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Monday, 29 December 2008

Transfer Round-up - Dec 29th 2008

It's time for a round-up of all confirmed transfers thus far!

IN

DF Kosuke Ota (Transferred from Yokohama FC)
DF Toshihide Saito (Returned from Shonan Bellmare loan)
FW Frode Johnsen (Transferred from Nagoya Grampus)
FW Yu Kijima (Drafted from Tsukuba University)
MF Ryo Takeuchi (Drafted from Yokomatsu Kaiseikan High School)

Firstly then, welcome back Saito! I'd be lying if I said I'd be expecting to see too much of him in the starting 11 next season, but the former Young Player of the Year will turn 36 next April, so there's no shame in that! Johnsen and his proven goal scoring record we already know all about. At 34, he too is no spring chicken, but I'm sure he's still got another good season or two left in him.

Yu Kijima and Ryo Takeuchi I'm not ashamed to say I as yet know nothing about, but Kosuke Ota is an interesting prospect. Signed from J2 Yokohama FC, who finished in a not especially impressive 10th, Ota made 31 league appearances this year. Still only 21, he was a member of the Under 20 Japan National team which topped it's group at the U20 World Cup last year
, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he's made of over the next season or two.

OUT

DF Takahiro Yamanishi (Released)
FW Mitsuhiro Toda (Released)
FW Marcos Aurélio (Released)
FW Akinori Nishizawa (Released)
MF Fernandinho (Released)

No real surprises in those released, and a huge sigh of relief will accompany Aurelio's burden on the wage list being lifted. Fernandinho is currently club-less after Kyoto failed to offer him a contract. With him being set on staying in Kansai, and with his old club Gamba not likely to bring him back to the fold, he may have to look to J2 for a team. Cerezo Osaka might be interested, and they could do far worse for a creative midfielder.

After Nishizawa and Aurelio, Toda is the third striker to be released, and it isn't unexpected. With only 12 appearances and one goal in the last two years, it's hard to see where the 31 year old can muscle into our increasingly well stocked front line. With Okazaki, Johnsen, Hara, Omae, and Yajima (who may or may not be off - watch this space), we're looking scarily well equipped up front.

Omae only got a few substitute run outs this season, but expect to see more of him in 2009. After the step up from high school football last year, Kenta focussed mainly on having him acclimatise and find his feet in the Satellite League. In the full team, most recently he came on for the final 15 minutes of the JEF United Emperor's Cup tie. His shot which thundered back off the crossbar, not to mention his assist for Okazaki's winner, both bode well for next season.

OTHER

That's all so far for us, but expect more before the start of the new season in March. We still have one more foreigner spot available if needed, or maybe two depending on whether Kim Dong-Sub is given a full pro contract or not. I'm expecting one or two more university or high school signings, but who knows what Kenta and his band of excellent scouts have up their sleeves? I'm looking forward to finding out.

One singing which has caught the sight of many orange fans was that of S-Pulse legend Cho Jae-Jin by Gamba Osaka. It'll be great to see him back at 'Daira next year, even if it is in the colours of the Asian Champions! It'll add a little extra spice to the game I don't doubt, but 41 goals in 79 games will ensure Cho's always welcome round these parts! These parts, being beautiful Shizuoka:

Shizuoka, yesterday
OK, that's all for now - check back as the new season approaches for news of signings as they are confirmed!

Emperor's Cup "Final Jihad" - Gamba v Reysol

Well done to each team on making the final! In the early kick off, Reysol came from behind to beat S-Pa's conquerors, FC Tokyo, 2-1. I almost went up to Ecopa to watch it, but it would have only made me angry thinking about what could have been, so I went shopping instead. On my adventures I saw a pair of bright orange jeans. And at only 3000 yen, if they're still there in March I may well invest for the opening week of the new season. :)

In the other semi final , Gamba saw off Marinos with a 117th minute extra time winner to book their date with Reysol on New Year's Day. Gamba will be going for the one trophy which has so far eluded them after losing in the final to Urawa in 2006. Now I know it's Kashiwa's first ever Emperor's Cup final, but I think they may be taking things a touch too seriously:

The "Final Jihad"
A mind bogglingly inappropriate and staggeringly misguided headline if ever I saw one. Well, as much as I would like to attend Reysol's very own Holy War, I'm not able to make the game. I already bought a couple of tickets, so get in touch if you're interested in hitting the cup final on Thursday. They're going cheap, but you must be in Shizuoka to collect in the next couple of days!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Johnsen Transfer Official & S-Pulse at the J. League Awards

A very likeable city, earlier today
Is Yokohama the most likeable city in Japan? If you ask me, for a nice little day trip out of Shiz, it simply can't be beat! It's got heaps of coastline and related nautical attractions, tons of parks around said coastline, endless shopping to keep the girls happy, years of history and foreign influence to give the city a unique multicultural atmosphere, and awesome architecture from all over the world.

Add to that the ease of transport to, from and within the city, the more than ample dining options all around, the brilliantly colourful Chinatown, the Landmark Tower for ridiculously fast elevators and views right over to Mt. Fuji and beyond, the Ferris Wheel and various other fun and games on the waterfront, and you have an all round great place to hang out of a winter national holiday afternoon.

And all this is before you even get started on the sport! As if having the baseball stadium and Nissan Stadium both in the heart of the city wasn't enough, the huge Marinos Town sits just minutes away from all the downtown action. A football town to the core, after the unfortunate and messy Yokohama Flügels affair, the locals got together and formed another team to replace the one snatched from them. Respect for that alone. If I ever had to leave Shizuoka behind, Yokohama would be way up on my list of places to make home!

Anyway, where was I? Yeah, that's it - while I was off enjoying The 'Hama today, the long-talked about transfer of Frode Johnsen was finally announced. I can only presume we had been waiting until either us or Nagoya were knocked out the cup before making the news official. Most S-Pulse fans have known for weeks the 6 foot 2 Norwegian was on his way to 'Daira. Well, it's a done deal, and the height, presence and proven goal scoring record of the ex international will hopefully be the difference between our 5th place finish this year and an ACL spot next season.

