Category Archives: F.C. Tokyo News

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Help Japan image taken from here.

As anyone reading this blog knows, there are more important things than soccer going on right now in Japan. Please help out if you can and donate to one of the charities listed below.

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J.League has postponed all matches through the end of March, and between power rationing and severe damage sustained at some stadiums it may take longer than that before pro soccer restarts again. Unfortunately there’s just not much more to write at the moment.

 

-Dan

Aishiteru Tokyo and On the Gas present Gas Talk Episode 2!

Met up with Ben yesterday evening at our usual izakaya to record the second episode of Gas Talk! Despite Graham's absence and unusually loud music over the house PA system, we managed to bring you another (hopefully) enjoyable episode of commentary. Here's a rundown of what you'll hear:

Part 1: a review of the team's preseason activities including reactions from Sunday's PSM at Thespa Kusatsu. Also an injury report roundup.

Part 2: this one's mostly me because Ben was admittedly unfamiliar with it, but I talk about Yuto Nagatomo's full transfer for 160 million yen and what it means for FC Tokyo and Japanese soccer as a whole. We also talk a bit about Jade North, the Australian NT player who's been participating in team practice since last week.

Part 3: a preview of this Saturday's match against Sagan Tosu. Highly suggested that you check our respective blogs on Thursday/Friday for the latest updates and a more accurate picture of what the starting eleven will be.

Apparently there are a couple technical issues w/ the audio but hopefully they won't get in the way of your listening experience. I've also been told that you can now subscribe to Gas Talk through the iTunes store, even though the podcast details are a little wonky (apparently Ben wants all the credit ūüėČ And we aren't doing the podcast in Japanese, at least not yet!).

Stay tuned for our next episode after the Tosu game!

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Aishiteru Tokyo & On The Gas present Gas Talk!

There's some stuff to report; Tokyo is currently in training camp in Kyushu, playing a bunch of training matches that don't really matter because they're training matches.

More importantly, I've started on yet another project! Last Thursday I joined forces with Ben and Graham from On The Gas to record the first episode of Gas Talk, the world's first (and only as far as we know) FC Tokyo-centric podcast.

In this episode, we introduce ourselves, talk a bit about Tokyo's history and their troubles in 2010, and talk quite a bit about offseason moves and tactical predictions for 2011. It was very fun to make, and I hope you guys have fun listening to it as well!

And if you'd like to save it to your hard-drive, you can use this handy direct link. We hope to be listed on iTunes and all that good stuff in the near future, but until then you can manually subscribe to the podcast using this RSS link if that's your sorta thing.

We're all still very new to this (well, at least to the idea of an FCT-centric podcast; Ben is an old hand at the whole podcasting thing!) so if you do listen, please let us know what you like and didn't!

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FCT 2011 Match Schedule released, training camp relocated

First, what we've all been waiting for, the schedule!

