Featured Post

Season 2016 Highlights

BARRY WRITES...  I really should have thought of doing this as soon as highlights became available officially on YouTube a while back. Be...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Editorial: Yamazaki Nabisco Cup - So What?

Barry Barry writes:

Since published on In Bed With Maradona here.

On Saturday October 29th, Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds took to the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo to battle it out for the J. League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. There were few spare tickets to be had on match day, but looking beyond the glamour of the cup final, not everything is rosy for the twenty year old competition. From its high profile beginnings as essentially the first season of the J. League, the competition has since fallen on hard times. I’ve been noticing an increasing number of voices questioning its value.

The J. League, which began proper in 1993, was pre-dated by the league’s cup tournament. In 1992 the ten new pro teams took part in a round robin group stage with the top four progressing to a knock out. In the final, early J. League pace setters Verdy Kawasaki beat Shimizu S-Pulse to effectively become the first champions of Japan. That initial format turned out to be one of many, with the structure of the competition rarely staying the same for long.

The evolving J. League created a constantly changing number of teams to accommodate, as ten became twelve, then fourteen, and only since 2005 has the number of clubs in J1 reached a stable eighteen. With more games meaning more revenue, a straight knock out, while the obvious option, has never been seen as a lasting solution. Awkwardly numbered groups, and unbalanced home and away pairings, have long been favoured to ensure at least three home games for each team.

From 2002, a sixteen team J1 gave the Nabisco Cup several seasons of organisational ease, with four groups of four leading onto the last 16 stage. But in 2005 enter the expanded Asian Champions League. With its own group stage happening the same time as the league cups’, the domestic competition came out second. Any Japanese team competing in Asia were considered to have bigger fish to fry and were granted a free pass to the knock out stage. This created a situation whereby the final could easily be comprised of teams who had won just two ties each. Credibility compromised? Just a bit.

Speaking of credibility, the J. League Cup has long suffered the same affliction of its English counterpart; half strength teams with players rested for that all important upcoming league match. Consider too that fixtures are currently shoehorned into the season wherever there is an opening. Most take place on international weekends with the biggest stars away, or midweek evenings, which even in the league show a marked reduction in crowd figures.

A wider issue hard to ignore is how cup competitions have consistently failed to attract crowd numbers comparable to the league. This is true of both the league cup or the older, more illustrious Emperor’s Cup; traditionally the season climax. League cup group stage games are currently packaged within season tickets, and non season ticket holders rarely attend in any numbers. Into the knock out stages, where tickets are sold game by game, gates generally stay comparatively low or drop. In 2011, the four quarter final fixtures gates combined failed to reach the 20000 mark. Only does the final generate any noticeable interest.

But unlike the Emperor’s Cup which is open to all, despite the creation of J2 and the fact many members are eager for a shot against top flight opposition, except for 1999-2001 the league cup has remained a private J1 party. An argument oft repeated in favour of retaining equivalent tournaments around the world is the interest generated by giant killing cup runs. Indeed towards the end of 2011 it was widely reported that J2 teams would be competing in 2012’s league cup instalment. That however was quickly brought into doubt by rumblings of discontent within J1 at the prospect of decreased gate income.

So take that chance of revived interest away, and what is left? Put bluntly we have a tournament playing third fiddle behind the league and ACL, with a frequently fluctuating format and up to four teams injected directly into the quarter finals. It’s a competition competed by weakened teams drawn exclusively from the top division with zero chance of giant killing upsets, and a general lack of interest as evidenced by gate figures. It hardly reads as a glowing endorsement.

Income from the three group games is clearly important enough that the league cup will never be scrapped, so what can be done to reverse the fading interest? Firstly, in contrast to the current when-can-we-fit-it-in-this-year? approach, increased standardisation of fixture dates would help build supporter consciousness, as would better timing of games generally. Aside opening up the tournament to J2 clubs, its conversion to an U21 tournament is something I’ve regularly heard suggested and strongly advocate. Instead of the current token New Hero award decided at each final, it would create a platform for Japan’s young players to make their mark over a number of games.

In another small chipping away of the competition’s value, perhaps ironically, the winners of the Emperor’s Cup or league top three finishers gain entry to the ACL, which makes it considerably easier to win the league cup. Winning the league cup affords no such reward. A title is a title, but in a busy season, managers are quick to prioritise. The Yamazaki Nabisco Cup has clearly come upon lean times. The question is now whether the league is willing to work to find a place for their once flag ship competition, or if they are happy to let it continue to stagnate as the routine three-guaranteed-gate-receipts performance it has become.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

S-Pulse 3-0 Kofu

Barry Barry writes:

S-Pulse 3-0 Kofu
Takagi 36
Ono 45+1
Omae 66

Att. 19832

Line Up

GK K. Yamamoto (yellow 78)

DF Tsujio (yellow 71)
DF Iwashita
DF Bosnar
DF Ota

MF Hiraoka (yellow 28)
MF Ono
MF Brosque

FW Takagi
FW Takahara
FW Omae

Subs Used

Ljungberg (yellow 71) on for Takagi (HT)
Sugiyama on for Ono (71)
Ito on for Hiraoka (85)

Report

How did I spend my weekend? Not at Nihondaira, sadly, but there is certain 80s fun to be had on a Saturday night in Nagoya.