In other news, last night the annual J. League awards ceremony took place. Sadly Hara missed out on the young player of the year award to Nagoya's Ogawa, but it was far from a bad night for the Pulse! Who walked off with the award for best pitch in the league? Shimizu S-Pulse. Who picked up the special fair play award across both J1 and J2? Shimizu S-Pulse. And this season's player of the year, Marquinhos, used to play for which team before he moved to Kashima? You guessed it!

OK, maybe I'm scraping the barrel with the last one! But the first two, especially the fair play award, is something we can be rightly proud off. The credit for that has to go to Kenta who clearly instils a fair play ethic into his players. You're building a team we can be proud of, and playing the game the way it should be played - thank you Kenta!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

S-Pulse 1-2 FC Tokyo (Emp Cup 1/4 Final)

Well done Tokyo - good luck in the semi.

S-Pulse's season is over.

See you in 2009.

Friday, 19 December 2008

S-Pulse v FC Tokyo (Emp. Cup 1/4 Final)

S-Pulse and FC Tokyo face off tomorrow for the fifth time this year in the 1/4 final of the Emperor's Cup. It's this season's last chance of silverware, and the final ticket into next year's Asian Champion's League.

Previous meetings this year have gone off like this:

League:

S-Pulse 1-0 FC Tokyo
FC Tokyo 1-5 S-Pulse

League Cup Group Stage


S-Pulse 3-1 FC Tokyo
FC Tokyo 1-1 S-Pulse

Three wins, one draw, ten scored and only three conceded. Given that three of those games took place in our poor first half of the season, with only the 5-1 mauling coming in our resurgent second half, we have reason to be confident. Losing the League Cup final has instilled an even deeper ache among the orange masses for our first title since winning the Super Cup in 2002.

The winner will go on to face either Kashiwa Reysol or Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the semi at Ecopa, in what would be as good as a home game for us at least! That being the case, you can be sure more than 6000 will turn up! That was the crowd for the semi between Sanfrecce and Gamba last year at the same venue. Not too surprising given how far it is from both cities!

Tomorrow's game kicks off at 1pm. There's no live broadcast available, but for live text, the official S-Pulse homepage does the job, as does J's Goal. Both sites are in Japanese, but you may be able to navigate around by pictures and trial and errors to find what you're looking for.

So come on S-Pulse - rewards the hundreds of fans who are heading up to Sendai for this one! Let's have a semi back in Shizuoka!

We Believe!!!

In transfer news, today Marcos Aurelio was released while Marcos Paulo has had his contract renewed. Good news, both. :)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

S-Pulse 2nd Stage Champions 2008

Hot on the heels of transfer rumours and possible stadium expansion excitement comes another snippet of close-season semi-news!

It's only been four years since the J. League adopted a single season format. Before that, all seasons except 1996 had consisted of two stages. It's a point well worth noting, and worth noting loudly and repeatedly, that had this year been a two stage system, your very own Shimizu S-Pulse would have won the second stage by two clear points:

J. League 2008 (Hypothetical) 2nd Stage Standings

P   Team   Pts  W D L
01 S-Pulse 36  11 3  3
02 Kawasaki 34   10 4  3
03 Kashima 32    9  5  3
04 Oita   31   9  4  4
05 FC Tokyo  30   9  3  5
06 Yokohama 30   8  6  3
07 Nagoya 30   8  6  3
08 Chiba    28   8  4  5
09 Kobe   22   6  4  7
10 G. Osaka  21   6  3  8
11 Urawa    21   5  6  6
12 Omiya 21   6  3  8
13 Kyoto   17   4  5  8
14 Verdy   17   4  5  8
15 Kashiwa  17   4  5  8
16 Niigata 16   4  4  9
17 Jubilo  14   3  5  9
18 Sapporo  3   0  3 14

Proof, if further proof be needed, that S-Pulse are the best team in the country! Urawa, who won the (hypothetical) first stage, would be our opponents in the play off for the championship. Given current form, (Urawa got destroyed 6-1 at home on the final Saturday) we would probably be lifting our first J. League title right about now. :)

Championes, championes! Ole ole ole!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Nihondaira to be Expanded?

Well, bad news of players being sold aside, there is some very exciting news coming from the S-Pulse boardroom. A release last Friday detailed the desire club president Hayao Iwakawa holds to improve access to, increase facilities and car parking provision for, and ultimately raise the capacity of our beautiful home, Nihondaira Stadium.

Take a good look, this could be several thousand seats bigger next time you see it!

As reported elsewhere, 2008 brought S-Pulse's biggest average gate for 12 years, with the stands being on average 82.1% full for each home game. This is figure second only in the J. League to Albirex Niigata who attract just under 35000 a week to their 43000 seater Big Swan Stadium. S-Pulse are in discussions with stadium owners Shizuoka City, and while the city are toeing a "we're not saying yes, but we're not saying no" line at present, Iwakawa sounded bullish in his belief the plans would come to fruition. In addition to frequently selling out many areas of the ground each game, the club cited it's ambitions in continental competitions as a spur to growth. You can never stand still in this game, and our president knows that.

Regardless of the status of the project, that the board is thinking and planning in such a manner is great news for fans, the city, and the competitiveness of S-Pulse in the J. League. Anyone who went to 'Daira this year will know any crowd over 18000 (of which there were a lot) means hundreds of people left standing around in aisles and at the back of the stands. I don't doubt that some of these people are not going to come back to a ground they can't get a seat in, so I agree 100% that an increased capacity is needed. More fans, more money, less need to sell players, and those four extra points needed to get into the ACL are won. It all looks pretty simple in black and white, doesn't it. :)

So where could an extended capacity / improved access be incorporated? Let's get our speculation caps on and have a look:
Access is hoped to be improved, but probably not by my road! :-D

Quite where the improved access is going to come from is something I'm not too sure about. There's currently the one road which runs up to the ground, and I can't see how it can be improved in any meaningful way. They may have a whole other plan, though, (probably nothing like my idea above!) so for now I'll stick to something I can readily image, and that's stand extensions.