2011/3/5 – vs Sagan Tosu (Ajinomoto Stadium)
2011/3/12 – at Fagiano Okaya,a (kanko Stadium)
2011/3/19 – at Gifu (Gifu Memorial Center Stadium)
2011/3/27 – vs Tochigi SC (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/03 – vs Giravantz Kitakyuushuu (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/09 – at Yokohama FC (Mitzusawa)
2011/4/17 – vs Oita Trinita (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/24 – at JEF Chiba Ichihara United (Fukuda Denshi Arena)
2011/4/30 – vs Consadole Sapporo (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/4 – at Verdy (Ajinomoto – AWAY)
2011/5/8 – vs Kataller Toyama (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/14 – at Thespa Kusatsu (Shikishima)
2011/5/22 – vs Shonan Bellmare (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/28 – at Kyoto Sanga (Nishigoku)
2011/6/5 – vs Ehime FC (Komazawa Stadium)
2011/6/12 – at Roasso Kumamoto (KKWING)
2011/6/19 – vs Tokushima Vortis (Ajinomoto)
2011/6/25 – at Mito Hollyhock (K's Denshi)
2011/7/2 – vs Gainare Tottori (Ajinomoto)
2011/7/9 – at Oita Trinita (Oita Bank Dome)
2011/7/17 – vs FC Gifu (Ajinomoto)
2011/7/24 – vs Roasso Kumamoto (Kokuritsu)
2011/7/30 – at Giravantz Kitakyuushuu (Kitakyuushuu)
2011/8/13 – vs Thespa Kusatsu (Ajinomoto Stadium)
2011/8/21 – at Tochigi SC (Tochigi Green Stadium)
2011/8/28 – at Kataller Toyama (Toyama Prefectural Stadium)
2011/9/10 – vs Kyoto Sanga (Ajinomoto)
2011/9/17 – at Ehime FC (Ninjineer)
2011/9/25 – vs Yokohama FC (Kokuritsu)
2011/10/2 – at Tokushima Vortis (Pocari Sweat Stadium)
2011/10/16 – vs Fagiano Okayama (Ajinomoto)
2011/10/23 – at Sagan Tosu (Best Amenity Stadium)
2011/10/30 – vs Verdy (Ajinomoto Stadium) [note: depending on AFC Champion's League could be moved to 10/29]
2011/11/6 – at Shonan Bellmare (Hiratsuka)
2011/11/12 – vs Mito Hollyhock (Ajinomoto)
2011/11/19 – at Gainare Tottori (Bird Stadium)
2011/11/26 – vs JEF Chiba (Ajinomoto)

2011/12/3 – at Consadole Sapporo (Sapporo Dome)

Some thoughts…

-That's a lotta games. 19 will be on Sundays, 18 on Saturdays, and the first Tokyo Derbyw will be on a Wednesday (a national holiday – „ĀŅ„Ā©„āä„Āģśó•. How droll.)

-Fuck you, J.League, for putting almost *all* of the away trips I was looking forward to at the VERY END OF THE SEASON. Tottiri in late November? Sapporo to end the year? And Tosu is even on Sunday! Goddammitsomuch. But at least we get Mitsuzawa for Yokohama FC, and Tochigi will make a great summer trip.

-As long as Tokyo's away support stays up in the Kanto region, there should be a period of absolute dominance by Tokyo supporters between late March and late May. 10 matches in a row (including Kusatsu which is admittedly a bit of a hike even compared to Chiba or Shonan) that Tokyo supporters can reach easily by train.

-The J.League scheduling gods are known for stacking end-of-season matches that amplify title chases. Are these last two matches a sign from above that Chiba and Sapporo are fellow contenders for promotion?

-For Tokyo to secure promotion at the second Tokyo Derby, they would have to be at least 18 points clear of 4th place after the day's matches were complete. This is far from impossible; last season Kashiwa Reysol ended Round 32 18 points up on 4th-place Chiba, who had 6 games remaining compared to Kashiwa's 5.

In other news, the team held their opening press conference the other day and revealed a new slogan that is full of fail, so much so that I'm not going to bother discussing it. The team also announced yesterday that due to the volcanic happenings in Miyazaki prefecture, February's training camp is being relocated to Kumamoto.

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The One Year Hangover

Man, what did I drink last night… oh, hello, blog!

Hey Dan. It's been a long time!

Yeah, it has, hasn't it? But it's good to be back! I had the strangest dreams… four horsemen, angels pouring out stuff from bowls, trumpets, and somewhere I've never heard of called Tottori.

Oh. Really. *cough*

Well, apparently I needed the downtime, because I guess I've been asleep for about 4 months now. And it's January! Almost time for another J1 season.

Um, about that…

I see the schedule's been released… another home opener to start the year! And it's against… Sagan Tosu?

Listen, I hate to be the one to tell you, but–

Did they get promoted? I knew Kofu and Kashiwa had it locked up… well, good for them at any rate!

No, it's not…

And week two is away at…

Will you pay attention for one seco–

…Fagiano Okayama.

…yeah.

Seriously?

…I tried to tell you…

Seriously.

…honestly, you're better off having slept through it.

That bad?

Yep.

So dumping Jofuku for Okuma didn't really do much, did it?

Well, Okuma did okay, but it wasn't him on the pitch, was it.