Prior to David Coverdale and his shiny white teeth (it was the girlfriend's idea- honest!), we found an English boozer by the glorious name of Booby's. A Grampus bar through and through, I'm more than happy to give it a plug. Good booze and scran and several big screens for the football. It took a monumental effort of will not to smack the table and shout the place down when Omiya banged in two in two minutes to go in front, but self preservation is a powerful thing. The better team won out in the end, and fair play, they're up there going for the title and are in for a more exciting climax this year than we are.

But we're not without our own goals, and sweeping aside a resurgent Kofu who won 4-0 away last week wasn't the sign of a team lacking motivation. Highlights are attached below, and as I didn't see it, I can't say too much about the performance, but we seemed to do well without Jong a Pin. Brosque was back in midfield with Ono and Hiraoka.

Takahara started again and nearly added to his season haul on a number of occasions, most notably after latching onto an inspired overhead pass from Ono, but it was rightly ruled out for offside. Our third goal was a thing of beauty and watching it for the first time I perhaps rashly proclaimed it as one of the best goals I've ever seen us score, but you know what? I think I might stand by that. Ono stokes it to Ljungberg who rounds two players, exchanges a swift one two with Omae, then passes it back to Ono who lays off the perfect through pass for Genki to strike it home. Liquid football.

Ghotbi Says

Not his exact words, but translated back from the Japanese, so the general gist.

We scored three special goals today. We could play some great football, but there are still areas for improvement. Especially after out third goal, we stopped playing football. We started the game badly, but started playing after around half an hour. I'm satisfied with Takahara's progress, and I'm happy that Hiraoka covered Jong a Pin's absence very well.

Highlights

Highlights of the game. Takahara offside for his goal, but only just. He was behind the keeper, with the defender the final man when Ono played it.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Vissel Kobe 1-1 Shimizu S-Pulse

Barry Barry writes:

Vissel Kobe 1-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Morioka 85 --------------------------- Bosnar 55

Att 12706

Line Up


GK K. Yamamoto

DF Tsujio
DF Iwashita (yellow 80)
DF Bosnar
DF Ota

MF Jong-a-Pin (yellow 77, 77)
MF Ono (yellow 76)
MF Takeuchi

FW Omae
FW Takagi
FW Takahara

Subs Used

Sugiyama on for Takeuchi (53)
Muramatsu on for Takahara (80)
Nabeta on for Ono (91)

Report

Not sure of the circumstances of Jong a Pin's red card, but two yellows in a minute suggests a yellow followed by back chat for the second. That said, you have to factor in that the referee was the notorious Nobutsugu Murakami, the bloke who sent off Kuboto last year without having seen the "offence", so God only knows.

Top scorer Takahara returned after two months on the sidelines, but no Ljungberg today, either starting or on the bench. Expect him back next week when we face a resurgent Kofu who today beat Cerezo 4-0 away, climbing out of the relegation zone at the expense of Urawa who fall to 16th. Can the 2006 champions, who spent most of the next three years booing every opponent instead of cheering on their own team, avoid a second drop to J2? Who knows and who cares. Fuck 'em.

All told, 1-1 away with a man down for the last 15 minutes isn't all bad, but frustrating given we were leading, especially if the red card was contentious. That said, I didn't see the game so I can't comment on incidents or the performance. In fact I'll pass over to fellow S-Pulse blogger Daisuke Matsuura with his post on events in Kobe today, coming straight outta Kansai.

No chance of the league, so the final five games have to be geared towards a top 7 finish and some prize money. Absolutely CRUCIAL is finishing above the scum for a sixth year in a row, and then there's still the Emperor's Cup. If we beat Gainare next month it's a Shiz derby last 16 game in December. Plenty of interest left this season!

Ghotbi Says

Translated back from the Japanese. I'm no translator, so any mistakes are my own.

Both teams were sloppy in the first half. We couldn't play the football we wanted to. We improved in the second half and were able to play own game a little. After we opened the scoring we were could control the game and create more chances. We had an opportunity to get a second, but we let that important chance slip.