Now I'm no architect, but I can see two areas which could be enlarged, and that's, as labelled above, the main stand and The Kop. There is a large amount of open space behind The Kop in particular which has potential for development / an improved bus rotary / car parking etc. If I had a wish, I'd also request a roof for this stand. Rain puts people off in their thousands, and a roof would also help keep in the awesome noise we generate each week.

Behind The Kop, Nihondaira

The other option as far as I can see would be the main stand being extended back. The current ellipse shape is charming, no question, but a more angular design would add several hundred onto the capacity, while a second tier would add several thousand... OK, maybe I'm getting carried away, but it's not completely beyond the realms of possibility, and several other fans have mentioned the same thing. For the most part, I'm just made up that our owners have belief and confidence in the future of our stadium, and not only that, they are determined to give us a home to do us justice that is home. Ecopa is great and all, but an hour journey for a home game is no fun.

The view behind the main stand. Ample room for expansion, surely! :-)

That S-Pulse are committed not to take the easy option and rely on a bigger stadium so far away is massively encouraging to hear. That they want to instead work to make Nihondaira realise it's full potential as a top football venue in Japan is great for Shimizu and Shizuoka. Shizuoka City is famed for it's connection with all things football, and with S-Pulse on the edge of greatness, come on Shiz City bods - let's work together and make the leap from a 4th placed team to a true title contending outfit!

We Believe!

Takagi and Aoyama off? Hara Rookie of the Year?

The league season is over, and as such transfer news is flying around, increasing in number by the day. Recent bad tidings to take the edge off the good news of Johnsen's impending arrival include rumours of Aoyama to Urawa, and more solid stories of Takagi to Gamba. Given our progress these last few months (not least the fact we were the best team in the country in the second half of the season) potentially losing players to domestic rivals is a bitter pill. The stark reality is, both teams in question have been champions in the last four years, and Reds especially are swimming in money. These potential losses, added to the old news of Yajima probably heading off to Europe, leaves a couple of gaping holes in our first choice starting members.

Our back line may take some drastic restructuring, but up front we'd be pretty much set. With international Okazaki, breakthrough hero Hara, and Nagoya's goal machine Johnsen leading the charge, we should have the finishing touch which in it's absence cost us so dear the first half of this season. Hara has just been
nominated as one of the best three youngsters of the 2008 season. If he wins the Rookie of the Year award, it will mean S-Pulse players would have won the title twice as many times as the nearest other team. Results announced December, Monday 22nd. Any confirmed transfers will be reported on here as soon humanely possible.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Shizuoka Derby Lives to Fight Another Day!

Although for a while it was looking very much like Shizuoka's second team were about to bid farewell to top flight football, bless their little cotton socks, they just about managed to beat a J2 team and stay up! S-Pulse fans can now look forward to the home and neutral derbies next year. What with Ecopa being our stadium too, we don't actually have an away derby these days!

Well, joking aside, well done Jubilo on staying up. Finishing in the top five every year isn't as much fun without your rivals in the bottom half of the table to make you feel superior. :) The final score on the day was 2-1 to Jubilo, 3-2 on aggregate.

Sendai came achingly, excruciatingly close to an equaliser at the death. It would have put them in J1 on away goals had one their many shots which rained down on the Jubilo goal found it's way in, but it wasn't to be. Well, at least Shizuoka keeps two top flight flight teams, for now at least! Reckon you can stay up next year, Jubilo? The bottom three go down automatically from 2009 you know - there'll be no play off to save you! ;-)

A few pics from your roving reporter in Iwata:

What it was all about

Both sets of fans in full voice

Nice pic, isn't it!

Sendai fans rocking the Yamaha
All over

Gutted, as you might expect

Sendai fans salute their heroes

Friday, 12 December 2008

Júbilo on the Brink

Five short years ago, who would have thought it!? In 2003, Júbilo narrowly missed out on the chance to defend the league title (their third) they had won the previous season. That blow was somewhat softened by claiming the Emperor's Cup title instead. The previous six seasons had reaped three J. League titles, a Nabisco Cup crown, and an unprecedented three consecutive appearances in the final of what is now the Asian Champions League. A brand new 50000 seater stadium had just opened ten minutes from Iwata to house a fan base which frequently outstripped the 17000 capacity Yamaha, and their achievements totally eclipsed even those of S-Pulse, who were also busy racking up titles. With all this, you could have forgiven their supporters for feeling pretty confident in the future.

Well.

Five years down the line, things have gone from bad, to worse, to a level completely unimaginable a few seasons ago. Júbilo are just 90 minutes away from relegation to J2, from likely losing the handful of young, decent players they have, and probably worst, from being laughed at for years by S-Pulse fans. The empire enjoyed around the turn of the century has faded, died, and has been pushed far into the past by Júbilo's J1 peers, not least, and most importantly, by us. In 2008 S-Pulse finished better placed (much better placed!) for a third year running, and had far more impressive cup runs. We also recorded a higher average gate than Iwata for the first time since 1999, and that was even without the use of Ecopa to accommodate 30000 for our bigger games - something we did until last year.

So how could things get any worse for Shizuoka's fallen giants? Well, starting the 2009 season in J2 would be a start! That was the very real prospect their fans woke up to on Sunday morning. That they barely avoided automatic relegation to J2 was bad enough; it was only Tokyo Verdy's inferior goal different which meant Iwata finished above an automatic relegation spot. This gave them a second chance in the promotion / relegation series against J2's third placed Vegalta Sendai. The first leg on Wednesday finished 1-1, and now it's all back to Shizuoka for the game which decides it all. The match sold out in hours, and Sendai are bringing down a huge following to see (they hope) their triumphant return to J1 after relegation in 2003.

So while Júbilo's incredible fall from prominence is readily welcomed by the orange half of Shizuoka, the split between the S-Pulse fans who would embrace Júbilo's demotion and those who would hate to lose their local rivals is huge. A perusal of the S-Pulse supporters group on Mixi (think Facebook, but in Japanese) shows as many people eager the Blues stay up as there are with yellow flags at the ready ahead of tomorrow. I'll be behind enemy lines at the Yamaha and am expecting an atmosphere unlike any other this season. The game is balanced at 1-1 meaning a win for either team will be enough. In the event of a draw, the following applies:

0-0 - Júbilo win on away goals
1-1 - Extra time
2-2, 3-3 etc - Sendai win on away goals

With the away goal, and home advantage, the J1 team are clearly favourites to avoid the drop, but if the last three promotion / relegation games have taught us anything, it's that you can never underestimate the underdogs. The last three all went the way of the J2 challengers.

I've been agonising for days over who I want to win this one, and I've come to the conclusion that I want Sendai to send Júbilo down. Heck, Júbilo would already be down if we hadn't gifted them the derby last month, and that's surely more than enough charity from us. I know I'd miss the derby if Iwata drop; it's the highlight of the season and the easily the biggest home game of the season, but that's football, and there'll be more than enough Shizuoka match-ups in the future. I recently came across this photo from around 2005, when we were looking none to clever ourselves.

Such gleeful enjoyment of our own struggles bore revenge in the form of a huge "Congratulations on your relegation to J2" banner which made it's début at last month's derby. Other gems from the link above include Shimizu referred to as "A Shame of Kingdom." They clearly want to play hardball with regard the rivalry, so they can't be expecting anything other than Shimizu to paint itself yellow this weekend! Relegation isn't the end of the world, they would surely recover, and you can be certain they would come back swinging ready to wrestle back the title of Kings of Shizuoka. So, with the utmost respect to all Iwata fans, (hey, my other half is one!) I say:

Come on Sendai!!!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Kyoto Sanga 1-3 S-Pa

J. League 2008 is over!

Champions: Kashima Antlers
ACL Qualification: Kashima Antlers, Nagoya Grampus, Kawasaki Frontale
Relegated: Condadore Sapporo, Tokyo Verdy
Promotion Relegation series: Jubilo Iwata (J1) v Vegalta Sendai (J2)

What a great way to end the season. :)

Highlights:



I wasn't at the game, or watching on TV, as I was deep behind enemy lines at the Yamaha Stadium watching Jubilo crash to defeat at the hands of Omiya. The defeat puts them into the promotion / relegation series with Sendai. The second, and home, leg for Jubilo is next Saturday, so I'll probably wander over to Iwata again, yellow t-shirt in hand. ;-) While we'd all like to see Jubilo drop, I'd seriously miss the derby next season should Jubilo go down, so it's win win for many S-Pulse fans. The fact they even have to play in this series is a humongous embarrassment to all connected with the club, so even if they stay up, you could argue they will have suffered enough! The last three pro / rele ties have all gone the way of the J2 side, so Jubilo are up against it!

The story of the day today was in Chiba, where the miracle escape was made even more miraculous by the fact they were 2-0 down before they came back to win 4-2. Losses for both Jubilo and Verdy meant they leapfrogged both teams to preserve their J1 status. Well done Chiba and especially Alex Miller who truly did perform a miracle!

Well, we went out on a high, and we have every right to look forward to our Emperor's Cup 1/4 final with optimism. Opponents FC Tokyo were the team on the receiving end of Chiba's four goals today, and as a result were displaced into 6th place by us who finished this season a respectable 5th. Had Aurelio put away the last minute penalty back against Omiya earlier in the season we would have equalled 2006 and 2007's finish of 4th. No matter - it's been a roller-coaster season and we ended it on a high. 5th place also brings with it a cool 40 000 000 yen. Nice! Now just bring on the cup on the 20th!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Emperor's Cup FInal Tickets On Sale Now!

Never mind that nobody has the slightest idea who is going to be in it, tickets are on sale and going fast for the Emperor's Cup final!

The Kokuritsu (National Stadium) Full to Bursting for the Nabisco Final

What with S-Pulse in the quarter finals, and closing out the season in good form, it may well be worth getting your hands on a ticket or two. Even in the worse case scenario of us getting knocked out in the next game, when the two finalists are decided on December 29th, you can rest assured there will be a mad scramble for tickets. That being the case, even if you don't fancy the day out in Tokyo, you will no doubt be able to sell them on to someone else.

Without fail, the Emperor's Cup final on New Year's Day attracts a full house to Tokyo's National Stadium. With several well supported and trophy-hungry clubs such as Nagoya, Marinos and our very own S-Pulse still in the fray, (not to mention FC Tokyo for who it's as good as a home game!) you can bet that this year will be no different.

Well, full details on getting hold of a ticket can be found in Japanese here, but otherwise all you need to know is that tickets are on sale from the usual machines in 7/11, Lawson, Family Mart etc, so any staff of said shops will be able to see you right if you have any problems. All we need now is for S-Pulse to make their second cup final of the year! That's not asking too much, surely?! ^^y

Sunday, 30 November 2008

S-Pa 3-2 JEF United

Here's an excellent video from the last home game of the season which captures all the fun of the game, a great video of this year's last Loco Loco, and an awesome shot of our very own UK Ultras flag in the centre of the screen for several seconds. Enjoy!



Now the goals individually, starting with Hyodo's boomer.



From an alternate angle:



Our second:



Our third:



Lucky for JEF, both Jubilo and Verdy lost. All the best for next week!

Friday, 28 November 2008

S-Pa v JEF United (Preview)

I can't believe we're here already - the last home game of the season! Since March, the year has just flown by, and it'll be with a heavy heart that I make my way up to Nihondaira tomorrow morning. No more 'Daira for four months!! It's back to real life we go! Back to families, back to long-suffering, and badly neglected, girlfriends, and back to other things too numerous to mention which have been pushed aside for the last eight months.

Still, before all that nonsense, we have one final Saturday down the 'Daira to enjoy. While we've got slim to no chance of sneaking into the third ACL spot, our visitors JEF United have everything to play for. JEF are the team with the longest running uninterrupted spell in Japan's top flight. In the current J. League, and as Furukawa Electric in the Japan Soccer League before it, JEF have racked up an impressive total of 43 seasons of top flight football.

It's all on the line going into to tomorrow's game, as a result for S-Pulse could all but seal JEF's demotion to J2. A win for us, and it would only need Verdy and Jubilo to both pick up a point and that's it - good night JEF. At least new arrivals to J2 from the JFL, Tochigi SC would set up a new local(ish) derby for them!

As you may expect, the Yellow Dogs of Chibapool will be out in force tomorrow. They have completely sold old their upper tier allocation of away area tickets, which, if memory serves, makes them the only team aside from Jubilo to have done that this year. The, as of Friday lunchtime, 1094 remaining tickets may well go on the day. Led by ex-Liverpool coach Alex Miller, who has so far done an amazing job of dragging them to within sight of safety, they will not be happy with anything other than three points.

S-Pulse on the other hand have only pride to play for. Well pride stood us in pretty good stead last week when we saw off newly manager-less Urawa in Saitama, but do we really have the heart to relegate a team? You're God damn right we do! It's survival of the fittest in this world, Chiba old chums, and besides, the humiliation you caused us with this little beauty is still far from being forgiven or forgotten!



Nishibe wont be starting tomorrow. :-D

Well, worst case scenario we get beat, the chances are Jubilo won't be coming away from Kashima with too much. Over 30000 will be piling into Kashima Stadium to see Antlers retain their title with three more points. They're not going to want to have to traipse up to Sapporo next week to do it there if they can help it! So a loss, while a downer on which to end the season, could at least plunge our rivals to within a whisker of J2 oblivion!

The forecast points to sunshine, so pack your sandwiches, don't forget your beer, and get down 'Daira early for another near-full house. It's your last chance till 2009!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Shimizu S-Pulse: A Team on the GROW

With our last home game of the season heading for a near sell out, I decided to have a look at our average crowd for this year. I found out something pretty interesting which deserves to be noted.

2008 has borne S-Pulse's highest average home gate since 1995!!!

This season we have registered our highest average crowd
since the initial J. League boom subsided back in the mid nighties. It even tops seasons such as 2003 where bumper 30000 plus crowds at Ecopa or The Kokuritsu distorted the average number found at Nihondaira each week.

Another 19000 plus crowd packs in for the defeat of Gamba Osaka

Well this year, Nihondaira was on average 80% full for every single game.
That deserves a massive OTSUKARESAMA to all our wonderful, and growing! band of S-Pulse fanatics! Not only to us, but also the club, whose tireless efforts within the local community to stregthen ties and foster a new generation of supporters is continuing to bare fruit.

On the pitch, the first third of 2008 especially was rather hit and miss, but despite that, on the terraces we've outdone the last TWELVE seasons. That is something we can all be rightly proud of!

Why not bring a friend to a game or three next year, and let's top it again in 2009!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Urawa Reds 1-2 S-Pa

Beating last year's champions and 2nd place team in the space of a week - a nice pick me up after the league cup and derby disappointments! Having a wedding to attend the previous day meant neither me or Fuz were in any fit state to be waking up at 5am Sunday as per last season. We followed the game from Shizuoka with stinking hangovers, but these were helped considerably by our first ever three points at the Saitama Stadium.

Urawa were going for the league title. We were playing for pride. We came away with all three points and were utterly deserved winners. Both teams had 14 shots on goal, and the fact both teams also had 15 goal kicks also speaks for the many chances created.

Edamura's opening goal was an absolute peach, and one of those you can just watch again and again. Tulio smashed it home in the second half to level, and S-Pulse got away with a goal line clearance a little later, but a lovely move which ended in a perfectly place shot by substitute Yajima won the game for S-Pa.

We now sit five points off an ACL spot with only two games left, so our only realistic route into continental football next season is via the Emperor's Cup. Going into the quarter final with FC Tokyo, I'm pretty confident.

Our squad this year has matured and evolved with each game, and having dispensed with last year's top two placed teams (not to mention the recent defeats of Gamba and Kawasaki) we are clearly a different prospect to the stuttering outfit which spent the first third of the season hovering around the drop zone. With rumours of Nagoya's proven goal scorer Johnsen set to join us, his experience, no to mention 13ish goals a season, would help wonders in the continued development of some of our young guns like Okazaki, Hara and Yajima.

Well, with the season starting to draw to an end, it's hard to look past Kashima as champions yet again. They only need three points against relegation threatened Jubilo this Saturday to wrap up their sixth championship. Sixth out of only sixteen seasons, bare in mind! An amazing record, but one not quite secured yet. If previous years have shown anything, it's that the championship is very rarely a simple matter! Jubilo are fighting for their lives, and Nagoya and Kawasaki are waiting in the wings to step back to first place should Antlers slip up!

I've said it time and again, but there really are few leagues which can match the J. League for drama - bring on the final two weeks!

Highlights:



The final few seconds. The silence that engulfs the stadium at the whistle is soon filled by our travelling thousands. Listen and look out for Loco Loco at around 4 minutes!



Good stuff. :)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Welcome to The Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira?

Well, whatever it was going to be, it was always going to be awful! As previously reported, 'Daira's name was up for sale, and today a four year naming rights deal was announced. The new name for Nihondaira is the cringe-inducingly uncool Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira. The winning company is Out Sourcing Inc, but just what they do is something you'll have to figure out for yourself, as I have no idea.

The deal is set to run for four years, and is worth a cool 360 million yen. That equates to over £2.5 million or just shy of US$ 3.8 million. This a pretty hefty cash injection so I'm hoping we see a decent investment in talent on the pitch, whether it be through the already more than healthy youth system, or through (Kenta sanctioned) signings.

Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira!

The reaction on one S-Pulse message board was a mixture of gratitude and disappointment. Gratitude to the company concerned for the huge investment, but disappointment at what is a pretty lame and generic moniker for a such a unique stadium. Personally I'm awaiting the endless puns and jokes on the name which are sure to follow!

