Friday, October 28, 2011

Three-way race for the J. League title

J. League
J.League 2011

And then there were three. Two familiar contenders, one plucky outsider and four league games are all that stand between Kashiwa Reysol, Gamba Osaka, Nagoya Grampus and the J. League title.

Autumn is especially beautiful across the Kantō Plain, when the deciduous leaves fall and a mellow sunlight light frames the back streets and alleys of one of the world's most populous regions. That's true even in the gritty industrial Chiba town of Kashiwa, where the locals are hoping their promoted upstarts can win back to back championships.

Kashiwa Reysol coasted through J2 last season, holding off the challenge of Ventforet Kofu to win the second division by ten points. At the helm was grizzled Brazilian coach Nelsinho, whose association with Japanese football is so lengthy his first club Verdy was still based in Kawasaki. The much-travelled tactician won the J. League with Verdy and later took over at the club formerly known as Nagoya Grampus Eight, before embarking on a peripatetic waltz around his native Brazil.

He's back in the J. League now and Nelsinho's knowledge of Brazilian has proved especially useful in the realm of player recruitment. In 2010 he signed Leandro Domingues from Bahia club Vitoria and watched contentedly as the playmaker steered the Sun Kings to the second tier title. This year he drafted in veteran Jorge Wagner from Sao Paulo and the versatile attacking talent has produced a stellar campaign. Add to that the goals of strikers Junya Tanaka and Hideaki Kitajima and it's no surprise Kashiwa's sheer attacking strength has propelled them to the top of the table.

Standing in Kashiwa's way are defending champions Nagoya Grampus. The Aichi side broke their long trophy drought by winning the J. League for the first time last season, employing the not-so-novel tactic of simply signing the best players from rival teams.

Former Urawa Reds talisman Marcus Tulio Tanaka and ex-Yokohama F. Marinos defender Hayuma Tanaka were joined this season by one-time Shimizu S-Pulse star Jungo Fujimoto and ex-Vissel Kobe speedster Kensuke Nagai - widely regarded as one of the most promising talents in Asian football. It's a tried-and-true tactic and combined with Australian international Josh Kennedy's unquenchable thirst for goals, Nagoya have slowly muscled their way up the standings and are currently breathing down Kashiwa's neck in the race for the championship.

Nagoya mascot Grampako-chan still hoping to celebrate

Sandwiched between the pair are Gamba Osaka, who have endured a strange campaign at their Suita city home. The Osakans started slowly and sold prolific striker Adriano to Qatari club Al-Jaish, after he'd scored nine goals in just eight league games. They looked like they'd struggle without him, until the arrival of Rafinha from J2 side Thespa Kusatsu.

The Brazilian has made his compatriot look positively sluggish, blasting home 10 goals in 14 league games - including a hat-trick against Kawasaki Frontale - and just as importantly laying on several more for strike partner Lee Keun-Ho, who has suddenly transformed into one of the most dynamic strikers in the league. With Yasuhito Endo pulling the strings in midfield and plenty of big-match experience behind them, it's unlikely Gamba will be the first to blink in a tense three-team tussle for the title.

Nagoya arguably have the easiest run home, while all three teams face tough looking away trips on the final day of the campaign. Grampus are on the road to Big Swan Stadium where they will face Albirex Niigata, while Gamba Osaka face a daunting trip to the parochial Nihondaira Stadium to take on mid-table outfit Shimizu S-Pulse. It's Kashiwa who look set to face the toughest trip of all, as they cross the Kantō Plain to take on a Urawa Reds side battling relegation.

Urawa's wretched campaign is perhaps best summed up by the fact they sacked coach Zeljko Petrovic just a fortnight out from a League Cup final. The final straw was a 1-0 home defeat to Saitama city rivals Omiya Ardija, which prompted Petrovic to claim he'd resign at the end of the season. He wasn't given the chance, and former youth team coach Takafumi Hori is the man charged with the task of ensuring one of Japan's most popular clubs avoids relegation for the second time in their checkered history.

Urawa are locked in a dogged battle with Ventforet Kofu to avoid the final relegation place - Montedio Yamagata and Avispa Fukuoka are already doomed - and Kofu's lanky Japan international Mike Havenaar is on a single-handed mission to prolong Kofu's stay in the top flight. The man known as "Mike" has scored 16 of Kofu's 36 goals so far and with European clubs rumoured to be taking an interest in the 194-centimetre giant, a player who recently scored his first international goals for Japan could be set for a barnstorming finish to the campaign.

There's little doubt another thrilling finale lies in store for one of the world's most entertaining leagues. Will Kashiwa Reysol hold their nerve and become the first team to win back to back J2 and J1 championships? Will Gamba Osaka spoil the party and destroy the dreams of Nagoya Grampus in the process? And can Urawa Reds shake off Ventforet Kofu in the quest to maintain their top-flight status? Time will tell, but as the first of the winter chills rustles the falling leaves on Japan's busy thoroughfares and streets, the J. League is only just starting to heat up.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman &

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

City's pyrrhic victory?

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Scorelines don't come much more amazing than Sunday's Mancunian derby, but was there really much reason to celebrate, however many records tumbled at Old Trafford?

With a few days' recuperation from that shellshock of a final score, can the result be deemed a welcome riposte to or even whole scale power shift from the hegemony of moneybags Chelsea and Manchester United, or another symptom of the obscene, out-of-control spending in the English top division which is upsetting its natural order of competition?

Watching Fergie's nose rubbed into the dirt certainly had its charms for those of us who do not buy into the 'Glory glory Man United' hype machine, as the Scot's lazily applied moniker of 'football genius' suddenly hung by a thread after such a an utter pasting.

And it was not unpleasant to see City's supporters for once get the upper hand on their storied and hitherto more monied rivals. The Blues have played Torino to Juventus, Espanol to Barcelona for so many long and grueling years, that anyone's sense of fairness would not begrudge them a moment in the sun.

For my whole life Man City, who last lifted the Championship in 1968 and whose last taste of glory was the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup before last season's FA Cup win, have seemed cursed to underachieve. Even when they looked like winning the FA Cup in 1981, their goalscorer Tommy Hutchinson then put through his own net to let Tottenham back in to triumph, after a replay.

A sense of injustice turned into angry frustration among some fans, a similar phenomenon one can witness at Cardiff City or Leeds, but after an endless string of disappointments, along came rich men from the East bearing gifts. David could fear Goliath no more and City had arrived.

Yet the underdog tag which won City sympathy is fast evaporating in the face of such a merciless spending spree by the Abu Dhabian owners. Just take a look at the Blues' winning team. Whilst five were Englishmen, only one had come through the City youth system (Micah Richards). United by comparison fielded eight Brits throughout the 90 minutes, two of whom had been developed in-house. But City's foreign legion surely eclipsed United's, whose overseas stars comprised Anderson, David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Javier Hernandez and Nani.

Compare that to the ambrosial cornucopia of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko, Alexsandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri and Yaya Touré, plus the Premier League's top entertainer of the hour, David Silva. United had been outspent off the field and thus outgunned on the pitch.

With the Arab owners pouring money into a new academy complex and showing no signs of acknowledging any recession, City will soon spend their way to the heights of England, Europe and the world.

With no restriction on salaries, money does not just talk in the Premier League, it bellows. The pyrrhic element to this famous win will tell in the signal it has sent to soccer's governing bodies. If the Blues maintain their unerring march to European conquest, UEFA and FIFA will be forced to act and impose control on clubs' spending as the playing field will have become too tilted.

City's devastating victory shows the Premier League is absurdly top-heavy, listing like the Mary Rose into the waters of the Solent. There is no pretence of a 20-team competition and a gulf now exists even amongst the top teams. On any given Sunday, to plagiarise a term from American Football, Man U, the reigning champions, should not lose 6-1 at home to anyone. What made it so shocking was that it seemed no aberration, no one-off.

Does it have to be like this? No. Later that night some miles to the south, the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fought out a much closer NFL game at Wembley. In America, that well-known communist regime, a salary cap keeps its football field level, and the worse teams get first pick of the best young players.

The more the Premier League continues with no regulation, the more meaningless games like Sunday's will become. Bring on the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.

Doubtless some new fans in Asia will be sporting blue shirts instead of their elder siblings' red ones, but there was a time when you supported a team for reasons other than it was far richer than the others, who are clearly finding it increasingly impossible to compete.

With this elephant in the room, Sunday's thrashing of United was less proof that the Premier League is unpredictable and competitive, but that its free-market model is in serious need of financial regulation.

For it seemed less a case of one club outplaying another through superior football than one simply outspending another, in an increasingly frightening way.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, October 21, 2011

The 2014 World Cup trek

Brasil.World Cup 2014, Brazil

FIFA have released the dates and venues for the matches of the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, with the patience of traveling supporters set to be tested once again.

Instead of keeping group games within a couple of venues located close to one-another, as used to be the norm, fans will face trips of up to 2,000 miles in order to watch all of their nation's opening clashes.

One unlucky Group A team will begin in Sao Paulo, then trek 1,680 miles (2,700 km) up to Manaus, before an odyssey of 3,538 miles (5,698 km) across the Amazon to Recife, a voyage one team from Group D and another from Group G must also endure. Even the hosts are not spared, with the seleçao kicking off in Sao Paulo before flying 1465 miles (2357 km) to Fortaleza and then making another journey of 1042 miles (1677 km) to Brasilia.

The explanation for clocking-up so many air miles, according to the organising committee, is the varying weather, with the south of Brazil much cooler than the north.
"The climate is so different you do not want to give an advantage to one country over another," said Head of Operations Ricardo Trade.

The semi-finals will take place in Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao (70,000) and Sao Paulo's Novo Estadio do Corinthians (68,000), with the final in Rio's renovated Maracana (85,000) on the 13th of July 2014.

Starting times for matches will be 1700, 1900, 2300 and 0200 GMT.

Brazil will kick-off the whole shebang in Sao Paolo on Thursday the 12th of June 2014.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Morocco to host Club World Cup

Club World Cup

Morocco to host Club World Cup

Morocco to host Club World Cup
Club World Cup

Morocco will host both the 2013 and 2014 FIFA Club World Cups.

Iran, South Africa and the U.A.E. all withdrew their bids, leaving FIFA to bring the competition to Africa for the first time. The hosting is set to be rubber-stamped in Zurich in December.

The North African nation has a strong soccer tradition, and the national team memorably became the first African nation to win a group in the World Cup Finals, topping England, Portugal and Poland at Mexico '86, before losing to a late Lothar Matthaus goal from eventual finalists West Germany in the next round.
Morocco will also host the 2015 African Cup of Nations, whose centerpiece will be the new 80,000-seat Grand Stade de Casablanca. Their current national team boasts QPR's mercurial midfielder Adel Taraabt and Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh.

The 2011 edition of the Club World Cup, featuring Barcelona (Spain), Santos (Brazil), Monterrey (Mexico), Auckland City (New Zealand), a representative from Asia and one from Africa, as well as Japan's A-League champions, takes place in the land of the rising sun between the 8th and 18th of December this year, with the final in Yokohama.

European clubs have won the cup the past four years (Milan, Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter), following three consecutive Brazilian triumphs from 2005 to 2007 (Corinthians, Sao Paolo and Internacional).

Next year's tournament will also take place in Japan.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Abolishing promotion deserves relegation


Richard Bevan of England's League Managers Association inadvertently raised the frightening prospect of a breakaway from the Premier League when he mentioned some club owners wanted to do away with promotion to and relegation from the Premier League.

Newcastle fans
Newcastle fans
While he did not mention the 'b' word, a rebel division surely remains a potential threat if a majority of the mega-rich (foreign) owners decide they can worry no longer about their investments and thus remove the risk of a season or more outside the top flight.

Bevan cited "American owners...and some of the Asian owners" for raising the unthinkable idea of the top league being cut off from the rest for good. The prospect of no promotion would kill the dreams of millions of supporters, particularly hurting fans of sleeping giants like Cardiff City, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday.

While the arriviste 'die-hards' of England's big clubs in the emerging m
arkets for the 'EPL' of Asia and North America would probably see no problem, every fan in England appears violently opposed to any deracination of the top division. But we would be fools to ignore the risk.

"If we have four or five more new (owners)," said Bevan ominously, "that could happen."

So who are these quislings in the Premier League?

