2012 J.League Division 1 attendances sliced five ways

It will come as little surprise to find Urawa Red Diamonds once again topping the attendance figures in J.League Division 1. An average crowd of 36,634 attended matches at the Saitama Stadium, and a 2012 season record 51,879 made their way to Midori-ku, the only time the 50,000 mark had been breached, buoyed in no small part by the final league match being played out against the backdrop of an AFC Champions League place being at stake against Nagoya Grampus. This was in essence a repeat of the 2011 season, when the J.League’s traditional final day ‘bounce’ combined with a title-deciding fixture against Kashiwa Reysol to bring in a crowd of 54,441. Despite a truly miserable year, Consadole Sapporo eked out a greater number of visitors to their home matches than both Omiya Ardija and Sagan Tosu, though it is notable that the latter’s first season in the top-flight of Japanese professional football drew a club record average to both the Best Amenity and Saga Stadiums.

2012 J.League average attendances by club

2012 J.League average attendances by club

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Gates in the J.League – a cause for concern? (Part 2)

Any discussion of spectator attendance and community participation in the J.League is made all the more instructive by reference to Kashima Antler’s formative years, and in particular how a district of then just 45,000 people could satisfy the J.League’s entry criteria, which included a stadium of a minimum 15,000 capacity. Full attendance at league matches was, in essence, not seen viable for any cities of less than 100,000 residents, and Kashima’s population did not even meet the Japanese government’s formal benchmark to be designated as a town at that time, making any application to become an inaugural J.League member highly unlikely to succeed.

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ヴィッセル神戸 (Vissel Kobe) 1 鹿島アントラーズ (Kashima Antlers) 2

(Vissel Kobe dominate all but the scoreline, as Kashima Antlers’ revival continued with a 2-1 success at the HOME’S Stadium. Antlers are in tenth place as Division 1 action is suspended for the international break, Vissel two points and four places behind)

Vissel found domination, desire and a not insubstantial amount of desperation could not trump defensive errors on a mild evening at the HOME’S Stadium in Kobe, becoming masters of their own downfall as Lee Kwang-Seon erred twice to gift Kashima Antlers the victory in Akira Nishino’s first match in charge. The garlanded former Gamba Osaka manager, whose tenure at the Suita club came to an end shortly after the 2011 J.League season finished, was visibly shocked at the ease with which his side conceded both goals, Lee removed shortly after Shinzo Koroki had stroked the ball into the Vissel net from short range.

After the opening exchanges had seen Vissel camped inside Kashima territory, and Toru Araiba nearly caught in possession by Tsubasa Oya, Takeshi Aoki cleared long downfield. Lee, covering on the right and alert to the presence of Juninho, misjudged the flight of the ball and found air rather than a clean connection, allowing the 34 year-old Brazilian to head on and thump past Kenta Tokushige to give the visitors an unlikely lead after only seven minutes had been played.

Six minutes after the restart Takeshi Aoki picked out the run of Juninho’s compatriate Dutra perfectly, controlling in his stride to advance into the penalty area. In pursuit of the midfielder, however, Lee exacerbated his earlier mistake, failing to make a challenge and allowing Dutra to prod the ball to his right past Tokushige to give Koroki one of the easiest goals he will score.

Koroki could have made the game completely safe as a defensive fallibility was exposed once more, Dutra heading forward from a ball out of midfield, and although the stalwart Kashima forward could not apply the right touch to steer past Sogahata for his second, he was able to fend off Takahito Soma all too easily.

It was a case of what might have been for the home side, as among the number of opportunites they created, and boasting 60% of the possession and double the number of shots attempted, the nimble Ryota Morioka came close to scoring one of the goals of the season inside 65 minutes. Gathering a Gaku Shibasaki pass thirty yards from goal, he embarked on a weaving run which left both Mitsuo Ogasawara and Daiki Iwamasa on the floor, and his strike on the edge of the area didn’t bend quite enough to beat Hitoshi Sogahata low to his left.