I suppose not. So we never recovered, did we.

Oh, we came close.

How close?

Last week of the season.

Son of a bitch. So we still could have… how bad was it?

Pretty bad.

Well, fuck.

Yep, pretty much how we felt at the time.

So that's it, huh? A year in J2?

Hopefully.

No TV broadcasts, less media coverage, minuscule away support, away games in the countryside where the trains don't run, no Nabisco Cup, and all the big teams are in J1 fighting for the title?

Well, yeah, but look at the plus side.

What plus side?

I mean, what other reason is there to go to Toyama? Or Kitakyushu? Or Tokushima? You've always wanted to see Japan, here's your chance! All those stadiums with great local food, great views, and teams you've always heard about but never saw play!

Well, that's certainly a plus.

And while J1 gets a month off, J2 just keeps on going! Plenty of soccer to get you through the year, and every game matters!

Good point.

And best of all… we get a Tokyo Derby again!

Okay, I'm convinced that maybe this won't suck as much. But isn't it going to suck not having any of our star players? Konno, Yonemoto, Ishikawa and the rest have all been sold off to J1 teams, right?

Actually, they've all stayed on.

You're shitting me.

Nope, most of Tokyo's starters are still on the books.

But we're in J2 now! How do we have the money?

Well, Murabayashi resigned, but before then he promised that we'd be back in J1 in a year, so the personnel budget was untouched. Oguro, Ricardinho, Maeda, and that Korean dude who never played are all going back to their former teams. And we did get rid of a few players…

Like who?

Shingo Akamine will be staying with Vegalta Sendai, and they're also borrowing Matsushita for a year. Kim Yong-gun got picked up by Omiya, but we did make a decent amount of money from that. Shigematsu is going on loan to Fukuoka for a year…Ryo Hiraide will spend a year in Toyama… Abe is gonna defend the posts for Shonan… Other than Kim and maybe Shigematsu, nobody we'd really miss.

So, did we manage to sign anyone?

Oh yeah, lots of players. Three Brazilians! Roberto, Roberto, and Pedro Jr.

How did we get three? We only had one last year, and we were dark horse favorites for an ACL slot!

Better late then never.

By the way you repeated yourself, you said Roberto twice.

Oh, no, there's two of them. One's 25 and a forward, the other's 31 and a volante.

Well, that's promising. Did we pick up anyone else?

Oh yeah. Midfielder Kazumasa Uesato from Sapporo on a loan… Taiki Takamatsu from Oita too. He's a good striker, will probably back up Hirayama. As far as full pickups, Tatsuya Yazawa at midfield, Tomokazu Nagira from Fukuoka on defense, and Satoshi Tokizawa from Kusatsu for a 3rd goalkeeper.

All in all, sounds like a pretty solid set of acquisitions. A year too late, perhaps…

…well, if wishes were horses Urawa would be in the Saitama Prefectural League.

…but at least we're on the way back.

That we are.

Gonna be a long year.

Yep.

Let's get started.

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Tokyo’s Struggles and The “R” Word

It’s been about a month and a half since our last update, so here’s a brief rundown of what’s been happening in Tokyo.

-We haven’t been winning, that’s for sure. Draws against Kobe, losses against Cerezo, Hiroshima, and Urawa, and eliminated from the Nabisco Cup on away goals after a 1-1 aggregate (1-1 and 0-0) with Shimizu S-Pulse. Tokyo has one win out of 11 home matches (and 7 or 8 of those have been draws).

-We haven’t been scoring, either: just one goal in the last four J1 ties, and lately our players have been hitting the post with such regularity that the makers of the official J.League goals should offer sponsorship deals.

-We’re in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup, just barely, after squeaking by Komazawa University in a 2-0 yawner of a match.

-While the Club Support Member program soldiers on (I think they’re at around 12,000 memberships, although who knows how many seperate people that represents since one can buy multiple memberships at 1000y each), attendance is markedly down; just less than 30,000 attended Sunday’s Tokyo-Urawa match.

