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J.League Second Stage, Matchday Four Preview.

Friday 15th July 2016
The top-tier of Japanese football resumes its second stage action on Sunday after its first mid-week games took place just a few nights back. Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama FM and Urawa Red Diamonds lead the pack as they've all assessed nine points from three straight wins. Meanwhile, Gamba Osaka and Sagan Tosu are the only other two teams which are unbeaten league both with seven points.

Jubilo Iwata vs. Kawasaki Frontale



Kawasaki Frontale currently occupies the joint-top spot in the division along with Yokohama FM with the same points and statistics. Frontale fans, however, will be happier with their game than their title rivals, as they face an out of sorts Júbilo Iwata who have only managed to score one goal in three games. Despite having a perfect winning record so far in the stage, Kawasaki's last game went down to the wire in front of their home fans at the Todoroki.

The hosts found themselves down 2-1 to Albriex Niigata in the eightieth minute of the game yet the heroics of Kobayashi would turn the game on its head. The Aomori-born forward saved not only a point but earned all three as his two last-gasp goals saw Kawasaki Frontale run out as 3-2 winners. A dramatic performance in front of their home fans, by contrast, their away displays were much more comfortable affairs both of which ended in 3-0 victories.

Júbilo Iwata sits in the fourteenth position, star man Jay Bothroyd may be over relied on as he's scored the only goal of their second stage campaign thus far. The fans, however, will still have ambitions for the championship stage, as the team are still in a decent tenth place position in the overall table. Lacklustre performances like the one against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, where the team conceded possession, goals and fouls almost at will need to stop if those ambitions are going to develop any further.
Given each both teams' form and Kawasaki Frontale's seemingly preference to play away from home, there should only be one winner in this game, the league leaders.

Gamba Osaka vs. Avispa Fukuoka



Occupying fourth place in the league, one of the J.League's most decorated clubs, Gamba Osaka. Last year's runners-up are currently unbeaten in the second stage and will hope to continue this vein after a disappointing campaign in the primary stage, finishing sixth. Gamba Osaka is home to one of the nation's most recognisable players, Yasuhito Endō, Japan's most capped player. At the age of thirty-six, Endō's advancing years might not lend him many more championship opportunities. Two wins and a draw against Omiya Ardija in their last has left them with scope to challenge for the title.
The visitors to the Suita City stadium are Avispa Fukuoka, who originate from the south-westerly prefecture of Kyushu. The team left supporters with a lot to be desired in the first stage as they finished rock-bottom, winning just twice throughout the seventeen games. Whilst the first two games of this stage were not favourable, their mid-week meeting with F.C. Tokyo saw them turn the tables, coming back from 1-0 deficit, to win the game 2-1 with a 90th minute goal from American-born, Mizuki Hamada.

Gamba Osaka should have the edge in this one they've played well at home thus far and Patric, their uncapped Brazilian forward scored a brace last time out at the Suita. The home team to triumph here. Avispa may, however, make a fist of this game, they are currently in the relegation zone on the overall table, with the momentum from their last game, the home team might be in for a tougher challenge than originally expected.

Urawa Red Diamonds vs. Omiya Ardija



The Urawa Red Diamonds who finished fourth in the first stage of the J.League are currently bettering their performance in the second phase as they are currently ranked third in the league. They come in as one of the most in-form teams throughout the whole division, having five wins out their last five games. Shinzo Koroki has played a massive part in this streak having scored four goals in as many games, the former Japanese international should be the focal point to opposition to mark out of the game.

Omiya Ardija is also unbeaten in the league but hasn't particularly set the league alight. They scraped a last-gasp winner against a ten-man Nagoya Grampus and have proceeded to draw their next two games. They are currently residing in the mid-table space of seventh, which is exactly where they finished in the first stage of the league.  The away team have to go back several years to remember their last success against Urawa Red Diamonds, as they last defeated them in the spring of 2013.

Given Omiya Ardija's poor fortune against Urawa Red Diamonds, and the latter's electric striker and form at present the smart money would be on a home win with Koroki having a party.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs. Yokohama FM



Down at the Hiroshima Big Arch, Sanfrecce Hiroshima will be playing host to second-placed Yokohama FM. Sanfrecce Hiroshima have not lived up to the title of champions so far this season, their first stage campaign saw them finish in fourth place and they currently populate the ninth place in the second stage table. A real contrast to the silver-lined positions fans has come to expect in recent years.

Their mid-week away game against Kashiwa Reysol was a real rollercoaster of emotions for the visiting fans. Down within the first minute, enormous highs after attaining a 3-1 lead before half-time. Yet a tremendous fall when they were pegged back to 3-3, where the score stayed. That said the team does have real quality players like Sato, Utaka and Shibasaki who have all shown their quality in front of goal. When required, the veteran Croatian, Mihael Mikić,

can come from the bench and create considerable opportunities for the team. Build-up play and scoring goals are however not the team's issue, it's keeping the opposition out. Head coach, Hajime Moriyasu should consider new defensive personnel should they continue to concede at this alarming rate.
By total contrast, Yokohama FM is presently performing above all current season expectations. In the first stage, the Marinos finished in the lower-mid position of eleventh, altogether not very prosperous. Yet have come alive in the first games of the second stage, with three wins on the bounce. Should this vein of success continue they could find themselves playing in the championship stage with a shot at the title. Their last six goals scored have come from six different goal-scorers, displaying that they are a very versatile team with a lot of end product.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima has won the last three meetings between the two sides, so may have a psychological advantage over the visitors. Yet when comparing the contemporary form of the two teams, the away side are favourites. It's almost a must-win for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, otherwise, they could get left behind in the second stage race. It's too close to call, probably to the further frustration of the Sanfrecce Hiroshima faithful another draw.

Elsewhere in the league, Sagan Tosu hypothetically could top the league should results go their way and they defeat bottom-placed Nagoya Grampus. There's action from the capital as F.C. Tokyo host Kashiwa Reysol. Shonan Bellmare visits the Hyōgo prefecture for a mid-table clash against Vissel Kobe.

The first stage winners, Kashima Antlers are away to Ventforet Kofu in a game they should be winning, to build some momentum going forward. Albirex Niigata takes on Velgalta Sendai in a match which could have implications on the relegation zone.
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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