The mountain range which divides Shizuoka and Shimizu, and which gives the stadium it's name, will never have it's name sold. As such, the football ground which sits in Nihondaira's foothills will for the vast majority of us be forever known as just that - Nihondaira Stadium, as it's been called since it was built in 1991.

An abbreviated and more palatable version of Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira (it's a pain even to type!) is already being discussed. A forerunner for that honour is The Austa, which doesn't sound all that bad I suppose... If you really can't stand the name, tune in again in 2012 as the name will be up for sale once more! Best start saving!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Emperor's Cup 1/4 Final Venues Confirmed

S-Pa v FC Tokyo: Yurtec Stadium, Sendai, December 20th, 1pm

The Emperor's Cup in all it's wonderful randomness today had the venues of the quarter finals confirmed. Unlike the English FA Cup, games from the 5th round in are played at neutral venues. Well, not all of them, just some. S-Pulse were one of the unlucky ones last round and got to play a team who were placed at their home ground. Some of the other games were at neutral venues, but not all. I not even going to begin to pretend I understand why this is, but there you have it.

Well, for the 1/4 finals it's all fair and square with all four games staged at venues nuetral to all teams. Or so I was expecting! As it turns out one of the games is a home game. The team in question are Sagan Tosu, and the full quarter final draw looks a little something like this:

Yokohama F. Marinos v Sagan Tosu:
Best Amenity Stadium (home of Sagan Tosu)
S-Pa v FC Tokyo: Yurtec Stadium, Sendai (home of Vegalta Sendai)
Kashiwa Reysol v Sanfrecce Hiroshima: Momotaro Stadium (home of Fagiano Okayama)
Nagoya v Osaka or Jubilo Iwata: Kobe Universiade (occasional home of Vissel Kobe)

Well, S-Pulse and FC Tokyo's clash has had Sendai's impressive-looking, football-only Yurtec Stadium chosen to host it. A bit of a trek for all concerned, I'm sure you'll agree. That's the "magic" of the cup though, and for all we know a semi final could be at Ecopa, where we'd have played last year had we beat Gamba in the 1/4 final, so no complaints!

If anyone does know the rationale behind Sagan Tosu getting to play at home while all others play away (travelling hundreds of miles and spending thousand of yen in the process), then do please share it! It took nearly a week after the completion of the 5th round to announce these venues, so there are clearly anything but random, decided by the mythical "fixture computer".

Anyway, politics aside, here's out chance to make another cup final! Our league season is over, so let's have it! Win this one and we're 90 minutes from another BDO to Tokyo! Game on!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Kashima Antlers 3-4 S-Pa (Emperor's Cup 5th Round)

And it doesn't get much tighter than that!

After Kashima scored with five minutes of extra time to go I was bracing myself for the lottery of a penalty shoot out, but there was rookie of the year (in my humble opinion!) Kazuki Hara to put it in in the very last minute of extra time! He at once saved us the hell of a shoot out, knocked out defending champions Kashima Antlers, and put S-Pulse into the quarter finals of the Emperor's Cup! After the anguish of the Nabisco, it's great to know there's another competition still to play for!

Highlights from yesterday's game and a half:



Well, the 2008 record against last year's double winners is none too shoddy at all! P5 W3 D1 L1, which breaks down like this:

League:

S-Pulse 1-0 Antlers
Antlers 2-0 S-Pulse

Nabisco Cup

Antlers 0-0 S-Pulse

S-Pulse 2-1 Antlers

Emperor's Cup

Antlers 3-4 S-Pulse

So now next up is FC Tokyo who today knocked out Albirex Niigata. The match is to be played December 20th. We're now only two games away from another BDO to the Kokuritsu, and from equaling the record for cup final appearances during the pro era. Still, we know that's a long way off just yet! Our record against FC Tokyo this year is pretty solid: 1-0 at home, 5-1 away, (not to mention 3-1 home and 1-1 away in the league cup) so we have nothing to fear!!

Well done to S-Pulse today, seriously. Bouncing back from recent events to put the holders of the competition out is no mean feat! After the hellish week of the Nabisco cup final loss followed by the Derby Debacle, well it shows a real strength of character to come from behind and despatch the best team in the country. S-Pulse - the pride of Shizuoka prefecture - you make us proud!

Emperor's Cup 1/4 final full draw:

Yokohama F. Marinos v Sagan Tosu
Gamba Osaka or Jubilo Iwata v Nagoya Grampus
S-Pulse v FC Tokyo
Kashiwa Reysol v Sanfrecce Hiroshima

To be played December 20th

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Gamba Osaka 5-0 Adelaide United (ACL Final)

Arise Gamba Osaka (the team we recently battered 3-1), you are now Champions of Asia!

Great news for Japanese football as a team from J1 wins the ACL for a second year running, and with it, the title of best team on the continent.

The aggregate final score of 5-0 paints an entirely accurate picture. 3-0 at home, 2-0 away. There was only ever going to be one winner of this tie, and while it was something of a walkover, you can only beat who's put in front of you. In the semi final, Gamba dumped out last year's winners Urawa, who were bizarrely dropped into the tournament at the quarter finals, after the group stage was completed, and thousands of miles had been travelled and hundreds of minutes of football played.

Compare that with Gamba who next year won't enjoy the advantage of being placed in the tournament half way through. Indeed they may well not even get the chance to defend their title at all! Despite having won the thing, to compete in the competition next year they have to earn it like any other team. A top three finish in the J. League is looking unlikely, so unless they grab Japan's forth ACL spot by winning the Emperor's Cup, they most likely won't be in next year's tournament.

Well, forgetting the tournament's mad little idiosyncrasies for a minute, it's time to raise a glass to the Champions of Asia: Gamba Osaka. Undefeated throughout the tournament, and thoroughly deserved winners. Enjoy it!

Totally unrelated, here's a gorgeous rainbow which spread it's arms around Shizuoka earlier today.
Nice. :)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Iwata 1-0 S-Pa

I have nothing to say about this, so here's a couple of videos instead:

The players come out as thousands of S-Pa fans turn the stadium orange, white and black:



After the whistle, the players get what's coming to them when they let down 10000 travelling die-hards:



And if that doesn't give you a headache, I don't know what will...

