Following their uninspiring performance in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle Jets in the AFC Champions League in midweek, Nagoya Grampus rounded out a disappointing week by going down 1-0 to Urawa Reds in front of 32,435 fans at Toyota Stadium.
17-year-old midfielder Genki Haraguchi was the hero for the Reds – coming off the bench to replace the injured Tatsuya Tanaka after just 22 minutes, before blasting home his first ever top flight goal two minutes before the break.
Volker Finke’s decision to start 18-year-old midfielder Naoki Yamada and bring fellow teen Haraguchi off the bench was vindicated with a mature performance from both, with Urawa’s acclaimed youth set-up once again churning out Data Hk potential first team stars.
Defeat capped a disappointing week for Nagoya Grampus, who started it by going down to Kawasaki Frontale – as two of their direct J. League rivals suggested that last season’s third-placed finish may have been a flash-in-the-pan for Dragan Stojkovic’s team.
Elsewhere on Sunday, FC Tokyo went down 2-1 to Kashima Antlers in front of 32,913 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium, with Marquinhos and 18-year-old Yuya Osako both scoring before the quarter hour mark in this contest. Shingo Akamine pulled a goal back before half-time, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the capital club from slumping to another disappointing defeat.
A clearly jet-lagged Kawasaki Frontale went down 1-0 to Shimizu S-Pulse in front of 17,256 fans at Nihondaira, while at Omiya Park a capacity crowd of 14,070 saw hosts Omiya Ardija beat Gamba Osaka 3-2 – with Omiya now the only unbeaten team in the league.
The pick of the Saturday fixtures saw Yokohama F. Marinos record their first win of the season as they thrashed a lacklustre Vissel Kobe 5-0 in front of a full house of 12,912 at a sun-drenched Mitsuzawa Stadium.
Kazuma Watanabe and Koji Yamase both scored doubles for the Kanagawa giants, while Kenta Kano added a late fifth as Marinos ran riot over a desperately disappointing Kobe side.
JEF United held Jubilo Iwata to a 1-1 draw in a battle of the cellar-dwellers watched by 14,496 fans at Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba, while the day’s other fixtures saw Kyoto Sanga grind out a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata, with promoted Sanfrecce Hiroshima thrashing Kashiwa Reysol 4-1.
The warm weather saw improved attendances in J2, although a disappointing crowd of 12,425 was on hand at Vegalta Sendai’s second home Miyagi Stadium to watch the home team slump to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of fellow big guns Cerezo Osaka.
Avispa Fukuoka drew 1-1 with Roasso Kumamoto in front of 11,603 fans in Kyushu, while Fagiano Okayama came from behind to record the same result against Yokohama FC in front of 13,228 fans at Okayama Stadium.
Cerezo Osaka lead the way in J2, a point ahead of Shonan Bellmare – who beat Tokyo Verdy 2-0 in their most recent match. Mito Hollyhock and Ventforet Kofu follow, while Ehime FC round out the top five following seven rounds of fixtures.
Japanese players overseas
Takayuki Morimoto : Catania
The former Tokyo Verdy striker was on the verge of cementing a permanent place in Catania’s starting eleven, but after a starring role in a 4-0 thrashing of local rivals Palermo in March, injuries have since derailed Morimoto’s campaign, and he did not feature in Catania’s most recent 2-1 loss to Torino.
Yoshito Okubo and Makoto Hasebe : VfL Wolfsburg
Yoshito Okubo has struggled to make an impact at VfL Wolfsburg since his January switch from Vissel Kobe, making just seven league appearances – six of which have come from the bench.
Compatriot Makoto Hasebe suffered a knee injury playing for Japan in March but the former Urawa Reds midfielder is expected to return to first team action before the month is out.
Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic
Celtic’s lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League has been cut to just a point from Rangers and Shunsuke Nakamura missed a gilt-edged late chance to register a winner in his team’s most recent 1-1 draw away at Hearts.
Daisuke Matsui : St. Etienne
Former Le Mans man Daisuke Matsui is struggling with the team he joined last summer, with St. Etienne stranded in the relegation zone, second-from-bottom in the table. Les Verts have seven games remaining to salvage their top flight status.
Takuro Nishimura : Portland Timbers
After being released by Omiya Ardija at the end of last season, pacy wing-back Takuro Nishimura has joined former Yokohama F. Marinos striker Takayuki Suzuki at US Soccer League First Division side Portland Timbers.
Portland are set to join the MLS in 2011, but until then the Timbers will be plying their trade in USL1, where Nishimura and team-mates will kick off their campaign against fellow expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps on April 25.