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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yokohama F Marinos Overcome Al-Ain in ACL Final 1st Leg

Appearing in the Asian Champions League final for the first time, Yokohama F Marinos pulled ahead on Kota Watanabe's 84th-minute goal at Nissan Stadium.

Yokohama F Marinos trailed 1-0 against United Arab Emirates foe Al-Ain for the majority of the first leg of the Asian Champions League final on Saturday, May 11.

But the tide turned in the second half. Asahi Uenaka scored a match-tying goal on a 72nd-minute header at Nissan Stadium. Brazilian forward Yan Matheus set him up for a good scoring chance with a quality cross.

Twelve minutes later, Marinos teammate Kota Watanabe, a midfielder, booted the ball into the net past Al-Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. Yokohama's goal was initially called off for offside. But further review on video overruled that decision, and Marinos won 2-1.

Watanabe produced the winning goal by deflecting teammate Ryo Miyaichi's shot from close range.

Yokohama F Marinos
The Asian Champions League trophy is put on display before the match on May 11. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

The second leg of the ACL final is set for May 25 at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates.

Marinos manager Harry Kewell cautioned his players to celebrate the win for a short spell before turning their attention to the upcoming match in the UAE.

"We have to understand that there is another 90 minutes to play and it's going to be very difficult," Kewell was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "They can enjoy the moment, but there's still a long way to go in this tie."

Yokohama F Marinos
Yokohama F Marinos' Kota Watanabe (center) reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Yokohama F Marinos Had the Advantage on Offense

Marinos outshot Al-Ain 18-11 in the first leg and controlled possession for 60% of the match.

Al-Ain grabbed the early lead in the 12th minute, with Mohammed Al Baloushi producing the 1-0 advantage on a counterattack. And Al Baloushi was in the right place at the right time to propel the ball past Marinos 'keeper William Popp

After that, Popp stayed sharp and didn't allow another goal.

More than 70 match minutes later, Miyaichi's well-timed play led to Watanabe's finishing touch.

Looking back on the match, Kewell, who became Marinos manager in December 2023, said his team had an effective overall game.

"I feel we played well tonight. We created a lot of chances in our dangerous areas where we look to hurt teams," Kewell said, according to Kyodo News. 

Yokohama F Marinos
Yokohama F Marinos manager Harry Kewell celebrates after his team's win in the first leg. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

The Australian-born manager added, "We got caught on the counter, which we knew [was] their threat but we kept our composure."

Al-Ain won the Asian Champions League title in 2003, and returned with a shot at the title in 2005 and 2016, finishing as runner-up both times.

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Kawasaki Frontale striker Bafetimbi Gomis scores the first of his three first-half goals against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo on May 11 at Todoroki Stadium. (©SANKEI)

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Gomis Leads Frontale Past Consadole

French-born striker Bafetimbi Gomis scored his first J.League goals in a Kawasaki Frontale uniform on Saturday, May 11, finishing with a first-half hat trick in a 3-0 home triumph over Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.

Gomis, 38, joined Frontale in 2023 and didn't score in eight J.League matches in his first season with the team.

In his fifth league match of the 2024 campaign, Gomis' first two shots sailed into the net in the 30th and 43rd minutes. And he completed the hat trick in first-half injury time.

Before moving to Kawasaki, the majority of Gomis' long career included stints with France's Saint-Etienne (2004-09) and Lyon (2009-14), Welsh club Swansea City (2014-17), Turkish side Galatasaray (2017-18 and 2022-23) and Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal (2018-22).

Oniki Shares Insights on Gomis

Frontale manager Toru Oniki was impressed with Gomis' performance on Saturday and his focus on making an impact on offense.

"He played the way you saw him play, and he showed his characteristics," Oniki told reporters in a post-match interview, according to Soccer Digest's website. "Also, his quality when the ball is in play is different from that of other players, and because of that sense of security, various players are able to move without hesitation. I feel that such synergy is a major factor [for him and the team]."

Without a goal in his first four J.League appearances of the season, Gomis persevered and maintained a positive mindset, according to Oniki.

"I also believe that he has had a difficult season without scoring many goals and that he has been in a difficult state of mind," Oniki was quoted as saying by Soccer Digest. "But he has been able to score goals in this way because he always kept working with the feeling that he had to do something to get ahead. In that sense, I feel that this is the starting point for him as well. All three goals were very good, just like him."

Kawasaki Frontale's Bafetimbi Gomis (second from left) celebrates with teammates after scoring his first J.League goal of the season. (KYODO)

A Special Day for Gomis

Gomis, who notched 81 goals in his 106 Al-Hilal matches, expressed pride in getting back on the scoresheet. His post-match comments were infused with humility.

"I came here to score goals, but I was always aware of what I had to learn," Gomis said, according to Soccer Digest.

He added, "I can say this with all my heart. The Japanese people are polite and treat others with respect. I have a lot to learn from them as human beings. And they have patiently continued to support me. I really want to thank them. Japan is a great place to learn."

Undisputed super bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue punches challenger Luis Nery in the fifth round of their title fight on May 6 at Tokyo Dome. (KYODO)

Boxing 

Inoue Returns to No 1 on The Ring Magazine's Pound-for-Pound Rankings

With his 27th victory in 27 pro fights on Monday night, May 6 Naoya Inoue regained his No 1 spot on The Ring magazine's pound-for-pound rankings on Thursday, May 9.

Undisputed super bantamweight champion Inoue earned a sixth-round technical knockout of Mexico's Luis Nery at Tokyo Dome, winning his 22nd consecutive world title bout.

Nery became the first boxer to knock Inoue down in a fight, doing so in the first round on Monday with a sharp left hook. Inoue got up and dominated the rest of the fight to retain his four world title belts.

In June 2022, Inoue reached No 1 on the pound-for-pound list for the first time, becoming the first Japanese fighter to ascend to the top of the prestigious magazine's rankings.

He was No 2 heading into May 2024.

The Ring's Tom Gray, one of the panelists for the pound-for-pound rankings, was effusive in his praise of "Monster" Inoue. Gray called the victory over Nery one of Inoue's "top-three best performances."

"To get up and make immediate adjustments the way he did was insane," Gray said, according to The Ring. "In this crackpot world of social media, you'll have fans saying Inoue isn't that good because he got dropped. Response: Cassius Clay was dropped by a 182-pound Henry Cooper eight months before beating the shit out of Sonny Liston. Knockdowns come with the territory. It's how you respond that counts. Inoue couldn't have responded any better than he did."

Inoue Reflects on His Latest Victory

Looking back on the fight at Tokyo Dome, Inoue said his victory over Nery was significant.

"I will make the Tokyo Dome fight a stepping stone and accelerate my career," Inoue was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. 

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Near the finish line, jockey Tyler Gaffalione (left) and Forever Young's jockey Ryusei Sakai crowd after the two horses bump as Mystik Dan with jockey Brian J Hernandez (right) wins the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 4. (Matt Stone/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Horse Racing

Kentucky Derby Runner-Up Jockey Fined for Touching Forever Young

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who rode Sierra Leone to a second-place finish in the 150th Kentucky Derby on May 4 in Louisville, Kentucky, was fined $2,500 USD (¥389,000 JPY) for making physical contact with Forever Young in the closing stretch of the race.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission issued a written ruling on the matter on Friday, May 10.

Japanese thoroughbred Forever Young, guided by Ryusei Sakai, came in third, a nose behind Sierra Leone, who placed a nose behind the winner, Mystik Dan. It was the first three-way photo finish in the Kentucky Derby since 1947. That race featured Jet Pilot securing the narrow victory over Phalanx and Faultless.

"After a hearing before the board of stewards, Tyler Gaffalione is hereby fined $2,500 for touching a rival with his left hand nearing the finish line while aboard Sierra Leone in the 12th race at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2024," read the stewards' written ruling, Thoroughbred Daily News reported.

Although Gaffalione was fined for his actions in the race and both horses (Sierra Leone and Forever Young) bumped into one another several times, a meticulous review of the race didn't alter the order of the finishers, according to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in another statement issued prior to the one cited above.

"After conducting their standard review of the race, determining no further review or investigation was necessary to conclude there were no incidents that altered the finish of the race, and seeing there were no objections filed, the stewards posted the Kentucky Derby official," read a part of the statement.

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Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches to a Miami Marlins batter on May 7 at Dodger Stadium. (KYODO)

Baseball

Dodgers' Yamamoto Wins Third Straight Start

Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto continues to impress in his first MLB season.

The former Orix Buffaloes ace won his third consecutive start on Tuesday, May 7, pitching a season-high eight innings and allowing two runs on five hits in the Dodgers' 8-2 win over the visiting Miami Marlins. He struck out five and didn't walk a batter.

Yamamoto (4-1) has made eight starts in the first season of his 12-year deal with the Dodgers. He has a 2.79 ERA in 42 innings with 47 strikeouts and 34 hits allowed. The 25-year-old has walked eight batters.

After facing the Marlins, Yamamoto analyzed his performance, which included four three-up-and-three-down innings.

"The best thing was I got ahead in the count," Yamamoto said, according to Kyodo News. "I gave up a home run to the leadoff batter, but I believe I was calm thereafter and threw with good mechanics."