Six minutes were left on the clock when Keijiro Ogawa floundered in front of goal, leaving the teenager to beat the turf in frustration. Morioka and fellow substitute Yuzo Tashiro’s one-two on the edge of the penalty area enable Morioka to pull back for the striker to score, but he could only send his effort several feet over Sogoahata’s crossbar from six yards.

The goal which gave Vissel a life line as the game entered added time would have been a worthy winner of the contest had Vissel made their pressure count. Holding up play to the right of the penalty area, captain Yoshito Okubo laid off to Keiji Kitamoto, and within two touches via Morioka, Yuzo Tashiro was through on goal to slot past Sogahata. Instead it was not enough to recover the two-goal deficit, the four minutes added time insufficient to create a further chance to equalise.

The onus will be on Nishino to resolve on-going concerns at the back while improving the return upfront. While his team’s goalscoring record could be described as adequate at this stage of the season, Vissel can only point to two teams conceding goals at a higher rate. For a manager whose sides were previously been built on movement and attacking football, it is an ambitious project for Nishino to have taken on, but having won all there is to offer in Japanese and Asian club football, and shaping Gamba Osaka from a team which had never finished in the top four into perennial J.League contenders, there should be few doubts as to his ability to thrive in what is a difficult environment.

Vissel Kobe Kashima Antlers
Goalscorers Min Goalscorers Min
Yuzo Tashiro 90 Juninho 7
Shinzo Koroki 51
Substitutes Min Substitutes Min
Park Kang-Jo
Yuzo Tashiro
46 Dutra
Chikashi Masuda
74
Lee Kwang-Seon
Ryota Morioka
54 Juninho
Shoma Doi
90+1
Keijiro Ogawa
Hiroto Mogi
74
Cautions Min Cautions Min
Masahiko Inoha 49 Hitoshi Sogahata 85

Vissel Kobe: 4-4-2 (Red); Kashima Antlers: 4-4-2 (Grey)

J.League Division 1: Matchday Thirteen live-blog – ヴィッセル神戸 (Vissel Kobe) v. 鹿島アントラーズ (Kashima Antlers)

0 Min: Welcome to today’s live blog, in which I’ll be covering the Matchday Thirteen contest between Vissel Kobe and Kashima Antlers at the HOME’S Stadium. A full preview of this match can be found here”. Team news will follow very shortly:

0 Min: Vissel Kobe – Tokushige; Soma, Kitamoto, Lee K-S, Okui; Park K-J, Nozawa, Oya, Inoha; Okubo, Ogawa

Substitures – Sakigake; Mogi, Takagi; Tanaka, Mihara; Tashiro, Morioka

0 Min: Kashima Antlers – Sogahata; Iwamasa, Araiba, Aoki, Nishi; Dutra, Shibasaki, Endo, Ogasawara; Juninho, Koroki

Substitutes – Sato; Shoji; Umebachi, Masuda, Doi; Okamoto, Sasaki

0 Min: It’s a cloudy and very warm evening in Kobe, the temperature a balmly 24 degrees. Tomohiro Inoue will oversee this contest.

1 Min: The match kicks-off, and Vissel have a free kick on the left-hand side of the field, 8 yards inside the Vissel half. A drifting Takuya Nozawa cross to the right of the penalty area is harmless, and cleared.

3 Min: Nozawa takes a free-kick from a similar distance this time, choosing to bend the ball with power, but this time it’s overcooked and caught by Hitoshi Sogahata.

4 Mins: Okubo is caught in midfield after a break, and the home side take the free-kick quickly, the ball diverted out for a corner.

6 Mins: Kunie Kitamoto meets Nozawa’s corner six yards from goal, but he glances it wide of the left upright. A good start for Vissel.

7 Mins: GOAL! Turo Araiba was nearly robbed in defence by Tsubasa Oya, but instead a long clearance from the back by Kunie Kitamoto is miscontrolled by Lee Kwang-Seon. Juninho latches on to the ball, heads on and thumps the ball past Kenta Tokushige from fifteen yards.

