|November 3rd 2009, 2PM Kickoff at National Stadium “Kokuritsu” (Shinjuku, Tokyo)|
J1 Competition Record: FCT 5 wins, 5 draws, Kawasaki Frontale 6 wins
The long, winding road of intra-league supremacy that began in March will finally come to an end at Tokyo National Stadium in about 16 hours when FC Tokyo takes on Kawasaki Frontale in the 2009 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Final. The two teams, whose matches are dubbed the Tamagawa Classico in honor of the river that borders Tokyo and Kanagawa, will face each other outside of league competition for the first time.
While Kawasaki will attempt to claim its first Cup in 3 attempts (having lost to Kashima in 2000 and Osaka in 2007), Tokyo will try to win its first piece of silverware since the legendary 2004 Nabisco Cup Final, when a 10-man team held off the then-mighty Urawa Reds to win 4:2 in penalty kicks.
While Kawasaki is largely coming into the game at full-strength and leading J1, Tokyo has nearly stumbled into this final having sustained an unfortunate run of bad luck, injuries, and surprise transfers. Among the players Tokyo will be without are striker Cabore (sold to a Qatar club just after Tokyo secured its finals birth), defender Teriyuki Moniwa (broken right orbital bone sustained in the Nagoya match), and midfielder Naohiro Ishikawa (knee ligament/meniscus sustained vs. Kashiwa). NT regular Yuto Nagatomo (dislocated shoulder before the Shimizu match) will likely be a mid-match substitute.
Yet, as we dwell on those whose names may not grace the scoreboard tomorrow, we forget the names and accomplishments of those who will: Shuichi Gonda, the rookie goalkeeper who fell into the role of starter when Hitoshi Shiota fell to post-surgical complications, and despite some early difficulties has had one of the most successful rookie goalkeeper campaigns in recent memory. Takuji Yonemoto, the lithe midfielder who was, tonight, honored with J.League’s “New Hero Award” for his contributions to Tokyo’s Cup run. Bruno Quadros, the Brazillian defender who bounced back from last season’s injuries to bring control to a defense that was lost and confused early in the season. Sota Hirayama, whom after several seasons of disappointing play has finally begun to awaken into the player that many expected him to be. Not to mention Hanyu, Suzuki, Tokunaga, Konno, Kajiyama, and all the others who have taken a part in Tokyo’s rollercoaster of a season.
In previous matches this season, Tokyo gave up a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2 when Bruno got sent off in the second half at Ajinomoto, while in Todoroki Kawasaki came back from an 0-1 deficit to win 2-1 with an extra time goal. Tokyo are considered by most if not all to be the underdogs tomorrow; there is no question about it. But none of this matters, because that’s why they play the game.
This match will either be decided on offense or on defense; will Suzuki, Akamine, or Hirayama be able to burst open a Kawasaki defense ranked 5th in fewest goals allowed this season (35 goals, tied with FC Tokyo)? Can Yonemoto and Bruno contain Juninho and Chong Tese? Will Kajiyama stop doing stupid, stupid things? Will Tokyo ever learn how to defend against set pieces? Most believe it to be a close game, and I’m generally apt to agree with them. A 1-0 or 2-1 result would not be unexpected. Lord knows if we go into extra time I’ll probably have a heart attack in the stands.
As Jofuku has said in interviews leading up to this match, “We’ve only gotten as far as we have by playing the kind of soccer we want to play.” And as always, if the team can do that, they along with what are likely to be many more supporters than witnessed their 2004 victory will taste victory. If by chance they cannot there will be no shame, for this team has met if not exceeded many of our expectations despite runs of bad luck throughout the season.
Really, there’s no description of what this match will be like that’s more fitting than the ad FujiTV placed on the back of today’s El Golazo: “What sort of soccer match sells out in 20 minutes?”
What sort of match, indeed?
As always you can follow @aishiterutokyo on Twitter for live reports. I encourage anyone else who’s tweeting at the game to tag your tweets with #wearetokyo so that people can find them easier.
Also, for those of you watching on TV, these are the banners we’ll be flying at the game:
I will provide a prize to the first person who can provide a screencap from a live broadcast with at least one of these banners in the shot. Email the cap to me at dokool[at]aishiteru-tokyo[dot]com.
And now to finish my packing and get some sleep before first train in the morning.