(Urawa Red Diamonds met Kawasaki Frontale at the Saitama Stadium on 31 March, clinging on to a 1-1 draw in J.League Division 1 despite being reduced to nine men in the second half)
Vegalta Sendai broke free of the pack at the top of the table, retaining their 100% record in downing Cerezo Osaka 2-1 at the Nagai Ball Gall Field. A crowd of nearly 10,000 braved high winds and pouring rain, conditions which affected a number of matches across the country. With both teams having conceded a single goal going into this match, goals were assumed to be at a premium, but injuries enforced two changes the Cerezo defence, Tatsuya Yamashita and Masato Kurogi making their first appearances of the season. Wilson opening the scoring for the visiting side on 34 minutes, bundling in a rebound, with Shingo Akamine doubling Vegalta’s advantage 17 minutes later when heading in from a fine Yoshiaki Ota cross. Cerezo star midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake, rumoured to be the subject of a summer transfer to the Bundesliga, had hit the crossbar in the first half with a deflected shot, but they had to wait until the 85th minute for any kind of reply, when substitute Ryuji Bando pulled one back. Vegalta, however, were barely troubled defensively, and claimed the victory which leaves them as the sole club across both divisions yet to drop any points.
FC Tokyo’s winning streak in J.League Division 1 came to an end, suffering their first defeat in a 1-0 reversal to Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Ajinomoto Stadium. The Gas lacked a cutting edge against Sanfre, creating little of note and largely restricted to shots from outside the penalty area. The best opening was created by Naotake Hanyu, who picked up a Sotan Tanabe pass on the touchline. Running inside and under little pressure, with better options in Tatsuya Yazaawa and Naohiro Ishikawa to his left and right respectively, he chose to shoot left-footed but it glided two feet wide of Shusaku Nishikawa’s left post. Sanfre, meanwhile, scored with the only clear opportunity of the match, Hisato Sato running on to a low cross inside the penalty area and finishing with aplomb.
In a thrilling draw at the NACK5 Stadium, Omiya Ardija took on Nagoya Grampus. It was an open game filled with a number of chances, the first of which came when Squirrels midfielder Carlinhos floated a left-footed cross into the penalty area. Rafael had been left alone by the Grampus defence, and back-heading low to the bottom right-hand corner, goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki did well to get across and palm away.
At the other end of the pitch, Omiya failed to clear at a corner, Mu Kanzaki heading the loose ball back across the six-yard box. Falling to Grampus’ favoured striker, Josh Kennedy snatched at the opportunity, volleying into the ground and straight at Takashi Kitano, who pushed the ball over the crossbar, much to Kennedy’s despair.
Another chance soon presented itself for Omiya, and one with which they should have taken the lead. An extraordinary laspe of judgement from Narazaki resulted in him running fully 20 yards outside his area to tackle Rafael. The Brazilian evaded the challenge by nutmegging the goalkeeper, and took the ball into the penalty area. Spotting an unmarked Takuya Aoki, he played the simplest of passes, but Aoki lost his footing, before scrambling to his feet, leaning back and sending the simplest of goalscoring opportunities high over the crossbar.
Grampus attacked again, Kennedy flicking a ball off the edge of his right foot to Kensuke Nagai on the corner of the penalty area. Nagai stepped inside a tumbling Young-Gwon Kim and fired a shot which was heading for the top left-hand corner before Kitano saved well.
The scoreline remained 0-0 as the whistle for half-time blew, but it was just three minutes after the restart that Grampus scored the first goal of the game. A strong, surging run from Tulio Tanaka in which he fended off three Omiya players brought him to the right edge of the penalty area, and he played a short pass to Keiji Tamada. Tamada’s run took him parallel to the penalty box, and he feinted to shoot before rolling the ball back to Danilson. The Colombian rifled a fierce left-footed shot from 22 yards through a crowd of players, which Kitano got a hand to but couldn’t stop from finding the net.
Just seven minutes later, however, Ardija were level. Takumi Shimohara intercepted a pass in midfield, and fed Kota Ueda. Ueda in turn laid the ball off inside to Young-Cheol Cho, whose attempted shot fizzed across the penalty area via a Tulio deflection, and a sliding Jun Kanakubo adjusted his body position superbly to volley into the roof of the net.
Grampus continued to create. A clever reverse pass from Tamada found Kanazaki,and his right-footed bending shot from the left of the penalty area drew a fine save from Tamada. A further opportunity presented itself in the dying moments of the match. Danilson picked up a loose ball to the left of the Ardija penalty and his left-footed cross seemed destined for a headed Tulio Tanaka goal, until a superb defensive header from Young-Gwon Kim to clear away for a corner had Tanaka shaking his head in disbelief.