7 Mins: Vissel Kobe 0 Kashima Antlers 1

8 Mins: Yasushi Endo skips inside two players and whips a shot from the edge of the area. Tokushige is alert to the danger, and saves comfortably.

10 Mins: Okubo has a sniff of an opportunity from 18 yards, but his shot is into the body of Sogahata.

11 Mins: A free-kick for the visitors 40 yards from goal in a relatively central position. Endo curls the ball into the area, but while there is pressure on Tokushige and Juninho sees a follow-up effort cleared off the line, referee Inoue has spotted an infringement.

14 Mins: While Vissel are playing a high-tempo pressing game and forcing Kashima to cede possession, they are struggling to retain any quality ball through a mixture of misplaced possesses and poor control. A lot of the play is currently in and around the centre circle.

17 Mins: Juninho is a casualty of a Masahiko Inoha arm into the face while he was being held by Lee Kwang-Seon. He walks off the field and Kashima are temporarily down to ten players.

20 Mins: After good play from Ogawa on the right wing, Okubo is held up inside the penalty area by Toru Araiba. He lays the ball of to Takuya Nozawa waiting outside the penalty area, but his strike is several feet off target. A disappointing attempt from the midfielder who was under little pressure.

23 Mins: Excellent work in defence and attack by Antlers right-back Daigo Nishi, breaking up opposition play before launching a counter-attack which earns his side a throw-in close to the Vissel goal-line.

23 Mins: Halfway through the first period of play, it’s Vissel Kobe 0 Kashima Antlers 1

27 Mins: Some lovely raking passes through midfield are finding Nozawa on the right, but Vissel have taken little advantage of some promising positions.

29 Mins: A Vissel attack breaks down after some good one- and two-touch play, Ryo Okui culpable as he sends a cross straight out of play.

34 Mins: Vissel looking to build moves out defence, Okui’s hanging delivery headed back across goal by Ogawa, but Okubo can’t connect with his overhead kick and the opportunity passes.

37 Mins: Nozawa drags a shot from distance narrowly wide of Hitoshi Sogahata’s right upright.

39 Mins: Mitsuo Ogasawaro bundles over Yoshito Okubo from behind, and Nozawa has a free-kick 40 yards from goal.

40 Mins: A Nozawa set piece fails to find one of his players, Sogahata getting a strong fist to the ball, and with Kunie Kitamoto being adjudged to be in an offside position, Kashima can clear.

42 Mins: Ryo Okui has been playing in a very advanced position this half, attacking down the right flank at every opportunity. The Antlers have been the equal of any threat to this point, however, Daigo Nishi and Toru Araiba in particular very good at the back.

45 Mins: There’s a scramble in the goalmouth as Dutra shoots right-footed across Sogahata with Kitamoto unable to block, and the goalkeeper can’t hold his fierce strike. Juninho tries to follow-up, but can’t place the loose ball into the goal as his attempt hits his teammate.

45 Mins+2: Tomohiro Inoue blows his whistle, and it’s half-time.

HT: Kashima Antlers 0 Vissel Kobe 1

HT: An odd first period. Neither side have been commanding in midfield, though the share of possession and territory has been in the home side’s favour. The Antlers, however, have been gifted a goal through shabby defending, and Vissel nearly coughed up a second through a further error, only Juninho’s inability to find the target preventing them going into the interval two goals behind.

HT: Yuzo Tashiro takes to the field in place of the largely invisible Park Kang-Jo, the only change at the break.

46 Mins: Back underway at the HOME’S Stadium, Vissel kicking off.

50 Mins: A similar start in the second period to the first. Masahiko Inoha is then shown a yellow card for pulling down.

50 Mins: Ogasawara takes the free-kick, a glancing header from Takeshi Aoki very close to extending Kashima’s lead as it’s inches wide from the left post.

51 Mins: GOAL! Endo’s left-footed crossfield pass finds Dutra beautifully, who controls and advances in to the penalty area. Lee Kwang-Seon should do better and has the opportunity to win a tackle to play the ball for a corner, but fails to do so. Dutra prods to his right, and Shinzo Koroki is able to tap in from just a yard with Tokushige beaten at his near post.

