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J.League 2017 Match Day Two continues familiar theme

Thursday 9th March 2017
Japan's football season, the J.League kicked off last week; seemingly nothing went to the usual plot. This round of fixtures continued along the same theme with a surprising set of results.

The weekend's action started with the conventional afternoon kick-offs featuring six matches across the top tier. Sanfrecce Hiroshima was at home again; and will have wanted to get things going after a disappointing draw on an opening day. Their guests were Shimizu S-Pulse, who were promoted from J.2 last season.

The first half did little to suggest that either team were looking for a win, with defender Shiotani having the best shot of the play: only to be saved by the keeper – and little else actually happening. Eight minutes into the second half, Chiba somehow managed to head S-Pulse player Matsubara, rather than the ball and a penalty was justly awarded. North Korean international Tese Chong took the spot kick and coolly converted it to take the lead, S-Pulse were up 1-0 away from home.

Shibasaki and Miyayoshi were both introduced by Sanfrecce shortly after going down as head coach Hajime Moriyasu tried to salvage something from the game. Miyayoshi went agonisingly close but missed the goal. Shortly after, the J.League fixture ended; another disappointing day for the Violet Kingdom; as are still winless this year.

Urawa Red Diamonds were also looking to right some wrongs from the opening weekend. They came up ever-so-short against Yokohama FM in a thrilling contest which finished 3-2. However, would have been jubilant after their mid-week success in the AFC Champions League; a 5-2 win against FC Seoul. They hosted Cerezo Osaka at the Saitama 2002 Stadium. The high amount of homegrown Japanese players in this game meant that national head coach Vahid Halilhodžić was among the spectators for this match.

Twenty-two minutes in Wataru Endo glided a near perfect ball past the visiting defence right at the feet of Yuki Muto's feet; who gleefully powered it home past the keeper to take the lead. The next goal was more of a: “right place, right time” situation for Shinzo Koroki – he caught the end of Rafael Silva's shot which was saved but ultimately placed for the Japanese international to slot home against a helpless Cerezo defence.

The second half continued with a very similar pattern. Determined to get a goal now, Rafael Silva cut through the opposition's backline by virtue of Aoki's ball and couldn't resist taking the shot which ultimately ended the game as a contest. The goal put the Reds up 3-0 and was his third of the season, making him the J.League current top goal scorer.

Cerezo Osaka did have one memento from the day, a good set-piece from an offensive corner. Souza whipped in a lovely ball for the new Croatian signing, Matej Jonjic to head home. Both of which may be pivotal for the club's season.
Highlights from Urawa's 3-1 win.

The Champions, Kashima Antlers were in action against Ventforet Kofu – one of the teams tipped to struggle in the J.League this season. It's easy to see why as well. Despite having roughly half of the ball in the game, they have very few genuine or even half chances. It could be a long and not very enjoyable season for the Ventforet faithful. Kashima wasn't terribly impressive in front of goal but did manage to break the deadlock in the second half with a lovely half-volley strike from new signing Leo Silva. Ventfortet did have the chance to pull things level from the spot when Michibuchi broke into the box and was consequently fouled. Now deep into injury time, Wilson took spot-kick but simply blasted it at Kwon Sun-Tae for an easy save and to wrap the game up.

Kicking off slightly later was a game from the Shizuoka prefecture; where Júbilo Iwata hosted Vegalta Sendai. Neither of which set the J.League alight last season, thirteenth and twelfth respectively. Therefore, relatively little would have been expected from the sides, although the end result was an entertaining game full of chances (albeit of varying quality). Both sides went close in the first half, but neither broke the stalemate. That honour belonged to the away side's Hiroaki Okuno who was the recidivist of a scramble in the box; he then curled it upward and into the back of the net. After the goal the game continued in its very attacking style, resulting in over twenty attempts on goal; and a further sixteen corners. Although Okuno's goal was the difference between the two sides as Vegalta Sendai make it two wins out of two.

