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Thursday, April 21, 2005

J. WALKING

Unnecessary red card for Stoyanov ruined sporting spectacle


Referees, admittedly, have a tough job these days, what with all the diving and cheating in the modern game.

Jeremy Walker

But sometimes they don't help themselves by making decisions which seem unnecessarily harsh and which can bring to a premature end a previously absorbing spectacle.

There was no better example of this than the JEF United-Kashima Antlers J. League match at National Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday.

With the score at 1-1 and the game starting to flow after a cagey opening, Kashima left-back Toru Araiba surged forward toward the edge of the JEF penalty box.

In his way was the Bulgarian defender Ilian Stoyanov, who, realizing the ball had sped past him, pulled out of any attempted challenge.

Everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen next, and, sure enough, Araiba took off faster and higher than a Romanian gymnast with a caffeine problem.

Everyone, that is, except for 2002 World Cup referee Toru Kamikawa, who immediately went for his top pocket.

Surely a yellow card for Araiba for diving.

Or maybe, at the most, a yellow for Stoyanov if there had been contact, as he was clearly not the last defender and Araiba was not in a scoring position.

No, it was a red, shining brightly high in the spring sunshine, and Stoyanov was off and staying off.

This was just seven minutes into the second half, and from that point on the game was over as a fair contest.

The JEF players, who continue to punch well above their weight under Bosnian boss Ivica Osim, were outclassed, and succumbed 4-2 to an Antlers team that showed no mercy in going for the kill.

After the game, JEF insiders were claiming it was a classic case of the big club getting the decision against the little club, and manager Osim was bemoaning the lack of big-match experience of the Japanese referees, even those, like Kamikawa, who have officiated at the World Cup.

"They should referee in Europe for three or four months, with players like Crespo and Shevchenko, and see all the tricks," said Osim.

Osim was not being a sore loser, either, as he acknowledged that Kashima was the better team, with all 10 outfield players sure of their role and precise on the ball. JEF had only seven of the same level, he said, but that figure became six early in the second half.

The 63-year-old former Yugoslavia national coach has been around long enough to get over the disappointment and move on to the next match.

"There are only three possibilities," he says. "We can win, we can lose or we can draw. This is football."

The Japanese media just can't get enough of Shunsuke.

With his boyish looks, sweet left foot and match-winning qualities, they flock round him at every opportunity.

No, not Shunsuke Nakamura.

There's another one.

Shunsuke Maeda, formerly of Sanfrecce Hiroshima Youth, now of Sanfrecce Hiroshima in J1, and still only 18.

"Yes, he's a good, talented player, but he has to learn much more about football, about defending and moving without the ball," says Sanfrecce manager Takeshi Ono.

"I don't want this Shunsuke to be cheered too much because he is only a young player. I have to protect him."

As Ono spoke, Maeda was pinned to the wall inside Ajinomoto Stadium, first by the TV crews and then by the sports news hounds wanting the latest comments from the latest Shunsuke.

He had just scored his first goal of the season in a 4-1 demolition of Tokyo Verdy 1969, and is now a first-choice striker in his rookie year after playing 11 times last season while still in high school.

"I am expecting a lot from him," adds Ono. "His strong point is his ability to beat the defender in a one-on-one situation."

Well, no one can confuse that description with Shunsuke Nakamura.

One of the best-dressed -- or could it be worst-dressed -- goalkeepers in the J. League is Tokyo Verdy's Yoshinari Takagi.

His usual attire is a striking pink jersey, black shorts and pink socks, with white boots and matching handbag (sorry, gloves), topped off with a frizzy, golden kinpatsu.

In fact he looks more like a jockey in his racing silks, albeit a fairly hefty one.

But at Omiya Ardija on Sunday, Takagi dug deep into his wardrobe to produce a dashing turquoise number.

Officially, it was to prevent a color clash between his pink and the orange shirts of the Omiya players, but unofficially the request came from his own defenders.

With the picturesque little stadium surrounded by cherry blossoms, they feared they wouldn't be able to see him in his pink jersey. Just his kinpatsu.

Bologna officials have been in town recently, looking to sign a Japanese player in June in time for the next Italian season.

Their target was thought to be Tokyo Verdy's 16-year-old Ronaldo lookalike Takayuki Morimoto, but, according to a Verdy source, they left Japan with three names on their shortlist.

They were FC Tokyo midfielder Yasuyuki Konno, teammate and right winger Naohiro Ishikawa, and Urawa Reds schemer Makoto Hasebe.

Funny how they haven't caught the eye of Zico.

Player of the Week: Urawa Reds' Satoshi Horinouchi. Filling in for injured or suspended teammates at the back, he scored his second goal in three matches to seal his team's first victory of the league season, 2-0 at FC Tokyo.

Quote of the Week: "It was a great game for both sets of supporters, like a celebration, but the referee's decision spoiled the moment."

-- JEF United Chiba's Bulgarian defender, Ilian Stoyanov, after being shown the red card early in the second half of his team's 4-2 defeat by Kashima Antlers. The score was 1-1 at the time.



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