After all of this, Tokyo sits in 14th place with 21 points; goal differential is the only thing keeping us above the likes of Sendai, Kobe, Kyoto, and Shonan. To say things are grim is rather an understatement, but the word that most people (except perhaps my colleague on this site) seem to fear is “relegation.”

Ah, relegation. The difference between 30,000 fans packing Ajinomoto to see Tokyo take on Kashima, and 5,000 showing up to see the home squad face the likes of FC Gifu, Giravantz Kitakyushu (who we will, incidentally, get to face in our next EC match), and Katallier Toyama. Sponsor dollars and prestiege are at stake, and so it’s no wonder that supporters (and club management) must be pissing themselves right now.

Yet, we have been down this road before. At the same point in the 2006 and 2007 seasons we were around 13th place and fell as far as 15th. But we survived, and the club rebuilt around new players and a new manager and had two great seasons. Such is the cylical nature of soccer, one that all fans (save for perhaps Urawa’s) have learned to accept, if not embraced. As a club that has spent the last 11 years in J1 and has never felt the agony of relegation, we are perhaps immune to what bubble clubs like Kashiwa, Kyoto, and Sendai must feel… almost like Kashima, Shimizu, Yokohama FM, Nagoya, and Gamba Osaka: the five clubs that have remained in J1 since the league’s founding in 1993.

But now I’m just waxing eloquent and beefing up the word count, so let’s get down to business.

    Why FC Tokyo will spend 2011 in J1

1. We are not a bad team. Until Nagatomo’s departure, we had one of the best back lines in the league. Players like Mukuhara, Otake, and Shigematsu are valid candidates for the next generation of NT stars, and Gonda is a solid goalkeeper in only his second year.

2. Bad luck cannot last forever. The situation, while admittedly dire, is not AS dire as, for example, Oita’s plunge last year. The last two matches (v. Urawa on Sunday and Shimizu last Wednesday) are basically indicative of this. We had both teams on their heels, and would have won if not for fortunate shot-stopping and SEVERAL (2 v. Urawa and who knows how many vs. Shimizu) clangers. We are very much in control of our own destiny.

3. Our lineup is more or less intact. Injuries at various parts of the season have kept Tokyo from running at full capacity for just about the entire year, but overall our squad is still solid.

4. There are more than 2 teams in J1 who are worse than us. Barring a complete and miraculous turnaround, Kyoto and Shonan are just about doomed. Vissel has fired their coach, Sendai is shaky to say the least, and Omiya, though always willing to play the spoiler role, is still woefully underpowered.

Now, this is all not to say that I’m satisfied with the club and where we’re going; I’m not, and there will definitely need to be major changes undertaken in the offseason if we’re to become competitive again. But if watching the last two matches has shown me anything, it’s that Tokyo has quite a bit of fight left, and the players are not about to lay down and die. One or two wins, the sooner the better, will prove to be an impetus for a late-season restart, and we’ll probably end up 11th or 12th. But this is hardly the end of the world, and Tokyo will again be in the J1 standings in 2011.

Match Report J1R13 FC Tokyo 2-2 Kobe

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but want to catch up on this and then the Shonan game before Jubilo tomorrow night.
So then, FC Tokyo resumed play after the World Cup with, on paper, an easy-looking game against Vissel Kobe. The Gasmen had seriously under-performed in the 12 games before the World Cup and sat in 12th as the J League sprang back into action. Three points and a boost up the table were required to really kick-start the season again.
There were two significant changes to on-field personnel during the break, with our Japan international full back Yuto Nagatomo signing with Italian club Cesena on loan, and former Japan striker Masashi Oguro, the scorer of 50 J1 goals during spells with Sapporo, Gamba and The Spews joining from Yokohama FC.
Oguro went straight into the XI for his first game, starting up front with Ricardinho, with Kajiyama and Tokunaga in the centre of midfield flanked by Otake and Hanyu. Hokuto and Matsushita were the full backs, either side of Konno and Morishige. After Shuichi Gonda picked up an injury in training, Hitoshi Shiota made his first J1 start in goal since Nov. 2008.
Kobe sat three places below us on the table, and weren't really at the races in a first half totally dominated by the Gasmen. Oguro had looked lively early, and his peach of a through ball in the 10th minute sent Rica racing clear in acres of space. The Brazilian picked his spot as he cruised into the area, the Kobe keeper did well to get his hand to Rica's shot, but Casual, who had started the move by interecepting a Kobe pass in the Tokyo half, was on hand to sweep in the rebound and give Tokyo a deserved early lead. Eight minutes later it was two, and this one was all down to Rica, he took a pass from Matsushita on the left, danced past three defenders before unselfishly laying the ball off to Otake, who fired home from around the penalty spot.
Tokyo breezed through the rest of the first half, and could have had more goals, as Oguro just failed to connect with Rica's cross from the right and then Rica fired way wide after a hash-job from the Kobe keeper, but this was as comfortable as we'd been all season.

