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Author Topic: Japan 2008
Furtho
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J-League representatives Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka played their first Group Stage matches in this year's Asian Champions League tournament on Wednesday night, coincidentally both against opposition from Thailand. Marquinhos notched up a second half hat-trick for reigning J-League champions the Antlers as they crushed Krung Thai Bank 9-1 in Bangkok. Chinese side Beijing Guoan and Nam Dinh from Vietnam make up the other two members of Group F.

In Group G, however, Gamba played host to Chonburi FC and needed a last minute goal from new signing Lucas to avoid what would have been a stunningly humiliating 1-0 defeat. Following on from Gamba's success in the pre-season Pan-Pacific Championship, this news will no doubt have pepped up A-Leaguers Melbourne Victory and South Korea's Chunnam Dragons, who are in the same group.

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Kashima players and fans warm up for their ACL match in Thailand

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Furtho
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The J-League have just announced details of their "tore-ka" ("trading card") collection for 2008, the local equivalent of Panini stickers. Japan being Japan, they tend to present this sort of thing in all kinds of different ways, with the so-called "J1 Impressive Player's Big Patch Jersey Card" on the one hand, and a whole batch of individually signed cards having been produced on the other. Naturally, the tore-ka project has a strapline, which is:

"J-League is at the dawn of a new golden age. Two new clubs has joined. We are anticipating heated battle. 'NEW' J-League is too good to miss."

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Woohoo! Product launch a-go-go!


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Kengo Nakamura of Kawasaki Frontale has a special signed card, don't you know


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2007 Player of the Year Robson Ponte of Urawa Reds. Impressive

[ 16.03.2008, 15:45: Message edited by: Furtho ]

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ursus arctos
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The idea of incorporating micro portions of memorabilia into trading cards originated in North America during the baseball card bubble of the 90s, and featured such idiocies as one of Babe Ruth's bats being shaved into thousands of microslices and similar atrocities being visited on jerseys, hats, gloves, etc.

Given that the entire bubble burst rather violently, leaving thousands of guys who had "invested" their life savings in cards high and dry (and leading to the bankruptcy of hundreds of shops that had grown to service the trade); the export of the idea to Japan may not be a good sign.

A Babe Ruth bat card (see sliver in top right corner):

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Furtho
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Asian champions Urawa Reds sacked coach Holger Osieck after they lost to Nagoya Grampus on Saturday. After two J1 matches, pre-season favourites the Reds, Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale are all struggling, Osieck's side having failed to deliver a goal or a point amidst rumours of dressing room unrest. He's already been replaced by former assistant Gert Engels... unfancied Oita Trinita join Kashima Antlers and Yokohama F Marinos at the top of the table with maximum points... Meanwhile Sanfrecce Hiroshima have started well as they aim for a quick return to J1, having defeated Ehime FC to go top of J2... but fellow relegated side Ventforet Kofu slumped to a second home draw against lowly opponents, this time in the shape of Tokushima Vortis...

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Nagoya celebrate a first win for Dragan Stojkovic and a last defeat for Holger Osieck

J1 Scores & Standings @ Round 2

JEF 1-2 S-Pulse
Jubilo 3-0 Gamba
Kobe 4-1 Kawasaki
Kyoto 2-1 Omiya
Niigata 2-3 FC Tokyo
Oita 2-0 Kashiwa
Sapporo 1-2 Marinos
Urawa 0-2 Nagoya
Verdy 0-2 Kashima

******************

1. Kashima 6 (+6)
2. Oita 6 (+3)
3. Marinos 6 (+2)
4. Kobe 4 (+3)
5. Nagoya 4 (+2)
6. FC Tokyo 4 (+1)
7. Kyoto 4 (+1)
8. = Jubilo 3 (+1)
8. = Omiya 3 (+1)
10. S-Pulse 3 (-)
11. Kashiwa 3 (-)
12. JEF 1 (-1)
13. Verdy 1 (-2)
14. Kawasaki 1 (-3)
15. Gamba 1 (-3)
- - - - - - - - - -
16. Niigata 0 (-3)
----------------
17. Urawa 0 (-3)
18. Sapporo 0 (-5)

