Category Archives: F.C. Tokyo Reports

The Beatdown Rolls On

The wind is blowing a bit colder, daylight is getting shorter, and I’ve abandoned my previous strict naming conventions for these posts.  Must be fall again!

It was a good September for the boys, as they went undefeated in games against Omiya Ardija, Kawasaki Frontale, Jubilo Iwata, and Consadole Sapporo.  They have now won five in a row (stretching back to August’s match against Kashiwa), and Shingo Akamine has scored in each match.  Akamine now leads all Japanese players with 11 goals so far this season.

While the Kawasaki match was a 1-0 slugout played in the rain, the Jubilo affair gave the fans a reason to cheer – a 5-1 drubbing that not only helped FC Tokyo’s aggregate but seemed to give players confidence that they could, indeed, put the ball in the net.  Goals by Cabore, Akamine, Ishikawa (some argued he should be credited with two goals, but the first was credited as an own-goal), and new striker Suzuki made it a match to remember.

The next match, at lowly Sapporo, was slightly more challenging – though FCT fell behind early in the second half, Akamine would equalize on a fantastic header and Otake would score the winner a minute after coming onto the field – strangely reminiscent of his first score against Kawasaki Frontale back in April.  The match was marked by a note of concern when in his first appearance in a long time following injury, Hanyu sustained another injury 8 minutes after coming onto the field and was replaced by Bruno Quadros.

Tokyo has held steady at 6th place in the standings for all of September, but now that the makeup games from last week have been played FCT is tantalizingly close to first place – 4 points behind Kashima (ahead on aggregate) and Nagoya, 3 points behind Oita, 2 points behind Urawa, and tied with Kawasaki but behind on aggregate.  There are seven rounds left in the season, and whether FCT can make up the ground is yet to be seen, but a top-5 finish is almost certainly in the cards.

Our remaining matches are home against Shimizu, away at Oita, home against Kashima, away at Osaka, away at Kobe, home against Niigata, and away at Chiba, ensuring that a decently-sized contingent of supporters will be there at the end.

While Shimizu is a respectable mid-table opponent that will provide a good match one way or the other, the next two triplets are where the big story is – FCT cannot hope to take the title without winning or drawing against Trinita/Antlers/Gamba – the first two are obviously at the top of the ladder and must be pulled down, and Gamba has regained its form and is making a late advantage, though the team will certainly have more pressure on it when one considers their ACL tie against Urawa.

The latter set of three matches – Vissel, Albirex, and JEF – provide a different sort of drama.  All three teams are in danger of relegation, with JEF Chiba in the “oh shit not two more games” slot and Vissel and Albirex joining a half dozen other teams in the “no, we’re not sure we want to be in J1 either” sweepstakes, albiet from positions of relative safety.  Any of these teams might still be fighting for their spot in J1’s 2009 season by the time the boys take the field and will likely make the games must-watches.

Fun times ahead, my friends.  Fun times.  This weekend’s match at Shimizu will likely herald the return of Konno from his red card suspension, which will undoubtedly provide further support to a Tokyo squad that… well, has done pretty fine without him.  Not that we didn’t miss him, of course.

In J2 news, Sanfrecce Hiroshima has secured promotion to J1 (and will likely secure the J2 crown if it hasn’t already) a scant 9 months after losing a tough relegation series to Kyoto.  One can imagine that the Hiroshima/Kyoto matches will be entertaining as all hell to watch next year.  Fighting for the second and third spots are Shonan Belmare, Montideo Yamagata, Vegalta Sendai, and Sagan Tosu.

[Recaps] FC Tokyo breaks winless streak of 8 games vs. J.League opponents

It’s been two months since FC Tokyo won a game against a J.League opponent.  Two long months in which fans began to question how well their team, which had performed far above anyone’s expectations during the first half of the season, would turn out to do in the end.

Following the break for the National Team qualifiers, FC Tokyo drew vs Chiba, lost against Oita in a Nabisco Cup match, lost away at Urawa, lost away at Kashima, drew at home against Osaka, drew away at Kyoto, drew at home against Yokohama, then tied away at Oita (in the second Nabisco Cup match, eliminating themselves after the quarterfinals for a second year in a row).  8 matches total, 6 of them league fixtures, with a grand total of 7 goals scored (one in each except for a 2-0 shutout against Urawa).  4 points gained in 6 league matches.  Things were not looking pretty.

Fortunately, in a Division 1 where the top 10 teams in the league are separated by 6 points, anything can and will happen.  Today, problem child Hirayama proved to be decisive for Tokyo, scoring the lone goal of the match as they held on to beat Nagoya Grampus 1-0.  The top three teams in the league failed to get one win between them, resulting in an ever-tightening J1 ladder, in stark contrast to J2 where Sanfrecce Hiroshima is running away with the championship leaving everyone else to fight for the second automatic promotion spot followed by a place in the Promotion/Relegation Cup.

Unfortunately for FC Tokyo, its abundance of young talent is proving costly in August.  The 2008 Beijing Olympiad began yesterday, and two FC Tokyo players are on Japan’s U-23 squad: DF Nagatomo and MF Kajiama.  The two, known as pivotal parts of FC Tokyo’s offense, will be sorely missed, particularly against Urawa this coming weekend.  Tickets in both the home and away supporter’s sections have been sold out and odds are (as is usual with Urawa matches) that the stadium will be at capacity (50-something thousand give or take) with security likely prepared to deal with altercations between the passionate supporters of both clubs.

I, for what it’s worth, will be coming to the stadium straight from Comiket 74 where I’ll be doing my yearly coverage for PTD Magazine, and going straight from the stadium to a friend’s rock DJ event, which means I pretty much won’t sleep (unless it’s on the train) for about 24 hours.  Should be a blast either way.

[Match Result] FC Tokyo 1:1 (1:0) JEF Chiba (J1R14)

Good morning minna-san!

I’m typing this out quickly from the Imperial Hotel in uptown Osaka, where I sadly was unable to watch the game but I’ve read the reports.  It was apparently pouring buckets at Ajinomoto stadium, which did not dampen the home crowd’s enthusiasm as the unreserved seats on the lower level apparently sold out.

According to Matsu over at The Rising Sun, the game was pretty much a tragedy.  Konno was ejected from the game after 7 minutes for what sounds like a shit call by the ref resulting in a PK, but Shiota saved the day and batted the ball away.  Sahara scored in the first half to give Tokyo the edge, but Renaldo equalized for Chiba in the second half while Sahara was on the sideline w/ an injury, essentially giving Chiba a 11-9 man advantage at the time.

In any case, despite the fact that it was a TOMAS-sponsored match and so I missed out on my free towel, probably best that I didn’t go given the weather.  I’ve been told by a Japanese colleague that we shouldn’t mind the draw given the circumstances (certainly one point is better than none), and in other interesting news the top of the J1 fixture has gotten tighter than… well, it’s tight, I’ll leave it at that.  4 points separates the top 7 teams, with Urawa and Nagoya clinging to the top after losses this weekend, Kashima and Osaka surging forward to a point behind them after catching up on matches this week, FC Tokyo holding strong at 5th, Kashiwa right behind them in 6th, and Omiya a point behind them in 7th.

One thing’s for sure, going to be a wild ride.  The next match is on Wednesday – the home leg of the Nabisco Cup Quarterfinal against Oita.  Following that is Saturday’s epic confrontation at Saitama Stadium against the dreaded Reds.  Stay tuned!

[Match Result] 06.08 Tokyo Verdy 2:4 (2:2) FC Tokyo (Nabisco Cup)

I'll post a report after I've caught up on sleep, but to sum things up, FC Tokyo played an error-prone first half but managed to find a solid offensive groove once rookie GK starter Ogi calmed down after giving up a goal on a bad play and freezing on a free kick by Hulk.  Fortunately for the Gasmen, Verdy was playing just as poorly, but to their credit for the first time since April they managed to make it an interesting match.

