After sensationally sacking coach Holger Osieck in the aftermath of Urawa’s second successive league defeat of the season, all eyes will be on Saitama Stadium for the beginning of the Gert Engels era as Urawa Reds kick off their Nabisco League Cup campaign at home to Vissel Kobe.
Club president Mitsunori Fujiguchi claimed that Osieck had lost the support of the players, and former assistant coach Engels will hope to win over players and fans alike with some positive results in Urawa’s upcoming League Cup matches.
In contrast to Holger Osieck, Nagoya Grampus coach Dragan Stojkovic was ecstatic with Nagoya’s 2-0 win over Urawa last weekend, and the Qiu Qiu Online Toyota-backed club kick off their League Cup campaign when they face Kyoto Sanga FC for the second time in two weeks.
The League Cup is comprised of a six-game group stage, with the four group winners and two best-placed runners-up joining AFC Champions League participants Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka in the quarter-finals.
The fixture list for the first two League Cup rounds is;
Nagoya Grampus vs Kyoto Sanga FC (Mizuho Stadium)
Urawa Reds vs Vissel Kobe (Saitama Stadium)
Tokyo Verdy vs Jubilo Iwata (Ajinomoto Stadium)
Shimizu S-Pulse vs FC Tokyo (Nihondaira Stadium)
Kawasaki Frontale vs JEF United (Todoroki Stadium)
Kashiwa Reysol vs Consadole Sapporo (Kashiwanoha Stadium)
Yokohama F. Marinos vs Oita Trinita (Mitsuzawa Stadium)
Albirex Niigata vs Omiya Ardija (Big Swan Stadium)
Vissel Kobe vs Nagoya Grampus (Kobe Wing Stadium)
Kyoto Sanga vs Urawa Reds (Nishikyogoku Stadium)
Jubilo Iwata vs FC Tokyo (Yamaha Stadium)
Tokyo Verdy vs Shimizu S-Pulse (Ajinomoto Stadium)
Consadole Sapporo vs Kawasaki Frontale (Muroran Stadium)
JEF United vs Kashiwa Reysol (Fukuda Denshi Arena)
Omiya Ardija vs Yokohama F. Marinos (Omiya Park Stadium)
Oita Trinita vs Albirex Niigata (Kyushu Oil Dome)
In the pick of the J2 fixtures on March 20, Vegalta Sendai host Avispa Fukuoka in a clash of promotion hopefuls, Thespa Kusatsu take on unbeaten Yokohama FC, another unbeaten club in Sanfrecce Hiroshima travel to Shonan Bellmare, while Mito Hollyhock host Ventforet Kofu.
On March 23 Yokohama FC host Sagan Tosu, Cerezo Osaka welcome Vegalta Sendai to Nagai Stadium, Sanfrecce Hiroshima face Mito Hollyhock at Big Arch, while FC Gifu host Tokushima Vortis in a Sunday evening clash.
Keiji Tamada earns surprise recall to the Japan team
Nagoya Grampus striker Keiji Tamada has earned a surprise recall to the Japan squad that travels to Manama to face Bahrain in a crucial World Cup qualifier on March 26.
The 27-year-old has not featured for the national team since scoring against Brazil at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, after a series of injuries saw him lose his place in the Nagoya starting line-up under former Dutch coach Sef Vergoossen.
Tamada has started both of Nagoya’s league matches under new coach Dragan Stojkovic, however the experienced striker will battle with Vissel Kobe front man Yoshito Okubo for a place in the Japan starting line-up.
Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Junichi Inamoto also earned a recall from coach Takeshi Okada, although Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura was not asked to make the arduous journey to the Gulf State.
AFC Champions League under way
Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka have experienced contrasting emotions in the AFC Champions League so far.
2007 J. League champions Kashima have scored an astonishing fifteen goals in their two matches so far, following up a 9-1 win away at Krung Thai Bank FC with a 6-0 demolition of hapless Nam Dinh at Kashima Stadium.
Gamba Osaka, meanwhile, needed a late Lucas Severino strike to force a 1-1 draw with Thai side Chonburi FC at Expo ’70 Stadium in Osaka, before they came from behind to beat Korean outfit Chunnam Dragons 4-3 in a thriller in Gwangyang, with striker Ryuji Bando scoring twice.