Japanese in Europe: Robert Cullen finds his shooting boots

Cesare Polenghi and Akira Araiwa bring you a wrap of all the major Japanese contributions on the European domestic scene over the past weekend...
As most of the Europe-based Japanese players had travelled to Osaka to play for their national team last Tuesday, there wasn't much action for them with their clubs this past weekend.

Many were rested after the trans-continental flight and due to the emotional experience of the charity match among those who did play, few were able to shine.

Schalke's Atsuto Uchida started against St. Pauli in the Bundesliga's Friday game and produced a good performance. The right-back often drove forward with pacey runs and provided a few crosses throughout the game.

But the first match under new boss Ralf Rangnick was overshadowed by crowd trouble when a beer cup hit the assistant referee and the officials decided to call off the game with two minutes left on the clock, and Schalke up 2-0. The DFB is examining the incident and a decision is expected in the coming days.

Notwithstanding the long flight back from Japan, Shinji Okazaki played the whole game for Stuttgart against Werder Bremen on Saturday. The Swabians claimed a valuable away point with a 1-1 draw. Okazaki - fielded on the left - was involved in Stuttgart's goal but had otherwise a rather difficult game.

Although the 24-year-old got forward a lot he lost the ball several times, earned a yellow card for a clumsy tackle and is still yet to carry over his scoring instincts from the national side to his club. The draw means Stuttgart are on a five-match unbeaten run but with just 30 points they still find themselves close to the drop zone.

Out of form Freiburg similarly held on for a 1-1 draw away to the Bundesliga's surprise package, Mainz. Kisho Yano saw more playing time than usual, as he was introduced in the 64th minute and missed a decent chance shortly thereafter. A first point after a four defeats in a row puts Freiburg securely in 8th position.

Tomoaki Makino
was not included in the squad in Koeln’s home game against Nuernberg on Sunday. The hosts won 1-0 in injury-time and the result puts them in a comfortable mid-table position.

Samurai Blue captain Makoto Hasebe watched from the bench in the other Sunday game, when Wolfsburg played Eintracht Frankfurt. Hasebe saw a tense match in which his team dominated but had to be content with 1-1 draw. Wolfsburg are still stuck in the relegation zone.
  Robert Cullen's second
  goal of the season
  could be a sign that
  the Northern Irish-
  Japanese forward is
  again finding his
  shooting boots. He
  turned in a good
  performance for Dutch
  side VVV in a 3-2 loss
  at Groningen.

In Belgium, after Lierse escaped relegation on the last day of the regular Jupiler Pro League season, Eiji Kawashima and his club entered the group stages of the playoffs. Placed in Group A, Lierse visited Cercle Brugge and were able to claim a point in a scoreless draw on Saturday. The Japan goalkeeper had a busy game and managed to keep another clean sheet but was lucky as Brugge struck the woodwork three times.

None of the four Dutch-based players were invited to the midweek game in Japan and they all played the full 90 minutes, though with mixed fortunes.

Robert Cullen
netted his second goal of the season and though it didn't prevent VVV from yet another defeat (3-2 at Groningen), it showed the Northern Irish-Japanese forward might be on his way to finding his killer instinct. Besides the goal, his second this season, it was a very intense performance.

Maya Yoshida
got caught up in VVV's terrible first half but did better in the second, while Michihiro Yasuda had an average game in Vitesse's 2-1 victory over NEC.

If we were to assign a prize for the worst performance, this week it would go to Ryo Miyaichi. The young winger had a very disappointing game and seemed a different player to the one who set the Eredivisie alight weeks ago.

Yuki Abe
, another returnee, was dropped to the bench this week with a couple of other influential players to shake things up on the pitch. Abe came on as a substitute around the 70th minute mark to shore things up defensively as Leicester were at that stage leading 3-2. However, Middlesbrough tied the game and yet again valuable points were lost.

Abe's performance wasn't bad but fans are starting to wonder about his future with the club as the playoffs and the dreams of promotion deterioriate further.

There was very little action in France and Russia for Daisuke Matsui and Keisuke Honda respectively. Both played only for the few last minutes and did not influence the results. While Grenoble snatched a crucial victory away at Metz, CSKA Moscow could only manage a disappointing 1-1 against rookies Krasnodar.

In the Greek Super League Daisuke Sakata started for Aris but was hit hard in the first half and had to leave the pitch after 37 minutes. His team went on to secure a precious 2-1 away win.

In Italy, Yuto Nagatomo and Takayuki Morimoto watched from the bench as their clubs played in exciting derbies. The outcomes were very different, with Inter going down 3-0 to Milan and Catania thrashing regional rivals Palermo 4-0.

Akihiro Ienaga, who also played in Japan's charity game, was not even on Mallorca's bench. His team was defeated 2-1 by Deportivo La Coruna.

With contributions from Wout Stouters (Holland), Clément Delestrade (France and Spain), Paul Kelly (England), Nikos Filippas (Greece) and Artem Liubeznyi (Russia)

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