Lots of talking points from the first round of J1 & J2 games. We could talk about what is surely a statistical anomaly of only one home win in J1. Or the fact that none of the relegated teams won their first game in J2. Or that Urawa Reds midfielder Yuki Abe played the last part of his side’s game at Kashiwa Reysol with his mouth taped up to look like a hostage. But, for me, the southern island of Kyushu, and their clubs, deserves a little bit of love this Monday.
Sagan Tosu 2-1 Avispa Fukuoka
A fine start for new Sagan Tosu manager Massimo Ficcadenti as his charges won the local derby with neighbours Avispa. Team talisman Yohei Toyoda scored for the fourth opening day in a row (Kawasaki’s Yu Kobayashi is hot on his heels though, having scored on the last three opening days). Toyoda’s header gave Tosu an early lead, and a swift counter attack doubled the lead. Tosu showed their J1 street-smarts by keeping possession well enough and picking their counter attacking times pretty well.
Many people think Ficcadenti was harshly treated by FC Tokyo, and he has the chance to prove those people right if he can make Tosu upwardly mobile once again. It won’t be easy as there are a lot of teams that one would think would be in and around Tosu in the league, but these derby day victories go a long way to establishing confidence and credentials. He’d better hope that this victory sets them on a good course, because they have the small matter of a trip to Kashima next week…..
It wasn’t all bad for Avispa though as they saw Wellington open his account for the year, and his goals and hold up play will be crucial if Masami Ihara’s men are to survive. They also need to wise up to the higher level counter attacking play they are to encounter in the top league otherwise it could be a long season. But remember last year? Remember their horrible start? And the people that laughed when promotion was a possibility for them? Yes, me too. It is early days yet, and it would be wrong to back against Ihara.
Zweigen Kanazawa 1-2 V-Varen Nagasaki
Takuya Takagi’s men were somewhat surprise play-off semi-finalists last year, and many have wondered if they are going to be able to repeat their feat. A tricky looking trip to Kanazawa wasn’t the easiest first game, but a convincing 2-1 win (if there is such a thing) gives cause for optimism. Someone who will hopefully personify this optimism could be Ryo Nagai. Widely tipped as a future star, Nagai has kind of bounced around and lost his way a little bit. Injuries have contributed to this, especially the one that cut short his stint at Oita last year, but Takagi has shown he can get the best out of strikers. If Nagai can follow the same path as Koichi Sato, Shoma Mizunaga & Lee Yong-Jae, Nagai – and by extnesion Nagasaki – could have a good 2016.
Roasso Kumamoto 1-0 Matsumoto Yamaga
To a result not many people saw coming. Kumamoto is one of those teams that not many people know anything about. I know where Kumamoto is, I know Seichiro Maki plays for them, as does Koki Kiyotake – brother of Japan international Hiroshi. Aside form that, I don’t know much else. But they pulled off a really good opening day win against one of the perceived promotion favourites. The aforementioned Kiyotake scored (making it a good weekend for the pair as Hiroshi’s Hannover also won) and thus held up their part of the Kyushu power play.
Roasso always look like they might struggle, but they always seem to come out of J2 seasons unscathed. This opening day win will give the fans confidence that 2016 will once prove kind to the team from horse country
Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-0 Montedio Yamagata
Although it might look like a bit of a shock to the uninitiated, it wasn’t much of a surprise to those who know what Koichi Hashiratani is doing in the northern climes of Kyushu.
He has built a squad, over the course of three + years, that has the ability to challenge for promotion. He was able to convince Tomoki Ikemoto to return after an ill-fated season at Matsumoto Yamaga and was also able to snare Kitakyushu boy-done-good Masashi Motoyama. The ex-Kashima ace is in the twilight of his career now, but he will still bring gravitas to this hitherto rather unknown Giravanz playing group. After this win, Giravanz have eminently winnable games against Renofa Yamaguchi, FC Gifu and Roasso Kumamoto on tap, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they start four from four. Add in the new stadium buzz and things in Kitakyushu are looking as bright as their home shirts.