J2 Scores & Standings @ Round 2

Cerezo 1-3 Yamagata
Fukuoka 2-1 Mito
Gifu 0-1 Sendai
Hiroshima 3-0 Ehime
Kofu 0-0 Tokushima
Kumamoto 2-1 Kusatsu
Yokohama FC 3-2 Shonan

******************

1. Hiroshima 6 (+5)
2. Yokohama FC 6 (+3)
-----------------
3. Yamagata 3 (+1)
- - - - - - - - - - -
4. Fukuoka 3 (+1)
5. Tosu 3 (+1)
6. = Cerezo 3 (-)
6. = Kumamoto 3 (-)
6. = Shonan 3 (-)
9. Sendai 3 (-)
10. Ehime 3 (-2)
11. Kofu 2 (-)
12. Gifu 1 (-1)
13. Tokushima 1 (-2)
14. = Kusatsu 0 (-3)
14. = Mito 0 (-3)

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Furtho
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It was the second day of matches in the Group Stage of the 2008 Asian Champions League on Wednesday, with Gamba Osaka in particular hoping to bounce back from a disastrous opening draw at home to the weakest team in Group G, Chonburi FC from Thailand. Half an hour into Gamba's match at South Korea's Chunnam Dragons and it was all going horribly, horribly wrong for the J-Leaguers, who found themselves two down and slipping out of the competition.

But two second-half goals from international forward Ryuji Bando helped the Japanese side pull off a 4-3 win, an all the more remarkable turnaround when you consider how woeful the start to their J1 season has been. Meanwhile in Kashima the Antlers strolled to a 6-0 biffing of Vietnamese side Nam Dinh in which Masashi Motoyama and Marquinhos both scored twice, to add to the 2007 J-League champions' 9-1 win over Krung Thai Bank last week.

 -

Gamba fans cheering on the lads in Korea

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Furtho
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As well as their regular league commitments and participation later in the year in Japan's equivalent of the FA Cup - Tennohai, or the Emperor's Cup - J1 sides also compete for the exotically-named Nabisco Cup, which began today with the first round of matches in the Group Stage. The format for the competition has changed several times over the years, but the use of four round robin groups of four to determine the final eight teams has been retained for 2008.

With eighteen clubs in J1 and two (Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka) receiving a bye in order to take part in the Asian Champions League, the four group winners - as well as the two second-place teams with the best record - will join the Antlers and Nabisco Cup holders Gamba in the Quarter-Finals. Eye-catching results were Kyoto Sanga continuing their promising start to the J1 season with a win over Nagoya Grampus, Urawa Reds losing the first match of the Gert Engels era at home to Vissel Kobe and promoted side Consadole Sapporo drawing at Kashiwa Reysol. The competition continues with a further round of ties on Sunday.

There was also a full programme of seven J2 fixtures on Thursday - a public holiday in Japan - Sanfrecce Hiroshima maintaining their 100% record by beating Shonan Bellmare. Pulling off a sensational first ever win as a pro club were FC Gifu, 5-3 at Montedio Yamagata, but Ventforet Kofu's woes continued as they conceded a late goal to lose at Mito Hollyhock. In the first Shikoku derby match of the new season, Ehime FC whupped neighbours and bottom team Tokushima Vortis.