The American owners harbouring mutinous thoughts remain unnamed but it would be remarkable if they included Arsenal's Stan Kroenke, the Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool and the Glazers at Manchester United, none of whose teams are ever in real risk of relegation.

The Yanks without thanks for tradition could include Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, often touted as a model owner, and quite probably Ellis Short at Sunderland. The "Asians" probably mean Venky's at Blackburn, and possibly Lakshmi Mittal and Tony Fernandes at QPR.

That said though, it is often forgotten that Gary Cook, formerly Chief Executive at Manchester City, and Bolton's Phil Gartside have suggested doing away with the drop zone in the past.

If those calling for a pulling-up of the ladder do represent top-four teams that indeed would reveal an exceptional paranoia or unforgivable ignorance of England's football culture and traditions.

In a sense it would make little difference as the status quo is utterly dominated by big-spending teams for whom the other end of the table makes little difference, but the idea of lopping off the top of the pyramid is anathema to true football supporters.

While the public at large is wedded to the tradition of promotion and relegation and would kick such an idea across the rooftops given half a chance, the fact the unsayable has even been said, barely days after Liverpool FC openly called for a greater share of television money, is confirmation that the big clubs still have itchy feet.

Last season France Football revealed the big European teams were indeed hatching plans for a potential split, which presumably would entail some sort of hegemony without fear of demotion. And it should not be forgotten rebellion is in the clubs' blood: The FA's key involvement in the birth of the Premier League was precisely to stop existing breakaway plans in their tracks.

While the Premier League is not a purely two-horse race like Spain, the entre
nched dominance of a few monied clubs has left the top division looking increasingly devalued as an open competition in recent years. Unlike in previous decades, it has become easy to predict who will finish in the top three or four every season.
In the Guardian this week, Jonathan Wilson revisits that oft-made criticism of the Premier League that the title race is not open enough; indeed the days when a Norwich, Southampton or Watford could finish second or Nottingham Forest win the title in their first season since promotion are long-gone. And the lack of a salary/spending cap ensures only a select few can challenge for the title now. The two issues are not necessarily connected: A top division where the money was spread evenly would ensure a competitive title race just with no demotion or new teams arriving. This is the NFL/NHL/NBA model which with American owners are familiar.

The question surely is about the value of the pyramid and whether the age-old 'meritocracy' should be preserved.

As it stands, without a billionaire backer, the best a club can hope for is to avoid relegation, win one of the Cups and sneak into the Europa League.

If the Premier League were cut adrift and promotion & relegation, two sources of endless excitement, abolished, the sale of English football's soul would be complete.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fifa World Rankings For October 2011

Fifa World Rankings For October 2011.
Fifa World Rankings, October 2011

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2011 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

2010 World Cup winners Spain are on top followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Copa America champs Uruguay. England are in 7th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Germany
4 Uruguay
5 Brazil
6 Italy
7 England
8 Greece
8 Portugal
10 Argentina
10 Denmark
12 Croatia
13 Russia
14 Sweden
15 France
16 Chile
17 Japan
18 Switzerland
19 Côte d'Ivoire
20 Australia

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, October 17, 2011

Hillsborough truth in sight at last

Liverpool FC: Hillsborough Truth in Sight

Justice for the 96
Justice For The 96
The end to an arduous 22-year campaign for truth surrounding the Hillsborough disaster could at last be in sight as the UK government has confirmed it will release all contemporary documents relating to the day in question.

The Sun
The Sun
After a 139,000-strong online petition and a moving parliamentary debate led Home Secretary Theresa May to announce up to 300,000 files will be released.

The relatives of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final have maintained a relentless campaign for government minutes to be publicised, to prove once and for all that Reds fans were innocent and that South Yorkshire police alone were to blame for the tragedy and lied to cover the fact up.

While the famous Taylor Report, which paved the way for the all-seater stadia of the Premier League we have today, exonerated the supporters and confirmed the police were responsible for the crowd control which turned fatal, the South Yorkshire force's role in spreading misinformation has never been confirmed officially.
What seems clear is that the policeman in charge of opening the gates that April day, David Duckenfield, tried to cover his back by putting out stories to the FA, government and press of drunken and rowdy Liverpool fans barging their way into the Leppings Lane end and crushing their colleagues to death.