On FCT's scorecard, Cabore scored first to equalize at 1-1 and from then on it was the Hirayama Show, with #13 equalizing at 2-2 at the end of the first half, then punching in two more goals for a hat trick that would propel FC Tokyo into the next round of the Nabisco Cup, where they will play Oita Trinita.

Good times.  I'll post a full report tomorrow along with YouTube vids.  Now to pass out.

Ore, ao to aka,
Isshou ao to aka,
Ore, ao to aka,
Midori no dai-kirai,
TOKYO!

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[Match Report] 05.25 FC Tokyo 3:0 (1:0) Tokyo Verdy [Nabisco Prelim]

Because I’m not going to get my photos up tonight as much as I’d like to, I’d like to illustrate how the game went:

curbstomp

Imagine, if you will, that Edward Norton is wearing a blue + red kit instead of a pair of boxers and a swastika. Then further imagine that the black kid about to be handed a startlingly expensive bill for dental restoration work represents Verdy. Got that in your head? Okay, then you have some idea of how today’s match went.

Though the weather in Tokyo was miserable throughout most of yesterday, the rain finally cleared around 11AM this morning – it was cloudy throughout the day but over 19,000 people were in the stands – precious few of them Verdy fans. Guys, I know you’re already eliminated from the quarterfinals, but seriously, it’s a Derby match, have some goddamned pride in your team.

In any case, security was more or less the same today as it was before Urawa and Gamba had their little catfight, so at least that’s not changed yet. Although I should note that a guy two rows in front of me holding a gateflag that showed a masked FCT fan strangling the Verdy mascot was asked to put his flag down so it wouldn’t get in the official J-League photo or something like that.

The banner above is basically telling Hirayama to man the fuck up – and to his credit he did so and had a couple solid chances.

With Nagatomo, Konno, and Kajiyama off the roster to serve their country and Akamine scratched for reasons I’m not sure of, it was up to Cabore and the rest of the Tokyo roster to get the ball into the net. The first 10 minutes more or less defined the game – Bruno Quadros scored in the second minute of play, sealing the victory and kicking off an attack that left Verdy GK Doi constantly on the defensive.

After about the first 15-20 minutes things reached a more equal attack/counter-attack balance, with most of Verdy’s shots sailing far wide of the goal. The first half was also a good indicator of how much of a whiny pussy Hulk is – every time he fell over he would look for a foul, then upon not finding it give his “I’m going to cry if you don’t give me a free kick” face, as seen in the last Tokyo Derby:

Great reaction shot after getting served by Nagatomo late in the game.

Unfortunately after a good half-dozen such occurances the ref probably figured Hulk would start crying, so for a good strech from midway through the first half to some time into the second half, FC Tokyo was the recipient of several questionable foul calls – one notes that Verdy took 21 free kicks as opposed to Tokyo’s 12. There were also several non-calls that should have been called for Tokyo, particularly a nasty takedown on Hirayama as he approached the Verdy goal early in the second half.

Also notable on the Tokyo squad was Emerson – though he got taken down several times throughout the game he always got back up and was on-hand to create some solid attacks for Tokyo.

But all was moot as two minutes after receiving a yellow card, Sahara slammed in a glorious header off of a free kick, for all intents and purposes sealing 3 points for the Gasmen. Yusuke, who came in for Hirayama at the 65 minute mark, kicked in a third goal for good measure as the FCT supporters sang out the closing minutes in style.

Ore… ao to aka…
Issho ao to aka…
Ore… ao to aka…
Midori no ga dai-kirai
TOKYO!

(sung to the tune of the Great Escape theme)

In other Group B results, Shimizu S-Pulse dispatched Jubilo in round two of their Shizuoka Derby by the score of 4-2, likely solidifying Shimizu’s trip to the second round. S-Pulse leads the group with 10 points, followed by FC Tokyo with 7, Jubilo with 4, and Verdy with 1. Verdy is all but eliminated from contention, while Jubilo needs a lot of luck and FC Tokyo needs at least one more win plus a bit of luck. Next weekend FC Tokyo hosts Shimizu out in Matsumoto Stadium, a game I hope to attend one way or another.