F.C. Tokyo, last weekend shook the Japanese football scene by defeating the J.League champions, Kashima Antlers – largely down to their poor performances last season which made them a relatively unappealing team to watch. Although that trend seems to have ended with the incoming Yoshiyuki Shinoda – who has changed the club for the better. This week they welcomed Omiya Ardija to the Ajinomoto Stadium. Kensuke Nagai got the Tokyo club started in great fashion – thundering into the box making very good runs.

Masato Morishge opened the scoring in the second half with a powerful strike which was too hot for the keeper, as it went in for the first goal of the match. The away side did try to get back into the game and came closest with Dragan Mrdja's header from a corner, but ultimately was too high for the goal. F.C. Tokyo. However, they then enjoyed a good spell of attacking possession which resulted in spiralled attempt from Okubo, which was blocked by the visiting keeper, although only as far as Shoya Nakajima who blasted the ball into the back of the net from close range. This doubled their advantage and made it: played two, won two for the club from the capital.

Vissel Kobe is flying high it seems. Lukas Podolski is set to join the club after the European season ends – and on the opening day, they won against S-Pulse away from home. This weekend they entertained Albirex Niigata at home. Hirofumi Watanabe and Hideto Takahashi scored early and late on respectively to ensure that Kobe continued this impressive run of form. Albirex did manage to score a consolation goal but still lost the game.

Yokohama FM wrapped up the Saturday fixtures with the latest kick-off of the day. They had one of the best starts last weekend, beating arguably the best side from last year – Urawa Red Diamonds. That was probably the best game from the opening weekend and this weekend they followed it with undoubtedly the best performance this weekend. They were at home to newly promoted side, Consadole Sapporo.

Whilst the side from Hokkaido were spirited and made a fist of the game in the first half, their chances were largely lacking in overall quality; although did manage to keep out the home side for the first half. It was the second period of play which the Marinos showed their quality. Manabu Saitō played an exquisite ball for David Babunski, who like last week opened scoring proceedings two minutes after the restart.

Seemingly deflated after conceding, Sapporo gifted the ball to Saito on the wing to advance the ball along with Togashi. The initial shot from Saito was saved but ricocheted into Togashi's path and he accepted the invitation from the open net. He was shortly withdrawn from the game as Erick Mombaerts set up slightly more conservatively as was quite content to see the game out at 2-0. His position was filled by Hugo Vieira who enjoy his debut last week by scoring, eager to impress again the Portuguese forward caught the end of Amano's cross and powered it home for his second in as many appearances for the club. After the third goal, there was little else in the game to write home about, except Yokohama kept it tight as they looked just as good at the back as they did up front.
Yokohama FM could be destined for big things this season.

Sunday's games kicked off with Gamba Osaka and their trip to the Hitachi Kashiwa Soccer Stadium. They wanted to better their efforts on last week where they had to salvage the last-minute goal to equalise the game. Kenta Hasegawa would have drilled the changes into his squad given how well they reacted in this game. They dominated from kick-off, scoring in the seventh minute. Shun Nagasawa's brace cancelled out Kashiwa's second half goal; as the visitors led 2-1 just after the hour mark. The match was still evenly contested but Osaka had the upper hand, and when a penalty was awarded – Ademilson calmly tucked it away to make it 3-1 and secured the win for Gamba.

The last game of the weekend saw Kawasaki Frontale play Sagan Tosu. The team would have been pleased to be playing back at home after a lacklustre performance in Hong Kong against Eastern Sports Club; which ended 1-1. Although the end result here was the same. They did start very well, going ahead within seven minutes – but were unable to stop an excellent strike from Takahashi, which levelled up the game. Kawasaki was definitely the more likely to score in the second half, but some resolute defending from Sagan Tosu meant they didn't leave the Todoroki Athletics Stadium empty handed.

This weekend's action has left the table looking rather unusual, with Yokohama FM in pole position with the best goal difference. F.C. Tokyo is second and has yet to concede a single goal. Vissel Kobe also ties on six points but are in third and Vegalta Sendai is fourth.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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