Jong a Pin lost his cool when he got the yellow card. He was probably disappointed because it was his fourth yellow so he'll miss the next game. It's his first season in the J. League and is maybe frustrated at the inconsistent level of refereeing. Maybe there's a different standard for foreign and Japanese players...

Couldn't agree more. Just ask Bosnar.

Videos

OK - finally got to see Jong a Pin's red. Moments before, the 168cm Popo clatters the big man from behind knocking him over, which is no mean feat. It went unpenalised but a no less clumsy challenge from Jong a Pin brought out a quick yellow, and another for bouncing the ball away in frustration. The second was just gratuitous and a stupid, game changing decision by a bad referee who lost his cool. Jong a Pin later apologised to the fans and team, but presumably not to the clown in black.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

S-Pulse 2-0 Gifu 2nd (Emp Cup, 2nd Rnd)

Barry Barry writes:

S-Pulse 2-0 Gifu 2nd
Takeuchi 45
Omae 45+1

Att. 3648

Line Up

GK K. Yamamoto

DF Hiraoka
DF Iwashita
DF Ota
DF Tsujio

MF Ono
MF Jong-a-Pin
MF Takeuchi

FW Omae
FW Takagi
FW Nabeta

Subs Used

Sugiyama on for Iwashita (HT)
Edamura on for Ono (61)
Takahara on for Takagi (72)

Report

S-Pulse moved past Gifu's Seconds with the help of débutante Takeuchi's headed goal and then a cross which led to our second, and ultimately winning, goal. Other good news from today's low key affair was Takahara's return to the team after injury and Jong a Pin demonstrating his versatility when replacing Iwashita as centre back at half time after Sugiyama was brought on.

The win means we meet Gainare Tottori. The 3rd round game will be on November 16th, which is a Wednesday evening at Nihondaira, 7pm.

I fancied a change from behind the goal

Welcome back, Taka

Videos

Here's Takeuchi's excellent opener in lovely slomo from YouTube user imoimo9.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

S-Pulse 2-0 Nagoya



Barry Barry writes:

S-Pulse 2-0 Nagoya
Omae 73
Brosque 84

Att. 20181

Line Up

GK K. Yamamoto

DF Tsujio
DF Iwashita
DF Bosnar (yellow 33)
DF Ota

MF Jong-a-Pin
MF Ono
MF Ljungberg

FW Takagi
FW Omae
FW Brosque (yellow 80)

Subs Used

Edamura on for Ono (90)
Nabeta on for Brosque (92)

Report

What a difference a year makes. No need to beat about the bush - that was one of the best performances I've seen at Nihondaira in my seven years behind the goal. Add to that kebabs, sunshine, a full house, catching up with mates, and winning a few quid on the game, all that's missing is a late night visit from Aoi Miyazaki to top off the perfect day. As that probably ain't gonna happen, I'll have to call it a near perfect day, but they come around so rarely it'll more than do.

We controlled this one from the start. Ono and Ljungberg started together for the first time, and both played the full 90 minutes. It was a partnership which works. We had two veteran midfielders with pure footballing minds working together to run the game. Just as important was Jong a Pin's immense presence playing just behind Freddie and Shinji. He's a big, strong player and more than once today, to all intents and purposes, walked up to a Nagoya player, took the ball off him and began a forward move.

Nagoya may lament that they had a bad game, but they weren't allowed to play. We pitched it just right with a combination of pressing the away team, putting them on the back foot, and making them rush their decisions. They kept losing possession or ended plays empty handed. Add to that the forward thrust of Jong a Pin, Ono and Ljungberg's touch and vision, and we were creating chance after chance. We also managed to miss several ridiculous opportunities to open the scoring, but they came at such frequency that the law of averages meant we finally broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute from Omae's header.

The moment of the match came ten minutes later when Freddie ran at a defender on the right wing, knocked it round him with a touch so perfectly weighted that he could sprint around the back peddling white shirt, pick up the ball, take it to the byline, and cross it in for Brosque to strike home and win the game. It was a fitting end to a display of quality from S-Pulse against, not a team struggling with relegation like Yamagata or Urawa, but the defending champions. Credit where it's due, because I'm quick to moan when things don't go well, but Ghotbi got it spot on today. We were bloody brilliant. Patient when it was needed, stampeding forward when able.

I can't finish without mentioning Jungo Fujimoto. He did nothing of note, was deafeningly booed at every touch, was subbed on the hour, and failed to realise we were taking the piss when singing his name at full time. He was the villain of the piece, and played it perfectly. :) Night night.

Pictures
B?
The Aus Factor
Plenty of needle made it feel like a derby
Having fun there, Jungo?
Who da man? You da man

Videos

Our second, with Ljungberg's quality assist. The move started by Jong a Pin's dispossessing of the Nagoya player.



Some highlights taken off the big screen: