Match to Watch, Matchweek 18: Avispa Fukuoka welcome Vissel Kobe in battle for 5th
Avispa Fukuoka arrived in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE like most newly promoted clubs - focused on staying in the top flight. But their goals have gotten much bigger than that nearly halfway through the campaign, with their eyes now focused on qualification for the AFC Champions League.
The terrific play of the first-division newbies has seen them climb all the way to fifth in J1, just one place out of the top four that would send them onto improbable continental qualification.
Yet, for all of Fukuoka’s excellence, they have yet to get a win over a top-six team. Their success has largely come on the back of beating clubs from the bottom of the table, and if they want to get into the top four, they’re going to have to beat some of the league’s better sides.
Enter, Vissel Kobe.
The J.LEAGUE’s sixth-place team offers Avispa a chance to take a win from a top side, but Vissel are traveling to Fukuoka also vying for a Champions League place, with a win this weekend moving them into fifth place and onto the heels of the top four.
For all their noteworthy attacking players, the key to Vissel’s strong start to this season has been a stingy defense that is allowing just one goal per game. Daiya Maekawa and one of the league's better-performing backlines will ask a lot of a Fukuoka attack that doesn’t necessarily have a go-to goalscorer.
Bruno Mendes leads Avispa in attacking production with just four goals, and this is not a team that expects a star to help them make something out of nothing. However, where Avispa do excel is in team buildup, especially on the counter, and finding runners who can come from anywhere. Combine that with some fine set piece work and they have an attack that can cause some real trouble for opposing defenses.
Will that attack generate enough to keep their sights set on the top four? Or will Vissel’s rearguard hold firm, and then lean on the likes of Andrés Iniesta and Kyogo Furuhashi to snatch a win on the road? Find out this weekend in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE.
Au Chung Behind the Scenes: Following J.LEAGUE’s first player from Hong Kong
As the first-ever J.League player from Hong Kong, Au Yeung Yiu Chung, better known as Au Chung, has had a great deal more media attention than the average member of a Meiji Yasuda J3 League squad.
J.League cameras were on hand to follow the biggest international star in the Japanese third tier from all angles as he got his Y. S. C . C. Yokohama career underway, taking part in an introductory press conference and a training session with his new teammates.
Enjoy this latest episode of J.LEAGUE Behind the Scenes, following a day in the life of Au Chung.
2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP recap: Prime Stage field set
The Play-off Stage of the 2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP is in the books, with four teams advancing to join the four 2021 AFC Champions League participants in the last eight.
With Kawasaki Frontale, Gamba Osaka, Cerezo Osaka, and Nagoya Grampus already in the mix on the basis of qualifying for continental competition, let’s take a look at the four teams that have earned the right to meet them in the Prime Stage.
Kashima Antlers 3, Shimizu S-Pulse 1 (on aggregate)
Kashima Antlers booked their spot in the last eight after defeating Shimizu S-Pulse in both legs of their Play-off Stage battle. After Naoki Hayashi put Antlers ahead in Shizuoka, the Ibaraki side kept home-field advantage through Brazilians Juan Alano and Everaldo.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 4, Yokohama F·Marinos 2 (on aggregate)
No J.LEAGUE side has to adjust for travel like Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo but the men from the north showed admirable attitude away from home, sealing a spot in the Prime Stage with a tremendous second-leg performance.
Following a 1-1 draw in Sapporo that included a Ryota Aoki rocket from 25 yards, Consadole cruised in Yokohama. The hosts, cup winners in 2001, were dealt a tough 3-1 defeat, courtesy of goals from Daiki Suga and Takahiro Yanagi after an early own goal put Sapporo in the lead.
F.C.Tokyo 4, Shonan Bellmare 2 (on aggregate)
After a tense first-leg defeat in the capital, and still smarting from an early Emperor’s Cup exit in the midweek, F.C.Tokyo responded in brilliant style at Shonan Bellmare.
Facing another potential heartbreak in cup competition, the holders dictated play in difficult circumstances and were deserved victors after four goals from a Brazilian trio earned them a 4-1 win in Kanagawa. Leandro and Diego Oliveira opened the scoring before a brace from Adaílton put the match, and the tie, well out of reach.
Urawa Reds 4, Vissel Kobe 3 (on aggregate)
Global audiences watching on YouTube were treated to a sumptuous second leg between Urawa and Vissel after a 2-1 away win in Kobe gave Reds the advantage in the opener. The battle between recently-crowned Konami Monthly MVP Kasper Junker and the legendary Andrés Iniesta certainly lived up to the hype, as both men put their names on the scoresheet and saw their teams take the tie down to the wire.
Yoshio Koizumi opened the scoring from a fierce Urawa counter, before a Douglas header brought Vissel back within a goal. But it was the Reds who would surge ahead again, as Junker finished off another Urawa counter in first-half stoppage time, spectacularly lobbing Daiya Maekawa from the top of the 18 at practically full sprint.
In the second half, Andrés Iniesta was able to bring Vissel level on the night yet again with a fantastic free kick, rocketing the ball into the corner from 25 yards out, but the visitors wouldn't have enough to level the tie and it was the Saitama side through to the Prime Stage at the final whistle.
6 International Tournaments Where J.LEAGUE Players Shone
By Sean Carroll
Both the European Championship and Copa América get underway this weekend - tournaments at which some of the world’s best players will do battle to be crowned champions of their continents.
Vissel Kobe’s Thomas Vermaelen is one of those who will be striving for glory having been called up for Belgium, one of the favourites to lift the European trophy. The 35-year-old’s presence in the Red Devils squad makes him the latest in a long line of J.LEAGUE stars to be involved in a major international competition, and ahead of Belgium’s campaign opener against Russia we’ve taken a look back at some of the standout campaigns from days gone by.
1998 FIFA World Cup France
The global showpiece in 1998 holds a special place in the hearts of all Japanese fans, with it being the first time the Japan national team participated in a World Cup finals.
The Samurai Blue sadly lost all three of their group games against Argentina, Croatia, and Jamaica, but Jubilo Iwata’s Masashi Nakayama still managed to write his name in the record books in France by scoring the country’s first goal at the World Cup.
Japan were 2-0 down in their final match against Jamaica when Naoki Soma - now manager of Kashima Antlers - sent a long diagonal pass into the area towards Wagner Lopes, and after he nodded the ball invitingly back across goal the onrushing Nakayama was on hand to slam home and create history.
Plenty of other J.LEAGUE players enjoyed that summer as well. Patrick M’Boma of Gamba Osaka, for instance, was part of the Cameroon side that narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout round after drawing with Austria and Chile and losing to Italy - also notching his country’s goal in the 1-1 stalemate against La Roja.
Elsewhere, Nagoya Grampus legend Dragan Stojković and Željko Petrović of Urawa Reds shone for Yugoslavia as they progressed to the Round of 16, with captain Stojković finding the net in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Germany.
Nakayama’s Iwata teammate Dunga and César Sampaio of Yokohama Flügels enjoyed the tournament the most, however. César Sampaio scored the first goal of the competition in just the fifth minute of Brazil’s opening game against Scotland, before also getting his name on the scoresheet twice against Chile in the Round of 16. His central midfield partner Dunga played a pivotal role in the team’s march to the final as well, with the captain playing every game and scoring the Seleção’s final penalty in the semi-final shoot-out win over the Netherlands.
Brazil would ultimately have to settle for a runners-up finish after losing the final 3-0 to hosts France, but there can be no doubt that J.LEAGUE players left their mark on a fantastic tournament.
2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan
The first co-hosted World Cup in history saw Japan and South Korea savour the backing of their fans, and J.LEAGUE players performed vital roles for both teams.
All but four of the Samurai Blue squad led into battle by Philippe Troussier played in the J.LEAGUE, making history as they emerged unbeaten from the group stage to progress to the knockout round for the first time. The team drew an end-to-end opener with Belgium, 2-2, and then picked up victories over Russia and Tunisia, with Takayuki Suzuki of Kashima Antlers and Cerezo Osaka’s Hiroaki Morishima amongst the goalscorers.
