J.League wrap: week five
Though the season is just getting under way, and some of the early leaders may fall off the pace in time, it was nevertheless intriguing to watch 2012′s last two unbeaten J-League teams come face-to-face on Saturday.
Vegalta Sendai entered the week as the J-League leaders, having compiled a perfect record in their first four matches. They added to the momentum on Wednesday with a 2-0 victory over Sagan Tosu, in the Nabisco Cup.
In fact, the only blemish on Vegalta’s record this season was a 1-0 loss in the first round of Nabisco Cup action. The early run of victories is all the more impressive when you consider that the team’s best playmaker and set piece expert – North Korean midfielder Ryan Yong-gi – is still sidelined with an injury suffered in a preseason match.
Ryan is still a week or two away from match fitness, so Yoshiaki Ota again filled in for him as the Golden Eagles played host to Ota’s former team, Jubilo Iwata. Jubilo is also unbeaten, and entered this match two points behind Vegalta, in second place. With all other teams further off the pace, the winner of this match was assured of going top of the table, whereas a draw would leave Vegalta in first place.
Vegalta are playing good football this season, but they have a deserved reputation for using tough physical challenges and “intimidation” as a key defensive tool. Over the course of a season this is bound to have some negative influence.
For the time being, the team has managed to avoid any major setbacks due to their physical play; however, Makoto Kakuda – a key player in the defensive midfield – picked up his fourth yellow card of the year on Saturday, and thus will be suspended next week.
Jubilo are no shrinking violets themselves, and both teams played a very physical but generally positive game. The first half ended without any score, but there were enough close calls to suggest that a goal was imminent. Shortly after intermission the Blue Budgies finally broke the deadlock with a nice counterattacking rush.
After a stray Vegalta pass at midfield, Ryoichi Maeda collected the quick outlet pass and got the dash started, dribbling down the left sideline and drifting towards the middle as he neared the top of the penalty area. Before a defender could step up and challenge Maeda, the veteran striker fired a pass for Minoru Suganuma, slanting in from the opposite side of the box.
Suganuma met the ball at the edge of the six-yard box and drove a shot straight into the gut of Takuto Hayashi. The Vegalta goalkeeper was positioned well to block the shot, but he was unable to hold onto the ball. Before he could snap it up Suganuma pushed it across the line.
Jubilo managed to maintain their lead and control the run of play for much of the second half, but as time began to slip away, the Golden Eagles began pressing the ball aggressively and shifting more players into the attack. With about 15 minutes to go, the pressure paid off when Yuki Muto stepped into a passing lane and deflected the ball to Wilson Fonseca, who quickly broke through the right channel.
As the defence collapsed on Wilson, he pushed the ball into space for Kunimitsu Sekiguchi to chase. Sekiguchi was in full sprint, and in the blink of an eye he was behind the defenders, collected the ball and stroked it underneath the outrushing keeper.
Jubilo surged right back, though, and restored their lead in the 79 minute when Kosuke Yamamoto found a gap in the Sendai defence, dribbled forward to the edge of the penalty area and drove a left-footed shot just inside the post. But Vegalta refused to concede the result, and a generous five minutes of injury time certainly helped their cause.
With 94 minutes and 50 seconds already in the books, Wilson Fonseca collected an inlet pass on his chest at the top of the penalty area, spun about and fired a shot into the low left corner, securing a draw and keeping Vegalta on top of the table.
FC Tokyo took advantage of the draw to close the gap with the two still unbeaten teams. They had to do it the hard way, however, after Ariajasuru Hasegawa picked up his second yellow just a few minutes after intermission of the “Tamagawa Classico” – the derby between the two teams from the suburbs of western Tokyo.
These things seem to run in cycles, whether due to coincidence or due to the pre-existing expectations of the officials. Hasegawa was sent off on two similar “soft yellows” two weeks ago, and was suspended last weekend, whereas Kawasaki enjoyed a two-man edge for almost ten minutes in last week’s clash with Urawa Reds.
For the second week in a row, though, Frontale couldn’t make effective use of the extra numbers. On the contrary, while keeper Shuichi Gonda was stonewalling the Kawasaki scoring efforts at one end, Lucas Severinmo and Naohiro Ishikawa were counterattacking with dangerous efficiency at the opposite end. You could almost see the go-ahead goal developing.
When Masato Morishige headed home a corner kick from Ishikawa in the 85th minute, the home crowd fell dead silent as if they had been anticipating the counterpunch. Frontale was unable to equalise despite the one man advantage, and they slipped into the lower half of the table with two wins, two losses and a draw.
Elsewhere , Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers are still without a win. Kashima succumbed to Urawa Reds 3-1, in a game where all the goals were scored over the opening 23 minutes.
Gamba lost 4-1 to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, as Hisato Sato scored his 99th and 100th career goals. Yokohama Marinos and Albirex Niigata are also winless, after playing to a scoreless draw.
Kashiwa Reysol defeated Consadole Sapporo 0-2 in Sapporo Dome, Shimizu S-Pulse overcame Vissel Kobe 0-1 and Nagoya Grampus edged Sagan Tosu 1-0.