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Kyoto star striker Paulinho looking stylish against Nagoya Grampus

Nabisco Cup Group A

Nagoya 0-1 Kyoto
Urawa 0-1 Kobe

Nabisco Cup Group B

S-Pulse 3-1 FC Tokyo
Verdy 0-2 Jubilo

Nabisco Cup Group C

Kashiwa 1-1 Sapporo
Kawasaki 0-2 JEF

Nabisco Cup Group D

Marinos 1-0 Oita
Niigata 2-2 Omiya

J2 Scores & Standings @ Round 3

Kusatsu 0-0 Yokohama FC
Mito 1-0 Kofu
Sendai 1-0 Fukuoka
Shonan 0-2 Hiroshima
Tokushima 0-3 Ehime
Tosu 1-0 Cerezo
Yamagata 3-5 Gifu

******************

1. Hiroshima 9 (+7)
2. Yokohama FC 7 (+3)
-----------------
3. Tosu 6 (+2)
- - - - - - - - - - -
4. Ehime 6 (+1)
5. Sendai 6 (+1)
6. Gifu 4 (+1)
7. Kumamoto 3 (-)
8. Fukuoka 3 (-)
9. Yamagata 3 (-1)
10. Cerezo 3 (-1)
11. Shonan 3 (-2)
12. Mito 3 (-2)
13. Kofu 2 (-1)
14. Kusatsu 1 (- 3)
15. Tokushima 1 (-5)

[ 23.03.2008, 23:36: Message edited by: Furtho ]

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Furtho
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A grand total of no teams have a 100% record after Sunday's second round of matches in the Nabisco Cup Group Stage. Kyoto Sanga are the surprise package, after coming back from 3-1 down to draw with Urawa Reds, for whom new signing Edmilson scored a hat-trick... but Kawasaki Frontale and Albirex Niigata are carrying their poor league form into the cup competition, which continues in mid-April... the J2 standings are taking shape, most sides having played four games. Relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Yokohama FC fill the top two spots, although Yokohama could only draw with Sagan Tosu and Hiroshima had two men sent off as they needed an injury-time equaliser to get a point at home to Mito Hollyhock... FC Gifu beat lowly Tokushima Vortis to go third...

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FC Gifu fans proudly brandishing their club yearbooks

Nabisco Cup Group A Scores & Standings @ Round 2

Kobe 0-1 Nagoya
Kyoto 3-3 Urawa

1. Kyoto 4 (+1)
-----------------
2. = Kobe 3 (-)
- - - - - - - - - - -
2. = Nagoya 3 (-)
4. Urawa 1 (-1)

Nabisco Cup Group B Scores & Standings @ Round 2

Jubilo 0-2 FC Tokyo
Verdy 0-0 S-Pulse

1. S-Pulse 4 (+2)
-----------------
2. FC Tokyo 3 (-)
- - - - - - - - - - -
3. Jubilo 3 (-)
4. Verdy 1 (-2)

Nabisco Cup Group C Scores & Standings @ Round 2

JEF 1-1 Kashiwa
Sapporo 2-1 Kawasaki

1. JEF 4 (+2)
-----------------
2. Sapporo 4 (+1)
- - - - - - - - - - -
3. Kashiwa 2 (-)
4. Kawasaki 0 (-3)

Nabisco Cup Group D Scores & Standings @ Round 2

Oita 3-0 Niigata
Omiya 0-0 Marinos

1. Marinos 4 (+1)
-----------------
2. Oita 3 (+2)
- - - - - - - - - - -
3. Omiya 2 (-)
4. Niigata 1 (-3)

J2 Scores & Standings @ Round 4

Cerezo 2-1 Sendai
Ehime 1-2 Kusatsu
Gifu 2-1 Tokushima
Hiroshima 2-2 Mito
Kofu 2-2 Fukuoka
Kumamoto 0-2 Shonan
Yokohama FC 0-0 Tosu

******************

1. Hiroshima 10 (+7)
2. Yokohama FC 8 (+3)
-----------------
3. Gifu 7 (+2)
- - - - - - - - - - -
4. Tosu 7 (+2)
5. Ehime 6 (-)
6. = Cerezo 6 (-)
6. = Shonan 6 (-)
8. Sendai 6 (-)
9. Fukuoka 4 (-)
10. Mito 4 (-2)
11. Kusatsu 4 (-2)
12. Yamagata 3 (-1)
13. Kofu 3 (-1)
14. Kumamoto 3 (-2)
15. Tokushima 1 (-6)