The journey ultimately ended with a 1-0 loss against Turkey in the Round of 16, but by that point Tsuneyasu Miyamoto - ‘The Man in the Mask’ - had also carved out legendary status for himself.
Forced into action in the 71st minute of Japan’s opener against Belgium after captain Ryuzo Morioka went off injured, Miyamoto struck a fearsome figure on account of the black face mask he was wearing to protect a broken nose. He slotted into the defence effortlessly and marshalled the Samurai Blue back line to consecutive clean sheets as they beat Russia, 1-0, and Tunisia, 2-0, and although he couldn’t quite inspire Japan to further glory, his efforts to that point ensured he left an indelible mark on World Cup history.
South Korea went even further in the competition than their co-hosts, with a handful of J.LEAGUE players featuring as they progressed all the way to the semi-finals.
Yoo Sang-chul, who sadly passed away earlier this month, and Hwang Sun-hong played their club football for Kashiwa Reysol, Choi Yong-soo was with JEF United Ichihara Chiba, and Yoon Jong-hwan, now manager of Chiba but then a player with Cerezo Osaka, were all in the squad, while one of the tournament’s breakout stars was Park Ji-sung of Kyoto Sanga.
Hwang and Yoo both scored as South Korea got their campaign up and running with a 2-0 win over Poland, before Park struck the only goal of the Taeguk Warriors’ final group stage game against Portugal to seal top spot.
After stunning Italy with a 2-1 ‘golden goal’ win in the round of 16, South Korea then eliminated Spain after a penalty shoot-out at the quarter-final stage, with Park one of the five Korean players to make no mistake from 12 yards.
That was to be as far as Guus Hiddink’s side would make it, however, but despite losing to Germany in the semi-finals and Turkey in the third place play-off, South Korea’s J.LEAGUE contingent had done themselves proud.
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
An Asian nation was once again making international headlines in 2010, as North Korea qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1966.
The Chollima were dealt an incredibly difficult draw after securing their place in South Africa, however, being placed in Group G with Brazil, Portugal, and Cote d’Ivoire. This meant North Korea’s J.LEAGUE duo of Chong Tese and An Yong-hak would have match-ups against the likes of Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Didier Drogba, and ahead of the first of these tests Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong provided one of the most memorable scenes of the competition as he wept with pride during his team’s national anthem.
North Korea made a real battle of that opener against Brazil and went in scoreless at half time, although they ultimately fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat. Unfortunately for Chong and Omiya Ardija midfielder An, both of whom played every minute for North Korea at the competition, that was to be as close as they would come to any points, and the following two games were lost 7-0 to Portugal and 3-0 against Cote d’Ivoire.
Nevertheless, the pair had given their all and flown the J.LEAGUE flag on the biggest stage and against the best players in the world, in the process gaining priceless experiences they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
This tournament also saw Japan create more World Cup history for themselves, as they progressed to the Round of 16 at an overseas finals for the first time.
Kawasaki Frontale’s Eiji Kawashima shone in goal, the centre back pairing of Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka, of Yokohama F.Marinos and Nagoya Grampus, respectively, were immovable at the heart of the defence, while Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo - still going strong in the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE with Jubilo Iwata at 41 - and Shinji Okazaki, then of Shimizu S-Pulse, both found the net in a 3-1 win over Denmark in their final group stage game. Those contributions helped ensure Takeshi Okada’s side qualified from Group E, along with the Netherlands.
Endo scored again in the penalty shoot-out after Japan’s Round of 16 encounter with Paraguay finished 0-0, but it wasn’t to be for Japan, who were ultimately eliminated, 5-3, after Paraguay converted all their attempts.
1995 Copa América
It isn’t only at World Cups that J.LEAGUE players have left their marks, and in 1995 an incredible half-a-dozen progressed all the way to the final of the Copa América in Uruguay.
Jorginho and Leonardo of Kashima Antlers, Shimizu S-Pulse’s Ronaldão, César Sampaio and Zinho from Yokohama Flugels, and Dunga, captain of Jubilo Iwata and the Seleção, were all involved as Mário Zagallo’s men sparkled in Uruguay.
Ronaldão, Zinho, and Leonardo all found the net as Brazil won their three group games without conceding a goal, before Dunga converted one of the penalties as rivals Argentina were eliminated in a shoot-out in the quarter-finals. After overcoming the USA 1-0 in the semi-final, the final against Uruguay also went to penalties. Despite Dunga, again, and Zinho both converting their spot-kicks, it was ultimately the hosts left celebrating.
Two of that J.LEAGUE contingent did make up for the disappointment two years later, however, when Dunga and César Sampaio went all the way to glory at the 1997 edition in Bolivia.
1996 UEFA European Football Championship
In 1996, Mladen Mladenović was an all-action midfielder for Gamba Osaka, finding the net 11 times in 20 appearances for Josip Kuže’s side. That summer, the Croatian was also in action for his country as they competed in the European Championships for the first time as an independent nation.
Mladenović made his first appearance in England as a substitute in Croatia’s second group stage game against Denmark, a 3-0 win, and then started the following game, a defeat by the same score against Portugal. The team were already assured of a place in the knockout stage by that point though, and Mladenović again came on as a substitute in the Round of 16 clash against Germany.
That was sadly to be the end of the road for Croatia, however, as they fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat to the eventual champions.
2013 Africa Cup of Nations
2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE top scorer and Player of the Year Michael Olunga is perhaps the first player that comes to mind when J.LEAGUE fans think of the Africa Cup of Nations. The former Kashiwa Reysol man did indeed feature at the 2019 edition and found the net twice in Kenya’s 3-2 win over Tanzania, but the Harambee Stars sadly lost their other two games to finish third in Group C and miss out on the knockout stage.
There is, however, another J.LEAGUE player who made an even bigger impression on the competition.
Wilfried Sanou first arrived in the J.LEAGUE in 2010 when he signed for Urawa Reds, but in 2013 he was playing for J2 side Kyoto Sanga when he was called up to the Burkina Faso squad for the AFCON in South Africa.
Sanou came on as a substitute in Burkina Faso’s opening 1-1 draw against Nigeria, and then started the next match, a 4-0 win over Ethiopia. Sanou missed out as the team made sure of top spot in Group C in their next game, but was back in the starting 11 as Togo were defeated after extra time in the quarter-finals.
Things didn’t end there either. Despite being drawn against powerhouse Ghana in the semi-finals, Les Étalons triumphed on penalties without Sanou, before he was again used as a substitute in the final against Nigeria, which was narrowly lost, 1-0.
Even so, it was a truly remarkable journey for the Kyoto utility man, and another moment of pride for the whole J.LEAGUE family.
Junker headlines awards as Meiji Yasuda J.League names the best of May
The Konami MVP awards for the month of May are in, and in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League, top honors go to Kasper Junker. The Dane joined Urawa Reds in early May and immediately poured in goals, scoring five goals in as many matches for the club. His outstanding goal scoring also helped move Urawa up the table, as the Reds went undefeated with him on the pitch.
J1 Manager of the Month honors were handed out to Naoki Soma, who steered Kashima Antlers to a terrific May. The club scored two goals a game for the month and earned 15 points, more than they had picked up in the entire season before that, and they vaulted up to eighth in the table.
Goal of the Month honors in J1 went to none other than Leandro Damião. The Kawasaki Frontale striker won the award for February/March, but his strike in Matchweek 16 to win the award for May was even better. The champions found themselves trailing in the 82nd minute and facing their first loss of the season, but that’s when Damião took a ball with his back to goal from 10 yards out, popped it up in the air and hit a spectacular bicycle kick. It was an awe inspiring goal, and a crucial one at that as it kept Frontale undefeated on the season.
In J2, JEF United Chiba’s Tomoya Miki was named Konami Monthly MVP. The 23-year-old finished the month strong, scoring in three straight matches and adding an assist as his side climbed up the table following a shaky start to the campaign. Now, JEF United Chiba are riding a six-game unbeaten streak and into the top half of the league with a red-hot Miki leading the way.
Akira Ito was named Manager of the Month in J2 after leading Ventforet Kofu to an undefeated May. Ventforet Kofu gave up two goals in their first match of the month, a draw, and then did not give up another goal for the rest of May as Ito constructed an impenetrable defense. The excellent run for Ventforet Kofu now has them fifth in the league and in the hunt for a promotion place.
