J.League Division 1: Matchday Sixteen Round-up

Japan Under-23 national team player Kensuke Nagai continued his excellent form of late, scoring his eighth goal in sixteen J.League appearances and his sixth in four as his late equaliser at the Nissan Stadium gave Nagoya Grampus a share of the points against Yokohama F-Marinos. Having contributed more than a third of Grampus’s goals in Division 1 this season, his presence could be sorely missed during the London 2012 campaign, the 23-year old guaranteed to be absent for ties with Consadole Sapporo and Vissel Kobe, and depending on the progress of the Under-23 Samurai Blue, may also be unavailable for the 11 August fixture with Shimizu S-Pulse.

Although the first-half ended goalless, both sides failed to make the most of a number of opportunities, Marinos’ Shingo Hyodo not connecting cleanly with a volley which allowed Tulio Tanaka to head over from underneath his crossbar, while Jungo Fujimoto saw a superb 25-yard strike cannon off the crossbar and a free-kick draw a fine save from Hiroki Iikura to prevent Grampus taking the lead. Marquinhos put Marinos in front with eight minutes played in the second-half, the Brazilian drilling his shot under the body of Yoshinari Takagi from ten yards, but it would be Nagai who had the final word, Josh Kennedy chesting a cross down to the waiting striker on the eighteen yard line, and he controlled the rising ball perfectly to fire home into the bottom left corner. Only two points separate the two teams, Grampus in seventh and Marinos in twelfth.

In a highly anticipated encounter at the Yurtec Stadium, the top two teams demonstrated a commitment to attacking football and a desire to collect all three points, the fixture ending with honours even after a thrilling 2-2 draw. Going into this contest Vegalta Sendai had scored the most goals of any side at home, while visitors Sanfrecce boast the most potent attack of any on their travels and the division’s leading goalscorer in Hisato Sato.

Wilson had his seventh goal in fourteen appearances for Vegalta as they took the lead on ten minutes. Playing a diagonal pass to Shingo Akamine, his fellow forward’s quick feet enabled him to avoid two challenges before slipping the ball back into Wilson’s path, and he looked on as the Brazilian took one touch before finding the bottom left corner. Wilson then nearly turned provider for Akamine, his pull back across the six yard box meeting with a shot which was too close to Shusaku Nishikawa in the Sanfre goal, while Ryang Yong-Gi tried to side-foot a shot past the Sanfrecce stopper which he held comfortably low to his left.

Three minutes had been played in first-half stoppage time when Sato made his own imprint on the match, beating Takuto Hayashi to the bounce of a Mikic cross, and directing the ball with an outstretched left foot into the now empty net for the equaliser. Sanfre then edged into the left with 25 minutes remaining, Toshihiro Aoyama’s cross-field pass gracefully clipped back across goal by Yojiro Takahagi to allow Koji Morisaki to volley left-footed past Hayashi. Wilson restored parity in racing on to a poor back pass, Nishikawa just a fraction too late off his line to clear the ball away, and the forward rounded the goalkeeper to clip home as the game entered the final ten minutes. Hironori Ishikawa was inches from puting Sanfrecce back in front having been introduced to the action on 86 minutes, a run from halfway and strike finding Hayashi’s crossbar, but the game ended as it began, Vegalta looking down from the summit of the table with Sanfrecce in second by two points.

Zdeno Verdenik oversaw his first win as Omiya Ardija manager, Daigo Watanabe’s stoppage time goal pushing the Squirrels in to fourteenth place as they entertained Shimizu S-Pulse at the NACK-5 Stadium. Rafael provided the assist with a precise, defence-splitting pass, Watanabe’s shot somehow finding its way between Akihiro Hayashi’s knees to nestle in the S-Pa net.

Albirex Niigata’s fifth goal in front of their faithful fans at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium was sufficient to gain a vital point against guests Kashima Antlers, in excess of 35,000 lending their support to Masaaki Yanagishita’s men. A fifth defeat in eight matches in Niigata looked on the cards as Dutra put Antlers ahead on seventeen minutes, Toru Araiba spotting Yuya Osako’s run into the penalty area to tee up the Brazilian on the edge of the eighteen-yard box, and he spun away from Isao Homma and found the bottom-left. However, Michael’s first goal of the season for Albi eight minutes before the interval ensured the match ended with honours even, a delicious low cross from Yusuke Murakami met with a clever finish as the striker steered the ball away from Hitoshi Sogahata.

