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J.League Second Stage, Matchday Six Preview

Thursday 28th July 2016
The J.League Second Stage is picking up the pace and the sixth round provides an interesting collection of matches. The top three teams in the second stage table all face teams currently fighting against relegation – sure they haven't been playing well thus far, but they are scrapping to stay in the top division. There's also a classic encounter featuring two of Japan's most decorated and popular clubs. 

Ventforet Kofu vs. Urawa Red Diamonds

Last week's 3-1 win in Nagoya saw Ventforet Kofu climb out of the relegation zone by a single point, as they look to keep a hold of their top division status. Whilst they will definitely be considered the underdog here, the Yamanashi club's results have been more favourable in the last two weeks. Most notably a 3-3 tie with first stage winners, Kashima Antlers, Japan's most successful club.  It's fair to say that their new signing, Dudu, may have had an influence on them in their last two games. The Brazilian forward has scored two goals in as many games, and one of them was his debut. This 26-year old may be the turning point for Ventforet Kofu as he provides the essential goals for them to stay in the top tier.

Urawa Red Diamonds are in serious title contention and currently are set to qualify for the championship stage. They are also in joint-top place in the second stage table, as they've amassed thirteen points from four wins and one draw. In fact, the Red-and-Blacks are on a seven-game unbeaten streak as Tadanari Lee and Shinzo Koroki continue to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

As well the league standings against the home side, history doesn't particularly smile upon Ventforet Kofu's fortunes against their opposition. They haven't beaten them in five years and Urawa Red Diamonds typically enjoy visiting the Chuo Bank stadium, as they've won the last three games there.
Shonan Bellmare vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Shonan Bellmare has seemingly fallen from grace, fans were expecting opulence and progression after last year's impressive eighth place finish. The team now find themselves deep in a relegation battle as they currently sit in sixteenth place in the overall table. This is a result of their poor form, their last three games they've lost without scoring a single goal.

Kawasaki Frontale is top of the second stage table as a result of continuing their fantastic form from the end of the first stage. They currently boast a very impressive seventeen game unbeaten streak which doesn't seem to have an end in sight. The team are a real cohesive unit and have a plethora of different goal scorers. However, spearheading the front line of attack is Kobayashi, who has been in scintillating form having scored six goals in the last five games. The team will not want to replicate Godzilla who made a special appearance before their last home game… an interesting penalty kick.
There's usually quite the tally of goals when these teams meet. The last game back in March ended 4-4 and previous encounters have seen Kawasaki Frontale win 6-1, 5-0 and 4-2. Considering Shonan Bellmare are in such woeful condition and Kawasaki Frontale can't put a foot wrong right now, there's only one winner here.


Yokohama FM vs. Nagoya Grampus

Yokohama FM this time last week were sitting at the top the J.League second stage table, although were dislodged by failing to win against Júbilo Iwata. The unlikely title contenders, however, could find themselves in pole position with a victory here and if results elsewhere are favourable. Unlike Urawa and Kawasaki who are set to qualify through the overall table, Yokohama FM finished eleventh in the first stage. Therefore, have quite the task to finish in the top three in the overall table and will see qualification through winning the second stage as a more achievable goal.

Nagoya Grampus, are in a world of pain right now, their terrible season was unexpected considering compared to the last term where they finished mid-table. It was only six years ago when elation rang around the Toyota Stadium as they were crowned J.League champions. The team are winless in eight matches and desperately need three points to change their fortunes, as they sit second-to-bottom in the league. The team are very short of quality in front of goal considering that Sakai has scored the team's only goal in the last five games.

Form and league standings would suggest a straightforward win for Yokohama, however, the J.League does have an inclination towards surprises and Nagoya Grampus classically do well against their opposition here. In fact, they've won three of their last five games against them, including their 3-1 win back in May.


Gamba Osaka vs. Sanfrecce Hiroshima

This could well be the showpiece of this weekend's games. Easily two of the most popular, recognisable and successful clubs in Japan go head-to-head in the state of the art Suita City stadium. Both clubs have fallen below usual expectations this season, however, this is the beauty of a league which is so fluid and open.

Gamba Osaka is currently seventh in both the overall and second stage tables. They have a fair distance to catch-up on in both tables to qualify for the championship stage and will need to produce positive results soon. They've been short of form in the last three weeks, having failed to win throughout the whole duration. Last weekend's 3-2 loss to Kashiwa Reysol really dented their ambitions for the season, considering their rivals including Sanfrecce Hiroshima enjoyed success and advanced up the table(s). Prior to that, the team were subject of two 0-0 draws, altogether the three results show both sides to Gamba Osaka. The conservative defensive side which can't break down the opponent and the hell-for-leather side which ends up conceding more than they score. The squad selection and team talk must be a real headache for Kenta Hasegawa who must find the right balance in this team.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima has started to look like the championship winning side they were last season, their 2-0 win against Vissel Kobe was just the result to restore confidence at the Big Arch. The purple-clad team are fourth in the overall table and with a good set of results could see them sneak in. There's a lot of football yet to play and they are only nine points off second and third places; which isn't much of a distance in the J.League. The team are home to the Nigerian forward, Peter Utaka who happens to be the division's top goal scorer with thirteen goals so far in the competition.

The game has become somewhat of a classic in Japanese football, this fixture was last year's finale in the championship stage to determine the overall winner of the whole domestic league season. Played over two legs, Sanfrecce Hiroshima ran out as 5-2 winners on aggregate. However, just a few days after the same two teams met again in the Emperor's Cup 2015 final, where Gamba Osaka won 3-0. Quite the competitive rivalry has stemmed from the two sides spat over success. Undoubtedly the tie of the round.


Elsewhere in the league, Omiya Ardija visits Vissel Kobe at the NOEVIR stadium in a mid-table clash, which has become quite the fortress for the home team. Bottom of the league, Avispa Fukuoka welcomes Vegalta Sendai as they try to turn their season around and stay in the top division. Hiroshi Joufuku has been dismissed from his managerial role with F.C. Tokyo as they visit fourteenth placed Albirex Niigata. A win here for the Japanese capital team and they could put some daylight between themselves and the teams fighting relegation. Júbilo Iwata plays host to this season's surprise package, Kashiwa Reysol who have just put together back-to-back wins. Last time out twenty-nine-year-old Cristiano won the match ball as he put three past Osaka, one to watch against an indifferent home side struggling for form.
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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