The J2 Goal of the Month went to Tochigi SC’s Juninho, whose magnificent goal in Matchweek 11 made him a deserving winner. The Júbilo Iwata goalkeeper came well out of his box to clear a ball, and having cleared it near midfield, that should have been enough. But the ball found Juninho, who despite being close to the midway line and near the sideline, fired a shot that cleared all the defenders and a recovering goalkeeper for a goal to remember.
In J3, it was a big month for Fukushima United FC, who won four of four in May. Their manager Yu Tokisaki was duly rewarded with J3 Manager of the Month honors, while Nigerian striker Origbaajo Ismaila was awarded Player of the Month. Goal of the Month honors in the third tier were awarded to league leaders Kataller Toyama and Sho Hanai, who finished spectacularly in Matchweek 8 against Azul Claro Numazu.
2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Play-off Stage Results: Antlers advance, Reds and Bellmare grab first-leg advantage
Shimizu S-Pulse 0, Kashima Antlers 1
Kashima’s strong league play carried over to the cup in a crucial away victory to begin the Play-off Stage. Naoki Hayashi put Kashima in front after just eight minutes, coming free on a corner kick and burying a header from six yards out. Kashima nearly added to their lead not long after, but Kengo Nagai made a terrific save to keep it a one-goal game. S-Pulse pushed for an equalizer, but it was not to be and Kashima left Shimizu-ku with both a win and a crucial away goal.
Kashima Antlers 2, Shimizu S-Pulse 1 (Kashima advance 3-1 on aggregate)
Shimizu S-Pulse needed a response in the second leg in order to spring an upset in Kashima and vault into the next round of the 2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP. They couldn’t have asked for a better start, as Thiago Santana smashed home near post for the opener after a terrific through-ball from Akira Silvano Disaro. The Antlers were not to be denied, though, as a trio of Brazilians combined for brilliance. First, Juan Alano’s cheeky lofted finish put them back ahead on aggregate just before halftime. Then, Everaldo sealed the result for the six-time competition winners in the 71st minute with a calm first-time finish from Diego Pituca’s cross.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 1, Yokohama F·Marinos 1
Consadole had a tall task, taking on an excellent Marinos side, and were keyed in on making the home leg count. It showed, with them threatening right from the start and even rattling the bar. Their bright start showed on the scoreboard in the 26th minute when Ryota Aoki hit a blistering shot from 25 yards that found the back of the net. Consa kept pushing, hitting the bar again and then earning a penalty kick, but Yohei Takaoka made a terrific save of the spot kick and flipped the match. After Takaoka’s save, Marinos came into the match and just before the halftime whistle, Teruhito Nakagawa scored to bring the match level. The match would end 1-1, leaving the home side to rue their missed chances early on when they could have taken a two, three or even four-goal lead.
Vissel Kobe 1, Urawa Reds 2
Urawa went away to Kobe and came away winners, giving them a huge advantage in their Play-off Stage tie. Vissel actually struck first, getting a third minute goal from Douglas, but Atsuki Ito answered with a cool finish off a gorgeous team move. Then, Shinzo Koroki capitalized on a slip by Vissel to walk in on goal and chip the keeper to deliver Urawa the win. Now Urawa, who have been in terrific form, hold both a one-goal lead and have two away goals with the home leg left to play.
F.C.Tokyo 0, Shonan Bellmare 1
Shonan’s Play-off Stage started beautifully thanks to Wellington. The Brazilian provided the deciding moment after 71 largely uneventful minutes when he got on the end of a perfect Takuya Okamoto cross. From there, all Wellington had to do was nod the ball on frame, which he did, and Bellmare were heading back home with a win in hand. Now, F.C.Tokyo will have to pull out a big result away from home in the second leg to keep their dreams of a cup repeat alive.
Au Chung introduced at press conference, begins training with Y. S. C. C. Yokohama
It's been a busy week for Au Yeung Yiu Chung, also known as Au Chung, who has officially become the first J.LEAGUE player from Hong Kong.
Y. S. C . C. Yokohama fans got their first look at their new international star, as he was introduced to assembled media at the beginning of the week. Upon signing in April, Au Chung said: "As the first J.LEAGUE player from Hong Kong and a member of Y. S. C. C. Yokohama, I will give my all to play in the J.LEAGUE and contribute to the team. I am grateful to everyone who supports me. I would like to return the favor to everyone who supports me."
Au Chung will get that chance in a match soon enough, and he has already begun training with the MEIJI YASUDA J3 LEAGUE club. Fans can follow along on Au Chung's journey in the days ahead on our official J.LEAGUE International YouTube channel. Stay tuned!
June J.LEAGUE International YouTube broadcast schedule announced
The MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE fixtures to be broadcast on the J.LEAGUE International YouTube channel have been announced for the month of June.
Supporters will encounter an action-packed calendar of live football, as mouthwatering matchups are beamed across the world. The pick of the group may well be a marquee matchup on June 13th featuring Andrés Iniesta's Vissel Kobe as they visit Kasper Junker's Urawa Reds in the 2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Play-off Stage.
The month’s action also sees four matchups from the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE make international airwaves, including a home match for promotion hopefuls Kyoto Sanga FC as they welcome Fagiano Okayama on June 26th.
It should be a splendid month ahead for fans outside of Japan to catch live matches on the official J.LEAGUE International YouTube channel, which you can subscribe to by clicking here.
J1 Matchweek 17 Recap: Frontale take down Antlers in a thriller
Kawasaki Frontale 2, Kashima Antlers 1
Kashima played excellently and pushed Frontale to the brink, but the champions were too much. Leandro Damião scored his 12th goal of the season to tie for the league lead and put Frontale in front early on, but Ayase Ueda answered for Kashima and the visitors started to find some space for a potential winner late on. As the match went into stoppage time though, it was Yu Kobayashi who found a breakthrough, getting on the end of a cross and smashing the ball into the net to deliver the champions a win.
Urawa Reds 0, Nagoya Grampus 0
Nagoya were held scoreless for a third straight match as their stranglehold on second place continues to loosen. They did have their chances, with Ryogo Yamasaki in particular getting in alone on goal only to shoot at the goalkeeper, but they couldn’t finish and were forced to split the points.
Yokohama F·Marinos 2, Shimizu S-Pulse 1
Marinos are into third place after yet another win. This one came late, and thanks to Léo Ceará, who rescued all three points one minute from the final whistle. Élber put Marinos in front when he snuck in at the far post to meet a cross and finish for a 4th minute tally, but Yohei Takaoka answered that before halftime with a goal from the penalty spot. That had the match rolling to a draw, but Léo Ceará intervened with a last minute goal, delivering Marinos all three points and third place in the table.
Vissel Kobe 1, Sagan Tosu 1
The match got off to a roaring start, with Keiya Sento finding the back of the net 45 seconds after kickoff on a clinical finish to close a brilliant team move by Sagan. Vissel came right back and nearly equalized just minutes later, but they kept the pressure on and did get the goal they were searching for in the 28th minute when Douglas got to a loose ball and banged it into the open net. The match would taper off from there, and the two teams each walked away with a point.
Oita Trinita 2, Avispa Fukuoka 1
Trinita snapped their winless streak with an impressive victory over fifth-place Fukuoka. Shun Nagasawa opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a tap in to finish a move started by a marauding Yamato Machida run. Henrique Trevisan then doubled the Trinita lead in the 70th minute, which would prove crucial because Avispa did get a late goal from Jordy Croux’s penalty kick, but Trinita were too much and got their elusive third win of the season.
F.C.Tokyo 0, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0
Sanfrecce came out flying and never stopped. They out-shot F.C.Tokyo 26-4 in a great showing for the men from Hiroshima, but unfortunately for them, they could not break through. Their shots just missed the frame, or were turned away by the spectacular Go Hatano, so despite their great performance in Tokyo, they got just one point to show for it.
Vegalta Sendai 1, Cerezo Osaka 1
The day of draws in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE continued in Sendai, where the teams could not be separated. Tiago struck first, giving Cerezo a lead on a terrific header, but Vegalta answered back through Martinus, whose volleyed finish at a tight angle on the far post ensured the home side would stretch their unbeaten streak to three with this draw.