54 Mins: Lee Kwang-Seon, who has been at fault for both goals, is substituted for Ryota Morioka.

56 Mins: A long ball finds Tashiro on the edge of the Antlers penalty area, and he controls the ball well on his chest. However, he’s quickly surrounded by a swarming Kashima defence, and Mitsuo Ogasawara sends the ball out of play.

59 Mins: A corner for the home side. Nozawa, whose delivery has been found wanting so far, is to take. Dutra heads clear on the six yard line.

60 Mins: Mitsuo Ogasawara makes his annoyance at being penalised clear to referee Inoue, as he believes Nozawa went to ground too easily. The decision is, however, correct.

60 Mins: Keijiro Ogawa forces a point-blank stop out of Hitoshi Sogahata after Nozawa’s free-kick from the right is headed on by Kitamoto, but the forward is correctly deemed to be offside.

63 Mins: Antlers conceding free-kick after free-kick ten to fifteen yards from their goal, but the home side are still not finding a way through a tidy Kashima defence.

64 Mins: Substitute Ryota Morioka drives from outside the penalty area, beating three Antlers players, but his shot is too close to Sogahata, and he claims low to his left.

66 Mins: With three-quarters of the match gone, it’s Vissel Kobe 0 Kashima Antlers 2.

68 Mins: Shinzo Koroki has a chance to score a second and put this game beyond Vissel’s reach. He is sliding to reach a ball, but can’t find the right touch with his outstretched boot to put it past the advancing Tokushige.

70 Mins: Roughly twenty minutes remaining and it has now become a game of attack versus counter-attack, the Antlers back line situated around their own 18 yard box and the midfield a few yards advanced. It’s a very compact unit that will be difficult to prise open.

72 Mins: A final substitution for Vissel, as Hiroto Mogi comes on for Keijiro Ogawa. Dutra then walks off as Chikashi Masuda takes his place.

75 Mins: Mogi’s first touch is a header from sixteen yards from a Takahito Soma delivery, and while it’s well directed, there is not enough power on the effort and Sogahata is able to get across to his left to take.

76 Mins: A low shot from Nozawa is a yard wide of the left post, which Sogahata most likely had covered.

79 Mins: It’s hard to recall an attack from Kashima in these latter stages, the domination of possession by Vissel so total, but they have done very little to worry a sturdy Antlers defence.

82 Mins: Perhaps resigned to their fate, the game has gone rather stale.

84 Mins: A lovely touch from Mogi allows Morioka to pull back from the touchline, but Ogawa shoots over the bar from close range. The first real opportunity of the match wasted. The two substitutes combined well to create the chance.

85 Mins: Sogahata is shown what could be generously described as a belated yellow card for time wasting.

86 Mins: Yuzo Tashiro this time has a chance for Vissel, but excellent goalkeeping from Sogahata prevents him from finishing at a tight angle. Sogahata, when he has been required, has done the simple tings very well.

90 Mins: GOAL! A goal in the final minute of normal time from Yuzo Tashiro will make the four additional minutes more interesting.

90 Mins: Vissel Kobe 1 Kashima Antlers 2

90 Mins: Juninho exits for Shoma Doi in a change for Antlers.

90 Mins+2: Akira Nishino cuts a frustrated figure on the sidelines as he sees a decision go against Yuzo Tashiro.

90 Mins+4: Sixty seconds left in this match. Nozawa has a free-kick ten yards in from the left touchline. The curled set-piece is headed goalwards, and with the assistant referee’s flag in the air, Okubo prods the ball into Sogahata’s body.

FT: The final whistle blows. Vissel Kobe were unable to make their possession and territory tell, Kashima relatively untroubled until the final seven or eight minutes. New Vissel manager Akira Nishino will have much to consider from this performance, particularly some very soft defending which led to both goals, and a lack of a real cutting edge in attack.

FT: Vissel Kobe 1 Kashima Antlers 2

FT: Thank you for joining me. A full match report will follow on Monday 28 May.