In other random news, FC Tokyo will play a “pre-season” friendly match at home against Olimpia Asuncion, Paraguay’s oldest and most storied club team. Don’t ask me why they’re playing a “pre-season” match in the middle of the season, but it should be fun either way.

[MatchRecap] 05.17 Jubilo Iwata 1:2 (1:0) FC Tokyo (J1 W13)

So, um, been a while.  Sorry about that.  School got hectic as well as some personal matters and I still have a metric ton of game photos to go through in addition to everything else.  Apologies for no Kashiwa report (I assure you that with a disappointing 1:0 loss in the rain, you didn’t miss much) and no preview for the Jubilo match.

Fortunately, after dropping two consecutive 1-0 games at home, FC Tokyo went on the road and pulled off a much-needed win against Jubilo Iwata this afternoon.  Trailing 1-0 after the first half, Shingo Akamine came back strong in the second half, scoring a brace (that’s apparently two for any Americans who are reading this) and pulling the Gasmen to victory.  Notable in the lineup was the return of midfielder Emerson to the squad as a substitute in his first match since his injury sustained during the team’s away campaign in Niigata.  Emerson came on for Hanyu in the second half, proving in his fitness that manager Jofuku has one more weapon in a Tokyo offence that lately has struggled to get the job done.

More importantly, around the league a miraculous series of results has brought FC Tokyo to within reach of the top spot in the league yet again.  Urawa fell to Gamba Osaka at home in a match that included altercations among the fans, apparently.  Kawasaki dropped a 2-0 lead to fall to Omiya Ardija 3-2.  Kashima extended its winless streak to 7 games with a 1-1 draw against Kashiwa, and Nagoya beat up on the helpless Consadole Sapporo.  Even JEF Chiba has won two games in a row since sacking its manager.

So, what’s all that mean?  Urawa and Nagoya are at the top of the ladder with 26 points (with Urawa leading in goal differential).  FC Tokyo is alone in 3rd place with 23 points.  Kashiwa Reysol has surged to the top of the ladder with 20 points along with Kawasaki Frontale.  Kashima continues to struggle, now tied with fellow ACL contenders Gamba Osaka as well as Omiya Ardija at 19 points apiece.  Yokohama F. Marinos sit alone in 9th place with 18 points.  With a mere 8 points separating the top half of the ladder, it is quite clearly anyone’s season.  Well, except for Consadole and JEF Chiba, but there’s always gotta be a whipping boy.

Last season at this point, FC Tokyo was in 13th place and pretty much had no hope of rising any further (indeed, they would finish 12th in the standings).  This year, although there have certainly been some bumps in the road, FC Tokyo goes into the 1/3rd-season-break with a strong squad that can easily stay a contender for the remainder of the season and perhaps even vie for the title.  Good times ahead for the gasmen!

The next month brings good times as well – this coming Sunday is the Tokyo Derby against the ever-hated Kawasaki Verdy, followed by a “home” match on the 31st against Shimizu at Alwin Stadium in Nagano (hell knows why we’re playing a home game in Nagano, but hey).  On June 8th is another Tokyo Derby match (this time as the “away” team) at National Stadium, followed by a friendly versus FC Seoul in Korea on the 15th.
All matches (with the obvious exception of the FC Seoul campaign) are for the Nabisco Cup and won’t count in the standings, but naturally wins against Verdy will do much to rebuild the fan’s morale following the recent spate of home losses.  If Tokyo wants to go on to the next round of the Nabisco Cup, the game against Shimizu will be a must-win given the current standings.

In anticipation of the next Tokyo Derby match I’ll try to do a post regarding supporter chants later in the week.  Stay tuned!

[Match Report] 04.06 FC Tokyo 0:1 (0:1) Nagoya Grampus (J1 W11)

Me?  Burned out?  Just a little.  Sorry for the late report but quite frankly besides having to get back into the groove of school again (at least I passed my Friday midterm, woohoo!) the game was such a downer that I wanted to space myself a bit before I came and wrote this up.