Tokushima Vortis 1, Shonan Bellmare 1
No team in the league has more draws this season than Shonan Bellmare, so on a day full of stalemates it’s only fitting that Shonan also split points. Cacá struck first in the 13th minute with an outstanding flying header, but Shuto Machino hit back when he got in behind the Vortis defense and finished easily to bring Shonan level. That’s all that was in this match, as Shonan made it eight draws from 17 matches this season.
Kashiwa Reysol 1, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 2
Consadole played strong from the start and were rewarded for their good play in the 19th minute when Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa snuck in behind the defense and met a cross for an easy finish in front. The goal brought Reysol into the match, and they equalized from the penalty spot in the 35th minute. But Consa found a winner when a cross hit the foot of Taiyo Koga, who accidentally deflected the ball into his own net for the deciding goal.
Gamba Osaka 2, Yokohama FC 0
Leandro Pereira was the difference in this one, as the Brazilian’s two goals handed Gamba all three points. First, Leandro Pereira converted from the penalty spot, then he finished a quick and clinical counterattack with a cool finish for the game’s only two goals. Yokohama played pretty well on the road, nearly scoring on a couple occasions, but they couldn’t break through. Gamba’s win now has them just one point from getting out of the relegation zone, with three matches in hand.
J1 Matchweek 17 Viewer’s Guide: League’s top team takes on one of league’s hottest as Frontale, Kashima meet
Match to Watch
Kawasaki Frontale are still the undisputed top team in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE. The defending champions are 13 points clear at the top of the table and haven’t lost a match all season. Leandro Damião is second in the league with 11 goals, pacing an attack that has 17 more goals than the next closest team. Any critique of them comes with the caveat that they are sensational - but they have slipped a bit of late.
Frontale have drawn two of their last four matches and nearly half of the goals they’ve given up this season have come in their last five matches alone. When you’re as good as Frontale, that is about as vulnerable as it gets.
So who does this “vulnerable” Frontale meet this weekend? A red hot Kashima Antlers team.
Kashima have only lost one of their last 14 contests in all competitions and the only two times they’ve been shutout in the league this season came back in March—both times when they went down to 10 men. If they stay at 11 men, Kashima score. Whether it’s the red hot Ryotari Araki, Ayase Ueda, Koki Machida or Shoma Doi, they are going to find a way to get on the scoreboard.
This good run of form have Kashima up to sixth in the table and they’re within shouting distance of the top four. If their spectacular run of form hasn’t made a statement to the rest of the league yet, a win over Frontale absolutely would.
Player to Watch
Araki has been the main man for Kashima this season and he delivered them a win in midweek action with a beautiful cutback and goal. Ueda and Machida also get involved, but Doi has played a crucial role in Kashima’s attack too. He’s often overlooked because he isn’t always the goalscorer - although he does rank among the league’s top 20 goalscorers - or even the man picking up assists, but his movement in the box and willingness to create space for others is crucial to what Kashima does.
One of the things Frontale does best is track runners, especially in transition, so they will be all over Doi. If he scores, it’ll likely take something spectacular, but if Kashima score, don’t be surprised of Doi plays a big role in it without even touching the ball. His brilliant movement is perfect against a team like Frontale, who will key in on his runs and potentially end up leaving space for another Kashima man to capitalize.
It takes all 11 players to succeed, especially against Frontale, and Doi epitomizes that with his contributions even when he doesn’t touch the ball.
Storyline to Watch
The top three in the league have been pretty static this season. Kawasaki Frontale established themselves as the top team early on, Nagoya Grampus slid right into second place and have held that solidly for two months now, while Sagan Tosu have been sitting in third place for much of the campaign. All three teams churn out wins and, as a result, keep their lofty spots in the table.
Over the last few weeks, those wins haven’t come so easily, though. It’s been five matchdays since all three of the top teams won. The impenetrable top three doesn’t look so impenetrable anymore.
Frontale are still comfortable atop the table, but Sagan only hold onto third by a point over a Yokohama F·Marinos team that has two matches in hand. And Marinos have four matches in hand on Nagoya, who are only five points clear of the men from Yokohama.
We’ve grown comfortable seeing the same three teams atop the table this season, but that’s now under threat. Can all three pick up wins to reestablish their positions or are we in for a free-for-all?
J1 Matchweek 16 Recap: Shonan and Vegalta pull stunners as league leaders stumble
Shonan Bellmare 1, Kawasaki Frontale 1
Shonan Bellmare were on their way to a huge victory, and Kawasaki Frontale on the verge of suffering their first defeat of the season. A goal by Naoki Yamada had put the home side in front and had the defending champions on the brink, but then Leandro Damião came to Frontale’s rescue. The Brazilian collected a pass 12 yards out, popped it up to himself then hit a spectacular bicycle kick to find the back of the net. The Shonan fans couldn’t even mount jeers, they were so in awe of the magnificent goal. While the equalizing goal did steal the spotlight, Shonan ultimately held on to earn a terrific point for their efforts.
Nagoya Grampus 0, Vegalta Sendai 1
As expected, Nagoya controlled this match. They had most of the ball and most of the shots. But the league’s second place team couldn’t find a goal, and that proved costly because Martinus did. A good Vegalta press forced Nagoya into turning the ball over in their own half and Vegalta quickly got the ball to Martinus, who dribbled past one defender, invited another then hit a low shot through traffic that found the corner of the goal to hand his side a crucial three points in their fight to avoid relegation.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 0, Sagan Tosu 0
The vaunted Sagan defense was up to the task yet again, putting the clamps on a dangerous Sapporo attack led by the league’s top scorer, Anderson Lopes. Unfortunately for third place Sagan, their attack let them down, mustering just seven shots and none on goal as Sapporo put on a defensive masterpiece. In the end, neither team could break through, but a point was enough to keep Sagan in the coveted third place spot.
Oita Trinita 0, Yokohama F·Marinos 1
Marinos put together an incredibly dominant showing in Oita, but for 82 minutes it didn’t mean much because they hadn’t scored. That’s when Daizen Maeda, the man who has starred for this terrific Marinos side all season, came to the rescue. He got free in the six-yard box, got on the end of a cross and headed into the back of the net for what would prove to be the only goal of the game. Marinos finished with 76% of possession and 21 shots to Trinita’s 2, but it would have meant nothing if not for Maeda, who was Marinos’ hero once again.
Yokohama FC 1, Avispa Fukuoka 1
Two matches after getting their first win of the season, Yokohama FC got another result. Kléber got Yokohama in front after 26 minutes when he met a cross in front of goal and coolly nodded it into the side netting. Bruno Mendes got Fukuoka level and Juanma had a chance to deliver the visitors a win, but he pulled a penalty wide of the net. In the end, Yokohama walked away with a point, and while they are still at the bottom of the table, they’re getting better and may have a run out of the drop zone in them still.
Kashima Antlers 1, Cerezo Osaka 0
Kashima’s unbeaten streak came to an end over the weekend when Sagan got the better of them, but they got back to their winning ways thanks to Ryotaro Araki. Kashima capitalized on a bad Cerezo giveaway, countering quickly against a Cerezo defense on their heels and feeding Araki on the left wing. Araki gathered the ball, cut in and curled a shot right into the side netting for his sixth goal of the campaign and, more importantly, earning Kashima three points to take sixth in the table.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2, Urawa Reds 2
Urawa entered the match with five wins in their last six, and they nearly made it six of seven, but a Sanfrecce denied them at the death in a thrilling contest at Edion Stadium Hiroshima. Kasper Junker continued his blistering hot form with yet another goal to open the scoring before Rahyner equalized for Sanfrecce. When Shinzo Koroki buried a penalty in the 84th minute, Urawa looked set to take home another win, but Hayao Kawabe hit a belter from 20 yards in the dying minutes to steal a point for Sanfrecce and cool down red hot Urawa.
