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:


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!



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!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

S-Pulse 2-0 Kawasaki Frontale

Special feature: Courtesy of fellow S-Pulse supporter and J. League follower Mike Tuckerman, we present an interview with a Japanese S-Pulse fan. In an interview fully in English, Shimizu-born Yuichi Korenaga discusses S-Pulse's current season and football in Japan in general. Full interview can be found here.
Probably one of the better pictures I've managed at the 'Daira!

A classic Saturday afternoon down the 'Daira. Sunshine, beers, mates, goals, a clean sheet, a near-full house. There are certain days where it all just seems to fall into place, and as I left my flat at 11am and saw the clear blue sky overhead, I had a feeling things were going to go our way.

For those who read anything into past records, Kawasaki, who have never won at Nihondaira, were always going to be fighting fate. As it turned out, their poor record under Fuji's shadow continues, and with it, their title challenge takes a huge knock. With it being as open as it is, they're no means out of the race, but dropping points as both Kashima and Oita won again leaves them with a lot to do to get back into it.

The first S-Pulse goal was a lovely worked piece of play, and it had goal written all over it from the outset. It came on 24 minutes and Edamura, after the cross was headed back across goal, was there to slam it home under the Frontale keeper. Frontale's undeniable ability up front was, for the most part, well neutralised, although a couple of occasions saw them go close.
Our second goal came from one of our 11 corners and it was man of the moment Kazuki Hara who put it home. After a poor clearance attempt the ball fell to his feet and he calmly put into the net in front of the two tiered bank which was full to bursting. The poor lad lost his mother earlier in the month, but he's been one of our several break-though players this season, and another goal was no more than he deserved.

The after-match party was as good as ever, and as we had a do pre-arranged back near the station, we rushed off to that with the win just adding more reason to get happily battered. And get happily battered we did.

Next up, outside title hopefuls Gamba Osaka. They have a game midweek they simply have to win, away to Urawa in the semi-final of the Asian Champions League. Fingers crossed they'll be shattered from that, and we can continue our great run. Last year's Gamba fixture was one of the games of the season, so a repeat of the 3-1 scoreline would be just great, thank you!

Time to go, but thank you S-Pulse - you made my birthday celebrations all the more brilliant! Enough from me, time for the highlights!

And here, taken on my camera, is Oja no Hata, our victory song, and which, after four years, I'm embarrassed to say I'm still learning the words to!

Friday, 17 October 2008

S-Pulse v Kawasaki Frontale (preview)

It's now pushing a month since the last home game down at the 'Daira, and personally speaking, I can't bloody wait to settle down in the sunshine tomorrow with a six pack! Now the humid hell of the Shizuoka summer is behind us, tomorrow is set to be a balmy 23 degrees in a breezy Suruga Bay. With the hottest months now behind us, it's back to the earlier kicks offs, and a 3pm start on a Saturday will feel just like being back in the UK!

It's probably a combination of the good forecast, S-Pulse's better form of late (four wins from five - only defeated away at Kashima), and the fact Kawasaki are in with a decent shout of the title that tomorrow won't be far off last season's near-capacity crowd of 19k. It's a measure of how open this season is that even a team with a real shot at the championship have only won twice in their last five games. Many people's tips at the start of the season, Frontale have come through a couple of dodgy patches and are still up there, so good luck to them. I'm expecting a big travelling following tomorrow.

There's a maximum of 18 points to play for, and it's still amazingly tight at the top. Out of the five (and at a stretch, seven!) teams in with a shout, first time champions would be Oita, Kawasaki or Nagoya. Since the turn of the century there's been five different winners of the league (six if any first-timers prevail this year), six different winners of the Emperor's Cup, and, after the final next month, seven different winners of the Nabisco Cup. I should also mention that the only teams to have won the league twice this millennium are now both fighting for their J1 lives! Japanese football is incredibly open, and it's one of the reasons I am so consistently enthralled by it.

With the prospect of title glory, Kawasaki will be coming to Shimizu with nothing less than all three points in their sights, but with S-Pulse fresh off the back of a 5-1 demolition job of (outside) title hopefuls FC Tokyo, it should be a hell of an encounter. Okazaki and Kazumichi will be back from their national team exploits, and I can't see much being changed from the team that took Tokyo to school.

So, 8th with six games to go... hardly ideal, but after our wretchedly inconsistent first half of the season, it's a far sight more healthy looking than a couple of months ago! There's been a handful of games me and Fuz came away from feeling pretty hard done by this year, but we also rode our luck a few times, so our current nearly-but-not-quite position is entirely fair. We have to set our sights on cup glory and then the derby the following Saturday. Before all that though, a 3-0 victory tomorrow would be wonderfully appropriate! Why? Well...

Yours truly turned 30 last Saturday, hence my preference for the 3-0 scoreline! Drinks will be taken after the game, but if anyone wants to reward me for staying alive three decades, feel free to present me with a can of beer at any stage during the match. :) I'm the bloke standing next to Palchan in the pic on the right (yeah, I know, I know. I don't look a day over 21). "Beer" is the stuff in cans with "Asahi" or "Kirin" written on the side, and "present me with", well, I'm sure you can figure that bit out. ^^y

Friday, 10 October 2008

Welcome to the Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airport Stadium!

That could be the announcement you'll be hearing over the PA system at Nihondaira from next March! As was announced on October 9th, S-Pulse are now accepting bids to give one lucky company the right to rename Nihondaira Stadium it it's own image. If you happen to have a spare 90 million yen laying around, then get your offers in! Any deal is expected to run a minimum of four years, and will start from the 2009 season.

Name Nihondaria - For just 90 000 000 yen!

Debate is now raging over on the various Japanese language message boards over what a cool sponsor would be. Personally, anything with Shizuoka in the title (such as the soon to open Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airport) would do the job for me, with a shortened version of The Shizu-sta rolling nicely off the tongue. One user on Mixi suggested the Chibi Maruko Chan Stadium after our local anime character, and I've got to admit it does have a certain charm! Well, one thing will remain the same regardless of what name is finally chosen (ie: whoever pays us the most), Nihondaira will always be known as simply that: Nihondaira Stadium. Our home since 1992 and one of the best places in the country to watch football.

In other news: Kazumichi and Okazaki both featured in Japan's friendly against the UAE yesterday. The game finished 1-1. Okazaki played most the match, being taken off on 82 minutes, and Kazumichi started at half time and played to the end. All eyes are now on Wednesday 15th (by which time I will be 30!) for Japan's World Cup qualfier againt Uzbekistan. Japan have to be looking for a result at home against the Uzbeks. A look at the group table shows not much else as an option. Well, good luck to Japan and inparticular to our boys flying the flag for S-Pulse!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

FC Tokyo 1-5 S-Pa

Demolition. Annihilation. Beating. Whipping. Destruction. Mauling. Thrashing.

Take your pick. :)
The masses at last year's FC Tokyo match

Me and Fuz were both at the 2-0 away defeat last season, and so yesterday's result is an especially sweet one. Despite us both being in Tokyo at 3pm on Saturday, we were en route to Saitama to catch Radiohead, and so missed our best away result of the season. Much like S-Pulse, Radiohead played a blinder. They rocked out a stonking set to a full house, though the majority of which bizarrely stood in static silence for each song. I've never been given evil stares at a gig for singing along before! It was like being at the cinema. Very, very odd crowd.

Anyway, back to the football! Yesterday's goal-fest makes a season aggregate in all competitions of 10-2 against FC Tokyo, and barring an end of season collapse of Urawa-sized proportions, should secure our J1 status for next year. All five goals came from different players starting with another long range blast from Yamamoto. This was followed by another corner strike by Iwashita, and then Hara made it three just before the break.

Tokyo came out swinging in the second half, and despite a total of 11 shots found the target only once. That was on the hour, but was never anything more than a consolation. Okazaki on 78 made it four, before Toda rounded off the rout with a goal in the last minute against his former club. I bet he enjoyed that one!

It was a real shame we had plans elsewhere, as I'm sure the travelling thousands revelled in the 5-1 mauling of their hosts. I can only imagine the crowd in the Ajista knew how to enjoy itself more than the one at the Radiohead show! So here are the goals - enjoy! Check out Hara's control on the third goal - this lad is a real talent!!