This dishonest spin was taken up and amplified by a Rupert Murdoch tabloid and a Conservative government already hostile to football and its fan culture - at the time the impish Sports Minister Colin Moynihan was running an ill-conceived campaign to make English supporters carry I.D. cards to gain entry to stadia.

Margaret Thatcher's bullish press officer Bernard Ingh
am told the cabinet "tanked-up" fans were to blame, while oafish local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, despite not having been at the match, gleefully supplied the ammo for the Sun's notorious headline 'The Truth', which claimed Reds fans had stolen from, sexually assaulted and urinated upon their fellow supporters as they lay dying. Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie remains unapologetic for the nadir of British journalism, telling an after-dinner crowd in 2006:"I wasn't sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth."

Clearing the final hurdle in the campaign for truth has probably arrived on the back of this summer's phone-hacking scandal, when a nexus of collusion between the Murdoch press, the police and politicians was laid bare for the public to punish.

Liverpool FC
Liverpool FC
Those affected by the disaster, from the victims' relatives to the millions who had passed through English turnstiles to stand in caged pens and who empathised fully with the tragic events as they unfolded, may soon be able to relax in the knowledge the whole truth of the darkest day in English soccer has been established.

Football history has recorded Hillsborough not only as a human tragedy but as the death knell for the fortress-like stadia of cages and barbed wire and gritty supporter culture which was the norm throughout the 1970s and '80s. Hooliganism, which seemed out of control a
t times in the 1980s, lost its sheen after Hillsborough, as the seriousness of fans losing their lives was brought home to one and all in England.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the removal of perimeter fencing for the Liverpool v Everton FA Cup Final heralded the spectator-friendly stadia we know today, and along with England's heroics at Italia '90, beckoned new private investment in the game which would become the behemoth of today's FA Premier League.

Tragically, it took a human disaster for morons to realise violence was stupid, and for the authorities to realise that crowds and revenues would grow if they treated their paying customers with respect.

The 96 dead, whose names were read out in parliament today, ranged in age from 10 to 67 and included the cousin of current Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Manchester United Old Trafford Tour

Manchester United Old Trafford Tour

The Museum & Stadium Tour of Manchester United's Old Trafford ground, the self-styled "Theatre of Dreams" is hugely popular with football fans from all over the world, not just Manchester United supporters.

Old Trafford, home of Manchester United

Participants of our tour included visitors from Hong Kong and Russia as well as Swansea City supporters in Manchester for their team's Monday night game with Manchester City.

The tour begins in the Museum, which has replicas of Manchester United's many trophies, shirts, boots and other memorabilia donated by Manchester United players past and present and video of many of the great matches featuring the club. The interesting displays chart the history of Manchester United, the Busby era and the tragedy at Munich, through to United's first win in the European Cup and its present dominance in English football. The Museum also reveals the hooligan problem that affected the club in the 1970s.

The Manchester United Trinity
Bobby Charlton, George Best & Denis Law
The Stadium part of the tour takes visitors into the ground to get a full appreciation of the size of Old Trafford and your guide will explain the technological features of the stadium, which includes CCTV coverage of every seat. next, you are led into the dressing rooms, which with their brown wooden panels have something of a 1970s area, reinforced by the players' bar with fading photographs of George best, Denis Law and a young David Beckham pinned to the wall.

You are then led out through the tunnel onto the touchline towards the players' and managers' benches. The tour then takes you back to the Museum where you exit through the Megastore.

The Museum & Stadium Tour or just entrance to the Museum can be booked online with ticket prices prices for non-members presently 15 GBP for adults and 10 GBP for children.

Manchester United Open Training


Euro 2012 Play Offs

Euro 2012 Play Offs

The draw for the Euro 2012 qualification play offs were made in the Polish city of Krakow on Thursday.

Euro 2012 Play Offs

The full draw is:

Bosnia-Herzegovina v Portugal

Estonia v Ireland

Czech Republic v Montenegro

Turkey v Croatia

First leg matches are scheduled for November 11 or 12 with the second leg to be played on November 15.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Euro 2012 field narrows down

Euro 2012.Euro 2012

We now know twelve of the sixteen finalists for next summer's European Championship in Poland & Ukraine, with play-offs for the four remaining places taking place in mid-November.

