|J.League Division 1 Week 2
1 – 1
2 – 0
3 – 1
|March 14th 2009, 2PM Kickoff at Saitama Stadium 2002 (Saitama, Saitama) Attendance 50,802
|GK 23 Ryota Tsuzuki
DF 6 Nobuhisa Yamada
DF 2 Keisuke Tsuboi
DF 4 Marcus Tulio Tanaka
DF 3 Hajime Hosogai
MF 13 Keita Suzuki
MF 22 Yuki Abe
MF 24 Genki Haraguchi
MF 10 Robson Ponte
FW 11 Tatsuya Tanaka
FW 17 Edmilson
|GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 5 Yuto Nagatomo
DF 15 Daishi Hiramatsu
DF 2 Teruyuki Moniwa
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
MF 6 Yasuyuki Konno
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 22 Naotake Hanyu
MF 40 Tatsuya Suzuki
FW 9 Cabore
FW 32 Yusuke Kondo
|57′ 19 Naohiro Takahara (for Genki Haraguchi)
78′ 34 Naoki Yamada (for Tatsuya Tanaka)
86′ 20 Satoshi Horinouchi (for Edmilson)
||58′ 19 Yohei Otake (for Tatsuya Suzuk)
60′ 24 Shingo Akamine (for Yusuke Kondo)
66′ 18 Naohiro Ishikawa (for Naotake Hanyu)
|4′ Yuki Abe
83′ Robson Ponte
||13′ Own Goal (initially credited to Cabore)
|63′ Nobuhisa Yamada
On an overcast, rainy day, roughly 2,000+ visiting supporters travelled to see FC Tokyo take on Urawa Reds and their home army of almost 60,000 at a sold-out Saitama Stadium 2002. Shuichi Gonda would once again settle b etween the posts for Tokyo, and Jofuku elected to make a couple changes in order to tweak the lineup from last week’s Niigata debacle: Tatsuya Suzuki got a start at midfielder, and Cabore teamed up with Yusuke Kondo on the front line.
The first goal of the match, ominously, was a quick strike from Urawa midfielder Yuki Abe on – you guessed it – a corner kick. FC Tokyo would fight back, however, and 7 minutes later Tokunaga set up a perfect pass to Cabore who drove the ball in, though it would deflect off a Reds defender and be declared an Own Goal. Much like Nagatomo’s game-winner last year against Verdy, there was no doubt as to whose effort was responsible for the point.
The teams battled back and forth for the rest of the half, with Tokyo at times threatening and many times scrambling to deflect Urawa’s attack. Near the end of the first half, a chilling moment silenced the stadium as FCT defender Teruyuki Moniwa and Urawa defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka collided as they both challenged for a header, each player receiving a nasty cut for their troubles. 4 minutes of stoppage time were added as a result of this incident, and while Urawa briefly challenged Tokyo held strong to end the half at 1-1.
In the second half, Urawa managed to strike quickly when Yusuke Kondo went down in contact and FCT players hesitated, expecting Urawa to kick the ball to the sideline. Instead the referee waved the play on, and the defenders got caught off-guard as Ponte whipped an unstoppable cross to Edmilson to give Urawa the advantage.
Having learned from the defensive-minded substitutions he made last week, Jofuku attempted to stemp the tide by reinforcing on offense, sending in Otake, Akamine, and Ishikawa onto the field to replace Suzuki, Kondo, and Hanyu. Nao would have one of the best chances for Tokyo, a long bullet from the edge of the box that clanged against the top post.
As the game reached its end and with the FCT defense in disarray, Ponte used a defender as a screen to slip an insurance goal past Gonda for the 3-1 final.
After two goals to begin the game, the first half was a constant struggle between stemming back the Red Tide and trying to establish an offensive rhythm. Somehow or another Tokyo always managed to get the ball away from the attackers at the last second, but rarely seemed to think ahead in terms of establishing its own beachhead and advancing forward. Again and again, Tokyo’s attack revered to a series of short passes that would have been clever if they hadn’t picked off half the time. Halfhearted clears resulted in Urawa regaining position and pressing the attack again, halfhearted attacks never seemed to fully form, and the team only had a depressing 7 shots on goal the entire game according to the official statistics (even when compared to Urawa’s 9, I assure you that I’d take 9 Urawa chances against 20 of the sort that Tokyo had all day).
With Kajiyama and Konno playing at defensive midfielder, the back line of Tokunaga, Nagatomo, Moniwa, and Hiramatsu theoretically had enough strength to keep a solid line of defense, but they constantly allowed Urawa players to get into close range. I saw Sahara once or twice on the sideline, seemingly chomping at the bit to get into the game. One can only wonder what kind of effect he could have made.
On offense the team is plainly neutered for reasons I can’t even begin to consider; I spent much of the game having flashbacks to 2007 and our dreadful strategy of passing down the sideline, crossing it into the goal area, and seeing what happens. Ishikawa was by far the biggest substitute contributor with his attacks down the right side, and the game might have taken a totally different form had his shot not bounced off the crossbar. Akamine was useless as many of the team’s crosses were picked off by Urawa defenders, and Otake physically struggled against a physically larger Urawa team.
The most disconcerting part of the game was that as the minutes ticked down in the second half, the players visibly seemed to lose their fighting spirit, which is part of what allowed the 3rd goal. They were outclassed and outplayed by an Urawa side that, while strong, certainly had weaknesses of its own. And yet on this cold March afternoon, the Gasmen seemed unable – or worse, unwilling – to fight on.
Tokyo’s next game is on March 21st against Montedio Yamagata, a team that has been the surprise of J.League between its dismantling of Jubilo Iwata in Week 1 and a surprising draw against league frontrunners Nagoya Grampus that was played on a snowy field. Teams that had taken newcomers Montedio for granted are beginning to wonder if they had judged too soon, while those who predicted Tokyo’s success are left wondering just what the hell is going on. A win next week will be crucial toward establishing some sort of rhythm for the team; any kinks can be worked out in the interval as FCT has Nabisco Cup matches on the 25th and 29th of the month before returning to J1 play against Jubilo Iwata on the 4th. No matter what happens, this is a team in dire need of a quick recovery before dreams of an ACL bid are quickly lost.
As my ticket was for the visitor’s section, I had the opportunity to see Tokyo supporters crammed into one small area of the concourse, walled off with fencing and blocked by guards. While Urawa’s fanbase is certainly large and that should be respected, conditions for the visiting fans were lackluster to say the least; a couple tables selling food (with long lines to boot) and one bathroom per gender. That the rain forced many to wait in the concourse before the game started didn’t help matters either. At a world-class facility like Saitama Stadium, the Reds organization should be ashamed that this is the best level of service they deem fit to provide to their guests.