In another action packed weekend of J League soccer we saw a new leader emerge and one team’s hopes of snaring the title well and truly obliterated. Sanfrecce Hiroshima now lead the J League on account of a superior goals for tally. It’s so close at the top that both Hiroshima and Sendai have the same goal difference but the team in violet own the number one position due to their 37 goals as opposed to Sendai’s 34. Shimizu S-Pulse however, can forget about the title for 2012. In possibly the most eventful match of the season ‘the Wingheads’ (Shimizu) went down in a ball of flames, fighting all the way through the second half with one less player than opponents Kashiwa Reysol.
The Wingheads went into the match hoping to arrest a flagging run of form which had seen them go seven J League matches without a win. Kashiwa Reysol though, had suffered only the one loss (last week v Nagoya) in their last eight matches. To the neutrals like myself this was a spectacle and a half, but the Shimizu fans are suicidal or maybe homicidal as a result of perceived failings of referee Nishimura. However, Shimizu fans weren’t complaining early on when they were recipients of a penalty for handball. Unfortunately the experienced Shinji Ono shot wide. Almost 20 minutes later in the 33rd minute Reysol had a penalty of their own after blatant handball from Keisuke Iwashita. Domingues made no mistake, but not long after it was time to line up for a another penalty. This time it was in favour of the home team, as one of the great dives was rewarded with a PK (pee kay as spoken by Japanese commentators) by referee Nishimura. Genki Omae put to rest the sins of Ono, and made it 1-1. The sides went to half time with the scores locked at 1-1 but the Wingheads were reduced to ten men. Iwashita who had received a yellow card earlier slid in recklessly and picked up a second yellow. Sayonara Iwashita!
Amazingly it was Shimizu who turned the game on its head early in the second half. In the 53rd minute Takahara got enough of his head onto the end of a free kick to bamboozle the keeper, while the 63rd minute saw Alex Brosque pounce on defencive error and streak 30 metres, before slotting across the keeper and in at the far post. But Shimizu could bask in the glory of the 3-1 scoreline for a limited time, as the 66th minute saw referee Nishimura send off both Wagner (Kashiwa) and young defender Yoshida (Shimizu).
After the match Shimizu manager Afshin Ghotbi would comment “My feelings are mixed with pride, sorrow, hope, and disappointment.” The Wingheads hung in bravely for as long as possible but eventually the heaped pressure from the Sun Kings would be unbearable. Perhaps the moment that Kashiwa equalised was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the 88th minute when a cross was tapped by keeper Hayashi into his own crossbar and into the path of Hashimoto. He couldn’t miss. The video shows Shimizu defenders bow their heads in unison. The aftermath saw two goals in injury time with Kashiwa finishing the match with momentum. They were lining up to stick the dagger in for the fourth goal (check the video), and this win is one of those galvanising moments, 5-3 the final score. Put Kashiwa Reysol in the bank as repeat ACL contestants.
Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka’s nightmare season continued with a last minute loss to Yokohama F Marinos. Marinos led 1-nil after scoring late in the first half. Gamba would equalise in the 88th minute only to concede again in injury time. In other relegation news Niigata’s stocks continue to rise after a hard fought draw against Urawa. Almost 34000 packed Big Swan Stadium to see the locals raise hopes of survival, despite their lack of cutting edge up front Niigata are a great chance of pulling Omiya and Cerezo into the relegation battle.