The second half? Well, I've just been sick in my mouth thinking about how we threw away the three points in the last 10 minutes. To be fair to Kobe, they did show somewhat more attacking intent, forcing Shiota into a couple of saves, but Oguro should've put us out of sight when he completely miss-hit his volley from Hanyu's excellent cross in the 62nd minute, then Otake brought a brilliant save out of the keeper, who tipped his chip over. Hanyu had had a brilliant few minutes but was replaced by the utterly useless Tatsuya (apologies to anyone out there who likes him…is there anyone??) and Rica left to rapturous applause after his best game in a Tokyo shirt, Ishikawa (still returning to fitness following a training ground injury) coming on. Tokyo's third change came in the 75th minute, Hirayama replacing the excellent Otake.
The changes, I believe, robbed us of our rhythm, but, still, everything was going to plan until the 84th minute, when Botti dribbled diagonally through our box and his cross/shot found the far top corner.
It was squeaky-bum time as suddenly we were hanging-on, their keeper even came up for a corner as we clung to our lead, and then in the 5th minute of the allotted 4 in “Fergie Time”, Morishige had the brain-fart of the season, raising his arm as the ball was headed back into the box. Penalty to Kobe.
Okubo stepped up and rolled (and I mean rolled) his penalty past Shiota's dive and into the corner, the ref blew up immediately and the points were shared, the latest installment of a particularly frustraing season. 84 minutes of domination = 1 point.
Nagatomo came on for his farewell ceremony, wowed the crowd with his Italian, threw his boots into the crowd and gave his shirt to the ultras behind the goal on his lap of honour, and good luck to him, I'm sure he'll do well over there, it was just a shame we couldn't give him a winning send-off.

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Nao's World Cup dream shattered

After the group stage draw for the 2010 World Cup was made, placing Japan in a perilous group that includes European and African powerhouses Holland and Cameroon, and dangerous European darkhorses Denmark, Japan national team manager Takeshi Okada had two clear choices: play it safe and hope to not be disgraced, or go for broke and pick an attacking squad full of impact players who might make the difference in a tight group. So, after much anticipation about the make-up of the 23-man World Cup squad, Okada sat down and laid an egg at JFA HQ this afternoon.

Before I elaborate, here are the names Okada called out: GKs: Narazaki (Nagoya), Kawashima (Kawasaki), Kawaguchi (Iwata); DFs: Nakazawa (Yokohama), Tanaka (Nagoya), Komano (Iwata), Iwamasa (Kashima), YASUYUKI KONNO (FC Tokyo), YUTO NAGATOMO (FC Tokyo), Uchida (Kashima); MFs: S. Nakamura (Yokohama), Inamoto (Kawasaki), Endo (G. Osaka), K. Nakamura (Kawasaki), Matsui (Grenoble), Abe (Urawa), Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Honda (CSKA Moscow); FWs: Tamada (Nagoya), Okubo (Kobe), Yano (Niigata), Okazaki (Shimizu), Morimoto (Catania).

