J.League Division 1: Matchday Fourteen Preview and Fixtures

Consadole Sapporo, whose ominous lack of form is predicted to result in a final tally of between ten and eleven points at the completion of the 2012 campaign, and subsequently end in their relegation by Matchday 27 should there be no improvement, have no respite from their battle against the drop as they travel to the Yurtec Stadium to meet league leaders Vegalta Sendai in Saturday’s early kick-off. Consa have failed to take a single point outside Hokkaido in Division 1, and their predicament is likely to worsen significantly as they take the poorest defence in the league to the home of a Vegalta side that has netted fifteen times in six matches.

Kashima Antlers welcome Nagoya Grampus to Ibaraki Prefecture, with Jorginho’s team as capable of scintillating football on home turf and finding the net with abandon as they are of mediocrity away from the confines of the Kashima Soccer Stadium. After Grampus’s defeat by Adelaide United continental competition is over for 2011’s J.League Runners-up, and a succession of positive results is needed if they are to take advantage of their game in lieu and hold out any prospect of featuring in continental competition next year.

The NACK5 Stadium welcomes both Kashiwa Reysol and Omiya’s new manager Zdenko Verdenik, as the Slovenian takes charge of Ardija for the first time. The 63-year old, who managed JEF United Chiba, Nagoya Grampus and Vegalta Sendai between 2000 and 2004, adding to a two year spell at the helm of Marinos forerunners Yokohama Flügels in the early 1990s, comes with a broad understanding of and a depth of experience in the J.League, although the gaps in his CV of late do indicate that his appointment represents a significant risk for the Squirrels. The Ardija board will be hoping that he can perform similar feats to those he achieved at JEF, turning around a side which finished third from bottom in the 2000 J.League into one which ended the 2001 season in third place overall. The most immediate focus for Verdenik will surely be to address his side’s paucity of goals, a relatively healthy defensive record at the NACK5 undermined by a meager return of six goals in seven matches. Reysol, meanwhile, having exited the AFC Champions League at the Round of 16 stage in a 3-2 defeat to Ulsan Hyundai, can concentrate wholly on attempting to climb from their current twelfth position into the upper reaches of the table, three points potentially lifting the Sun Kings as high as eighth place with a game still in hand.

FC Tokyo will look to continue their excellent record away from the Ajinomoto Stadium this season, fifteen points from a current twenty-two thus far gained in more hostile environments than the capital, and it is Yokohama F-Marinos who present this weekend’s test at the Nissan Stadium. Marinos have not won in this fixture since 2008, but they can take great comfort from a home record in which they have only been bested once in 2012, a Matchday Two loss to Vegalta Sendai the single blemish on an otherwise exemplary account.

A further new appointee takes the reigns for the first time in Albirex Niigata chief Masaaki Yanagishita, as the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium hosts visitors Shimizu S-Pulse. The former Jubilo Iwata manager needs to find a way of steering his team away from the bottom of the table, who are languishing in seventeenth place behind Gamba Osaka on goal difference and having played a game more. A close game is expected, a goal-shy S-Pa’s fourth position largely credited to the J.League’s joint best defence and the excellent form of goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi, named as one of three overage players in the provisional London 2012 squad, while Albi have scored a paltry seven goals in thirteen matches.

Vissel Kobe manager Akira Nishino takes his charges to the Yamaha Stadium for a very difficult contest with high-flying Jubilo Iwata, who have scored twenty times in their last six fixtures and are a mere three points from the top of J.League Division 1. Major concerns exist over Vissel’s backline, the alarm visible on Nishino’s face as his team could not protect a lead against Kashima Antlers in his first game in charge on Matchday Thirteen, and if they are to make any impact against the league’s top scorers, together with guiding themselves clear of a relegation fight, those issues must be given precedence over what is a reasonable return in attack.

Gamba Osaka boss Masanobu Matsunami will hope that a small break and training camp in the comforts of Okinawa will have provided his players with the opportunity to recuperate and focus for a looming relegation battle. The appointment of the Gamba legend has done little to date to alleviate the disastrous sequence of results for which Jose Carols Serrao paid with his job, the Suita outfit lying six points behind the comparative safety of fifteenth place albeit with a game in hand. They have a tough task in the return to J.League action in trying to find a positive result against Urawa Red Diamonds at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium. The Reds, in fifth place on goal difference from FC Tokyo, will want to put recent history in this fixture behind them, defeated four times in a row from 2008, to obtain a win and the commensurate three points which could reasonably see them move into an AFC Champions League position by Saturday night.

If he is selected in the fixture with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Hiroshi Kiyotake will play in what is likely to be his penultimate appearance at the Kincho Stadium prior to his move to the Bundesliga’s 1. FC Nuremberg. The 22-year old midfielder, selected in Takashi Sekizuka’s provisional London 2012 squad in mid-week and almost certain to be one of the final 18 players to make the trip to London, has just three rounds of games to complete before his transfer to Germany, and will be trying to ensure he leaves a team in a more comfortable position than eleventh place prior to his departure. An arduous task awaits, however, as Sanfre lie second and are pushing for the result which could see them topple long-standing leaders Vegalta Sendai at the top of the table.

The final match of this round takes place at the Best Amenity Stadium, as the superlative defence of Sagan Tosu attempts to withstand the assault of the free-scoring Kawasaki Frontale. Yoon Jung-Hwan’s men remain undefeated in all competitions in Saga Prefecture, and with just two points separating Frontale in seventh and Tosu in eighth, a victory for Sagan would see them leap above the visitors and possibly end Matchday Fourteen as high as fourth. Frontale, however, have not lost since 14 April beyond the bounds of the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, and since that defeat have scored eight goals in three matches on away territory, intimating how stern a test Tosu face to repeat the kind of displays from which 75% of their league points have been secured.

16 June
Kick-off (JST) Home vs Away Venue
13:30 Vegalta Sendai vs Consadole Sapporo Yurtec Stadium Sendai
18:30 Kashima Antlers vs Nagoya Grampus Kashima Soccer Stadium
19:00 Omiya Ardija vs Kashiwa Reysol NACK5 Stadium
19:00 Yokohama F-Marinos vs FC Tokyo Nissan Stadium
19:00 Albirex Niigata vs Shimizu S-Pulse Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium
19:00 Jubilo Iwata vs Vissel Kobe Yamaha Stadium
19:00 Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium
19:00 Cerezo Osaka vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima Kincho Stadium
19:00 Sagan Tosu vs Kawasaki Frontale Best Amenity Stadium
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