(Vissel Kobe defeat Urawa Red Diamonds 3-2 at the Saitama Stadium in the 2011 J.League Division 1 fixture. The two teams meet on 14 April, and Kobe will not be fazed by a match in which they have emerged victorious three times in the past four seasons)
The Outsourcing Stadium sees Shimizu S-Pulse square off with unbeaten Jubilo Iwata in the Shizuoka derby. If recent history is to play a part in this fixture, S-Pa have not defeated Jubilo in league competition since 2009, while last year Jubilo finished higher than their local rivals in a J.League campaign for the first time since 2005, an indication not only of the steady progress Shizuoka’s Sorrow have made under manager Masaaki Yanagishita, but also of S-Pa’s stumbles in 2011, Afshin Ghotbi leading his side to their first season outside the top 10 in six years. At this early stage of the season Jubilo currently have the upper hand in J1, their fourth position coming on the back of some excellent results including a victory over reigning champions Kashiwa Reysol, and they were only moments from topping the table at the end of Matchday Five, Wilson’s superb last-gasp strike for Vegalta Sendai meaning just a single point was earned at the Yurtec Stadium. S-Pa, meanwhile, will be looking for some consistency, three wins and two losses a reflection of the 2011 season in which they won and lost an equal number of games.
A fascinating fixture is in prospect at the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium, the Sun Kings taking on early pace-setters Vegalta Sendai. Vegalta’s return to the top flight in 2010 was followed by their highest ever J.League Division 1 finish last year with fourth, an extraordinary and magnificent achievement in the context of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which saw their training ground destroyed, traumatised foreign players cancelling their contracts after witnessing the devastation up close, and the Yurtec Stadium being declared “in ruins” by J.League Chairman Kazumi Ohigashi. The form and togetherness so inspired by manager Makoto Teguramori, which resonated in Japan and beyond, has continued with an unbeaten start to the season, no more exemplified by the 95th minute strike which deservedly prevented a Jubilo Iwata victory last week. Kashiwa Reysol manager Nelsinho will be most concerned about rectifying an overly generous defence, having shipped six goals to date and which comes up against a team which has found the net on average more than twice per game.
With a miserly return of one goal and one point from five matches, and lying in last place in Division 1, Kashima Antlers travel to the Ajinomoto Stadium where FC Tokyo lie in wait. Antlers manager Jorginho, appointed for the 2012 season, has already seen compatriot Jose Carlos Serrao exit Gamba Osaka after an historically poor start, and is under pressure to turn around a side which has never finished a league season lower than ninth place, and which won a league title as recently as 2009. The Gas, on the otherhand, are enjoying their return to Division 1, sitting in third place just one point behind Vegalta Sendai, with qualification to the knock-out stages of the AFC Champions League a likely prospect. It would seem another difficult weekend is in store for Jorginho, FC Tokyo having conceded just three goals at this stage of the season, while the Antlers have failed to find the net at all in three away games.
Yokohama F-Marinos have not scored in J1 since the exhilarating 3-3 draw with Kashiwa Reysol on Matchday One, but may not have a better opportunity to find the net when they come up against one of the division’s leakiest defences in Omiya Ardija at the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium. Squirrels manager Jun Suzuki will be alarmed by his team having conceded at a rate of two goals per game, a deterioration of form by a team which was beaten only 1.4 times per match in 2011, and currently has the second worst defensive record in the league, contrasting unfavourably with last season’s tenth best. If the Marinos are to stand any chance of finding the net for the first time in five games, however, they will almost certainly need to create more chances, shooting on average little more than six times per match from Matchday Two onwards.
Urawa Red Diamonds and Vissel Kobe do battle at the Saitama Stadium, and Vissel will have no fear of visiting the home of one of Asia’s best supported teams having walked away with J1 victories three times in the past four years. The Reds are unbeaten since the opening day of the season when they were bested by Sanfrecce Hiroshima, but the form guide may be deceptive as Sanfre is the only side they have faced so far to be found in the upper half of the table. Vissel may also take some comfort in Urawa’s poor home record since 2009, having been defeated in Saitama seven times in J1 each year.
Consadole Sapporo’s ongoing search for their first victory in J1 since their return to the top flight takes them to the Toyota Stadium, where they meet Nagoya Grampus. The Nagoya Giants have made a steady start to a league season in which they are hoping to go one better than last year’s second place, and sit top of their AFC Champions League group at the halfway stage with two of their remaining three fixtures to take place at home. While this may not be the kind of fixture Consa need to take points from to prevent an immediate return to J.League Division 2, and although they face a kinder fixture list over the coming weeks after a difficult opening schedule, any return may help galvanise a team which has played some attractive football at times but equally has been unable to provide any end product.
Second place Sanfrecce Hiroshima, away at the Best Amenity Stadium, face a Sagan Tosu side led by Jung-Hwan Yoon which continues to surprise and delight. In their two defeats so far Sagan have lost by a single goal, running both Nagoya Grampus and Jubilo Iwata close, while points were earned with a draw versus Cerezo Osaka and a victory over Yokohama F-Marinos which was followed by a superb 3-0 win against Vissel Kobe. Both teams have conceded just three goals, the lowest total in J1 thus far, but Sanfre will come into this match full of confidence after demolishing Gamba Osaka 4-1 on Matchday Five.
Cerezo Osaka welcome Hisashi Kurosaki’s Albirex Niigata to the Kincho Stadium, and Sérgio Soares’s men will be looking to take all three points from a side which is yet to record a victory in J1. A defeat is likely to result in Kurosaki being put under closer scrutiny by Albi executives, having failed to improve on 2010’s ninth position with a fourteenth placed finish last season, and sitting in fifteenth place at the present time. Cerezo have been impressive, a single defeat to league leaders Vegalta Sendai the only blemish on an otherwise very respectable beginning to the year.
I will be covering Gamba Osaka versus Kawasaki Frontale in a liveblog, the details of which can be found here.
|Kashiwa Reysol||vs||Vegalta Sendai|
|FC Tokyo||vs||Kashima Antlers|
|Yokohama F-Marinos||vs||Omiya Ardija|
|Urawa Red Diamonds||vs||Vissel Kobe|
|Shimizu S-Pulse||vs||Jubilo Iwata|
|Nagoya Grampus||vs||Consadole Sapporo|
|Sagan Tosu||vs||Sanfrecce Hiroshima|
|Gamba Osaka||vs||Kawasaki Frontale|
|Cerezo Osaka||vs||Albirex Niigata|
J.League Division 2, 15 April
|Montedio Yamagata||vs||Kataller Toyama|
|Thespa Kusatsu||vs||Ehime FC|
|FC Machida Zelvia||vs||Tochigi SC|
|Roasso Kumamoto||vs||Matsumoto Yamaga|
|Kyoto Sanga||vs||Tokyo Verdy|
|JEF United Chiba||vs||Fagiano Okayama|
|Shonan Bellmare||vs||Yokohama FC|
|FC Gifu||vs||Giravanz Kitakyushu|
|Gainare Tottori||vs||Ventforet Kofu|
|Avispa Fukuoka||vs||Mito HollyHock|
|Oita Trinita||vs||Tokushima Vortis|