Nagoya Grampus lead the J. League standings by three points ahead of the traditional Golden Week rush. The Toyota-backed outfit are playing fast-paced, attacking football under new coach Dragan Stojkovic, however Nagoya fans are quick to Qiu Qiu point out that they were also leading the league at the same stage last season, only to limp home to an eventual eleventh placed finish.
Nevertheless Nagoya’s confidence will be sky-high ahead of their visit to Ajinomoto Stadium where they take on the hapless Tokyo Verdy, who followed up a 5-0 thrashing by Shimizu S-Pulse in the League Cup with a similarly embarrassing 5-1 defeat by an injury-hit Kashiwa Reysol last weekend.
Shimizu S-Pulse take on FC Tokyo at Nihondaira Stadium, with these two sides having already met in the League Cup at the same venue this season. Shimizu won that game 3-1, and with the Shizuoka outfit hovering just above the relegation zone, they’ll hope for a repeat scoreline in front of their passionate supporters.
A packed Nihondaira Stadium
Northern sides Consadole Sapporo and Albirex Niigata will slug it out at the Sapporo Dome, with both teams looking to pull away from the bottom three. Fourteenth placed Sapporo have made a shaky return to the top flight, but they’ll feel confident of taking something from a Niigata side that is currently entrenched in the relegation zone.
The pick of the fixtures sees newly promoted Kyoto Sanga FC take on Urawa Reds at what will be a packed Nishikyogoku Stadium. These two sides have already met twice in the League Cup this season, with Kyoto outplaying their more fancied rivals on both occasions. They were unable to conjure a winner in a thrilling 3-3 draw in Kyoto, while the return clash at Komaba Stadium ended in a 1-1 stalemate.
Kyoto will hope that it’s a case of third-time lucky when they meet Urawa in the league, however they are missing the suspended Ataliba, Sidiclei and Tatsuya Masushima – as well as coach Hisashi Kato, all of whom were controversially sent off by referee Ryuji Sato in Kyoto’s most recent 1-0 loss away at Albirex Niigata.
On Sunday defending champions Kashima Antlers make the trip to Omiya Park to take on locals Omiya Ardija, while there’s a hotly anticipated Kansai derby on the cards when Vissel Kobe host local rivals Gamba Osaka.
With the Golden Week holiday period heralding a jam-packed fixture list there is also a full round of matches on April 29. The pick of those games sees Urawa Reds take on last season’s J2 champions Consadole Sapporo at Saitama Stadium, Yokohama F. Marinos host regional rivals JEF United at Nissan Stadium, while ex-Kawasaki Frontale playmaker Magnum faces up to his former club when Nagoya host Kawasaki in what should be an absorbing duel at Mizuho Stadium in Nagoya.
Kawasaki Frontale manager Takashi Sekizuka steps down
47-year-old Kawasaki Frontale manager Takashi Sekizuka has resigned, citing poor health for his decision.
The popular Sekizuka was the second-longest serving manager in the top flight behind Gamba Osaka’s Akira Nishino, having guided Kawasaki from the Second Division into the upper echelons of the top flight.
He steered the Kanagawa club to a second place finish in J1 in 2006, before Kawasaki reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League a year later.
Sekizuka will be replaced by his assistant Tsutomu Takahata, who steps up to take over as manager of a side that has struggled in the new season so far.
Nabisco League Cup
The third round of Nabisco League Cup group-stage fixtures took place on April 16, with few surprises to speak of.
Nagoya Grampus lead the way in Group A after they beat Vissel Kobe 2-0 thanks to goals from Keita Sugimoto and a strike from veteran midfielder Toshiya Fujita, while Urawa Reds prop up the group after their 1-1 draw at home to Kyoto Sanga FC.
In Group B Shimizu S-Pulse thrashed a sorry-looking Tokyo Verdy 5-0, with midfielder Fernandinho scoring a first-half brace. The undefeated Shimizu top the group, with FC Tokyo and Jubilo Iwata locked in a tight battle for second place following their 1-1 draw in the capital.
JEF United may be propping up the J. League standings, but the 2005 and 2006 League Cup champions sit atop Group C, although they are level on points with Consadole Sapporo after the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in Chiba. Kawasaki Frontale thrashed Kashiwa Reysol in the other game, with Juninho scoring a hat-trick.
Yokohama F. Marinos are unbeaten in Group D, and they hammered a woeful Omiya Ardija 4-0 in their clash at Mitsuzawa Stadium, with ex-Cruzeiro striker Roni scoring twice. In the evening’s other fixture Albirex Niigata drew 1-1 with Oita Trinita, leaving Oita in second place in the group.
The next round of fixtures are scheduled to take place on May 25.
AFC Champions League
Kashima Antlers crashed to their first defeat in the AFC Champions League on April 23, going down 1-0 to Beijing Guoan thanks to Tiago’s solitary strike at Beijing’s Fengtai Stadium.
The defeat will have left Kashima coach Oswaldo de Oliveira fuming after he complained bitterly of a fixture list that saw his side play domestic giants Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka ahead of the clash, while Beijing Guoan went into the match having enjoyed a ten-day break in the Chinese Super League.
Kashima lead the way in Group F on goal difference, with only the group winners progressing to the quarter-finals.
Gamba Osaka sit atop Group G of the Champions League after they comfortably disposed of A-League side Melbourne Victory, winning 2-0 at Expo ’70 Stadium in the northern outskirts of Osaka thanks to a brace from striker Masato Yamazaki.
The next round of fixtures are set to take place on May 7.