Star-studded Vissel Kobe found themselves in a disappointing yet all-too familiar situation of being massively inconsistent after being beaten 2-1 by Nagoya Grampus at the Toyota Stadium on Saturday night’s J.League 1 action. The defeat left Thorsten Fink’s Vissel winless in their last seven league games, with the expensively-assembled squad now going through a rough patch of form that has been associated with them in recent years.
Despite boasting the likes of FC Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta, Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen, Barcelona academy graduate Sergei Samper and a mix of current and former Japan internationals in Hotaru Yamaguchi, Gotoku Sakai, Kyogo Furuhashi, Yutaro Oda and Daigo Nishi, Vissel had been plagued with inconsistencies in form during league play, which saw them failing to live up to the high expectations given to them in recent years. Investments done by Hiroshi Mikitani and his Rakuten e-commerce giants to Vissel were done with the expectations that the Kobe-based side would challenge the best teams in both the J1 and in Asia, and while the investments had been repaid with the 2019 Emperor’s Cup and 2020 Japanese Super Cup titles, yet another mid-season loss of form this time out saw Vissel once again finding themselves in the familiar territory of being wildly too inconsistent to challenge the J1’s elite.
Saturday’s Matchweek 17 collapse was a prime example of how inconsistent Vissel are despite the stars in their roster. Playing away at a Nagoya side flying in the higher echelons of the J1 table, Vissel had actually taken the lead first in the 15th minute. Hotaru had received a long ball from the midfield and as he ran into the Nagoya penalty box, the former Japan international chipped in an audacious lob that went above the head of Nagoya’s Australian goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak and into the goal.
However, once Vissel had scored the opener, they found themselves being bombarded by Nagoya’s attackers, with the likes of Mateus and Naoki Maeda testing Daiya Maekawa in the Vissel goal. Maekawa performed a number of excellent saves to deny Nagoya their equalizer, however all of his hard work was undone in the 42nd minute. A shot from Maeda struck Leo Osaki’s hand inside the Vissel penalty box, forcing the referee to award Nagoya the spot kick. Mu Kanazaki was tasked in dispatching the penalty and he sent Maekawa the wrong way to draw the scoreline level.
The second half wasn’t exactly all peachy for Vissel either and the away side conceded another penalty nine minutes into the second stanza. Maeda was fouled in the box by Hirofumi Watanabe and the referee immediately awarded the penalty to Nagoya. Once again Kanazaki was tasked in beating Maekawa from 12 yards out and the former Kashima Antlers player once again made no mistake, with his shot too powerful for Maekawa to stop despite the keeper going the right way and managing to get a hand on the ball.
With the scoreline now 2-1 to Nagoya’s advantage, Vissel immediately pushed forward for an equalizer. Iniesta fed Furuhashi with the ball in the 66th minute, with the latter launching a close-ranged shot towards the Nagoya goal. Langerak was quick with his reflexes though, and he easily collected Furuhashi’s shot with his hands.
With Vissel committing men forward, Nagoya almost made it 3-1 on the night in the dying minutes of the match, with a powerful cannonball from Mateus being deflected by Maekawa’s fists. That proved to be the final highlight of the game, with Nagoya claiming a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over their star-studded opponents. The three points enabled Nagoya to cement their 4th position in the league, 2 points off FC Tokyo on 3rd. Vissel, on the other hand, remain stranded on 11th place, a good 10 points behind Nagoya.
Saturday’s other Matchweek 17 action saw 34-year old Kazuma Watanabe emerging as a super-sub for Gamba Osaka, with his 78th minute strike being the only difference as Gamba edged out Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 1-0 at the Sapporo Atsubetsu Stadium, while defending champions Yokohama F. Marinos dispatched hosts Sagan Tosu 3-1 at the Ekimae Real Estate Stadium. The clash between bottom dwellers saw Shimizu S-Pulse finally ending a 7-game losing streak as they dismantled Shonan Bellmare 3-0 at the Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka, with the result condemning Shonan to replace Shimizu as the league’s wooden spoon holders. Elsewhere, Kashima, with their nightmare start to the season fully behind them and their swagger fully restored, edged out hosts Cerezo Osaka 2-1, with the win being Kashima’s sixth in a row. Last but not least, Kashiwa Reysol were forced to a 1-1 draw by Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium.
Matchweek 17 continues on Sunday with Oita Trinita hosting Yokohama FC at the Showa Denko Dome, FC Tokyo welcoming Vegalta Sendai to the Ajinomoto Stadium, while current J1 leaders Kawasaki Frontale pay Urawa Red Diamonds’ Saitama Stadium 2002 a visit.