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Thursday, April 26, 2012
J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK
Early pace-setters Vegalta determined to last distance
Skeptics may dismiss Vegalta Sendai's position at the top of the J. League as a fad waiting to blow over, but each passing weekend brings fresh evidence that the Tohoku side intends to stick around for good.
Vegalta gave their most emphatic display of the season with a 4-0 demolition of FC Tokyo on Saturday, opening up a five-point gap at the top after seven games and preserving their unbeaten record in the process. Tokyo managed to contain Makoto Teguramori's men until Shingo Akamine broke the deadlock in first-half injury time, but the second period was a different story as Vegalta's power, pace and precision swept the visitors away.
Kunimitsu Sekiguchi and Yoshiaki Ota both found the net for their third and fourth goals of the campaign, respectively, before defender Jiro Kamata notched Sendai's fourth in the 87th minute. Vegalta have now scored six more goals than any other team in the division, and with Sekiguchi, Akamine, Ota and Wilson in such rampant form, last season's problems up front seem like a distant memory.
Defense remains as stingy as ever, however, and although Vegalta's reputation as one of the most rugged outfits in the league has been reflected in 19 yellow cards, Teguramori will prefer instead to look at the team's record of only six goals conceded.
Given the way they finished last season, Vegalta's form should come as little surprise. Seven wins from their final 11 games were enough to overhaul Yokohama F. Marinos for fourth place, and with only minor offseason adjustments, Teguramori presides over a settled team hungry to build on that achievement.
Many of the league's traditional heavyweights have failed to hit the ground running this season, and there may never be a better opportunity for the lesser lights to stake an early claim in the championship race.
Judging by results so far, that is exactly what Vegalta have in mind.
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Comebacks were very much the order of the day last Saturday, with Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale both recovering from two-goal deficits to run out 3-2 winners.
Antlers went behind to a Kim Bo Kyung brace against Cerezo Osaka before Dutra, Shinzo Koroki and Yasushi Endo salvaged all three points at Kashima Stadium, while Frontale's situation looked just as bleak with the Kanagawa side trailing by two at halftime against Consadole Sapporo.
Goals from Kengo Nakamura and Renato set the wheels in motion once the second half was under way, but it was Hokkaido native and former Consadole player Koji Yamase who struck the decisive blow with a winner in the 88th minute.
"It's been a long time since I scored at Sapporo Dome," said Yamase. "But the fact that the game was being played here wasn't something that was on my mind."
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Defeat in Saturday's Saitama derby was never going to go down well with Urawa Reds' supporters, and after losing 2-0 to Omiya Ardija, the players were given a sharp reminder of what the fixture means to those in the stands.
The team's apologetic post-match acknowledgement of the traveling support at Nack5 Stadium was met with boos and showers of water, before fans held up the team bus for a full 40 minutes and demanded an explanation from manager Mihailo Petrovic and his players.
"I'm very sorry for the fans," said defender Tomoaki Makino after the game. "I hope we can give them something to celebrate in our next game. The best medicine for a team is to win, and we're only seven games into the season. We just have to reflect on this and look forward to the next game."
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Quotable: "I'm happy at the moment, but I'm not going to bask in it for too long."
— Sagan Tosu manager Yoon Jong Hwan enjoys his side's rise to fifth in the table in its first-ever top-flight campaign after Saturday's 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata.