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J.League Week 6 – Sanfrecce overcome their winless run

Tuesday 11th April 2017
This weekend in the Japanese top tier is certainly one to remember. Urawa Red Diamonds with their empathic win, Yamamura coming back to haunt Kashima Antlers and of course Sanfrecce overcoming their winless run against their bitter foes and the other two relegation-threatened teams continuing to struggle.

Friday Night Games



Unlike here in England, Japan loves a bit of Friday Night Football. This weekend kicked off on the Friday evening as Gamba Osaka hosted an out of sorts Sanfrecce Hiroshima side. The tale of the tape couldn't stack the deck anymore against the visitors. In the first five games, they had failed to win a single match – and had contested relatively few of them. In fact, the only point they earned was on the opening day against Albirex Niigata.

Gamba, on the other hand, were the only team to go into week six undefeated, they maintained a record of getting something out of every game – this had them as high as the top four at the end of last week's games. Setting up what should have been an open and shut case for them. Although meetings between these two sides aren't ever that simple. Over the last 23 months, the sides have met 12 times. That's a meeting at least once every two months, and that's only on average. Some of these games were played in very quick succession.

The accumulation of these fixtures has led to a mini-rivalry between the two sides, given the regularity of the contest. This was altogether an end product of how successful the two clubs were during those respective seasons. These matches can tend to boil over into a goal frenzy; although – this particular meeting… just didn't. A very cagey first half saw just six attempts on goal from both teams.

Although that would soon change in the second half, as Hajime Moriyasu must drastically installed some urgency into the Sanfrecce side. Masato Kudo sprang into action at the start of the second half and put the visitors ahead with just seven minutes played in the half. The fans in the stands went wild for this; even if it was rebounded effort. After all, this is just their third goal this season! Knowing they'd got something good here, the Hiroshima side then sat back. Whilst defending hasn't been great from them; it proved dividends here. Gamba threw everything at the Sanfrecce back-line but couldn't find an equaliser from anywhere. Takuto Hayashi becoming a real hero in the process as he made vital saves for the side. The final whistle sounded, Sanfrecce Hiroshima recorded their first win of the season.
Highlights from the Gamba-Sanfrecce game.

Kicking off slightly later on the same night was the contest between Urawa Red Diamonds and Vegalta Sendai. The visitors did initially look like a top team this season, with real depth and few wins under their belt. Although this result may resign them to the mid-table like many expected. 3-0 down with less than half an hour played, the competitive element had been truly eliminated from the game. By the end of the half, Shinzo Koroki had scored a hat-trick and the team went in with a 4-0 lead.

The day didn't get much better for Vegalta, as they conceded a further three goals in the second half; ensuring they left the Saitama 2002 Stadium with a 7-0 loss on their hands. As a result, the team now statistically have one of the worst defences in the league. Urawa flourishing stay near the top, only behind Vissel.

Saturday Games



A word to define Kawasaki Frontale recently: inconsistent . They headed into their home match with Ventforet Kofu off the back of a good win last week, but prior to that a heavy 3-0 loss in a Greater Tokyo derby. Ventforet also hasn't seemed to have set any real trends themselves, although have won their last two.  A real unnerving and unknown setting for this game given the respective forms o both sides.

Although it was Kawasaki who took more to the game, after all with 19,000 strong behind the at the Todoroki, there's a certain dedication to do so. The home side enjoyed 61% of the overall possession, but couldn't do anything with it in regulation time – neither could Ventforet – who had been limited all game. Although come added time and the game really kicked into gear.  Akito Kawamoto broke the deadlock in the 91st minute; surely thinking he'd won the game for the visitors. Sadly not; as the celebrations were cut short by Tatsuki Nara. The defender was up front for a corner; as he slotted home a near-perfect head above and beyond the goalkeeper. An absolute gem of a delivery from Kengo Nakamura, for 1-1 in the 93rd-minute equaliser – the whistle sounding shortly after, a draw about the right result for both sides.

Times have been really hard for Albirex Niigata; they've accumulated two points from two draws – but lost every other match. But, they have been trying to do all the right things. They had more efforts and more shots on target than Sagan Tosu this weekend, but still lost 3-0. Frustration clearly setting in, the team exuded a multitude of defensive errors. Seemingly more and more the game crept away from them. Although that's not to take away from how efficient Sagan Tosu were, especially; Kyosuke Tagawa – the 18-year-old who scored a brace in the last ten minutes of the game.

