with the German giants, with Kagawa adding:

We are now negotiating over the renewal of my contract. [Staying is] what interests me right now although I know that foreign clubs have asked about me. But I don’t think it is the right time for me to leave this club.

The Asahi Shimbun also provides further detail on 1. FC Nürnberg’s interest in Cerezo Osaka’s burgeoning midfield star Hiroshi Hiyotake. The Under-23 Samurai Blue is reportedly the subject of a €1 million offer from Der Altmeister, and there is also speculation that Nürnberg could make a move for fellow countryman Takashi Inui. Any fee for the 23 year-old midfielder, who plays for 2. Bundesliga outfit VfL Bochum, would need to be in the region of €3 million.

Urawa Red Diamonds have bought the naming rights to the stadium the club describes as its spiritual home, according to the Mainichi Shimbun. The Komaba Stadium, now only used by the Reds for low-profile J.League matches owing to the much larger capacity at the Saitama Stadium, may now be renamed the Urawa Reds Stadium, having secured the rights from Saitama City for a fee of approximately €4.5 million per year for a minimum of three years. The Reds plan to reveal the name of the stadium to the public in mid-May.

And finally, Hideki Ishige, named by the AFC as the 2011 Youth Player of the Year, has signed professional terms with Shimizu S-Pulse, notes the Sankei Shimbun. The 17 year-old midfielder also impressed in the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Japan’s run to the quarter-finals, where they lost 3-2 to Brazil.

J.League Division 1: MD Four and Division 2: MD Six Fixtures and Preview

(Full highlights of the 14 August 2011 J.League Division 1 match between Júbilo Iwata and Kashiwa Reysol, Júbilo completing a remarkable 6-1 win over the eventual champions. The two teams meet again on Saturday 31 March 2012)

The end of March brings us to J.League Division 1 Matchday Four, and the ongoing search for points which continue to elude Gamba Osaka. New manager Masanobu Matsunami takes his charges to Tohoku’s Denryoku Big Swan Stadium where they will meet Albirex Niigata. Gamba went undefeated against Albi last season, and the team from Niigata Prefecture may not have an better opportunity to end their poor run of results against the Suita-based outfit which has seen them without a victory in this fixture since 2008.

Early pace-setters Vegalta Sendai travel to Osaka to face unbeaten Cerezo at the Nagai Ball Gall Field. Vegalta’s defence has been broached on just the one occasion in three matches so far this season, a continuation of last season’s fine defensive performance which saw them concede only 25 goals in 34 matches, significantly lower than any other J.League Division 1 team in 2011, and only bettered in J.League history by Oita Trinita in 2008 since the move to a regular league championship format. Cerezo’s defence, meanwhile, has also yielded just the single goal, but finding the net is proving harder to come by than Vegalta. An average of merely one goal per game and one goal every twelve shots compares very unfavourably with Vegalta’s more than two per game and goals every five shots.

FC Tokyo, currently sitting alongside Vegalta on nine points at the top of the table, entertain Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Ajinomoto Stadium. Tokyo will be hoping to maintain a 100% record against a side which put away struggling Kashima Antlers last weekend, following their own 2-0 victory away to Vissel Kobe. This is something of a bogey fixture for The Gas, with their last victory in Tokyo over Sanfre in league competition coming nearly a decade ago in July 2002.

The NACK5 stadium features home side Omiya Ardija versus Nagoya Grampus. The Squirrels currently occupy thirteenth place in the table, the same position in which they ended the 2011 league campaign, and in a further parallel have completed their opening three fixtures with the same points total and results as last year. The visiting Nagoya Giants will be aiming for a result that propels them higher up the table than their current sixth position, and will hope to continue their run of victories in Sendai which began in 2008.

The teams lying in seventh and eighth spots do battle at the Saitama Stadium, with Urawa Red Diamonds hosting Kawasaki Frontale. Mihailo Petrović, appointed to the managerial position in December, has secured two wins from three league fixtures in a promising start for the Reds after a disastrous 2011 season nearly ended in relegation, while Naoki Soma, whose side have also taken six points, is looking to relieve the burden of being the first Frontale manager to finish outside the Top 10 since 2004 and restore their fortunes as regular title and AFC Champions League contenders.