Kashiwa Reysol 1, Vissel Kobe 2
Vissel kept pace in the fight for third and fourth place with their first win in four contests. Yuta Goke got them going 30 seconds into the second half when he banged the ball in from five yards out, then an own goal doubled the Vissel lead. Keiya Shiihashi cut the Vissel lead in half, but Reysol didn’t generate many opportunities after that and never really threatened to equalize as Vissel walked away with a comfortable away win.
Shimizu S-Pulse 3, F.C.Tokyo 0
S-Pulse welcomed F.C.Tokyo to IAI Stadium Nihondaira without a win in their last nine and in need of three points. Three goals later, they had just that. Thiago Santana got S-Pulse going when he bundled a rebound into the back of the net 14 minutes in, then in first half stoppage time Valdo skied high to meet a corner kick and headed home to double the S-Pulse lead. By the time Eiichi Katayama came flying in and volley home a corner kick of his own in the 49th minute to make it 3-0, S-Pulse had the match in hand and those elusive three points.
Gamba Osaka 2, Tokushima Vortis 1
Gamba’s seven-match winless streak is no more, and they ended it in style. It started with some beautiful passing and movement, which finished with Patric getting free in front of goal and meeting a low cross with a perfect shot to give Gamba an early lead. A Ken Iwao penalty got Vortis level, but Takashi Usami’s scissor kick of a high ball put Gamba in front for good. Two great goals, three points and the end of a winless streak as they begin their climb out of the bottom four.
J1 Matchweek 16 Viewer’s Guide: Junker and surging Reds head to Hiroshima
Match to Watch
Ricardo Rodriguez guided Tokushima Vortis to the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE title a year ago, and that was enough to get the attention of Urawa Reds, who moved quickly to appoint him their new manager for the 2021 campaign. The Spaniard needed a little time to install his vision at Urawa, and some struggles early on in the season followed, but Rodriguez has the Reds flying now with five wins from their last six catapulting them up to sixth in the table.
A much-improved defense has been at the heart of Urawa’s resurgence, with the Reds pitching three consecutive clean sheets. And that stout defense will be the problem for Sanfrecce Hiroshima to solve this week when Urawa visits Edion Stadium Hiroshima.
It’s been a rocky year for Sanfrecce, who have traded good and bad results for much of the campaign. Their best is tantalizing, but they have yet to find the consistency needed to challenge the top of the table and, sitting ninth, have seen the likes of Urawa pass them up. That said, they have wins over both Osaka teams and an impressive draw against Sagan Tosu in their last four matches so maybe they’ve begun to find their footing.
Are Urawa ready to take the fight to the top four? Or are Sanfrecce ready to prove that they’ve got the steady footing needed to be a clear top half team? We’ll find out this week.
Player to Watch
Urawa’s defense has keyed their rise, but they still need goals. And while their defense was playing well, they were still sometimes let down by their attack. But that’s in the past now, thanks to Kasper Junker.
The Danish striker joined the team this month and has been the most dangerous player in the league ever since. In four starts, he’s scored five goals. His physical presence in the box has completely overwhelmed opposing defenses, his skillful finishes have won Urawa matches, and he has brought his teammates into the game beautifully.
With Junker leading the attack, Urawa have themselves an outright star.
Storyline to Watch
Newly promoted teams are usually the top candidates to be relegated in any season, anywhere in the world. It’s not hard to figure out why - jumping up a division is always a major lift. And that lift is even bigger this season in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE, where four teams will be relegated to right-size the division after some changes to account for the pandemic.
So, where are the two new top flight clubs? Well, Avispa Fukuoka is sitting pretty all the way up in fifth place, while Tokushima Vortis are eight points clear of the drop zone. The newly promoted sides have been excellent!
Both teams have gotten the job done largely with goalscoring. Vortis have outscored every team below them, while Fukuoka have taken it to a whole other level, scoring the second-most goals of any team in the league.
Simply put, Avispa Fukuoka and Tokushima Vortis have been great, and quickly ended any talk that they’d have a fight on their hands to stay in their new league. So much for newly promoted teams struggling.
J1 Matchweek 15 Recap: Sagan stall Kashima, Frontale extend lead at the top
Kawasaki Frontale 3, Yokohama FC 1
The matchup of the league’s first place team hosting the league’s last place team went largely as expected. Frontale were dominant from the start and had themselves a lead within 20 minutes thanks to an Akihiro Ienaga penalty. Goals by Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma followed so even by the time Kléber got Yokohama on the board, Frontale were unbothered and en route to another win.
Tokushima Vortis 0, Nagoya Grampus 0
Nagoya are used to playing tight matches with a good defense limiting chances and opportunistic attacking to take advantage of one or two mistakes by their opponent. The problem for them is Vortis were set up to do the same thing, and they did it well. As a result, the two teams only asked the goalkeepers to make three saves combined as they split the points.
Sagan Tosu 2, Kashima Antlers 1
Kashima’s 12-match unbeaten streak is over thanks to an ever resolute Sagan. The visitors started brightly and took an early lead through Yuta Matsumura, who benefited from a deflection to give Kashima a 14th minute goal. But Sagan always seemed a little more in control and more likely to score. Plus, getting two behind their league-best defense always feels nearly impossible. It took until the second half before Sagan finally got even with Keita Yamashita jumping on a spilled rebound and blasting it home five minutes after halftime. Then, 12 minutes from time, Yuta Higuchi hit a shot that somehow made it through a slew of bodies in front and Sagan had themselves not just a win, but a statement against a red-hot team and a more secure grip on third place.
Yokohama F·Marinos 1, Kashiwa Reysol 1
A trip away to Marinos is never an easy task, but Reysol handled it well and earned a crucial point in their fight to avoid the bottom four. Both defenses held firm for much of the match, with a spectacular header from Ado Onaiwu that clattered the bar proving to be the closest either team came until the 82nd minute. That’s when Ippei Shinozuka met a cross at the far post and slid to redirect it into the back of the net. Unfortunately for Reysol, their lead only lasted for four minutes because Ken Matsubara hit a belter from 20 yards to ensure Marinos would at least walk away with a point.
F.C.Tokyo 1, Gamba Osaka 0
This match was decided within a minute, as Tokyo took possession after kickoff and Diego Oliveira's shot found the net after only 46 seconds. From there, it was all about preserving the lead, which F.C.Tokyo did ably to make that stunning opening minute goal stand up.
Urawa Reds 2, Vissel Kobe 0
Urawa entered with three wins in their last four, and they made it four of five with a clinical performance over a good Vissel side. Tatsuya Tanaka put the Reds in front with a header that kissed the post before getting over the goal line. Then, Kasper Junker scored his fourth goal in three league matches since joining the Reds, as the Dane continued to blow the league away in a spectacular start to his time in Urawa.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 2, Shimizu S-Pulse 0
It took 50 minutes before Consadole’s constant pressure paid off, and when it did, it was through Anderson Lopes, of course. The Brazilian got to a ball 10 yards out and blasted it into the top of the net for his league-leading 12th goal of the campaign. It was a deserved lead for the home side, who played wonderfully, and it was deserved four minutes later when Takuro Kaneko hit a beautiful shot from 20 yards to double Consadole’s lead. A late red card to Kim Min-tae put a slight damper on the showing for Sapporo, but they still had themselves a well-earned victory.
Vegalta Sendai 2, Oita Trinita 1
Vegalta and Trinita both got off to quick starts, with Takuma Nishimura putting Vegalta in front after five minutes and Shun Nagasawa equalizing seven minutes later, but after that the match slowed. It became a cagey affair in search of a hero, and Chihiro Kato stepped up to be just that. The Vegalta man came flying across to meet a cross and hit a terrific header in the 74th minute that just got past the goalkeeper for Vegalta’s second win of the season.
Avispa Fukuoka 2, Shonan Bellmare 1
A Shonan lead is usually secure given their excellent defense. So, when Shintaro Nago gave Bellmare a 32nd minute lead, things looked good for the visitors and when Kosei Tani parried away an Avispa penalty kick in first half stoppage time, Shonan looked on their way. But, the Fukuoka side stormed back, with Bruno Mendes expertly heading home a free kick in the 65th minute to equalize. Then, Douglas Grolli won a race to a loose ball in the box from a corner kick and knocked it into the back of the net, earning Fukuoka a comeback win and tightening their grip on fifth place.