[ 23.03.2008, 22:18: Message edited by: Furtho ]

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ursus arctos
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What's the rationale behind playing the Nabisco Cup so soon after the J-League season has started? It seems tailor-made for a pre-season competition (like Germany's Ligapokal). Was it always this way, or has it been moved because of the Asian Champions League matches?
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Furtho
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It's pretty much always been like this, certainly in the last few seasons. The Nabisco Cup matches tend to coincide more with the national team schedule than anything (Japan are playing their next World Cup qualifier away against Bahrain tomorrow), although this isn't a hard and fast rule. More broadly, though, there is at the moment a degree of controversy about the two main cup competitions in Japan and how they work.

Even including the J-League, the Emperor's Cup has in some senses long been the country's number one prestigious club football tournament, dating as it does back to the 20s. It has a format that is similar to the FA Cup, with many thousands of entrants at grassroots playing local knock-out tournaments as qualifiers. But in the last few seasons, the format has been tampered with - for example, when J2 and then later J1 clubs enter the competition, they are automatically awarded home ties, thus obviously making it much less likely that there will be any upsets.

This has led to complaints from some fans that the Emperor's Cup has become devalued as a consequence, or at least robbed of one of its defining characteristics; that the possibility for shocks or the "romance of the Cup" has been greatly reduced. Some supporters have said that the aim of this has been to focus attention on the Nabisco Cup, their thinking being that a J1-only competition is the (boring but) logical conclusion of such modifications.

But equally, the status of the Nabisco Cup is somewhat open to question. The problem is that many clubs now regard it almost as many Premier League teams in England do the League Cup: if not as an out-and-out irritant, then certainly as a chance to give fringe squad members first-team action, or to try out modifications to tactics in a competitive but safe environment, ready for when the real action of the J-League starts again.

Personally, my take on it is that whenever Nabisco Cup games are taking place it provides more of an opportunity to focus upon J2, which following on from some good performance from the likes of FC Gifu and your friends at Mito Hollyhock I reckon is going to be a lot more intriguing this year than had been expected.

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Furtho
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Following on from the above, a very timely article from the English-language edition of the Asahi Shimbun, regarding the underwhelming status of the Nabisco Cup:


"We're already two rounds into the 2008 J-League Nabisco Cup and hardly anyone has noticed beyond a collective yawn. This is a tournament in need of serious restructuring. At the moment, it is unloved, unimportant and unnecessary. After winning the tournament in 2005, JEF United manager Ivica Osim gave a less than glowing assessment of hoisting the Nabisco silverware. "It means nothing," the Bosnian said. "In Europe, winning a cup like this means you get to play in UEFA, there's a point to it. Here it is essentially meaningless."

"Since it started in 1992 as a competition featuring only J-League sides, the format has changed practically every year. It has always been considered the lowest in terms of priority. For the clubs, the league and the Emperor's Cup occupy a far grander place. It showed how seriously the cup organizers themselves take this competition that in 1995 they scrapped it, although it was reinstated the following year. Most damaging of all, they decided in 2003 to restrict entry to only the top flight clubs and stage matches at a time when the best players were on national team duty. It was ludicrously rebranded as a tournament for young and upcoming (unknown) players.

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JEF fans at the 2005 Nabisco Cup Final

"Ever since, it has meandered on soullessly. Only the most meager of attention is now paid to the Nabisco Cup by fans and the media. Don't expect this to change this year. The Nabisco Cup is now no more than just a reserve team tournament until the final in November, when Japan gets mildly interested. To be fair it has allowed some smaller clubs to taste success and lift silverware on the hallowed VIP stage of Tokyo's National Stadium. That doesn't mask deep rooted problems with the tournament. However, there is every reason to believe that the competition can be saved from its depressing state. In fact the fixes aren't that difficult, and here are two of them:

"First, give the Nabisco Cup a meaningful prize beyond the trophy. Similar problems exist in much of Europe where the League Cups are sources of much derision. In England the tournament is very low in the pecking order of fan interest where there is the Premier League, FA Cup and the Champions League to enjoy. The main savior is that the winner is given a ticket to European football through the UEFA Cup.