The hosts will be joined by Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Sweden.

Five of the play-off contenders are East European - Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia and Montenegro, along with Eire, Portugal and Turkey. The draw is on Thursday in Poland.

Some names missing the boat include Norway, whom Portugal pipped on goal difference in Group H, and Switzerland, who had beaten Spain at the 2010 World Cup, lost to fast-improving Wales in their final game, allowing Montenegro to overtake; Belgium, despite the talents of Eden Hazard and others, drew three and lost three in Group A and were beaten to second place by Turkey, while 2010 qualifiers Serbia and Slovenia are on the quayside after Estonia's impressive run to the playoffs from Group C.

2010 World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands, along with Germany, still appear the teams to beat next summer, but the other nations would do well to recall the 2004 tournament in Portugal, when unfancied Greece came from nowhere to win it.

-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Japan's never-ending Nabisco Cup nonsense

J League
J-League News 2011

The sight of Gamba Osaka running out at Expo '70 Stadium tonight is unlikely to fill their fans with hope. It's more likely to fill those in attendance with a sense of trepidation as the team currently leading the J. League standings does battle with defending Nabisco Cup champions Jubilo Iwata for a trophy no one genuinely wants to win.

Last weekend, Gamba celebrated twenty years at their Banpaku home with a well deserved 1-0 win over bitter rivals Urawa Reds which kept them top of the league. Tonight, however, Gamba run out at their crumbling home ground to take part in one of the most chaotically organised League Cup competitions in recent history.

March's devastating Tōhoku earthquake not only saw the J. League put on hold, it also prompted the complete reorganisation of the League Cup - known to all and sundry as the Nabisco Cup after its biscuit-producing sponsor. Two rounds of hastily arranged home-and-away fixtures were organised but as in previous seasons, Japan's four AFC Champions League representatives parachuted in at the quarter-final stage.

That means Gamba Osaka, their crosstown rivals Cerezo, defending league champions Nagoya Grampus and 2010 Emperor's Cup champions Kashima Antlers now run out for the first time this season in a competition supposed to represent the best knock-out football Japan has to offer. That is palpably not the case - the JFA-administered Emperor's Cup is a far superior tournament - but so redundant is this year's League Cup, the J. League must finally address the issue.

The first step is to permanently do away with the pointless group stage in favour of a straight knock-out format. The second is to reintroduce J2 teams, giving fans the opportunity to see new teams in action and encouraging both underdogs and favourites to treat the competition seriously. The third step is for the J. League to otherwise accept that some teams may not field full-strength starting elevens, instead offering a run-out to fringe first-team members. If that encourages opponents to go for the jugular against more illustrious rivals, so much the better.

As it stands, the current format offers little prestige to those who lift the trophy. Oita Trinita won it in 2008 and were relegated from the top flight a year later. FC Tokyo ultimately suffered the same fate. Meanwhile, Jubilo came within two minutes of losing last year's final only to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 5-3 in extra-time. Jubilo's reward was a trophy and a cash prize, but there was no place in the AFC Champions League for Masaaki Yanagishita's men and the Shizuoka outfit ended up finishing eleventh in the league.

Jubilo's win was a welcome one for the recently success-starved club, but it also highlighted the fact most teams only care about the Nabisco Cup once they've reached the final. That's the same case in most countries, but it seems a mediocrity the J. League is willing to endure. They should do so no longer, because tonight's League Cup clashes will inspire enthusiasm from only the most die-hard of supporters, with most neutrals concentrating on the fact Japan are in action later in the week.

And should Gamba or fellow title chasers Nagoya Grampus and Yokohama F. Marinos lose key personnel to injuries tonight, the clamour for a total overhaul of Japan's never-ending Nabisco Cup nonsense will grow louder still.

Nabisco Cup quarter-final schedule:

Wednesday, October 5 (all 7 pm kick-offs)

Kashima Antlers vs Yokohama F. Marinos (Kashima Stadium)
Nagoya Grampus vs Albirex Niigata (Mizuho Stadium)
Gamba Osaka vs Jubilo Iwata (Expo '70 Stadium)
Cerezo Osaka vs Urawa Reds (Nagai Stadium)