This was the third loss FC Tokyo has received this season, but the first in which I felt that the team did put through the best effort it could muster in going for the win.  This was not the second-half collapse of the Yokohama F. Marinos game, or the error-prone Shimizu campaign, but a losing effort by a team that held its ground or better with a Nagoya squad that, quite frankly, got off a little bit lucky.

One of the first things I noticed early on in the match was the size difference – Grampus’ players, including
lead striker Johnsen, are for lack of a better term goddamned huge.  Lots of players who were around 185cm and even a couple who were over 190cm.  FC Tokyo’s squad, on the other hand, has a bunch of players in the 175-180 range and a few in the 160s.  Early on in the game it seemed that Tokyo’s strategy of speed and agility got steamrolled by Nagoya’s strength and size, but as time passed Tokyo adjusted accordingly and began to dominate the midfield, with long stretches of time spent attacking the Nagoya goal.  Nagoya certainly did try to throw its weight around over the course of the match and got called on it – Tokyo took over twice as many free kicks, 26 to Nagoya’s 10.

The lone point in the game… was pretty brutal.  The ball bounced off Shiota’s outstretched fingers as he dove and slowly rolled into the net.  A rare misplay by the goalkeeper, and these things certainly happen, but it didn’t hurt any less.

On a positive note, the game saw the return of two players that have missed long stretches of time due to injury.  MF Naotake Hanyu returned to the starting lineup, putting in a solid effort before being replaced by Otake after halftime.  In the 76th minute, fan favorite MF Naohiro Ishikawa came onto the field after recovery from injury and quickly demonstrated that his speed and agility have not been lost.

Also in the second half, Yusuke Kondo came in as a replacement for Akamine about an hour in and repeatedly proved that his rental time spent in Kobe was wisely spent, driving to the goal several times and creating bold attacks.  Late in the game, Yusuke took a penalty kick after a hard foul on Cabore that unfortunately hit the top crossbar.  In injury time, he also provided Tokyo’s last attack, with two close-range shots that were batted away by the Nagoya keeper as time expired.  With his aggression, decision-making abilities, and decisive ability, Yusuke has proven himself in some ways to be the anti-Hirayama, and if my kit had #13 on the back I would be very concerned with my place in the Tokyo lineup.

Overall, the attack was strong, way stronger than Nagoya’s, but the goal just didn’t come through.  The fans seemed to recognize this and gave the players their due applause and saved a few extra cheers for a visibly dejected Yusuke who was consoled by Shiota as they walked into the locker rooms.

Yet, as I left the stadium, I was reminded of last year’s home loss to Nagoya, also 1-0.  That day, much like Tuesday, FC Tokyo was bullied around by a bigger and meaner Grampus squad.  This time, however, not only did the referees not let Grampus get away with it, but FC Tokyo adopted and fought back and overall was the clearly stronger squad.  It was a moral victory that bodes well for our hopes as the season goes on… but of course moral victories don’t translate to points in the standings, do they.  Oh well.

With Urawa and Kawasaki also winning their Tuesday matches, FC Tokyo fell into 4th place based on goal differential (or Goals For or something like that).  The next match is against Kashiwa Reysol, which has started the fifth month of the year with two victories in a row against JEF United Chiba and Vissel Kobe.  In order to wash out the bad taste of the Nagoya result Tokyo absolutely needs a win.  The fans have certainly taken notice – Tuesday’s attendance, at 30,000 and change (the most since October 28th of last year, and even that was only greater by about 200 people or so), was the highest gate count all season, although that it was a holiday certainly didn’t hurt.  FC Tokyo’s 5 hours at the top of the standings inspired more people to come to Ajinomoto, now the team has to deliver.

[Match Report] 05.03 Omiya Ardija 0:3 (0:2) FC Tokyo (J1 R10)

So I'll be totally honest and say that the last 96 hours could have been better, hence the very late update and a report that probably won't be as detailed as I'm trying to strive for.  Fortunately, the boys dominated in their away campaign at Omiya, knocking in three unopposed goals and keeping their own sheet clean.

