AS Elfen Saitama 1 - 2 Vegalta Sendai Ladies
Vegalta Sendai travelled home with three points which move them to within two of JEF United in sixth as the battle to stay out of the relegation section became more intense.
Yasumoto Sawako has been ruled out for the rest of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury and the loss of her energy and enthusiasm will be a blow. Yasumoto's absence in this game was not significant, as Vegalta Sendai had enough quality to see off Saitama regardless.
All three goals came in the first half, the first coming when Kawamura Yuri headed on a Saito free kick for Koyama Kie who burst through the defence to score smartly past the advancing Yamago. Saitama equalised six minutes later in the 24th minute through Azami Rie, for whom this was her fourth goal of the season. Azami's finish was similar to that of Koyama, with Takeda on the right supplying the telling ball from the halfway line.
Parity lasted only seven minutes, after Uetsuji headed down to Koyama who slid the ball through to Ono Hitomi, and she scored another fine goal, her fourth of the season - the most of any Sendai player.
This result leaves Saitama almost certainly facing a bottom four finish and their next match away to Iga will be vital for both sides as they look to gain as many points as possible before the split.
Sendai's first win after four losses and two draws gives them renewed hope of a top half finish, which is what they would have expected before the season started, and even moreso having won their first two matches. They next host Kibi in central Sendai and will expect to win both that encounter and the next away to Iga.
AS Elfen Saitama:
Yamago Nozomi (capt), Azami Rie, Takeda Arisa, Takahashi Yuko, Nara Misaki, Uchida Saki, Ito Kanako, Takeyama Yuko, Nakano Rino, Arakawa Eriko, Yamazaki Sayuri
Subs: Takahashi Kaho (Uchida Saki, 35 mins), Saito Yuri (Yamazaki Sayuri, 54 mins), Suzuki Kaoruko (Takeyama Yuko, 72 mins)
Unused subs: Funada Mayu, Saito Natsumi, Akitaya Misato, Hagiwara Aimi
Scorers: Azami Rie (24 mins)
Booked: Takahashi Yuko, Suzuki Kaoruko
Vegalta Sendai Ladies:
Saito Ayaka, Sakai Yuki, Yamamoto Risa, Osafune Kana, Hamada Haruka, Tahara Nozomi, Kawamura Yuri, Uetsuji Yumi (capt), Kakazu Asuka, Koyama Kie, Ono Hitomi
Subs: Takara Ryoko (Koyama Kie, 64 mins), Inoue Ayaka (Ono Hitomi, 67 mins), Sasaki Mayu (Tahara Nozomi, 90+1 mins)
Unused subs: Saita Yuki, Takahashi Nana
Scorers: Koyama Kie (18 mins), Ono Hitomi (31 mins)
Nippon TV Beleza 2 - 1 Iga FC Kunoichi
While Beleza have made steady progress up the table since the international break, Iga have picked up only one point and will almost certainly battle against relegation following the end of the Regular Series of eighteen games.
Tanaka Mina scored her first goal of a hitherto disappointing season to win Beleza's last game away to Vegalta Sendai, and today she opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with contributions from two of Beleza's other young players, Momiki and Sumida, though there was a significant deflection off an Iga defender which took the ball away from Kuno in goal.
Eight minutes later it was Iwashimizu Azusa's turn to score her second of the season, heading in from outside the six-yard box after Tanaka's shot had come back into play off the crossbar.
Beleza had by far most of the possession and chances in the first half with little coming from Iga, though in the second half they were far more adventurous, and had a goal back three minutes after the restart. From in front of goal Elise Kellond-Knight lofted in a free kick which Michikura headed in for her first goal of the season.
Beleza struggled to create chances thereafter, and though Iga had more of the attacking play as the game progressed, they couldn't find the second goal which would have given them a second draw of the season against Beleza. The home side remain third after this result, still six points behind the two leaders, though they will be happy with their recent recovery. Iga are now thirteen points from safety with just eighteen to play for, and if they are to make the top six they must first beat Saitama next weekend. Beleza play Belle in Shimane.
Nippon TV Beleza:
Soyama Kanako, Shimizu Risa, Iwashimizu Azusa (capt), Kinoshita Shiori, Ariyoshi Saori, Sakaguchi Mizuho, Hara Natsuko, Sumida Rin, Momiki Yuka, Nakasato Yu, Tanaka Mina
Unused subs: Yamashita Ayaka, Doko Mayo, Kobayashi Miharu, Takahashi Saori, Kobayashi Yayoi, Shimada Chiaki, Yamaguchi Mami
Scorers: Tanaka Mina (23 mins), Iwashimizu Azusa (31 mins)
Iga FC Kunoichi:
Kuno Fubuki, Miyasako Tamami, Michikura Hiroko, Ohashi Mio, Elise Kellond-Knight, Nasu Maiko (capt), Matsunaga Tomoe, Kobayashi Makiko, Tsutsumi Saki, Matsunaga Yoshie, Ogawa Shiho
Subs: Sugita Ami (Tsutsumi Saki, HT), Haji Madoka (Ogawa Shiho, 83 mins), Tameka Butt (Miyasako Tamami, 90 mins)
Unused subs: Sawada Norimi, Kiyohara Marie
Scorers: Michikura Hiroko (48 mins)
FC Kibikokusaidaigaku Charme 0 - 3 Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies
In miserable, wet conditions in Okayama Urawa had little trouble in dispatching Kibi by three goals to nil for the second time this season. New Urawa heroine Seike Kiko gave the visitors the lead on 16 minutes when she got in front of Nagano to head home a cross from Wada Naoko, who made her first starting appearance today. Naomoto Hikaru had a sensational start to the season with her first three career goals in two matches, but didn't score again until today, a fine rasping shot beating Isashi and nestling in the top right hand corner.
Kibi had almost no chances whatsoever in the game and Urawa had numerous opportunities to add to their total, though only managed one more goal, their top scorer Kira Chinatsu finishing clinically when Noma headed straight to her in her own goal area.
Kibi will now simply look to pick up points where they can in advance of the Exciting Series, though their relegation now seems certain. They next play Vegalta Sendai. Urawa top the league, ahead of Belle on goal difference and they next play Niigata, who themselves need points to ensure safety.
FC Kibikokusaidaigaku Charme:
Isashi Kaede, Noma Fumika, Eguchi Mika, Takahashi Chiho (capt), Nagano Momoko, Kurakazu Shiho, Takano Saki, Yoshitake Manami, Tajima Mitsuyo, Hamamoto Marin, Nishikawa Asuka
Subs: Takatsuka Ayane (Tajima Mitsuyo, 61 mins), Adachi Eriko (Hamamoto Marin, 63 mins), Kanbara Misaki (Nagano Momoko, 86 mins)
Unused subs: Fujita Suzuka, Kadota Rui, Nakai Yuna, Komatsu Mina
Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies:
Hirao Chika, Dozono Ayano, Norimatsu Ruka, Kohata Shiho (capt), Wada Naoko, Shibata Hanae, Naomoto Hikaru, Kishikawa Natsuki, Kato Chika, Kira Chinatsu, Seike Kiko
Subs: Otaki Ami (Seike Kiko, 67 mins), Saito Akane (Kato Chika, 75 mins), Nagano Fuka (Wada Naoko, 85 mins)
Unused subs: Tajiri Yumi, Endo Yu, Sakamoto Riho, Tomari Shiho
Scorers: Seike Kiko (16 mins), Naomoto Hikaru (33 mins), Kira Chinatsu (59 mins)
Albirex Niigata Ladies 1 - 0 JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies
In a game of very few chances, and almost none for the home side, a very late penalty kick was decisive in giving Niigata a much needed three points. Saeki Aya chased a hopeful long ball into the box and Yamane Erina, who is prone to errors, rushed out to claim the ball but missed it and ended up felling Saeki instead. Niigata deadball specialist Kamionobe Megumi stepped up and showed no nerves in dispatching the penalty kick.
Niigata thus overtake JEF United in fifth place, and remain three points clear of Sendai in seventh. Sandwiched between them is JEF United, who have now lost three of their last five games. They next play INAC Kobe and though they were unlucky not to beat the champions in their first meeting, they may need to be even better this time around just to take a point. Niigata visit leaders Urawa.
Albirex Niigata Ladies:
Ichitani Tomoko, Obara Yuria, Kitahara Kana, Yamamoto Arina, Takamura Chisato, Takahashi Haruka, Saito Yuri, Kodama Keiko, Kamionobe Megumi (capt), Saeki Aya, Oishi Sayaka
Subs: Kojima Miku (Takamura Chisato, HT), Sakaguchi Moeno (Kodama Keiko, 62 mins), Kubota Mayu (Oishi Sayaka, 79 mins)
Unused subs: Fukumura Kanae, Okakura Mika, Sayama Momoko, Shimokawa Saori
Scorers: Kamionobe Megumi (89 mins, pen)
JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies:
Yamane Erina, Wakabayashi Minori, Sakuramoto Naoko (capt), Chino Shoko, Ueno Saki, Kawamura Mari, Hosaka Nodoka, Anzai Yuka, Fukasawa Risa, Ikadai Risa, Sugasawa Yuika
Subs: Setoguchi Kozue (Hosaka Nodoka, 64 mins), Oya Madoka (Ikadai Risa, 85 mins)
Unused subs: Nemoto Mio, Tsurumi Ayaka, Matsuura Nagisa, Hanagiri Naomi
Booked: Yamane Erina
INAC Kobe Leonessa 1 - 2 Okayama Yunogo Belle
Last season INAC Kobe Leonessa lost their first game in three seasons when they hosted Okayama Yunogo Belle in Aizu Wakamatsu. Today they again hosted Belle far from home, in stifling heat in Okinawa. Belle sat six points ahead of INAC at the start of play and knew that a win would almost certainly be enough to keep them ahead of their great rivals for the rest of the season. INAC have been on a good run, with the exception of their loss to Beleza, but with Polkinghorne coming in to the centre of defence, have been more solid at the back and Takase has been productive up front.