A win for Frontale would have lifted the Kawasaki outfit into third place at the culmination of Matchday Sixteen, but their disappointing record at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium showed no signs of abating as they slipped to their fifth defeat in nine matches in front of their home crowd. Ken Tokura’s spectacular strike in the 77th minute means Vissel Kobe are only three points off third place, the striker winning a battle for possession with Junichi Inamoto in midfield before unleashing a powerful strike into the top left corner which left goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe a helpless spectator.

Close to 14,000 turned out at the Yamaha Stadium to see Jubilo Iwata move into third position with a 3-1 win over FC Tokyo. A fine Kosuke Yamamoto cross was met with a glancing header from Shuto Yamamoto to leave Shuichi Gonda motionless on the goal-line with six minutes on the clock, but it wouldn’t be until the 70th minute that they added to their advantage. Patient build-up play after Yuichi Komano’s corner from the right had initially been cleared resulted in a sweeping forty-yard ball to the feet of Tomohiko Miyazaki, and Gonda was at fault for not correctly reading what was almost certainly intended to be a cross but which crept inside the near post. Cho Byung-Kuk headed the third on 84 minutes, getting in front of Yuhei Tokunaga to meet Komano’s cross. Hiroki Kawano scored just the eighth goal away from the Ajinimoto Stadium for the Gas one minute before the end of normal time, too late to spur any comeback for a team which subsequently fell three places in the table as this round of matches concluded.

Hiroki Sakai’s time at Kashiwa Reysol ended in the best possible fashion as he helped Kashiwa Reysol to a 6-2 victory over Gamba at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, the biggest defeat they have inflicted on the Osaka club since they strolled to a 7-1 win in 1996. The Sun Kings sped into a three goal lead courtesy of two goals in just seven minutes from Masakatsu Sawa and another from Masato Kudo in the twentieth minute. Sawa’s first was just reward for chasing down a long pass into the left corner which Tatsuya Uchida was forced to clear long downfield, only to find it headed back in to the same area by Daisuke Nasu. Sawa won the race to the ball ahead of the right-back, controlling on his chest and then sending his finish between Yosuke Fujigaya’s legs.

Four minutes later, abject positioning and defending from the Gamba midfield permitted Leandro Domingues to run unchallenged from close to halfway to the edge of the penalty area and strike right-footed, Fujigaya getting down to his right but merely pushing the ball in to the path of Sawa to force in the rebound.

A further error in midfield led to the opening for Reysol’s third, Tomokazu Myojin ceding possession to Domingues in an advanced position after failing to control Hiroki Fujiharu’s clearance. The midfielder pushed forward before shuffling the ball inside Fujiharu, Kudo ending the move with a well-placed shot to Fujigaya’s right.

Hopes of a fightback were raised as the home side pulled two back before the break, a spell of Gamba pressure concluding in Yasuhito Endo’s header from Takahiro Futagawa’s floating cross, before Ahikiro Sato netted on the stroke of half-time, Takanori Sugeno spilling Shu Kurata’s shot to give the striker a simple finish from close range.

Reysol, however, added a further three goals in the second period to complete a humiliating day for Gamba and leave them five points from safety. Ten minutes after the restart Domingues turned to fire a superb volley into the top of Fujigaya’s net, and midway through the second half Sawa had his hat-trick, an angled crossfield pass from Domingues giving Koki Mizuno time and space to swing a ball to the back-post for the 29-year old striker to turn in. The same combination then supplied Junya Tanaka with a header in the 92nd minute, for a result which moves Reysol into fourth position after six wins in seven undefeated league fixtures.

Masanobu Matsunami’s managerial reign at Gamba is open to question, meanwhile, a record of a point per game since he took over at the end of March wholly inadequate to prevent a drop to Division 2, and shedding goals at a rate of more than two per game is a significant sign that he can’t find an answer to the defensive problems which have plagued his team since the beginning of the season.

Please click the link for a full match report on Cerezo Osaka 1 Urawa Red Diamonds, and details of the other young talent leaving Japan for Germany, as Hiroshi Kiyotake played in his final game for the home side.

Finally, Consadole Sapporo were just seconds away from their third clean sheet and fifth point of the campaign at the Best Amenity Stadium when Kota Mizunuma’s looping header from 14 yards dipped under the crossbar to keep Sagan Tosu in the top half of the table as the season nears its halfway point. Sagan continue to perform admirably in defence, holding the joint best record in the league for the fewest goals conceded. Consa, on the otherhand, allowed their 37th of a truly miserable year.

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