I arrived at NACK5 Stadium a little before noon to find out that every FC Tokyo Fan who had a ticket was already in line, forcing me to walk about half a kilometer to find the end of the line.  Fortunately my usual seat partners had an extra seat available when I finally got inside.  The visitor's stands are divided into two tiers – the bottom are standing-only for the supporters and the top are supposedly for people to sit, but everyone wearing blue and red was on their feet for the entire game.  Though rain threatened throughout the morning, the game was played for the most part under clouds that at time thinned enough to let the sun shine through on a solid Tokyo victory.

Once the match started, Omiya tried early on to use its gaijin sledgehammer to break through Tokyo's defense to no avail.  Pedro Junior did little more than foul (and I believe at least one very impressive dive that I got on camera) and was replaced at halftime, while Denis Marquez, though constantly encouraged by the Squirrel Nation, seemed stymied at every turn, letting loose a volley of shots that were either wide of the goal or handled deftly by Shiota.

Tokyo's first-half goals came from Yohei Kajiyama on a glorious header in the 15th minute from a long pass that caught Omiya's defense completely off-guard, followed about 20 minutes later by a long bomb from GK Shiota that drew the Omiya goalkeeper all the way out to the edge of the box… to be there just as Cabore lobbed it past him.  Waiting to see if the ball would actually get into the net was the longest 3-4 seconds I've experienced in the stands in a long time, but it was certainly worthwhile.

In the second half, the substitution of Otake created a somewhat awkward moment when the player he replaced, Kurisawa, opted not to go to the center-line to tag in Otake but to go straight to the Tokyo bench.  However, the substitution took place before an FC Tokyo corner kick which Otake was waved down to take, so I'm not sure whether it was an intentional snub or not.  However, Kurisawa has been pulled for Otake in three out of the last four matches (the exception being the Shimizu game where Otake was named a starter) so there could be a bit of resentment there.

Two minutes later after what I believe was a particularly rough hit, manager Jofuku pulled out Cabore for problem child Sota Hirayama.  I've always been optimistic that despite his numerous motivation issues over the course of this year and the last our number 13 would turn it around, but his performance yesterday made it all too apparent that in terms of individual player performances he is the weak link on the squad.  Several times he had the ball with an open field save for maybe one or two defenders in front of him, and rather than an aggressive attack and a shot that might have gone into the net (or at least created pressure on the goalkeeper), Hirayama often opted to wait for support or held onto the ball for too long, resulting in several wasted opportunities.  One such turnover, in the 74th minute, was recovered by fan favorite Nagatomo and slammed into the goal for his first J.LEAGUE point.

After what appeared to be the clincher for FC Tokyo, Shingo Akamine was replaced by #32 Yusuke Kondo, part of last year's National Team squad.  Though he was on FC Tokyo's roster for three years from '03 to '05, it wasn't until '06 when he was transferred to Vissel Kobe that he found significant playing time, helping them in their promotion campaign in that year.  Fans in the visitor's stand were overjoyed to see him step onto the field once again wearing the blue and red kit, and even more so when both of the shots he took in the last 15 minutes of play came close to finding nylon.
The game ended with Tokyo in a place it has not found itself since 2005 – first in the standings with 20 points.  Urawa's draw with Vissel Kobe later in the evening would raise the Reds up to 20 points as well, and because of the goal differential tiebreaker FC Tokyo presently stands in second with a squad that looks more and more dangerous with each match.  The offense is finally clicking and is arguably as strong as it's been since the Amaral era. Cabore is racking up goals that many had hoped for when he was signed, and has a perfect companion at the wing in Akamine.  Midfielders Konno and Kajiyama's leadership is propelling the squad both on attack and defense, while Otake and Nagatomo have brought surprising weapons to the squad.  Once Emerson and Hanyu recover from their injuries (more on that below) and as Kondo (referred to by the fans as Yusuke so I'll probably use that from here on) starts to have a more active role on the field, FCT will have one of the deepest offensive lineups in J.League.