While we all congratulate Konno and Nagatomo on well-deserved and wholly-expected call-ups, simply put, the exclusion of FC Tokyo winger Naohiro Ishikawa (and, to a lesser extent, Gasmen striker Sota Hirayama) is a perfect example of a manager bottling a huge decision in favor of the safer option. I could be accused of an FC Tokyo bias, but hey, you haven't come here to find out if Morimoto made the squad, have you? While Nao has endured a relative lean spell so far this season (compared to his barnstorming play in '09 before his knee injury) and has seemed to be trying too hard to prove he was over his injury (and to impress Okada, no doubt), he represents something that the squad doesn't have Рa game-changing winger with the pace to trouble any defence.

Honda should start on one wing, opposite Shunsuke, which leaves only Matsui on the bench as a potential impact side midfielder, as the other midfielders in the squad all play centrally for their clubs. Basically I think the choice of five out-and-out central midfielders is the major flaw in the 23, and Nao would've been the obvious choice as a more attacking threat,  instead of Abe, for example, who won't play (even in case of injury Рhe's the fifth central midfielder!).

In the case of Sota, I would definitely be guilty of a pro-FC Tokyo bias, but hear me out. Of the five strikers chosen, I believe three of them are basically the same type of player – Okazaki, Tamada and Okubo – and Tamada and Okubo have continually proven how useless they are at international level. To call Hirayama international class is laughable to some (many?) but as with Nao, he would offer something the squad lacks, a big man who could hold up the ball and link up with the likes of Okazaki and Morimoto.

So, rant over, and in conclusion, Okada's a bottler. Best of luck to Konno and Nagatomo, they'll do us proud but the manager's semi final pledge is looking even more daft after today.

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Match Report J1R7 FC Tokyo 1:1 Kyoto

Before a disappointing crowd of 18,350, FC Tokyo continued their distinctly ordinary start to the season with a 1-1 draw against Kyoto last Saturday evening.

The manager handed Ricardinho his first league start following his match-winning performance in the Nabisco Cup away at Omiya in midweek, but apart from that change (Shigematsu returned to the bench) it was the same team that had shown encouraging signs in the previous league match at home against the champions Kashima. The starting XI was: Gonda; Nagatomo, Morishige, Konno, Kim; Ishikawa, Hanyu, Tokunaga, Matsushita; Hirayama, Ricardinho.

I won't mention the first 10 minutes because absolutely nothing happened. In the 11th minute, Tokyo were behind, in unusual and unfortunate circumstances. A Kyoto throw-in 40 yards from goal was nodded past Konno and into the box by Yanagisawa, Konno scampered back but couldn't prevent Nishino from getting a cross in. All sounds pretty regulation so far, but events soon conspired against the Gasmen. Nishino's cross reached Nakayama, who shot under pressure from Nagatomo, the ball was going well wide but instead clattered into Morishige's head, past Gonda, who was wrong-footed, and along the goal line. Gonda made good ground and seemed to have his post covered, but Kakuda slotted home through his legs to give Sanga the lead.

Tokyo never got going at all in the first half, the only decent chances were a free kick fizzed in by Matsushita in the 14th minute, comfortably claimed by the keeper, and a shot in the 27th minute from Ishikawa that was well saved after good build-up play involving Morishige, Tokunaga and Matsushita. In general there was no rhythm to our attacking play, the ball was moved too slowly out of defence, passes were missed and there was little link-up play between midfield and attack.

Jofuku's “response” was to have Matsushita and Nagatomo switch positions at the start of the second half, a somewhat puzzling decision as, if he was again unimpressed with Matsu's attacking play (as the rest of us in the stadium were), he shouldve just replaced him at the break.

The Gasmen enjoyed a spell of pressure eight minutes into the second half that culminated in Ishikawa's shot being saved, but the game was going exactly to plan for Kyoto and Jofuku had to act. On 60 minutes Ricardinho's day was done as he was replaced by Shigematsu, and three minutes later Matsushita made way for Hokuto. Then on 69 minutes Hirayama was replaced by Akamine.

On the three players who were replaced – Ricky was starved of opportunities and never posed a threat to the Kyoto goal, a victim of the slow build-up play I alluded to earlier; Matsushita actually DID try and take his man on a few times but has yet to have a real impact in any game he's featured in; and Hirayama didn't have a sniff at all, he was mostly anonymous and didn't even have a shot on goal.