Ohtani
Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani (right) sits next to his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during a press conference in Seoul in March 2024. (© Sankei by Minami Nagao)

Ohtani-Mizuhara TV Series in the Works

Lionsgate Television is planning a TV series on the gambling scandal that rocked Major League Baseball in March 2024 and led to interpreter Ippei Mizuhara's dismissal from his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Accused of stealing millions of dollars from Shohei Ohtani, his longtime friend for whom he served as an interpreter from 2018 to March, Mizuhara is set to plead guilty to bank fraud and to submitting a false tax return in 2022 at a federal court in Los Angeles.

Major media outlets reported details of the planned TV series on Thursday, May 9. Scott Delman, a Tony Award-winning producer (The Book of Mormon and A Raisin in the Sun are among his prominent plays), and veteran sports journalist Albert Chen will co-produce the project.

"This is Major League Baseball's biggest sports gambling scandal since Pete Rose [in 1989] — and at its center is its biggest star, one that MLB has hitched its wagon on," Chen said in a statement, according to a Deadline.com report. "We'll get to the heart of the story — a story of trust, betrayal and the trappings of wealth and fame."

Alvark Tokyo big man Ryan Rossiter (left) and Ryukyu Golden Kings center Alex Kirk compete in the second quarter in Game 2 of a B.League first-round playoff series on May 11 at Ariake Coliseum. (B.LEAGUE)

Basketball 

Alvark and Brex Earn Bounce-Back Victories to Force Game 3s in B.League Playoffs

The B.League playoffs began with two games on Friday, May 10, as the Ryukyu Golden Kings earned an epic 81-80 double-overtime victory over the Alvark Tokyo at Ariake Coliseum. On the same night, the Chiba Jets outplayed the Utsunomiya Brex, winning 82-70.

In the two best-of-three series, Tokyo and Utsunomiya both needed to win on Saturday to remain in the playoffs for at least one more game.

And that's exactly what happened in both series.

On Saturday night, the Alvark edged the Golden Kings 73-69 in Game 2, with naturalized Japanese big man Ryan Rossiter, who was born in New York, leading the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Ryukyu chipped away at the lead after trailing 19-9 at the end of the first quarter and 46-35 at halftime but came up short.

Utsunomiya Brex guard DJ Newbill shoots a 3-pointer in the second quarter against the visiting Chiba Jets in Game 2 of a B.League first-round playoff series on May 11. (B.LEAGUE)

In Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, Gavin Edwards paced the Brex with 21 points and 13 rebounds, Grant Jerrett poured in 18 points and DJ Newbill had 15 points, eight assists and three steals in the hosts' 67-58 Game 2 win over the Jets. Chiba was held to 5-for-25 shooting from 3-point range.

On Monday, May 13, Tokyo and Ryukyu will play Game 3. Tipoff is 7:05 PM. Also, on the same night the Utsunomiya-Chiba series-deciding game is set for a 7:35 start.

Update on the Other Playoff Quarterfinal Series

The visiting Hiroshima Dragonflies took a 1-0 series lead over the San-en NeoPhoenix with a 77-70 win on Saturday. 

In the other quarterfinal series opener on the same day, the host Nagoya Diamond Dolphins defeated the SeaHorses Mikawa 78-68.

Game 2s are scheduled for both series on Sunday and, if necessary, Game 3s are set for Monday.

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Morgan Pearson of the United States wins the men's elite division title at the 2024 World Triathlon Championship Series meet in Yokohama on May 11. (KYODO)

Triathlon

Pearson and Periault Collect Elite Division Titles in World Triathlon Championship Series Meet in Yokohama

American Morgan Pearson triumphed in the men's elite division at the World Triathlon Championship Series meet in Yokohama on Saturday, May 11.

Pearson, 30, finished the 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-km bike ride and 10-km run in 1 hour, 42 minutes, 5 seconds. He reached the finish line near Yamashita Park in the triathlon (for the running portion) ahead of Australia's Matthew Hauser (1:42:12) and Luke Willian (1:42.20).

Australian-born Japanese triathlete Kenji Nener, who was 14th at the Tokyo Olympics, was the host nation's highest finisher on Saturday, placing seventh.

Since the World Triathlon Championship Series began in 2009, Pearson became the first American to claim an elite-division event win.

He secured the win with a 29:11 effort in the running portion of the triathlon.

"I knew I could win one of these, but these guys are beasts and training just as hard as me," Pearson said, according to the World Triathlon Championship Series website. "Everyone wants to win. You can be in the shape of your life and still have things go wrong or someone be fitter."

He added, "You just have to show up and give it your best and today my best was good enough."

France's Leonie Periault triumphed in the women's elite race in 1:52.28. Runner-up Taylor Knibb of the United States finished in 1:53.04.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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