There was a drama charged round of J-League matches here at the weekend, as Gamba Osaka inexplicably let a two goal lead slip away at FC Tokyo. Gamba’s loss and the point gained by Urawa in their hard-fought 2-2 at home to Kawasaki Frontale means that Urawa are now six points clear of Gamba Osaka with six games remaining.
At Saitama Stadium, more than 50,000 fans created an intimidating atmosphere as third-placed Kawasaki Frontale took on Urawa in arguably the biggest match of the season. Frontale were far from overawed, despite going behind to an early Washington goal. It was the prolific Brazilian striker’s twentieth goal of the season in just twenty J-League matches. Frontale responded with a penalty from their own Brazilian striker Juninho, before taking the lead through midfielder Kengo Nakamura’s bullet header. It was another Brazilian, Robson Ponte, who had the final say, poking home after Nobuhisa Yamada had sliced through the Frontale defence.
The other big match of the round took place on Sunday, as Gamba Osaka clashed with struggling FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium. Osaka surged into a two goal lead after strikes from Ryuji Bando and Magno Alves and with twenty minutes remaining, looked certain to hold on for a comfortable victory. The momentum of the match suddenly shifted when Bando was substituted after seventy-two minutes. The Japan striker took an eternity to leave the pitch, cynically attempting to run down the clock and ultimately being dragged off by referee Hajime Matsuo. Bando’s unsporting behaviour incensed the 36,000 strong home crowd and fired up the hitherto listless FC Tokyo team. They struck back with a vengeance, firing home three unanswered goals in the space of eight minutes and all but ending Gamba Osaka’s hopes of defending their J-League crown.
Elsewhere Omiya Ardija recorded a vital Keluaran Sgp victory, defeating JEF United 3-1 at the Fukuda Arena in Chiba – just one week after an under-strength United had thrashed Kashima Antlers 4-0 on the road. Yoshiyuki Kobayashi, Tatsunori Hisanaga and new signing Alison scored the goals for Omiya, as they won for the first time in twelve matches.
At the foot of the table, Cerezo Osaka consigned Kyoto Purple Sanga to last place after their 4-2 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Yoshito Okubo was the key man, scoring a brace for Cerezo as they swapped places with Kyoto at the bottom of the J-League.
Avispa Fukuoka were the other basement team desperate for a win, and they beat Jubilo Iwata 2-1 to record their third home victory in succession. The win lifts Fukuoka into the all-important relegation/promotion play-off in 16th place. If they finish in this position at the end of the season, they will play off against the third-placed J2 side for a place in the First Division next season.
Currently Kashiwa Reysol occupy third place in J2. They had a bye in the last round of J2 matches but can move within a point of second placed Yokohama FC, if they beat Yokohama at home in the next round of matches.
Vissel Kobe are in prime position to make a swift return to the top flight. They lead the J2 standings with 83 points and hammered Consadole Sapporo 4-1, in front of more than 18,500 fans partisan fans at the Sapporo Dome.
Mitsuo Ogasawara: Messina
Ogasawara opened his goalscoring account for Messina with a neat half-volley in their 2-2 draw at home to Empoli.
Masashi Oguro: Torino
Oguro did not feature in their weekend draw away to Cagliari but could play in midweek against Fiorentina.
Takayuki Morimoto: Catania
The youngster has impressed with four goals for Catania’s youth team so far this season, and is expected to feature in Serie A in the near future.
Koji Nakata: FC Basel
Nakata suffered a broken nose in Basel’s victory over FC St. Gallen at the weekend and will be out for an as yet undetermined length of time.
Teruo Iwamato – Auckland City
Auckland City have announced the short term signing of former Japan international striker Teruo Iwamoto. Iwamoto joins on a deal similar to the one which saw Kazu Miura play for Sydney FC last season, and will feature in the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, as well as the New Zealand Football Championship.
Japan National Teams
Japan under-23 National Team
The Japan Football Association has announced a strong squad to represent Japan at the upcoming 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. The tournament is restricted to under-23 players but still features plenty of J-League experience in the likes of Oita Trinita’s Shusaku Nishikawa, Shimizu S-Pulse’s Naoki Aoyama, Keisuke Honda of Nagoya Grampus Eight and Sota Hirayama of FC Tokyo.
Japan under-20 National Team
The JFA also announced the squad for the AFC Youth Championship, which kicks off in Bangalore, India on October 29. The squad includes Kashima Antlers’ Atsuto Uchida, Tsukasa Umesaki of Oita Trinita and Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Yosuke Kashiwagi, among others. Japan are expected to finish as one of the top four teams in the tournament and thereby qualify for next year’s FIFA under-20 World Cup in Canada.
Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup
J-League officials announced on October 17 that all tickets for the League Cup Final at Tokyo’s National Stadium had been sold. Around 60,000 fans will pack into ‘Kasumigaoka’ on November 3 to watch defending champions JEF United take on Kashima Antlers for the League Cup trophy.