After the three changes Tokyo had just 20 minutes to salvage something from the game. In the 71st minute Nagatomo (back to right-back after Hokuto's introduction) crossed from the right, but the ball went over Hokuto's head and was cleared for a corner. Nothing came of that corner, but just two minutes later, we were back on level terms, and as with Kyoto's goal, there was a fair bit of luck involved. On our next attack an attempted clearance from inside the box by a Kyoto defender hit another Sanga and fell kindly for Shigematsu, who turned sharply and was brought down for a penalty. The youngster then showed admirable composure to step up and fire the spot kick high into the net past the keeper.

We clearly had the momentum after the goal, and on 76 minutes Akamine had a great chance when he met Tokunaga's excellent cross, but he headed straight at the keeper. Hokuto then fired a free kick into the keeper's bread-basket, and then in stoppage time the little fella got up well to knock a header down for Akamine, who forced a good save. The final whistle sounded soon after and the points were shared, and in truth we were hardly deserving of ours.

That's three straight home draws in the league, then, and while the result against Kashima was deserved, the ones either side of that, versus Cerezo and here versus Kyoto, are simply not good enough if we want to finish in the top four this season. Its also four games without a win in the league, and, because our petition to play Omiya every week has failed, its off to Osaka on the weekend to face Gamba and our old friend Lucas.

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Match Report J1R6 FC Tokyo 1:1 Kashima

The biggest home crowd of this season, just under 31,000, swarmed Aji Sta on Saturday evening to see The Gasmen take on the three-time defending champions Kashima. Both teams were coming off 2-1 losses the previous weekend, Tokyo in the Classico at Kawasuckisaki, and Antlers in a stunner away to Sendai, where their number one striker, Marquinhos, was sent off after 15 minutes and subsequently suspended for two games.

Tokyo lost both games to the champions last season, and must have been wary of a backlash from a wounded Kashima following their first loss of the season. Still, Jofuku was not afraid to swing the changes after the Classico loss, Kim returning in place of Mukuhara at left back and Matsushita getting a first start in four games (including Nabisco v Nagoya) on the left side of midfield ahead of Hokuto, but the biggest decision of the season so far from the manager was the attention-grabber- handing Shigematsu his full debut in place of Tatsuya up front. That took some ba##s from Jofuku, but he'd obviously liked what he'd seen from the youngster in the three games he'd come on in, although Akamine can't have been pleased at being overlooked again. Ricardinho made the bench, and was to provide some late entertainment and excitement. Sorry, I don't know how to do the team lists as dokool does them, but the team in full was Gonda; Nagatomo, Morishige, Konno, Kim; Ishikawa, Tokunaga, Hanyu, Matsushita; Shigematsu, Hirayama. Subs: Shiota, Hiramatsu, Mukuhara, Hokuto, Akamine, Tatsuya, Ricardinho.

I arrived at the ground much later than usual and the crush in the „Éõ„Éľ„ɆŤá™ÁĒĪŚł≠ seats had seen tokyobairn only manage to get seats well away from our regular spot, we were stuck down near the away end and were forced to¬†put up with¬†the rowdy Antlers fans'¬†(hey¬†guys – leave the jungle beats to Shimizu fans), but after four minutes, their howls of disgust were music to our ears.

Tokyo won a corner in the third minute, and after Matsushita's outswinging delivery to the far post brushed the head of a Kashima defender attempting to clear, the ball came to Konno on the edge of the box, he dinked it back inside, left his foot in and Nozawa obliged by clipping his foot and sending him to the floor. Referee Nishimura had no hesitation and quite correctly pointed to the spot, and Tokyo had a penalty. The decision enraged the Kashima hordes in the stands but was bang-on, as was Hirayama's penalty, Sogahata dived to his left but Sota drove low and hard into the opposite corner.

Predictably, the champions hit back hard and enjoyed a solid period of pressure, Tokyo's defending looked shaky and there were some close shaves, in one sequence Kashima had five consecutive corners, one conceeded after Gonda leapt to turn over Jung Soo's firm header.