Both sides had chances to attack at pace in the opening minutes, though neither looked likely to make the breakthrough. INAC looked to attack largely down the left wing, with Miyama orchestrating the attack for Belle.
After fifteen minutes it was Miyama who gave Belle the lead, knocking in a free kick which everyone in the box missed, and it bounced straight into the far side of the net.
Confusion in the Belle box when an INAC free kick was swung in almost lead to an equaliser in the nineteenth minute, when Polkinghorne felt that she had scored though Miyama cleared the ball off the line. A few minutes later Tanaka Yoko had a good chance when she went to head home from a Nakajima cross but she was just beaten by Mizushima at the far post.
INAC were making most of the running, though in the high temperatures they were unlikely to be able to maintain a high pace through to the end, and Belle knew that the longer they held the lead the more tired the opposition would become. For their part, Belle attempted to play their normal short passing game without exerting themselves chasing long balls.
Tanaka Yoko was INAC's most potent threat, and certainly the player exerting herself the most, and she almost got on the end of a Miyake cross in the 33rd minute, but couldn't control her volley and the shot flew well over. From the same position on the right Miyake crossed again seven minutes later and this time Takase was in position to score, but she was judged to be marginally offside. Belle were living dangerously at the back and this was another warning of the threat that existed on both wings. At the other end Matsuoka had a good opportunity to shoot from an Arimachi pull back, but she scuffed her shot and it was well blocked by Polkinghorne.
Neither side made any changes at half-time and the pace was noticeably slower in the opening minutes. Kado received a yellow card for an untidy foul on Masuya, and from the resulting free kick Polkinghorne headed into the grateful arms of Fukumoto. INAC finally found the equaliser their effort had deserved in the 54th minute when Tanaka Yoko found space on the left, beat Mizushima and crossed perfectly for Takase to finish left-footed past Fukumoto. This goal prompted a response from Belle, who showed more ambition in going forward. Masuya had the chance to give INAC Kobe the lead when she burst past Kado and Takahashi but she somewhat selfishly went for goal herself rather than passing across goal where teammates were waiting.
A last-ditch Minamiyama block on a Miyama cross led to a corner, with another coming immediately after. Miyama as always took both and on the second Nakano headed wide, as Belle had their first spell of offensive possession for some time.
Nakada and Kyokawa came on for INAC Kobe in the 63rd minute, replacing Tanaka and Masuya who had run themselves into the ground. Their fresh legs allowed INAC to continue their barrage down both wings but the tiring Belle defence held firm. Belle's defender Kitaura Miho was clearly exhausted, and was replaced by Hosokawa in the 70th minute. Seconds later Belle retook the lead. From a corner kick Matsuoka headed Belle back into the lead from another well-taken corner by Miyama, though the INAC defence allowed her to get free in the box.
INAC went on the offensive again, scarcely believing that they were again behind. Another superb cross from the right from Miyake was met powerfully by Takase, but she blasted the ball against the crossbar and the chance was gone. Sawa had a free header at goal but she too was denied as Belle went into full defensive mode.
As the game entered the final ten minutes, it was clear that all of the starting players were exhausted to the point where they began making fundamental errors, especially with misplaced passes, and that it was a question of just how much each team could maintain their stamina and concentration. Another dangerous ball from a Miyama free kick was cleared away by Polkinghorne for a corner as Belle kept the ball well away from their goal.
Veteran Nakada Maiko came on for the last few minutes for Belle, replacing Asano Miki. INAC Kobe continued to rain shots in on Fukumoto's goal, but the experienced keeper was equal to every one.
In the end INAC Kobe ran out of time and out of chances, and will now have to hope to do as well as possible in the final few games to ensure a good position in the Exciting Series. Winning the Regular Series guarantees the winners entry to the International Women's Club Championship, and Belle will have their eyes firmly set on competing in their first championship.
INAC Kobe Leonessa:
Kaihori Ayumi, Miyake Shiori, Isokane Midori, Clare Polkinghorne, Watanabe Ayaka, Minamiyama Chiaki, Sawa Homare, Masuya Rika, Nakajima Emi, Takase Megumi (capt), Tanaka Yoko
Subs: Nakada Ayu (Tanaka Yoko, 63 mins), Kyokawa Mai (Masuya Rika, 63 mins)
Unused subs: Takenaka Rei, Kai Junko, Noguchi Ayaka
Scorers: Takase Megumi (54 mins)
Okayama Yunogo Belle:
Fukumoto Miho (capt), Kado Yuka, Kitaura Miho, Mizushima Kumi, Takahashi Sachie, Kuzuma Riyo, Nakano Manami, Miyama Aya, Asano Miki, Arimachi Saori, Matsuoka Miki
Subs: Hosokawa Motoyo (Kitaura Miho, 69 mins), Nakada Maiko (Asano Miki, 87 mins)
Unused subs: Hayashizaki Mei, Taniguchi Kikumi, Kawano Saki, Fushiki Kaho, Tanaka Mayu
Scorers: Miyama Aya (15 mins), Matsuoka Miki (69 mins)
Booked: Kado Yuka