If times have been poor to the aforementioned Albirex, then they've been downright depressing for Omiya Ardija. The team's form is one of the poorest in world football, never mind just Japanese. They had lost five on the bounce before welcoming top of the table, Vissel Kobe, to the NACK5 stadium. Right-back Ryo Okui was very suspect of outrageous defending which gifted Vissel possession in attacking areas – and allowed Yuya Nakasaka to slot home his second of the season; more importantly put Kobe ahead, 1-0. It didn't take long in the second half for Vissel to double the advantage. The league leaders continued to look the better team, but didn't score another and won 2-0. With six losses, out of six, it could be a long season for Omiya Ardija which ultimately may lead to J2. For Vissel, back to winning ways secures them another week at the top of the tree.

Shimizu S-Pulse is still enjoying their return to the top flight; especially with North Korean international, Tese Chong, as their main attacking option. This week they played Kashiwa Reysol away from home. Those in attendance at the Hitachi saw a lot of attacking play, sadly most of it was off-target. The first half came and went with neither side managing to break the deadlock, but the home supporters did see their team absolutely boss the ball, having 74% of it. Although an old football maxim came back to haunt Kashiwa Reysol, it's okay to have possession – but it's useless with no end product. S-Pulse saw a lot more of the ball in the second half; and were able to do ultimately a lot more with it than their adversaries. Chong scored in the 65th minute, for his fourth of the season. Flustered by the goal, Shimotaira made his three substitutions in quick fashion yet none of them could change the team's fortunes. It was the sub for the away side that had the last laugh, Mitchell Duke from Australia – only introduced in the last ten minutes who made it 2-0, and S-Pulse goes into the top half of the table. Kashiwa drops to fourth-bottom, just a place above the relegation zone.
Footage from S-Pulse's trip to Kashiwa.

Both Kashima Antlers and Cerezo Osaka entered their match in fine form, the Antlers had won their last four matches whilst the side from Kansai region was unbeaten in their last three. The Kashima Soccer Stadium was buoyant with 21,000 supporters on hand to support their side after a good series of results. The two sides are notable for their low scoring and attrition rates; so, goals weren't particularly on the cards in this game. Kazuya Yamamura; had previously played for the Antlers before being released in 2015; after a lack of first-team chances – and was the haunting difference in this one. He joined Cerezo last season and helped them back up to J1, now facing his former employers for the first time; headed a goal home to silence the Kashima home crowd. Muted celebrations from the player himself, yet he had done the damage already – and the score stayed the same; Cerezo travelled back to Osaka with the points.

Yokohama FM desperately wanted to get back to winning ways after not doing so in the last three games; which saw their early title dreams start to evaporate. They were ever-ready for the arrival of the inconsistent Júbilo Iwata. The Mitsuzawa is capable of holding a particularly big crowd, with 38,000+ in attendance for this – a sign of the popularity of football in Yokohama. The first half finished level at 1-1, but the Yokohama faithful were by far the happier supporters – having nine times as many shots on target than their opposition, and their keeper hadn't been forced to make a single save. The match was settled in the 73rd minute when Saito made his fifth assist of the season; when he lobbed a measured ball at the feet of Kanai, who gracefully glided the ball home for 2-1; and the match. The home side now climbing back up the table in seventh, whilst Iwata slump to thirteenth.

Consadole Sapporo is adjusting to life back in the top-flight, but have made their home form something of real envy. Based in Hokkaido, it's a long commute for most visiting teams. F.C. Tokyo took the pilgrimage to the Sapporo Dome this weekend; and got off to a good start. Eight minutes in they held the lead. Although the teams did go in at half time level due to a timely equaliser. It seems that Shuhei Yomoda and his squad have an inner resolve at home, to not lose for the pride of Hokkaido. They went out in the second half and terrorised the team from the capital, so they couldn't make anything happen going forward. Defensively astute, Sapporo picked their moment to go forward did so with Tokura, who was in exactly the right place at the right time – he'd slipped past the defenders and posted it past the keeper, 2-1. This was the winning goal and Sapporo secured another vital three points in their quest to stay up.
Highlights from the Hokkaido comeback.

Altogether a very watchable weekend of J.League football, Vissel Kobe proved after their defeat last week they are still serious title contenders. Urawa hitting seven past their opposition is a statement of their firepower and Hiroshima picking up their first win of the season shows there is still life in the club, and could still make something of the season yet.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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