J.League releases fixtures for 2012 season

The J.League has released the opening fixtures for the 2012 season. The Japanese Super Cup, the traditional curtain raiser for the professional football season and contested by the current champions of J.League Division One and the holders of the Emperor’s Cup has been pencilled in for 3 March. A new name will be inscribed in the history books as neither Kashiwa Reysol nor FC Tokyo have previously been successful in the one-off fixture.

The Sun Kings, having become the first team in J.League history to capture the Division One title while being reigning Division Two championship holders, will begin what they hope will be a strong defence at home in an intriguing fixture against Yokohama F-Marinos. While the Marinos finished in fifth position in 2011, the appointment of Yasuhiro Higuchi as manager following the sacking of Kazushi Kimura in December has puzzled. Higuchi fared poorly during his managerial reign at Yokohama FC and had a mediocre record in spells at both Omiya Ardija and Montedio Yamagata.

In what is sure to be an emotional fixture, Vegalta Sendai will meet Kashima Antlers at the Yurtec Stadium almost exactly a year to the day the Great East Japan Earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region. Both the Yurtec Stadium and the Kashima Soccer Stadium were badly damaged as a result of the earthquake, which with the subsequent tsunami ravaged the northeast coast of Honshu causing thousands of fatalities and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

The promoted Consadole Sapporo will open their campaign at the Sapporo Dome pitched against Júbilo Iwata. Consa will be aiming to avoid a repeat of their one previous appearance in the top division in 2008, when they mustered only four victories, suffered twenty four defeats, and conceded seventy goals in limping to a paltry eighteen points.

J.League Division One, 10 March

Consadole Sapporo vs Júbilo Iwata
Vegalta Sendai vs Kashima Antlers
Omiya Ardija vs FC Tokyo
Kawasaki Frontale vs Albirex Niigata
Nagoya Grampus vs Shimizu S-Pulse
Gamba Osaka vs Vissel Kobe
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Urawa Red Diamonds
Sagan Tosu vs Cerezo Osaka

J.League Division One, 11 March

Kashiwa Reysol vs Yokohama F-Marinos

(This fixture has been moved to 11 March by the J.League. On 7 March Buriram PEA FC will entertain Kashiwa Reysol in Thailand, in what is the first of their 2012 AFC Champions League Group H qualification games. Both Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus play their opening 2012 Champions League fixtures at home on 7 March, while FC Tokyo meet Brisbane Roar in Australia a day earlier)

J.League Division Two, 4 March

Mito HollyHock vs Yokohama FC
JEF United Ichihara Chiba vs Montedio Yamagata
Shonan Bellmare vs Kyoto Sanga FC
FC Gifu vs Gainare Tottori
Tokyo Verdy vs Matsumoto Yamaga
Ventforet Kofu vs Tochigi SC
Fagiano Okayama vs Kataller Toyama
Ehime FC vs Machida Zelvia
Avispa Fukuoka vs Roasso Kumamoto
Giravanz Kitakyushu vs Tokushima Vortis
Oita Trinita vs Thespa Kusatsu

Kashima Antlers to face Mito HollyHock in pre-season

Kashima Antlers will play Mito HollyHock in their traditional pre-season friendly and Ibaraki Prefecture derby on 25 February 2012. The J.League Division One giants will face their neighbours in Division Two at Mito’s home ground, K’s Denki Stadium, as part of the 2012 Ibaraki Soccer Festival. Further information including ticketing details can be found on the HollyHock website from January 18.

Takayuki Suzuki renews contract with Mito HollyHock

Takayuki Suzuki, the veteran striker whose former clubs include Red Star Belgrade and Portland Timbers, and whose time at Kashima Antlers included loan spells at six different clubs, has extended his contract with J.League Division Two side Mito HollyHock.  Suzuki, who appeared for the national team on 55 occasions, scoring 11 times, last made an appearance for the Samurai Blue in 2005. The forward from Ibaraki Prefecture has concluded a deal which will see him stay in his home region until the end of 2012.

Takayuki Suzuki during his spell at Red Star Belgrade (Courtesy of FANIQ.com)