And finally, here's a video of Jae-Jin scoring the winner in the 93rd minute of last year's Shizuoka Derby.



Not that you can see it, but God that felt good. :)

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

S-Pa 1-0 JEF United

And there was me talking about a nice, low key game... The only thing low about tonight was the crowd. 4214 rattled around inside Nihondaira as one of the most open games of the season unfolded with 26 shots between the two teams, several rebounds off the woodwork and countless near misses.
To be fair to JEF, the following they brought down for a game of little importance to them was pretty good. They have far bigger fish to fry, and as their fans continued to bounce around even after the final whistle, it was clear the Emperor's Cup comes nowhere close to J1 survival. The semi-reserve team they put out also bore testament to that.

But forgetting all that, the game was non-stop end to end stuff, and how we went into stoppage time still goal-less was anyone's guess. Both teams had had the ball in the net with each ruled out for offside. For us Okazaki had headed home after a thunderbolt from sub Omae Genki came back off the bar, but the flag was up.

So as the ref had the whistle in his mouth, extra time was looming, and everyone started wondering what time they would get home, Okazaki broke free, was pushed wide by the keeper, almost impossibly wide, but under pressure from the JEF defender he somehow got to the ball inches from the touchline and turned it in the from the tightest of tight angles. Have a look here to get some idea of how acute the angle was.

The place erupted, I now have a horribly painful case of whiplash as my skeleton attempted to exit my body with joy, and for two minutes, the pain of last Saturday was forgotten. The goal had been coming all game and the fact it meant we avoided 30 extra minutes I don't think anyone wanted, meant it was not only elation, but also a decent amount of relief, which washed over 'Daira.

It was the last kick of the game, and never has a 94th minute stoppage time winner been more deserved. Next up Antlers for the 5th time this season. November 15th.

The Goal:



And extended highlights:



Night night!!

Emperor's Cup Round 4: S-Pa v JEF (preview)

Riding the bullet back to Shiz on Saturday evening, I could barely imagine watching another game of football this year, let alone the very next Wednesday. Well, three days have passed and all I can say about tonight's Emperor's Cup (the Japanese equivalent of the FA Cup) fourth round tie is BRING IT!!!

What better way to forget a lost cup final that getting stuck straight back into another cup competition? This game would have been played on Sunday had we not been busy on the Saturday, so it was shifted to midweek. As such, we'll be lucky to see more than four thousand there tonight. Cup football, especially midweek cup football, in Japan never seems to catch the imagination. That's until teams reach the final whereby they then take 20000 fans to Tokyo!

Well it's all good. I'm looking forward to a night down at the 'Daira considerably more low-key than recent cup events. We want the win as much as any game, but a game lacking the tension of the Kashima league cup quarter final will be warmly welcomed by many! And speaking of Antlers, the winner tonight is rewarded with a trip to Ibaraki for a last 16 game. Kashima, who only made it past Kokushikan University on penalties on Sunday, are going for another league and cup double, so the draw could have been kinder!

After the last 16, ties are pre-planned to be staged at neutral venues all over the country. I guess the rationale behind it is to spread the game around to areas which don't normally see professional football, but for the fans of both teams who have to trek hundreds of miles, it has always struck me as an odd system.

After Saturday there is only one team in the history of professional football in Japan that has been to more cup finals than S-Pulse, (yep, that would be Kashima, then!) so with our awesome cup pedigree lets steam in to the this with the confidence only a team with eight final appearances can have! JEF are a different prospect to the team which lost eight from it's first eleven games in the league, but for all their exertions in trying to stay up, I hope the cup is going to prove one distraction too many.

Whatever happens tonight it's a perfect way to ease ourselves and our still-smarting hearts back into the footballing mindset before Saturday's massive Shizuoka Derby. Jubilo have their J1 status on the line, so things may get heated! So far as tonight goes, lets have a win for us, and no repeat of Nishibe getting lobbed from 70 meters as per last season's league game, please!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Nabisco Cup Final 2008: Oita 2-0 S-Pa

Our glorious cup run comes to an end in defeat.

Luckily, enough fun was had over the course of the day to balance out the disappointment of what might have been.

I'm still totally unable to attempt any kind of match-related report, so instead here are a load of pictures of the BDO to the Kokuritsu.

Pic as featured on J's Goal football website.



Finally a video of our players doing the rounds after the whistle. I remember very little about taking this, such was the daze I was in.


Noone does it like S-Pulse:


Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Nabisco Cup Final! S-Pa v Oita

The last league game before it has been played. The last of the tickets have been sold - the game is totally sold out. The bullet trains to Tokyo the morning of the game are all either full or very close to it. All that remains is for Shimizu S-Pulse to march out side by side with Oita Trinita on Saturday in 2008's Nabisco Cup Final!

The route to the final, which started back in March, has been long and filled with tension, derbies and goals. In summary, here is S-Pulse's road to the Kokuritsu, with UK Ultras article linked where available.

Group Stage

March 20th S-Pulse 3-1 FC Tokyo
March 23rd Tokyo Verdy 0-0 S-Pulse
April 16th S-Pulse 5-0 Tokyo Verdy
May 25th S-Pulse 4-2 Jubilo Iwata
May 31st FC Tokyo 1-1 S-Pulse
June 8th Jubilo Iwata 2-0 S-Pulse

Quarter Final

July 2nd Kashima Antlers 0-0 S-Pulse
August 6th S-Pulse 2-1 Kashima Antlers

Semi Final

September 3rd
S-Pulse 1-1 Gamba Osaka
September 7th
Gamba Osaka 2-3 S-Pulse

As you may expect, I'm not physically capable of anything other than a massively biased preview and that's exactly what you're going to get! Luckily when it comes to this blog, I am my own boss, so I'm going to say it loud, and I'm going to say it proud:

S-PA WILL WIN ON SATURDAY!!!

