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Dec 2003
Issue 043

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J-soccer monthly review

Soccerphile.com’s Sanborn Brown on the latest action in Japanese soccer.

November 10, 2003 — The Urawa Reds finally showed they belong among the elite of Japanese club football. The curse of potential has dogged the Reds for many years; now they have lived up to it, thrilling the most avid supporters in Japan.

On November 3rd, the Saitama squad thumped perennial powerhouse Kashima Antlers in the Nabisco Cup to earn its first champion-ship in the ten-year history of the J.League. Led by perhaps the J.League’s best forward line — Brazilian Emerson and Tanaka Tatsuya — Urawa overwhelmed the injury-hobbled Antlers 4-0, with Emerson scoring twice and Tanaka once.

This was payback for the 2002 Final that featured the same two teams, but which Kashima won 1-0 on national team member Ogasawara Mitsuo’s goal. In this year’s match, the mercurial midfielder Ogasawara — playing without injured fellow national team members Nakata Koji and Motoyama Masashi —
was sent off early in the second half for an awkward challenge from behind. This earned him a second yellow card and an early trip to the dressing room.

When the final whistle blew, Reds players mobbed coach Hans Ooft in a gesture of unbridled affection. After the match, though, the affable Dutchman shocked all by announ-cing his resignation effective at the end of the current season. The former Japan national team and Jubilo coach alleged that Urawa brass had for several months been searching for his replacement behind his back.

Criticized by some for the timing of the announcement — there was concern about the effect it would have on the team’s second-stage title hopes — Ooft’s team was as of mid-November at the top of the J.League following a 5-1 thrashing of Tokyo Verdy on November 8th. The Reds were at this point in sole possession of first place with 22 points from 12 matches. On the same weekend, Nagoya Grampus came from behind to defeat Yokohama Marinos 3-2, leaving the Marinos (and three other teams) in second place with three matches remaining.

At the other end of the table, Kyoto Purple Sanga kept the relegation demons at bay for the time on November 8th being by upsetting JEF United 3-2 in a thrilling match on a perfect fall Saturday afternoon in Kyoto. This earned Sanga three full points to pull even with Oita Trinita (though trailing on goal difference) and put the team three points ahead of Sendai, which lost to Jubilo. The bottom two J1 teams will be demoted to J2 next year.

After JEF conducted a fifteen-minute passing drill and nearly scored on several occasions at the beginning of the first half, Sanga players finally woke up. Kyoto forward Kurobe Teruaki rolled one past JEF goal-tender at the 24-minute mark of the first half to put Sanga up 1-0 — and this changed the tenor of the match. As Coach Pim Verbeeck noted at the post-match press conference: "It was a strange game. We started badly, but Kurobe’s goal came at a good time; it completely changed the game."

In the second half, with Kyoto pressing forward, Kurobe again found his range. From 37-38 yards out, he blasted the ball into the top right corner at the 60-minute mark. Joking afterwards about what he called a "fantastic goal," Verbeeck said that he would have his team practice "40-yard kicks" in the coming week.

Matsui Daisuke got the game winner with ten minutes remaining. With the game seemingly out of reach, Matsui was taken off following a long match and a week in which he saw action in Hong Kong and the Middle East with the Olympic team. JEF substitute Hayashi Tetsunori, however, had other ideas. He scored twice
in the last five minutes to give the Nishi-kyogoku faithful a bit of a scare. When the game was over, the stands pulsated with applause and the shrieks of women clad in low-rider jeans and bangles and Sanga jerseys.

Another view of the match though came from a visiting Dutch journalist. Of the level of the game, he said: "Japanese players have great skills on the ball, but technically they are shit. #27 (Sanga’s Kakuda Makoto)’s defending was all-wrong. They haven’t figured out stuff you learn when you are a kid in Holland. A lot of them couldn’t play amateur football in Holland."

The Asahi Newspaper treated its readers to rather more glowing reports of Matsui and his Olympic as they enjoyed a successful tour overseas in early November. The Olympic team won twice, downing Hong Kong and Qatar — the latter now led by Phillippe Troussier, the obsessive Frenchman who coached Japan in last summer’s World Cup — without allowing a single goal. JEF'S Abe Yuki and Marinos’s Nasu Daisuke received much media attention. The former stroked a free kick goal against Qatar; the latter anchored the defense in both matches.

With the J.League 2003 regular season now finished, eyes will turn to this month to the Emperor’s Cup. Defending champions Kyoto Purple Sanga will lead the Kansai contingent in a month-long event that climaxes on New Year’s Day, 2004, with a Final at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

Text and Photo: Sanborn Brown



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