Kashiwa Reysol journey to the Yamaha Stadium to face Júbilo Iwata. The Sun Kings won their first game of the league season at the third time of asking on 24 March, defeating Júbilo’s local rivals Shimizu S-Pulse by two goals to one. Júbilo sit third in the table in an unbeaten start to the season, and will have fond memories of the 2011 fixture. It was less Shizuoka’s Sorrow than delight, putting six past Reysol in a remarkable 6-1 win, and Júbilo were one of only two clubs to take all six points from the eventual champions last year, the other being Gamba Osaka.

Shimizu S-Pulse manager Afshin Ghotbi shows no signs as yet of improving upon a year in which he led the team to their worst league finish since 2004. Three matches have been rewarded with the same total points, and he faces a real test when newly promoted Consadole Sapporo visit the Outsourcing Stadium in Shizuoka. While Consa have only taken a single point thus far, their bright attacking football has attracted a number of admirers, and should they be able to provide a finishing touch to the chances they have been creating, it may make for a difficult day for the Iranian.

Kashima Antlers take on Yokohama F-Marinos at the Nissan Stadium in a tie featuring two sides scratching around for form. New manager Jorginho may come under the kind of pressure which led to compatriot Jose Carlos Serrao sacked by Gamba Osaka if his poor league run continues. While the shoes of Oswaldo de Oliveira are difficult to fill at the Ibaraki Prefecture side, three defeats leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table and many more negative results are likely to be deemed unacceptable by Hiroshi Ushijima. The Marinos have problems of their own. One point from nine in the J.League reflects badly on new appointee Yasuhiro Higuchi at a club which has failed to finish in the top 10 only once since its inception. Both managers will be looking for a positive outcome to help alleviate both the club’s position and their own.

You can read the preview of the game I will be liveblogging tomorrow, Sagan Tosu v. Vissel Kobe, here.

J.League Division 1, 31 March

Omiya Ardija vs Nagoya Grampus
FC Tokyo vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Urawa Red Diamonds vs Kawasaki Frontale
Júbilo Iwata vs Kashiwa Reysol
Cerezo Osaka vs Vegalta Sendai
Albirex Niigata vs Gamba Osaka
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Consadole Sapporo
Yokohama F-Marinos vs Kashima Antlers
Sagan Tosu vs Vissel Kobe

J.League Division 2, 1 April

Montedio Yamagata vs Mito HollyHock
Tochigi SC vs JEF United Chiba
Matsumoto Yamaga vs Kataller Toyama
Kyoto Sanga vs Avispa Fukuoka
Gainare Tottori vs Shonan Bellmare
Roasso Kumamoto vs FC Gifu
Thespa Kusatsu vs Yokohama FC
FC Machida Zelvia vs Tokyo Verdy
Ventforet Kofu vs Giravanz Kitakyushu
Tokushima Vortis vs Fagiano Okayama
Oita Trinita vs Ehime FC

The Daily Round-up

The Mainichi Shumbin focuses on the preparations of the Nadeshiko in the lead-up to the inaugural 2012 Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup, which commences 1 April. A Japan selection played a private practice match on 29 March, described by the affiliated Nippon Sports as an “Iron Curtain”, with Norio Sasaki giving little away except to confirm that it provided an unparalled opportunity to assess the condition of his players with the Olympic Games on the horizon.

For the first time in two years, the L.League League Cup will take place following its cancellation last year owing to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, notes the Yomiuri Shimbun. Kicking-off on 23 June, the 20 L.League Division 1 teams will be divided into two groups and play in a round-robin format, with the top two sides from each group entering the semi-finals. The competition is to be suspended during London 2012, and the final is scheduled to take place in early September.

And finally, bad news for J.League Division 2 side Gainare Tottori is reported in the Sankei Shimbun, as four players have been struck down with Type A influenza, including captain Masayuki Okano. Five staff in total from the team are currently recuperating at home.