"There is little chance that the Nabisco Cup victors will be given automatic entry in to the Asian Champions League. The tournament organizers could consider a three-way playoff between the Nabisco and Emperor's Cup winners and the J-League runner-up for that coveted second continental berth. This admittedly will be unpopular among some, but will give teams much more motivation to take the tournament seriously. It will also extend the soccer calendar by only a week.

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Shimizu S-Pulse take on an old skool Verdy Kawasaki in the 1993 tournament

"The second and more urgent solution is to bring second division teams back into the fold. The J2 has been a resounding success since it started in 1999. There are more clubs entering the professional fold every season. Through the course of the season, the only meaningful competitive opportunity between the two divisions is the Emperor's Cup. That's one or two matches at the most.

"The addition of J2 could rejuvenate the Nabisco Cup with the thrill of shock upsets. Why couldn't FC Gifu or Tokushima Vortis upset the Kashima Antlers' reserve team? For the supporters of the second division teams, it will give them a valuable opportunity to host the big boys and measure themselves up against the best in Japan. Unless the second division sides have regular exposure to the standard of the likes of the Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka, they will never be ready for the top flight. The sad episode of Yokohama FC, which was poorly equipped for the rigors of first division play last season, can hopefully be a thing of the past.

"Currently, the second division struggles to pull in a few thousand in attendance at most stadiums. It's highly likely they could fill stadiums to capacity if the first-division teams rolled into town. This could be a valuable source of revenue for clubs that are often struggling to break even. Also, for the dedicated supporters, an away trip to Saitama Stadium or Yokohama Stadium would provide unforgettable memories. This could be implemented with relatively few scheduling problems and changes to tournament format.

"So, here are the solutions. Let's hope that the tournament organizers take note and the 2009 Nabisco Cup will be something to genuinely look forward to."

[ 26.03.2008, 12:22: Message edited by: Furtho ]

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ursus arctos
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Is it really worth saving, though? I like your suggestions, but wonder if everyone wouldn't be better off just focusing on the league, continental competitions and the Emperor's Cup, which appears to be very much the real thing.

France is the only major European country to have introduced a League Cup in recent memory, and that was very much the result of battles between the League and FA over revenues and the like. The German version has withered into a pre-season made for TV tournament with only eight clubs.

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ad hoc
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Portugal introduced one this season. Victoria Setubal won it last weekend
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ursus arctos
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Oops. Do you happen to know if they get a UEFA place? The UEFA coefficient obsessive's site indicates that only England and France do so.
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Furtho
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To clarify, the above is the Asahi article in full, not my opinion.

I think that his first suggestion - of giving the Nabisco Cup winners the chance of entry into the Asian Champions League, via some kind of additional play-off - is reasonable on the face of it... or rather, it would be, IF Japanese clubs cared about the Asian Champions League all that much. There has been a modification in their attitude, but not a sea change. It is unfortunately not possible to map onto Japan a model from Europe that involves the goal of the Champions League or UEFA Cup and the inherent desirability of continental competition (Bolton Wanderers in this year's UEFA Cup notwithstanding).

The idea of re-incorporating J2 teams into the Nabisco Cup I think is less strong, because really the writer could take the word "Nabisco" out of all of that part of the article and replace it with "Emperor's" and it would be just as valid - more so, in that the Emperor's Cup has the weight of history behind it and is, as UA observes, absolutely the real deal. A proper Emperor's Cup with a free draw, i.e. one that allows lower league teams to have home ties against clubs from higher up the pecking order, is a truly exciting and engaging event that has the potential to place football at the heart of national life.

It seems as if the Nabisco Cup in Japan is but one example of a far more widespread issue of a League Cup competition that is really floundering around for a raison d'etre.

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