Cerezo Osaka 1, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2
A scoreless first half gave way to an action packed second at Yanmar Stadium Nagai. A minute after the break, Hiroaki Okuno scored on a mad scramble in front of goal from a corner and Cerezo had themselves a lead. It would only last three minutes, though, because a corner on the other side of the field saw Júnior Santos knock the ball home for an equalizer. Then, Júnior Santos got involved again, this time driving right through the Cerezo defense before playing Yuya Asano in alone on goal and Asano easily rounded the keeper before finishing into the open net for the winner.
J1 Matchweek 15 Viewer’s Guide: Kashima Antlers streak on the line against Sagan Tosu
Match to Watch
Kashima Antlers have not lost in 12 matches across all competitions, a run that has seen them average two goals per match and keep clean sheets in half of their contests. Quite simply, the attack and defense have both been spectacular, and their excellent play has seen them jump to sixth in the table.
Kashima haven’t just beat up on the bottom half of the table either. Their last two matches in the league were wins over second-place Nagoya Grampus and a Yokohama F·Marinos side that went into the match having not lost in 16 contests.
Next up for Kashima will be third-place Sagan Tosu, who will present a very different challenge. Sagan have the best defense in the league, and by a large margin. Their six goals conceded on the season are half as many as the next closest team, and that defense has fueled their run up the table. Early on in the season, they were the league’s surprise team, but at this point there is nothing surprising about their excellence - a great defense and the prowess of Keita Yamashita up front is a recipe for success.
If Kashima can add to their unbeaten streak with a fifth straight win, they’ll be just a point back of Sagan and their run at an AFC Champions League place will be at top speed. But Sagan could hold them down, end their streak, and make another statement that they are the league’s third best team.
Player to Watch
Brazilians Leandro Damião and Anderson Lopes have rightfully been in the spotlight for their goalscoring exploits this season, with Damião on 10 goals and Lopes 11 to start the campaign. Alongside them now in the Golden Boot race, however, is the surging Ado Onaiwu.
The Yokohama F·Marinos man has eight goals in the last five matches and is unquestionably the player on the hottest run in the league.
His 10 goals have been key in Marinos’ terrific run of form this season, and with teammate Daizen Maeda dropping deeper as of late in Ange Postecoglou’s system, Onaiwu has thrived with more space up top.
Right now, there is no player in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE whose attacking performances demand more attention week in and week out than Onaiwu—and that makes him our Player to Watch.
Storyline to Watch
The J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP group stage came to a close on Wednesday, and eight teams now have their midweek slates largely clear. Next month, when four additional teams are dumped out of the competition in the playoff stage, more than half of the league will have many midweeks off.
What will that mean for their MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE form?
Cup competitions are terrific and prestigious, but they also tax teams and expose their squad depth, or lack thereof. More and more teams are not going to have to rotate as much, and will be able to rely more on well-rested, first-choice players in the league. That could shift results and change the table … or maybe not.
There’s no telling exactly how the change in fixtures are going to affect things, but this is the last weekend that the majority of teams will be coming off of midweek cup play. Let’s see how things go this matchweek and then compare in future weeks. It could be telling as for how the second half of the season plays out.
In the meantime, several teams take impressive cup form into the league this matchweek, including Urawa Reds, who host Vissel Kobe. The Reds look reborn with Kasper Junker up top, and the J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP has proved useful for getting the Danish striker familiar with his new surroundings. With four goals in his first four appearances across all competitions, it will be interesting to see if Junker can continue his hot form and get the Reds another big result against Iniesta and co. as they come to town.
J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Matchday 6 Recap: Group Stage settled, eight teams advance
This group was settled last matchday, with Kashima Antlers and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo already booking their spots in the Play-off Stage. All they were playing for was first place in the group, but a scoreless draw ensured Kashima would keep the top spot, while Consa would take second.
A dominant performance by Avispa Fukuoka saw Hisashi Jogo score a brace as his team jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Even a late goal from Sagan Tosu and an 81st minute red card to Naoki Wako couldn’t slow Fukuoka, who exit the cup on a high.
F.C.Tokyo entered the final matchday in a good spot and a 1-1 draw with Oita Trinia ensured they would walk away group winners. Trinita took an early lead, but Tokyo answered back to split the points and, unfortunately for Trinita, that left them vulnerable to having second place taken from them by Vissel Kobe.
Vissel did just that, riding a brace by Ayub Masika to a 3-0 victory over Tokushima Vortis and leaping into second place in Group B. They will now join F.C.Tokyo in the Play-off Stage, while Trinita and Vortis see their cup run come to an end.
All four teams in Group B were in position to go through or go out heading into the final matchday, making it a frantic two matches. In Urawa, Takahiro Sekine put the Reds up after just three minutes and Koya Yuruki followed up with a fantastic strike to wrap up a 2-0 win for Urawa over Yokohama FC.
Urawa’s win guaranteed they would go through, while Yokohama’s loss eliminated them. But final positions were still up in the air pending the other Group B match. If either Shonan Bellmare or Kashiwa Reysol won, they would join Urawa in the Play-off Stage. A Masaki Ikeda goal put Shonan in front, but Shunki Takahashi answered to equalize. Unfortunately for Reysol, that was not enough, as a 1-1 draw dropped them out of the competition and put Shonan through as Group C’s second-place team.
Yokohama F·Marinos’ phenomenal group stage came to an end with, what else, a win. The 18-year-old starlet Ryonosuke Kabayama led the way with two goals as Marinos turned an early 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 win over Shimizu S-Pulse to put them on top of Group C with 14 points - two more than any other team in the cup.
S-Pulse’s loss left them vulnerable to going out of the competition, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima having a chance to overtake them for second place in Group D, but Vegalta Sendai came to their rescue. Vegalta, who had already been eliminated from advancement, got goals from Takumi Sasaki, Chihiro Kato and Quenten Martinus to defeat Sanfrecce, 3-0, and preserve S-Pulse’s place in the Play-off Stage.
Kashima Antlers vs. Shimizu S-Pulse
F.C.Tokyo vs. Shonan Bellmare
Yokohama F·Marinos vs. Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo
Urawa Reds vs. Vissel Kobe
The playoff stage will be played as two-legged ties, with the four winners advancing to the knockout stages where they will be joined by the four MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE teams in the 2021 AFC Champions League - Kawasaki Frontale, Gamba Osaka, Nagoya Grampus and Cerezo Osaka.
A J.LEAGUE collection with an Italian connection: ‘20J1’ kits in Naples
As part of 20J1 in 2021, a project designed to celebrate the global diversity, unique club cultures, and vibrant fashions at the heart of Japanese football, J.LEAGUE presents some of its kits with connections to Italy.
The 2021 home shirts of two Kanagawa-based clubs, Kawasaki Frontale and Shonan Bellmare, feature on the streetscapes and waterfronts of Naples—a fitting locale for these two teams with unique Italian roots in their very names.
The current J1 LEAGUE champions in Kawasaki explain on their club website that their “Frontale” name “means ‘front’ in Italian, and it stands for keeping challenge in the front line and playing fairly.”
The “Bellmare” name that has been a part of the Shonan club since 1993 is taken from the Italian words “bello” (beautiful) and “mare” (sea) as a proud reference to the club’s sublime coastal environs.
Both Frontale and Bellmare have nautical themes in their club iconography, from the Kawasaki dolphin to the Shonan trident, and this local maritime heritage represented in their branding makes them a logical set of teams to connect to a place where water collides with local life in such fascinating ways.
This collection also showcases the kit of Sagan Tosu, a club that has in recent years had several connections to Italian football through Juventus, who helped inaugurate the Kyushu club’s training ground with a youth team visit in 2014, before the two academies played five years later in the 2019 Future Cup. As part of the Bianconeri youth team’s tour of Japan, they even met the mayor of the city of Tosu.
This project comes at a time when J.LEAGUE’s ties to Italy are as strong as ever. Recent developments include Italian fans of an anime show throwing their support behind Bellmare, which the club has responded to in appreciation, and the first Italian player since 2015 signing in J.LEAGUE, as Cristian Battocchio has recently turned out for Tokushima Vortis.
