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J.League – Week Three Review

Wednesday 15th March 2017
The football is coming thick and fast in Japan's top league. This week saw the league's first Friday night kick-offs of the campaign. Could all the unusual suspects keep their momentum up as the J.League table begins to take shape?

Kawasaki Frontale were at home to a Kashiwa Reysol team who've been inconsistent in the first two games, with a win and a loss. Although the Todokori isn't the best place to go if you want to change your fortunes given that Kawasaki is unbeaten at home in their last five games. Despite being aged thirty-six Kengo Nakamura is still an integral part of the Frontale game. He proved that in this game, setting up the first for Taniguchi in the forty-second minute (a delicious delivery from a corner kick), and then scoring the next goal three minutes later. A real poacher's effort, right place and right time style of opportunity. The two goals were decisive; Kashiwa did come back a little bit in the second half scoring from a corner but after they were reduced to ten men, couldn't fathom a comeback. Picking up from last season, Kawasaki now makes up the top three with seven points from three games.

Playing concurrently were last year's champions, Kashima Antlers, as they invited the would-be champions who started the day at the top of the table – Yokohama F. Marinos for this marquee game of the weekend. Despite initially looking rather cagey, the game soon became end-to-end. Close strikes from Ito, Doi and Kanazaki made sure the 12,000+ in attendance were on the edge of their seats. Although the first half finished goalless; it wasn't for lack of trying. Come to the hour mark, it was Yokohama who made the attacking substitutions with Hugo Vieira and Keita Endo coming on. The Portuguese forward made an instant impact going very close, but had his effort saved as he was too close to Kwon Sun-Tae who gathered the ball in his hands. In the end, it was work of Kashima's super-sub, Yuma Suzuki who made the difference – heading the ball into the back of the net after only playing thirteen minutes. The goal stunned Yokohama; their first defensive lapse of the campaign – and the game came to a natural conclusion. The Champions had won their first game in front of their own fans this season.
Footage from the game between Kashima Antlers and Yokohama.

Urawa Red Diamonds kicked off just thirty minutes after the other two Friday night games, as they played Ventforet Kofu. Despite a cagey first half which ended 0-0; the second was anything but. Given the statures of the two clubs, it's unsurprising that Urawa bossed possession of the ball and had a lot more attempts that their opposition. Come the fifty-seventh minute, Shinzo Koroki showed his worth in front of goal; firing the team ahead from close range. Moments later; with the defence already penetrated, Muto was unmarked in the box and steered home an aerial effort with his head to double the team's advantage.

Come the Saturday, the remaining fixtures of the week were played. Winless Consadole Sapporo welcomed fellow promoted side, Cerezo Osaka. The game was a tale of two headed goals, Jonjic put the visitors ahead early on – scoring his second goal in as many games. This seemed to inspire the Hokkaido side which battled on. Yomoda made very attacking substitutions which saw Tokura head home the equalising goal which ensured that they didn't finish the game pointless. It ended 1-1; a vital point for both clubs as early signs show it's going to be a long season ahead for both of them.

In another one of the conventional kickoffs, Sagan Tosu hosted a struggling Sanfrecce Hiroshima side. The home side went up on the stroke of halftime through a sensational Riki Harakawa free-kick. He and his peers kept the one-goal lead to the end, keeping out the visitors who looked fired up after the goal. This was Sagan's first win of the season which elevated them to 11th place, whilst Sanfrecce is down in the doldrums with a lone point and now occupy 14th.

One of last season's surprise packages was the rise of Omiya Ardija; Hiroki Shibuya has masterminded their return to J1 in 2015, and last season managed to get them to finish 5th. Well ahead of schedule, so many expected the same despite the sale of Akihiro Ienaga. Anything but has transpired at the NACK5. Winless before the game with back to back losses, Júbilo Iwata ensured that trend continued as they paid Omiya a visit. Up within five minutes via a well-rehearsed set-piece, then two minutes into the second half, Kawamata broke into a very flimsy defence and took no second invitation to score, slotting it home in a collected fashion. The home fans did see their team score, but the goal did little more than cease up the Iwata defence as they went on to win 2-1.

This year's feel-good team are undoubtedly Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite spending a year in J2 last season, they remained to be one of Japan's most followed football teams. This campaign back in the top-flight was set to be rather challenging for them, due to the transition – but after some opening day nerves, the players have got it together. They came in off the back of last week's win looking for another at the Denka Big Swan Stadium, awaiting them were Albirex Niigata. The home side was quite evidently full of nerves, mustering very few shots and allowing S-Pulse to have most of the possession. Spectators had to wait until the second half for the first goal; Tae-Se Jong, the North Korean international, headed home a point-blank range goal to see the visitors go ahead. This marked his second of the campaign. The travelling fans were then treated to another goal in stoppage time, the iconic blonde-haired Matsubara hit a shot at goal. The Albirex keeper made contact but not enough as it trickled into the back of the net to make it 2-0. S-Pulse is now 6th in the standings, whilst the Niigata team are down in the dumps in 15th place.
Highlights from the match between S-Pulse and Albirex Niigata.

Kicking off an hour later than the usual games was the showdown between two of top rated teams. Both Vegalta Sendai and Vissel Kobe entered the game with two wins out of two; an exciting game in prospect. Although at this early stage, not really an end or be-all game. The Yurtec Stadium was rocking with over 14,000 in attendance for this game. In contrast to the build-up, the first half was anything but exciting. Very few attempts and all of which were relatively low quality. Ishikawa's attempt to put the home side in front was arguably the best but was still fairly off. Come the second half it was evident that Kobe head coach Nelsinho Baptista stressed the importance of taking their chances with the players. They didn't necessarily make many opportunities in the second half, but they took them. Omori drilled home a ball deep into the opposition net to put Vissel ahead just seconds after the restart. Rocked by the goal, it wasn't long until the home side conceded again – six minutes later in fact to a Fujita effort which hit the bottom right corner, gliding past the keeper with speed. The game ended as a contest at that point as Sendai seemingly didn't have their shooting boots on all game. This elevated Kobe to the top of the table, as the only team to win their first three games.
Highlights from Vissel Kobe's win this weekend.

Gamba Osaka hosted F.C. Tokyo in the late kickoff. The team from the capital should have been in good spirits considering they won their first two games of the season. Yet the performance that they gave in this gave was far from the expectations they had previously set. The once resolute defence was defeated by a lovely move from Ademilson; where he took a shot that rebounded off the post and in for the goal. The next two goals were gifted to Gamba Osaka, both examples of defenders not being entirely comfortable in possession and accidentally netting own goals. Throughout the game Okubo also missed a penalty for Tokyo, altogether wrapping up a dismal day for the team.

This set of results really shakes up the top four of Japanese football, as Vissel Kobe takes the top spot with nine points. Gamba Osaka is second with Kawasaki Frontale in third both with seven points. Making up the top four is Urawa Red Diamonds who have six points after back-to-back wins.
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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