The shocks continued in the J. League last weekend, with Albirex Niigata beating Kashima Antlers on Sunday afternoon to snatch a share of the J. League lead.
It was a slightly disappointing crowd of 37,808 that turned out at Big Swan Stadium, but the stay-away fans who preferred the comforts of home to the cold climes of Big Swan missed a famous victory for the home side.
Kisho Yano opened his account for the season with an early header, before mercurial midfielder Marcio Richards played in compatriot Pedro Junior for Niigata’s second.
Daiki Iwamasa scored a scrambled effort some six minutes into stoppage time at the end of the game, but it proved little consolation for a Kashima side that was humbled 4-1 by Suwon Bluewings in their AFC Champions League opener last week.
The other Sunday fixture saw Omiya Ardija beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in a thriller at Big Arch Stadium in Hiroshima – former Suwon defender Toto Hk Mato Neretljak scored twice in that game – and there were several points of note in the Saturday fixtures.
Yokohama F. Marinos battled to a scoreless draw away at Shimizu S-Pulse, as a near-capacity crowd of 19,172 at the newly renamed Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira saw the two teams cancel each other out.
Marinos were missing captain Ryuji Kawai through injury, but with recalled playmaker Koji Yamase in dangerous form for the Tricolore, they enjoyed the better of proceedings in blustery conditions in Shimizu.
Yamase came closest to a winner when his thunderous first-half drive was clawed away by Yohei Nishibe, while S-Pulse talisman Jungo Fujimoto made his long awaited return from injury – only to see a late effort cleared off the line after coming off the bench for the hosts.
Despite picking up their first point of the campaign, Marinos fans won’t have been overly impressed with a display that suggests they are desperately lacking a goal scorer.
Whether Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura is the answer to coach Kokichi Kimura’s attacking woes remains to be seen, especially since Marinos already possess a creative force in the form of Koji Yamase.
Elsewhere, Urawa Reds impressed in a 3-1 defeat of regional rivals FC Tokyo.
50,802 fans braved a chilly afternoon at Saitama Stadium, and the home fans were rewarded with coach Volker Finke’s maiden J. League win.
Former Bundesliga star Robson Ponte was in irresistible form, setting up the first two for Yuki Abe and Edmilson respectively, before adding a late third himself – after the capital club had equalised in the first half through a Keisuke Tsuboi own goal.
Vissel Kobe pulled off a surprise 2-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale, with lesser lights Daisuke Sudo and Shota Matsuhashi both getting on the scoresheet, after new Kobe coach Caio Junior lost his Brazilian recruits Alan Bahia and Marcel to injury during the week.
Defeat for Kawasaki marks a repeat of their disastrous start to the 2008 campaign, and coach Takashi Sekizuka has some serious problems in defence, where former Japan midfielder Satoru Yamagishi looks out of his depth as a makeshift right back.
Kashiwa Reysol and JEF United battled to a 1-1 draw in the Chiba derby, with Tadanari Lee taking advantage of Australian defender Eddy Bosnar’s failure to cut out a dangerous cross, with Lee heading home the opener.
JEF United equalised through veteran Masataka Sakamoto early in the second half, but neither side showed enough to suggest that they can battle for a top half finish this season.
Gamba Osaka cruised to the top of the standings with a 4-1 demolition of struggling Jubilo Iwata, with Yasuhito Endo converting two penalties in front of 16,128 fans at Expo ’70 Stadium, as referee Masaaki Iemoto took centre stage by awarding three hotly disputed spot-kicks in the match.
Crowd concerns in J2
Meanwhile, J. League officials will be concerned with attendances over the first two rounds of the new J2 campaign, with not a single fixture attracting a five-figure crowd last weekend.
The largest crowd was the 9,378 turn-out at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, as fallen giants Tokyo Verdy lost 2-1 to fellow big guns Cerezo Osaka.
Only two games have attracted crowds in excess of 10,000 this season, with 21,908 turning out under the roof of the Sapporo Dome to see Consadole Sapporo go down 1-0 to fellow northerners Vegalta Sendai on the opening day, while 10,525 fans showed up at Fagiano Okayama’s J. League debut as they held Ventforet Kofu to a scoreless draw in their first ever professional match.
- League officials will hope that warmer weather attracts fans back into J2 grounds, particularly with gate receipts likely to prove crucial for newcomers Okayama, Kataller Toyama and Tochigi SC – not to mention debt-laden strugglers FC Gifu.
Snow storm ends debate on re-aligning J. League calendar
The J. League announced last week that a proposal to align the fixture list with the European calendar had been unanimously turned down by J. League clubs.
That decision was punctuated by a snow storm that lashed Yamagata on Saturday, as Montedio’s first ever home game in the top flight was marred by treacherous conditions.
The home side managed to hold Nagoya Grampus to a 0-0 draw in front of 12,370 hardy fans, but it was hardly the kind of advertisement that Motoaki Inukai was hoping for.
The newly installed Japan Football Association chief continues to insist that playing through the winter months is a viable option.
But with northern clubs Albirex Niigata, Yamagata and Vegalta Sendai all playing in open-air stadia – while Consadole Sapporo’s “indoor” pitch is tellingly grown outdoors – the snowy mid-March conditions will surely end the debate over re-aligning the calendar.
Meanwhile, Yokohama FC striker Kazuyoshi Miura became the oldest goalscorer in J. League history when he converted a penalty in his club’s 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Roasso Kumamoto on Saturday.