J1 Matchweek 14 Recap: Kashima Antlers make statement, Sagan Tosu back into top three
Kawasaki Frontale 2, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 0
Consadole went to Kawasaki and played a good match, giving Frontale a real fight, but in the end the champions were just a little too good. A scoreless first half had Consa thinking they were going to get away with a result, but Kaoru Mitoma broke the deadlock in the 49th minute off a gorgeous assist from Reo Hatate. Yu Kobayashi then added a goal of his own in stoppage time and Frontale had themselves a MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE record 22-match unbeaten streak.
Shimizu S-Pulse 0, Nagoya Grampus 3
Nagoya are back to playing their best and they showed it in Shizuoka. Yoichiro Kakitani put them in front with a 24th minute opener, but Mateus was the real star with a second half brace. His first goal came on a fizzed-in, curling cross that barely missed both his runners and the goalkeeper to find the corner of the net. Then, he hit another brilliant curler, this time shooting, to score his second and wrap up a convincing win for Nagoya.
Oita Trinita 1, Sagan Tosu 1
Sagan’s fight for a spot in next season’s AFC Champions League continued over the weekend and, while they will be disappointed not to have won, their draw was enough to move them into the crucial third place. Keita Yamashita put Sagan in front early on and it looked like that would be enough for the win as they defended typically well. But Trinita got even in the 82nd minute when Shun Nagasawa met a cross with a strong header that found the back of the net and split the points.
Kashima Antlers 5, Yokohama F·Marinos 3
A matchup between the two J.LEAGUE teams with the most titles went the way of Kashima in a wild one. Shoma Doi was the hero, netting a hat trick to answer an early Ado Onaiwu goal. Doi scored his first just before halftime, then his second in the first minute after the break, before a penalty in the 53rd minute for his third. Ryotaro Araki then got on the scoresheet to make it 4-1 to Kashima. Marinos battled back through Onaiwu, who scored again to move joint-top of the league scoring charts, but Ayase Ueda added an insurance goal to put the match well out of reach—even with Jun Amano’s late goal for Marinos. With the big win, Kashima have now gone 11 matches in all competitions without a loss, while Marinos’ 16-game unbeaten streak is over.
Vegalta Sendai 0, Avispa Fukuoka 1
Only one team in the league has won their last five and that’s the top-flight new boys Avispa Fukuoka, who secured a late win in Sendai. Both Fukuoka and Vegalta traded chances throughout the game, with Vegalta nearly scoring on a couple occasions only to be denied by excellent Masaaki Murakami saves. In the first minute of stoppage time, Daiki Watari found the back of the net and while it was ruled out, VAR said it was a good goal, and Fukuoka had themselves a last-minute winner.
Vissel Kobe 1, Cerezo Osaka 1
It looked like Cerezo was going to walk away winners thanks to a Tatsuhiro Sakamoto goal, but Vissel Kobe’s Thomas Vermaelen had other thoughts. The hosts were flying forward in stoppage time trying to find an equalizer, and after a series of blocked shots left a bouncing ball at 15 yards, Vermaelen came flying in and hit an absolute belter that rattled the back of the net and delivered a 96th-minute draw for Vissel.
Gamba Osaka 0, Urawa Reds 3
A dominant first half was plenty for Urawa, who are now just five points off of third place. Kasper Junker was again the central figure in Urawa’s first half excellence, constantly getting into good positions and being rewarded with a pair of goals. Tatsuya Tanaka got a goal of his own too, running in from the back side to meet a cross, and that was all Urawa needed to wrap up an easy three points.
Yokohama FC 2, Shonan Bellmare 0
Yokohama FC finally have their first win of the season! A rough start to the year had Yokohama searching for a league victory, but that’s no longer missing after a comprehensive performance against Shonan delivered all three points. Goals by Yota Maejima and Takuya Matsuura scored on each side of halftime and Akinori Ichikawa played superbly in goal to keep Shonan at bay in a big day for Yokohama.
Kashiwa Reysol 0, F.C.Tokyo 4
It took all of 18 minutes for F.C.Tokyo to grab complete control of this one. Diego Oliveira scored the opener thanks to a terrific run and assist by Adaílton, then Adaílton did it on his own with a pair of goals and before the time clock had shown 19, Tokyo had themselves a 3-0 lead. Hirotaka Mita then added a late goal to wrap up what was a terrific day for F.C.Tokyo in picking up an away win.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0, Tokushima Vortis 1
Sanfrecce played well from the jump and generated chance after chance, but their finishing was not at its best, so no goals came. Still, it only seemed like a matter of time, with Vortis on the back foot, but a single counterattack changed the match. Vortis won the ball and flew forward, finding acres of space and eventually Takeru Kishimoto in behind the defense. Kishimoto was all alone with the keeper, who came rushing out, and all Kishimoto had to do was chip it over him to give Vortis the surprising lead and the victory.
J.LEAGUE Day: 29 facts for 29 seasons!
May 15th is a significant date on the Japanese football calendar, marking the anniversary of the inaugural J.LEAGUE match, which kicked off on this day in 1993. Known as J.LEAGUE Day, every May 15th stirs countless football memories and gives us another chance to look back through the game’s modern era in Japan. So, with J.LEAGUE Day here for the 29th season, let’s take a look back at 29 of our favorite facts in J.LEAGUE history.
1. Dutch forward Hennie Meijer scored the first-ever J.LEAGUE goal—the opener for Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy) in a 2-1 loss to Yokohama Marinos (now Yokohama F･Marinos).
2. Masashi Nakayama, known to many as Gon Nakayama, has the most goals in a J1 LEAGUE season, scoring 36 in 1998. He also scored Japan’s first-ever FIFA World Cup goal that year in France!
3. Kenyan striker Michael Olunga scored 8 goals for Kashiwa Reysol in a 13-1 victory on the final day of the 2019 season—the club’s last match in the second tier before promotion.
4. The J.LEAGUE holds a Mascot General Election every season at the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP, with Vivi-kun of J2 club V-Varen Nagasaki crowned as the most recent winner.
5. The most shots in a J1 game came between Kashiwa Reysol and Shimizu S-Pulse in 1998, when the teams took 51 between them (Kashiwa 30, Shimizu 21). Despite Kashiwa taking more shots, Shimizu won the match, 2-1.
6. Tokyo Verdy beat Real Madrid 3-0 in a summer friendly in 2005, with Real Madrid featuring the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, and Ronaldo.
7. Shunsuke Nakamura is the only player to be voted J.LEAGUE MVP on two separate occasions—and he achieved this feat 13 years apart (2000 and 2013).
8. With their undefeated run to start the season dating back to 2020, Kawasaki Frontale have currently equalled the longest unbeaten run in J1 LEAGUE history at 21 games. This record, first set by Omiya Ardija during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, can be broken by Kawasaki Frontale with a win or draw in Matchweek 14 against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
9. Hisato Sato notched the fastest goal in J1 LEAGUE history in 2006, scoring after just 8 seconds for Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Cerezo Osaka.
10. Tegevajaro Miyazaki are the newest J.LEAGUE club, and their entry into J3 this year means 40 of Japan’s 47 prefectures now have a team in J.LEAGUE.
11. Kashima Antlers and Yokohama F·Marinos are the only clubs to have never been relegated from the J1 LEAGUE.
12. Before the likes of Iniesta and Torres, plenty of other global stars played in the J.LEAGUE as well, including Zico (Kashima Antlers), Dunga (Júbilo Iwata), Hristo Stoichkov (Kashiwa Reysol), Patrick M'Boma (Gamba Osaka, Tokyo Verdy, and Vissel Kobe), Gary Lineker (Nagoya Grampus), Dragan “Piksi” Stojković (Nagoya Grampus), and many more!
13. In 1999, Kawasaki Frontale were the first team to be promoted to J1 as the champions of J2. F.C.Tokyo also were promoted that year as runners-up.
14. 38-year-old Yoshito Okubo is the all-time J1 LEAGUE top scorer, with 5 of his 190 goals (to date) coming this season for Cerezo Osaka.
15. Cerezo Osaka have a rich history of producing players with successful careers in Europe, including Shinji Kagawa, Hiroshi Kiyotake, and Takumi Minamino.
