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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

J. WALKING

Cerezo players rally round to overcome Okubo's departure


Cerezo Osaka fans must have been wondering what the future held when team talisman Yoshito Okubo transferred to Spain in December.

Jeremy Walker

But his former teammates have been quick to provide the answer.

No Yoshito, no problem.

As is often the case when the undoubted star of a team moves on, the remaining players have spread the workload and proved that they can -- and always could -- play a bit, too.

Cerezo's latest three points came at Urawa Komaba Stadium on Saturday, courtesy of a couple of excellent goals from 2002 World Cup striker Akinori Nishizawa and a bungling, hesitant Reds display.

It was a confident and industrious performance by Cerezo, and one which manager Shinji Kobayashi can build on with his team comfortably in mid-table with 10 points.

Nishizawa, who failed to make the grade in Spain (with Espanyol) and in England (Bolton Wanderers), is still a handful for J. League defenders, especially when they ignore him in the penalty box.

Working hard and alone up front, the 28-year-old center forward received lively support from midfield from his trusty sidekick, Hiroaki Morishima, and from Tatsuya Furuhashi.

The latter is a latecomer to the professional ranks, even by Japanese standards, as he joined Cerezo only last summer age 23 from Honda FC in the third-tier Japan Football League.

Furuhashi is quick and mobile, runs well off the ball, has good control and is sharp in the box.

He was unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions on Saturday, but made a telling contribution by setting up Nishizawa's early opener.

With his back to goal on the edge of the box, Furuhashi spotted his teammate's run through the sleeping Reds defense and played the ball into his path with a clever pass with his right instep over his left shoulder.

Nishizawa did the rest, lashing the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot without breaking stride.

The attacking triangle of Morishima-Furuhashi-Nishizawa was full of ideas, and the threat did not dissipate when Teruaki Kurobe -- Okubo's replacement in the No. 10 jersey from Kyoto Purple Sanga -- went on for Nishizawa 10 minutes into the second half.

There were also impressive displays from two former Osaka Taiiku University students: Kazuya Maeda, 22, on the right side of Cerezo's three-man back line, and Tomi Shimomura, 24, in central midfield.

With his long hair held in place by a white tieup, Shimomura was clearly giving his Ilhan Mansiz impression, but is providing infinitely more value for money than the Turkish poster boy's expensive three-match career for Vissel Kobe last season.

Cerezo looking well-organized and with a strong team spirit, the fans should be more concerned about Okubo's long-term future in Europe than their own team's progress without him in J1.

# # #

The race is on, not just for the championship but also for the honor of scoring the 10,000th goal in J. League history.

After the seventh round of J1 games at the weekend, the grand total of top-flight goals since the league kicked off in 1993 is 9,922, leaving just 78 to go.

This season, the 63 top-flight games have produced 183 goals at an average of 2.91, so organizers are expecting the target to be reached May 4.

"We have a full round of games on Thursday and Sunday, but it's unlikely we'll get to 10,000 by then," said J. League spokesman Hisao Shuto.

"We are averaging around 26 goals per round, so it must come May 4, or possibly the next round."

From March 23 to April 30, the J. League is running a competition for fans to guess the scorer of the landmark 10,000th goal, and so far there have been more than 100,000 votes cast for 100 different players.

The most popular three are Emerson (Urawa Reds), Masashi Oguro (Gamba Osaka) and Kazuyoshi Miura (Vissel Kobe), with the top 10 rounded out by Washington (Tokyo Verdy 1969), Tatsuya Tanaka (Reds), Keiji Tamada (Kashiwa Reysol), Juninho (Kawasaki Frontale), Takayuki Suzuki (Kashima Antlers), Alex Mineiro (Kashima Antlers) and Yuki Abe (JEF United).

If the 2.91 goals-per-game trend continues, the 10,000th goal should come in the late kickoff on May 4, between Nagoya Grampus Eight and Oita Trinita.

The fan who guesses right might not be around to watch the J. League for a few months, though, as the first prize is a personalized travel voucher up to 5 million yen for the winner and as many friends and family as they want to take with them anywhere in the world.

So come on Naoshi Nakamura . . . he's hitting his stride at just the right time for Grampus.

# # #

Not even the most ardent of JEF United fans would begrudge Kenta Hasegawa his first victory as manager of Shimizu S-Pulse.

One of the nice guys of the J. League, Hasegawa earned a reputation as an honest and hardworking center forward for S-Pulse under managers such as Emerson Leao, Ossie Ardiles and Steve Perryman.

But he was without a victory in his first six league games in charge, until, late in the seventh, Yoshikiyo Kuboyama headed the winner at home to JEF on Saturday.

The manager's touchline celebrations appeared more intense than for any goal he scored in his playing days . . . testament to the suffering and pressure endured by managers on the sidelines.

No wonder many ex-players prefer the stress-free life of the TV analyst.

# # #

Player of the Week: Gamba Osaka striker Masashi Oguro.

The national squad member netted a 13-minute hat trick in the second half to lead his team to a 5-3 victory over FC Tokyo.

Quote of the Week: "We have good players, but it doesn't matter if we don't fight as well. We are so far behind the leaders I don't want to think about it."

-- Urawa Reds' Athens Olympics defender Tulio, summing up another depressing afternoon at Komaba Stadium after his team slipped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Cerezo Osaka.

Guido Buchwald's men are already 13 points off the pace after seven matches.



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The Japan Times




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