That is based in huge part on pure belief, but what is 90% of being a football fan if it isn't believing in something in the face of indisputable evidence to the contrary? Fortunately in this case we don't have to play too much with the facts to twist things in our favour! Here are some points to help fill you with confidence leading up to the game:

  • S-Pulse can play a full strength team of the type which recently disposed of titles chasers FC Tokyo (5-1 away), Kawasaki (2-0) and Gamba (3-1).
  • Oita are missing first choice keeper through injury.
  • Oita have scored less goals than Sapporo who were relegated to J2, what? five games ago?
  • S-Pulse have players brimming with confidence and Edamura is gunning for competition top scorer
  • Oita have lost three from their last four, scoring only once. That goal scorer is suspended.
  • Kenta Hasegawa experienced the last time we won the Nabisco in 96 as a player, and the last time we lost a cup final as manager. He is NOT about to let that happen again!
  • The hundreds who are marking their spots in the queue days before the game are the same - we are simply aching for victory.
Oita are undeniably one of the most negative teams in the league. They may have scored the third least in the league, but they have also conceded the least - seven less than leaders Kashima Antlers. Saying that, we've breached that defensive line three times in our two meetings this year, so we clearly know what to do.

At our last meeting, we blew a two goal lead at their place to draw 2-2. That was back in early August. I believe that was two different sides playing each other. Since then we've well and truly found our form and feet, while Oita have been severely faltering. Indeed, Oita have conceded as many goals in their last five games since keeper Nishikawa was injured as they had in their previous SIXTEEN.

I could ramble on for hours, but I'm going to call a it a day here. I know as well as anyone that form guides, histories and what people think will happen on paper can count for nothing once the game kicks off. Oita will be desperate for a glorious end to a season in which they've surprised so many. They won't want to make the long journey home empty handed. If it is to go their way, I just prey it's not a result of an anti-football 1-0 snooze-fest, or, God forbid, a penalty shoot out. There's been only three goals in the last four finals, and a third of all finals have gone to penalties. Saturday is going to be HUGE. It's going to be MASSIVE. So Oita and S-Pa, it's down to us to do our bit - let's both come to play football and make it a final to remember!

All I ask now is this: To S-Pulse's team of young, hungry heroes, you get out there and you bring that trophy back to Shimizu!! Then jump in your team bus and join us in our party by the sea! The whole of Shizuoka is willing it!

BRING HOME THE CUP!

WE BELIEVE!!!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

S-Pulse 3-1 Gamba Osaka (Review and Goals)

I get the feeling Gamba must be really starting to hate us. First we put them out the Nabisco Cup in the semis at their home and end their hopes of defending their crown. Then we ensure the thundering momentum which helped sweep them past Urawa in the semi of the ACL came to a shuddering halt by turning them over 3-1 today at Nihondaira. At the same time we all but ended what hopes they had of a title challenge. Taking that into consideration and I wouldn't begrudge them a little ill will towards the oranges of Shimizu!

Feel free to use this as a wallpaper!

A near capacity crowd packed in early and expectations where high from both ends of the ground. Gamba who on Wednesday had won 3-1 away in Saitama were missing Endo through suspension, but were coming for all three points. They needed nothing less to get their title charge back on track. Failing that, the nonsense that even if they win the ACL they won't automatically get to defend their title, and they are clearly desperate to finish in the top three to ensure international football next year.

Despite the incentive Gamba had, and, when you look at it realistically, the lack of any real goal to aim for S-Pa (Title - no chance. ACL qualification - very unlikely. Finishing above Jubilo - already secured. J1 football next year - already secured), despite all this, the game never felt in doubt, as a team off the back of five wins in six marched on to six wins in seven.

Moments after our third

Edamura has been in form recently, and not least of all against Gamba! After doing them in in the league cup, he was there to put us one up on 38m in a goal not entirely unlike his second against Gamba in the league cup second leg. He was also there to score one of the easiest of his career moments into the second half. A surging run down the right from Hara saw him put a perfect ball into the six yard box which beat both the keeper and defender and left Edamura with the simplest of jobs to put it in the net.

Our third just minutes later and was the result of a mid-range Okazaki effort getting a wicked deflection off a defender. It totally wrong-footing the keeper, and as the ball rolled almost in slow motion into the bottom corner the beleaguered goalie tried in vain to get back across goal. For the faithful behind the goal it was party time! Gamba threw everything they had at us, but the best they could do was grab a 75th minute consolation from a corner. Kaito was a wall between the sticks, at one point making a double-stop from point-blank range. Having total confidence in your keeper is an awesome feeling!

A small section of the S-Pulse wall of colour

The after-game celebrations had the added spark that every second word from people's mouths seemed to be "Kokuritsu!" or "Nabisco!" The buzz was palpable! We're surging into the final in red-hot form. Oita, with just one goal from their last 360 minutes of football and three points from twelve, have been stuttering severely of late. The desire for a win next week is achingly apparent around Nihondaira. Oita surely won't be too pleased to see us in such pulsating form, and that coupled with the sheer will power of our supporters, we're going to bring that trophy home. Next week - bring it!!!

Here's all the action:



And to end, a pic taken from just outside the stadium. Gorgeous.
Football Kingdom - Shimizu

Friday, 24 October 2008

英語の王者の旗! S-Pulse's Theme Song in English!

王者の旗。Oja no Hata. Now Available in English!



It's the song you've heard each time S-Pulse complete another home victory. It's the song to which everyone raises their scarves and then belts out around Nihondaira. It the last thing most opponents hear as they start to think about the long, pointless journey home. And it's the song where, if you're like me, you hum along with the versus before singing the chorus twice as loud as the person next to you to make up for not knowing the words!

Well feel left out no more, for help is here! I have just completed transliterating the lyrics into the English alphabet so you can sing along with ease, but not only that, I've also translated the song into English so you can understand exactly what you're singing about!

A full transliteration can be found here, along with the English version here. Have a look, let me know what you think, but most importantly, next time we win, blast it out with all your heart!