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Thursday, April 12, 2012

J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Vegalta pack scoring punch in season's early stages


Staff writer

Kashiwa Reysol provided inspiration for the upwardly mobile when they won the title immediately after gaining promotion last season, and one glance at the table five games into the new campaign suggests the lesson has not fallen on deaf ears.

News photo
Providing a spark: Vegalta Sendai striker Wilson (right) is one key factor in the J. League club's steady flow of goals this season. KYODO

Of the top five teams, four — leaders Vegalta Sendai, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, FC Tokyo and Cerezo Osaka — have spent time in the second division at some point over the past four years. That is quite an achievement even in a competition with as level a playing field as the J. League, but current form suggests the natural order is not about to return just yet.

Vegalta lost their 100 percent record in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Jubilo Iwata, but a last-minute equalizer from Wilson showed they will not go down without a fight. Vegalta scored only 39 goals last season despite finishing fourth in the table, but their league-high tally of 11 so far this term is an intriguing development.

Wilson could turn out to be an important player after joining over the winter, and the Brazilian could do worse than look to Sanfrecce's Hisato Sato for a role model. Sato scored two goals in Saturday's 4-1 drubbing of Gamba Osaka to take his first-division career total to 100, and Ryuichi Hirashige proved Sanfrecce are not just a one-man band after coming off the bench to notch a brace of his own.

Cerezo continue to reap the rewards of their prolific youth system with Hiroshi Kiyotake and Kim Bo Kyung both scoring in Saturday's 3-0 win over Omiya Ardija, while Tokyo showed it will be no pushover either. Last season's J2 champions have had less time to get reacquainted with the top flight than their rivals, but a 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale on Sunday despite playing practically all of the second half with 10 men showed their refusal to be intimidated.

Jubilo are the only member of the top five never to have been relegated, but Hitoshi Morishita's fourth-placed side also deserves a mention. It has been a long time since Jubilo had so much young talent in the ranks, and if Morishita can use it wisely, there is no telling how far they can go.

In this league, anything is possible.

* * *

A raft of impressive offseason signings meant no team began the new campaign with as much anticipation as Vissel Kobe, but after a promising start the Kansai club appears to have hit a brick wall.

Two wins from their opening two fixtures proved to be a false dawn as Vissel proceeded to lose their next three, but manager Masahiro Wada believes the tide will turn once Takuya Nozawa, Masahiko Inoha, Hideo Hashimoto, Yuzo Tashiro and Kazumichi Takagi adapt to their new surroundings.

"Given the way we played and the positive way that we defended, I think this was an improvement on the previous games," Wada said after Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Shimizu S-Pulse. "Now if we can move the ball a bit faster when we win it, and show a bit of courage, hopefully we can tie all the good things we did last year together with Nozawa's passing and take advantage."

* * *

Yokohama F. Marinos' opening-day 3-3 draw with Kashiwa Reysol suggested goals would not be hard to come by for Yasuhiro Higuchi's side this season, but results since then have emphatically proved otherwise. Saturday's 0-0 draw with Albirex Niigata was Marinos' fourth straight game without scoring, setting an unwanted club record and leaving the Kanagawa side languishing in 14th place on just three points.

"We had plenty of chances from set pieces, but it's frustrating that we couldn't manage to put them away," said defender Yuzo Kurihara. "Everyone defended well and it's good that we didn't concede. If you don't concede then you can't lose. . ."

* * *

Quotable: "The start of the match was completely crazy." — Urawa Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic tries to make sense of three goals in the opening five minutes of Saturday's 3-1 win over Kashima Antlers.



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