Hirayama and Shigematsu worked hard to try and hold the ball up when Tokyo won possession back, though understandably their inter-play wasn't razor-sharp. Ishikawa burst forward on a few occasions, though he was forced to track back a lot to cover Araiba's forays forward.

Kashima had another near-miss in the 27th minute after Kim had a brain-fart and pushed Koroki to the floor about 30 metres from goal. Reigning League Player of the Year Ogasawara stepped up and curled the free kick towards the top corner, forcing Gonda to tip on to the roof of the net.

Twelve minutes later Antlers were level, and that man Ogasawara was the catalyst as usual. He lost Tokunaga, who was occupied with Araiba, took a square pass 35 metres out and unleashed a fierce drive that Gonda parried, but straight to the alert Koroki, who volleyed in from 7 yards. Gonda could've/should've done better, and though Kashima had knocked on the door several times, it was still a somewhat soft goal to conceed.

From the restart Tokyo almost immediately reclaimed the lead, but Hirayama missed his kick on the turn after Matsushita leapt to head down Ishikawa's cross. Ogasawara, again given too much space, then opened-up our defence with an excellent through ball that was just a touch heavy, and Gonda managed to claim, and that was about it for the first half.

Shigematsu had struggled to impose himself in the first half, but nine minutes after the break he was presented with a golden chance to net his second J League goal. Hanyu played a ball over the top for Ishikawa, who advanced and crossed low across the face of goal, Sogahata tried to claim but only pushed the ball out to the youngster on the edge of the box. With the goal gaping Shigematsu HAD to hit the target, but he mis-timed and shot into the floor, the ball bouncing harmlessly wide.

On 67 minutes Ishikawa burst into the box after receiving a pass from Shigematsu, but the winger's touch was a little heavy, and on the stretch he fired straight at the keeper.

That pass was Shigematsu's last involvement as Ricardinho came on for him, and the Brazilian was all-action, his first touch saw him embark on a 60-metre cross-field dribble but then fall over and miss his kick when he turned to pass back. If that moment had us perhaps understand why he hadn't been playing all season, the last 20 minutes was basically The Ricky Show, he displayed some nice touches, troubled the Antlers defence with his pace,  and showed a real desire to make an impression, tracking back and defending from the front.

With eight minutes left Mukuhara replaced the tiring Ishikawa, which saw Nagatomo move to right midfield. Two minutes later Ricky produced a brilliant cross from the left that Hirayama, leaning backwards, headed on target but Sogahata claimed easily. Kashima still posed a threat, but Ricky had a chance to seal the points in the 88th minute, released by Hanyu he raced away with a defender giving chase, however he was forced onto his left foot and shot straight at Sogahata.

There was one more chance for each team in stoppage time, firstly for Kashima, Aoki crossed from the right by-line, and Tokyo breathed a huge sigh of relief as the ball cleared Gonda and almost seemed to roll along the crossbar. At the right end Ricky showed good instincts to head a deep cross back across goal, but no one in a red and blue shirt was arriving to take the chance.

Mr. Nishimura blew for full time and the points were shared, a fair result in what was a very open, entertaining game. Pleasingly for Tokyo, we more than matched the champions for long stretches, a good sign after the disappointment of the previous weekend. A solid team performance in which we didn't carry many passengers, although Matsushita will need to do more (at least try and take someone on) to keep his spot for the games coming up. It was certainly a steep learning curve for Shigematsu, his effort could not be faulted but did he do enough to earn a run in the starting lineup? Ricardinho's impressive display after coming on might mean he didn't.

I'd also like to say a good word about the ref (and not just because he gave us the penalty!), because most of them are dire and it was good to see a ref officiate in a balanced way, on what happens on the pitch and not influenced by reputation.

 The Gasmen are back in action tomorrow night (Wednesday), we have a Nabisco Cup game away to Omiya, and then we welcome Kyoto to Aji Sta next Saturday evening (5pm kickoff). Hopefully the positives we can take out of the draw with the champions will spur us to even better performances in the games to come.

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