16. Takayuki Morimoto is the youngest player to score in J1, at the age of 15 years, 11 months, and 28 days. Takefusa Kubo has the overall J.LEAGUE record, having scored in J3 at the age of 15 years, 10 months, and 11 days.
17. You can watch the J.LEAGUE in over 50 countries/regions worldwide, as well as selected games for free on YouTube every week!
18. Nine current J.LEAGUE players share a birthday with the J.LEAGUE, and 3 of them play for AC Nagano Parceiro! Michiya Okamoto (FC Gifu, 1995), Yuga Watanabe (Kamatamare Sanuki, 1996), Kaito Umeda (Tegevajaro Miyazaki, 1997), Yuya Kuwasaki (V-Varen Nagasaki, 1998), Koki Gotoda (Mito Hollyhock, 1999) and Yota Tanabe (Mito Hollyhock, 2002) all were born on May 15th, as were Nagano Parceiro’s Hiroshi Azuma (1987), Kazuki Yamaguchi (1995), and Hiroyuki Tsubokawa (1997).
19. In its early years there were no draws in the J.LEAGUE, with all games producing a winner either inside 90 minutes, courtesy of a golden goal (called V-Goals) in extra time, or via a penalty shoot-out. Here are some of the best V-Goals, as voted for by fans in 2019
20. J.LEAGUE teams bow to their fans at the end of every match - win. lose, or draw.
21. As well as welcoming players from all over the world, the J.LEAGUE has also participated in referee exchanges, with officials from Scotland, Poland, and Australia among those to have taken charge of matches in Japan.
22. Kashima Antlers made football history at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016, becoming the first-ever team to benefit from a VAR decision. The J.LEAGUE side were awarded a penalty by referee Viktor Kassai, who was alerted to a foul on Daigo Nishi inside the penalty area by his video assistant referee Danny Makkelie. Shoma Doi converted the penalty to book Kashima a place in the final, where they lost to Real Madrid after extra time.
23. Four J.LEAGUE clubs (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, Nagoya Grampus, Vissel Kobe, and Oita Trinita) have stadiums with either fitted or retractable roofs, in order to ensure matches can be played in any weather condition, but only three are currently in use. Nagoya Grampus’ Toyota Stadium has not used its retractable roof since 2015.
24. 54-year-old Kazuyoshi Miura makes headlines every year these days as the oldest professional footballer in the world, but the spotlight is nothing new to the Yokohama FC striker, who was the inaugural J.LEAGUE Player of the Year back in 1993.
25. The third tier of the J.LEAGUE, J3, started with 12 teams in 2014, with Zweigen Kanazawa crowned as the first champions and promoted to J2, where they have remained ever since.
26. Kashiwa Reysol made J.LEAGUE history by winning back-to-back titles in the top two divisions: First winning the J2 title in 2010 and then securing the J1 crown in their first year back in the top flight in 2011.
27. Some of the biggest names in the game have managed J.LEAGUE teams, including Arsène Wenger (Nagoya Grampus), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Jubilo Iwata), Carlos Quieroz (Nagoya Grampus), and Ossie Ardiles (Shimizu S-Pulse, Yokohama F·Marinos, Tokyo Verdy 1969, FC Machida Zelvia).
28. J.LEAGUE clubs must carry out community efforts in their local areas as a stipulation of J.LEAGUE membership, with all 57 clubs building bonds with their hometowns and contributing through a wide range of activities every season.
29. Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak broke J.LEAGUE records in back-to-back seasons for Nagoya Grampus, setting the mark for most clean sheets in a season (17) in 2020 before following it up this year with the most consecutive shutouts (9) in a campaign.
We hope you enjoyed these 29 facts and we thank you for joining the fun on J.LEAGUE Day! Be sure to follow all of our social media channels for more content on this special occasion!
J1 Matchweek 14 Viewer’s Guide: Antlers - Marinos clash headlines big weekend
Match to Watch
Kashima Antlers are the winningest team in MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE history, capturing eight titles. And the team with the second most titles? That would be Yokohama F·Marinos, with four trophies to their name. And this weekend, these two teams clash.
Marinos are starting to look like their champion-selves of old. They won the title in 2019, only to be undone by a weak defense last season. That, however, does not appear to be a problem anymore, as Marinos have conceded just eight goals this season, third best in the league.
With the defense sorted, Marinos are flying high; It’s been more than 75 days since they have lost a match in any competition, a stretch of 16 games. In that time, they have gotten eight goals from Daizen Maeda in league play alone, and another eight from Ado Onaiwu, making them the only team with two players in the top five of the league’s goal scoring charts.
Simply put, Marinos are a monster on the hunt for a fifth J.LEAGUE title.
Things are not going quite as well for Kashima, who are in 7th, but they are in the midst of a long unbeaten run—one that includes a 3-0 thrashing of F.C.Tokyo over the weekend in one of the more dominant performances by anyone this season. It was truly the best of Kashima, and maybe a sign of things to come, as they held a massive edge in shots and possession.
Kashima have the trophy case everyone envies, but Marinos have a great silverware collection of their own, and the more recent success. Who will come out on top in a battle of the best in J.LEAGUE history?
Player to Watch
Tokushima Vortis’ leap to the top flight has gone pretty well. They’re six points clear of the relegation zone, which is always an achievement for a newly promoted team. Things have soured a bit of late, with Vortis losing four straight, but things are still going pretty well in Tokushima—and Taisei Miyashiro is a big reason why.
The 20-year-old Miyashiro is on loan from Kawasaki Frontale and has been crucial to the Vortis attack, both scoring and creating chances for others. His five goals rank him among the league’s top eight goalscorers and he’s both the primary outlet and creator for Vortis.
Perhaps most impressively, Miyashiro is doing this despite not really having a set position or role. The majority of his appearances have come on the right wing, but he’s also played as a center forward and #10, while popping up on the left wing at times too. Simply put, he’s just asked to carry the load and make the attack click, wherever that is, and he keeps delivering.
It’s no surprise that Frontale have another bright young talent in their ranks, but for this season Miyashiro is at Vortis and he’s crucial to everything they do. If Vortis keep churning out results and stay in the top flight, Miyashiro will be a big reason why.
Storyline to Watch
Leandro Damião has had an electric campaign, winning Konami Monthly MVP honors in April and taking his tally up to 10 goals ahead of this matchweek. That’s not altogether unsurprising - he’s the center forward for the league’s defending champions and top team, Kawasaki Frontale. But he’s not actually top of the league’s goalscoring charts.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo’s Anderson Lopes leads the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE with 11 goals, putting him one above fellow Brazilian Damião. The forward has been sensational for Consadole, scoring more than half of the team’s goals. While Consadole are not doing nearly as well as Frontale, sitting back in 11th place, Anderson Lopes may be even more crucial to his team than Damião because, without him, Consadole could be near the relegation fight.
This weekend, Frontale and Consadole meet, and while there will be no doubt as to who the favorite is, it should be a blinding affair because of the two Brazilians leading their respective lines. There will be goals, and you can bet on Damião and Anderson Lopes being at the heart of them as they give defenders fits. If Consadole’s man is in top form, another victory at Kawasaki, like last year, should not come as a surprise.
Iniesta celebrates birthday with Vissel Kobe contract extension
The legendary Andrés Iniesta has extended his contract with Vissel Kobe and is set to stay in the MEIJI YASUDA J.LEAGUE through the 2023 season.
Iniesta won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and two UEFA European Football Championships with Spain, to go along with his four UEFA Champions League trophies and nine LaLiga titles with FC Barcelona, before joining Vissel Kobe in 2018. He has since helped Vissel to Emperor’s Cup and Super Cup crowns.
“I will keep persisting with taking on this challenge with the same passion and drive I felt three years ago,” Iniesta said about signing his new contract.
The announcement of the deal came on Iniesta's 37th birthday and keeps him at the Kobe club a further two years as his initial contract was set to expire after the 2021 season.
“I strongly believe that his philosophy and his attitude will not just inspire young football athletes, but also Japan as a whole,” said Vissel Kobe chairman Hiroshi Mikitani.