(In a fan video, Jungo Fujimoto sets Nagoya Grampus on their way with a 24th minute free-kick against Cerezo Osaka, a match they would go on to win 3-1 on Matchday Thirty-One of the 2011 season. Cerezo have won just once in Nagoya in a decade, and they visit Grampus in the 2012 campaign on Friday)
In the final round of matches before the national team takes to the stage with three consecutive 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification matches in June, the first sees Sagan Tosu, smarting from Kazuma Watanabe’s thirteen minute hat-trick which denied them their first away victory of the season, travelling to the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium to take on a Gamba Osaka side without a win in a month, and wallowing in sixteenth position in the table.
The Suita side’s change in manager from Jose Carlos Serrao to Masanobu Matsunami has paid few dividends in absolute terms thus far, with an average of little more than one point per game in the J.League and four defeats in the AFC Champions League, but the playing style is a significant improvement and marks a return to the “football with movement” club President Kikuo Kanamori was so eager to see. Three points for Gamba won’t allow them to steer clear of the relegation places, but holding a game in hand they will be able to put pressure on Kashima Antlers, Cerezo Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol above them if they can take all three points. Join me from 10:30 on Friday 25 May when I’ll be live-blogging all the action.
Friday’s second game has Nagoya Grampus welcoming Cerezo Osaka to the Yamaha Stadium. After such a promising start to the season, Cerezo have fallen away of late, taking a single point from their last four J.League matches, and are set to lose star midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake from 1 July when he completes his transfer to Bundesliga club 1. FC Nuremberg. Now a mere five points above sixteenth place, this has proven a particularly uncomfortable fixture for Cerezo, a single win in their fateful 2005 season accounting for the only points they have taken in a decade.
Grampus, meanwhile, will want to put the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Vegalta Sendai behind them, an impressive first period denuded by an inability to finish chances and eventually overcome by a supremely clinical Vegalta side. Three points would allow Grampus to climb as high as seventh in the table with a game still to play.
On Saturday Consadole will be hoping that the Sapporo Atsubetsu Park Stadium provides them with some good fortune, the scene of their only league victory in 2012 on Matchday Nine, but the odds are stacked against them as second-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima make the trip to Hokkaido. While six sides possess better defensive records than Hajime Moriyasu’s collective, only two have netted on more occasions and a Consa team which has conceded a staggering 25 goals in twelve matches suggests there will be little resistance to the visitors.
Vegalta Sendai journey south down the coast to Kanagawa Prefecture and a meeting with Kawasaki Frontale. The league leaders remain unbeaten on the road, but Frontale are seemingly rejuvenated under new manager Yahiro Kazama, winning three of four matches in May and consequently rising to seventh in the table. What may count against Frontale is their worrying capacity to ship goals at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, conceding eleven in six matches at home, against a team who have proven ruthless in exploting the slightest weakness in an opposition’s defence.
After their setback on Matchday Twelve against Urawa Red Diamonds, Shimizu S-Pulse take on Yokohama F-Marinos in a fascinating match-up at the Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira. After slow beginnings under Yasuhiro Higuchi and amid growing rumours that he was likely to be sacked, Marinos are now unbeaten since 21 April, taking thirteen points from a possible fifteen in that time. While neither side has been prolific in front of goal, S-Pulse and Marinos scoring fifteen and fourteen times respectively, S-Pa’s home form comprises a large part of why they currently sit in third place, ten goals, no losses and thirteen points making the Nihondaira one of the more intimidating stadiums for an away team in the J.League.
The division’s top scorers host Omiya Ardija at the Yamaha Stadium, and if the Squirrels are to see any increase on their sole victory away from the NACK5 Stadium they will need to tighten up a defence which has allowed an average of two goals per game, to counter Masaaki Yanagishita’s men, who have four wins from five in Shizuoka. Jubilo Iwata boast multiple attacking threats, Hiroki Yamada, Ryoichi Maeda and Kosuke Yamamoto all counting in the division’s ten highest goalscorers, while South Korean central defender Cho Byung-Kuk, signed from Vegalta Sendai at the end of the 2011 season, has chipped in with three goals in twelve appearances.
My second live blog of Matchday Thirteen has Vissel Kobe playing Kashima Antlers at the HOME’S Stadium. Vissel are the J.League’s current model of inconsistency, three wins counterbalanced by three defeats in Kobe. The Antlers have struggled for any form outside the confines of the Kashima Soccer Stadium, fifteen goals in their last four matches in Kashima separated by a failure to score at all away from home, and reflected by just one victory on their journeys around Japan. Join me at Football Japan from 08:30 BST/16:30 JST for team news and full coverage.
Albirex Niigata, rudderless in seventeenth position and in search of a permanent managerial appointment after Hisashi Kurosaki resigned on Matchday Twelve, travel to the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium in the hope that temporary boss Nobuhiro Ueno can galvanise a squad which has won twice all season. A crumb of comfort for Albi is that the Sun Kings have only won once in front of their home support, and manager Nelsinho continues to prove incapable of coaxing any reliability from his talented but surprisingly fragile players.
Saturday’s final encounter is at the Ajinomoto Stadium, and the pick of the weekend’s fixtures gives FC Tokyo and Urawa Red Diamonds the chance to burnish their J.League title and AFC Champions League qualification credentials. The two teams are separated only by goal difference on 21 points, though the Gas do have a game in hand owing to their ongoing Champions League participation. Victory for either side could take them into second place in the league at the end of Matchday Thirteen.
|J.League 1, 25 May|
|19:00||Gamba Osaka||vs||Sagan Tosu||Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium|
|19:30||Nagoya Grampus||vs||Cerezo Osaka||Toyota Stadium|
|J.League 1, 26 May|
|14:00||Consadole Sapporo||vs||Sanfrecce Hiroshima||Sapporo Atsubetsu Park Stadium|
|14:00||Kawasaki Frontale||vs||Vegalta Sendai||Todoroki Athletics Stadium|
|14:00||Shimizu S-Pulse||vs||Yokohama F-Marinos||Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira|
|16:00||Jubilo Iwata||vs||Omiya Ardija||Yamaha Stadium|
|17:00||Vissel Kobe||vs||Kashima Antlers||HOME’S Stadium Kobe|
|18:30||Kashiwa Reysol||vs||Albirex Niigata||Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium|
|19:00||FC Tokyo||vs||Urawa Red Diamonds||Ajinomoto Stadium|
|J.League 2, 26 May|
|13:00||Kyoto Sanga||vs||Giravanz Kitakyushu||Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium|
|J.League 2, 27 May|
|13:00||Thespa Kusatsu||vs||Matsumoto Yamaga||Shoda Shoyu Stadium Gunma|
|13:00||Gainare Tottori||vs||Yokohama FC||Tottori Bank Bird Stadium|
|13:00||Avispa Fukuoka||vs||Fagiano Okayama||Level-5 Stadium|
|13:00||Oita Trinita||vs||JEF United Chiba||Oita Bank Stadium|
|16:00||Tochigi SC||vs||Tokyo Verdy||Tochigi Green Stadium|
|16:00||FC Machida Zelvia||vs||Mito HollyHock||Machida Athletic Stadium|
|16:00||Shonan Bellmare||vs||Tokushima Vortis||Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka|
|16:00||Roasso Kumamoto||vs||Montedio Yamagata||KKWing Stadium|
|16:00||FC Gifu||vs||Ventforet Kofu||
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