Appalling conditions greeted Urawa Red Diamonds and Kawasaki Frontale at the Saitama Stadium, but they didn’t prevent a highly entertaining draw from being played out. It was the home side who took the lead, fine skills on the wing from Tsukasa Umesaki enabling him to beat Kojhi Tamase and send over a very inviting cross, which was met by Popo with a bullet header to beat goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando at the near post.
Frontale levelled on 59 minutes. Defender Keisuke Tsuboi failed to fully clear a ball into the penalty area, and Rui Komatsu headed across goal for Takuro Yajima to nod in from six yards, beating the despairing hand of Nobuhiro Kato.
With the last 15 minutes due to be played, Yuki Abe took away Kengo Nakamura’s legs on a Frontale counter-attack, but sensibly playing the advantage referee Masaki Iemoto allowed Renato to drive on with the ball from close to the centre-circle to the edge of the penalty. His whipped left-foot shot required an excellent save from Kato at full stretch, tipping the ball over the crossbar. Iemoto duly showed Abe his second yellow card of the match and sent him off from the field of play.
Ten minutes of normal play remained when Urawa were reduced to nine men. Tomoaki Makino can have no complaints over the decision, Renato playing a simple one-two and Makino’s outstretched leg ensuring Renato couldn’t receive the return pass.
The Reds were clinging on, and Frontale had an excellent chance to take all three points with five minutes to go. Substitute Takuro Yajima laid the ball off to Yusuke Tasaka, but the unmarked midfielder could only drive the shot straight at a grateful goalkeeper from nine yards, who held well.
Yokohama F-Marinos and Kashima Antlers also drew, an outcome which neither team and their respective managers will particularly welcome. In a worrying sign for the Marinos, they managed only three shots all game, while Kashima picked up just their first point of the season after opening with three successive defeats.
In the first-half, Shunsuke Nakamura’s free-kick from 24 yards cleared the wall but found Hitoshi Sogahata’s hands, the set piece delivered too centrally to cause the goalkeeper any problems. Yuya Osako shot weakly from distance for the Antlers, claimed easily by Hiroki Iikura. Gaku Shibasaki then tried his luck from outside the penalty, after receiving a chested ball from Shinzo Koroki midway into Marinos’ territory, but bringing the ball inside on to his right foot the shot was straight at Iikura. Koroki nearly broke the deadlock from a corner, running in to beat Yuji Nakazawa, but his volley was palmed away by Iikura at the far post.
The second period saw more of the same. Right-back Daigo Nishi passed to Yuya Osako, who provided a burst of piece to beat Hiroyuki Tanaguchi and then Takashi Kanai, before feeding Koroki. Koroki spun beautifully past Yuji Nakazawa, but a superb sliding challenge from Yuzo Kurihara saw his attempted shot blocked.
Nakazawa nearly turned from hero to villain after a piece of loose control allowed Yasushi Endo to collect halfway inside the Marinos half, and with defenders backing away, he unleashed a swerving drive which Iikura saved diving to his left.
Daigo Nishi, the 24 year-old full-back, was then involved in action at both ends of play. Marinos foward Manabu Saito played a pass which was deflected into the path of Yuji Ono. Ono turned to cross, which in turn was deflected out to Takashi Kanai. Kanai skipped through one challenge and readying to shoot, Nishi’s perfectly timed sliding tackle put the ball out for a corner. With action quickly transferred to Marinos territory, Nishi appeared in the penalty box, and taking a Yuya Osako pass in his stride, found his shot blocked. It was cleared to the edge of the area where a waiting Osako collected, but Manabu Saito bravely dove in the path of the ball to divert the shot away from goal and out for a throw-in. There the match would end, a result which increases the pressure on the managers of both sides and leaves Kashima rooted to the bottom of the table.
Jubilo Iwata moved into second place in the table, two points behind leaders Vegalta Sendai, with a 1-0 win over champions Kashiwa Reysol at the Yamaha Stadium. Reysol’s attempt to defend the title won in such exciting fashion has begun very shakily, with four points from as many games, and they find themselves in the surprising position of twelfth in the division. Ryoichi Maeda scored the solitary goal of the game in the 26th minute.
Gamba Osaka are finally off the mark with a point following their 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers Albirex Niigata. It was all starting to look so familiar for Masanobu Matsunami’s men when they went behind to an Alan Mineiro goal on 5 minutes. However, a spirited performance and a 22nd minute penalty from Rafhina meant the spoils were shared, and Matsunami was happy in his post-match interview, saying “Despite changing managers and systems, the players fought well. We may have only earned one point, but as far as I’m concerned it was worth three”.
Newly promoted Consadole Sapporo are still without a win after four league matches after falling to a 1-0 defeat at the Outsourcing Stadium, a 49th minute Toshiyuki Takagi goal earning Shimizu S-Pulse all three points and which lifts S-Pa to tenth place. It was left to the remaining new entrants to Division 1 to provide the surprise result of the weekend, and you can read the full report of Sagan Tosu’s 3-0 victory over Vissel Kobe by clicking here.