Text by Paul Freelend
On a wet and sometimes wild weekend, some of the biggest clubs in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League shook off their stuttering form and showed flashes of their true capabilities.
Yokohama F Marinos kicked off Round 4 with a 2-1 home win over Sagan Tosu that was tinged with controversy. The hosts opened the scoring after just three minutes at Mitsuzawa Stadium, with Cayman Togashi running onto a long ball out of the back from Fabio, sprinting past a static defense and beating Akihiro Hayashi one-on-one.
Fabio’s ball looked to have glanced off Shunsuke Nakamura, who was offside, but the referee let play continue, leading to vehement protests from the Tosu players and bench. Nakamura said after the match that he did touch the ball, albeit accidentally. That was cold comfort for Tosu manager Massimo Ficcadenti, who called on the league to show replays of all goals at stadiums, not just home goals.
“There’s constant talk of fair play in the J-League, but if people are serious, then every goal should be displayed on the screen, not just theirs,” he said. “I’m not trying to pick on any one individual, but if we’re going to scream fair play, fair play, fair play, then all the goals should be shown. Either show them all or don’t show anything.”
Marinos looked content with their early lead, taking their foot off the gas and ceding most of the possession to Tosu. The hosts’ organization and pressure in midfield frustrated Tosu and kept them from fashioning anything more dangerous than crosses from the wings.
A slice of good fortune changed all that just after the hour mark. Kim Min-woo’s free kick from 25 yards deflected off the Marinos wall and bounced back off the post, leaving goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura stranded. Tosu’s Hiroyuki Taniguchi dove head-long to nod in the rebound, leveling matters.
Forced back into the match, Marinos showed they can be as good going forward as they are in defense. A Yutaka Yoshida pass released substitute Sho Ito behind the Tosu defense, and although Hayashi did well to stop Ito one-on-one, Kosuke Nakamichi was on hand to curl in the rebound from 20 yards.
Marinos moved onto seven points after their second win of the season, with manager Erick Mombaerts praising his side for their “exceptional” defense and organization while denying Tosu space to operate.
League leaders Kawasaki Frontale kept up their blistering form as they won 4-0 at Ventforet Kofu, with Kengo Nakamura scoring twice for the visitors. With 10 points to their name, the league’s last unbeaten side are one clear of Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds. Kashima’s Mu Kanazaki celebrated his Japan call-up by scoring twice in the second half of his side’s 2-0 home win over FC Tokyo. In the Kansai derby, meanwhile, an injury-hit Gamba Osaka slipped to a 2-1 loss at Vissel Kobe.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Robin Simovic scored his third goal of the season as Nagoya Grampus won 2-1 at home over Vegalta Sendai. Jay Bothroyd scored for the fourth time in three matches as Jubilo Iwata twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at home with fellow promoted side Avispa Fukuoka. There was more late heartbreak for Kashiwa Reysol as they drew 2-2 at Albirex Niigata, conceding in the final five minutes of the match for the third time, a habit that has already cost them five points.
On Sunday, Tadanari Lee and Shinzo Koroki struck to help Urawa win 2-0 at Shonan Bellmare. J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima put forth a surprising display to win 5-1 at Omiya Ardija, looking almost nothing like the side who so far had struggled domestically and in the AFC Champions League. Peter Utaka and Takuma Asano led the way up front while Hisato Sato, the leader in J1 career goals, sat out with a bruised foot.
Meiji Yasuda J1 League First Stage, Round 4
Saturday, March 19
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Sagan Tosu
Ventforet Kofu 0-4 Kawasaki Frontale
Albirex Niigata 2-2 Kashiwa Reysol
Nagoya Grampus 2-1 Vegalta Sendai
Kashima Antlers 2-0 FC Tokyo
Vissel Kobe 2-1 Gamba Osaka
Jubilo Iwata 2-2 Avispa Fukuoka
Sunday, March 20
Omiya Ardija 1-5 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Shonan Bellmare 0-2 Urawa Reds