Defensively, while the team does have lingering issues to resolve, this is not the FC Tokyo that allowed 58 goals in 2007 (one of the worst tallies in the league).  Defenders Sahara, Nagatomo, Moniwa, and Tokunaga have all become adept at frustrating the opposing attackers, often stymieing breakaways and forcing turnovers before a shot is taken.  Corner kicks and free kicks have been the source of most of FC Tokyo's allowed goals, and even when the goal is successfully defended issues with clearing the ball continue to haunt the squad.

To officially end the Golden Week Sprint (although I'm not counting it as 'over' until Round 12 against Kashiwa on Saturday given the short period in=between matches), FCT plays the free-falling Nagoya Grampus at Ajinomoto Stadium.  Nagoya, which opened the season undefeated for 7 straight matches (the last six of them wins), has completely collapsed during the Golden Week Sprint with 2-1, 2-0, and 2-1 losses to Kawasaki, Verdy, and Gamba Osaka.

Errata

-After injuring his knee during a practice match versus Yokohama FC, Bruno Quattros was diagnosed with an inflamed tendon and will be out for approximately two weeks.

-Speaking of injuries, Naotake Hanyu is on the mend – after joking in his official blog that he would be considered a “salary thief” if he missed any more matches, he was shown in a photo on FC Tokyo's official website in a practice match against the FC Tokyo U-18 squad, which leads me to think that he'll probably be on the roster for the Kashiwa campaign on Saturday, or maybe even against Nagoya if the stars align correctly.

-Matsu over at The Rising Sun posted a great analysis of J.LEAGUE's poor refereeing, including an incident that apparently took place last Tuesday at the Oita match.

As far as photos, I'm just going to do a “Best Of GW Sprint” post after Saturday's match against Kashiwa for the benefit of my sanity.  Stay tuned for the Nagoya report!

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[Match Report] 04.29 FC Tokyo 1:0 (1:0) Oita Trinita (J1 R9)

The boys in red and blue quickly rebounded from their loss against Shimizu on Saturday with a dominating performance against Oita Trinita to remain undefeated at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Today was the first official Golden Week holiday, and as a result there were plenty of promotions to get families to bring their kids to the stadium.  Nets for shooting games were set up around the pitch, and it was officially Gegege no Kitaro Day, which meant that characters from the show were out and about.

In the stands, the FC Tokyo supporters are definitely in a transitional period – when everyone started to stand on their chairs after the player introductions but before You’ll Never Walk alone, there was a weird silence in the air, and someone commented on how it felt like it was the Verdy match.  Instead of the usual third chorus of YNWA the supporters jumped into one of the main anthems, which surprised me slightly.

On the pitch, while Oita started the game with a moderate attack, FC Tokyo struck the first and only blood of the match when roughly 15 minutes in Shingo Akamine converted a corner kick into a well-placed shot into the upper left corner of the goal.  The defenders did what they had to do and although Oita made several transgressions into Tokyo territory, all of their shots either went far wide or were a simple task for Shiota to recover.

While FCT found itself on the defensive occasionally during the match, the turning point seemed to be when they decided to break down Oita by grinding off 2-3 minutes of the clock with long passes back and forth near the end of the first half, slowing donw the pace of the game and disruting Oita’s offensive flow.

The second half was one of steady domination by Tokyo including several shots that found posts or crossbars but unfortunately didn’t make it into the net.  Cabore smashed through the Trinita defense on several occasions and DF Nagatomo appeared to be everywhere – making passes, drawing penalties, and swarming Oita attackers by himself.  Otake brought his youthful enthusiasm and deadly corners to the match but has yet to find his second goal.

As the seconds ticked down, Trinita appeared to become more and more desperate to stop the Tokyo attack, making risky tackles that almost every time resulted in fouls or yellows.  Near the end of the match, Oita sealed its fate when two of its players were handed red cards in the span of about five minutes – both for heinous tackles that while fortunately didn’t result in injury, were worthy of ejection (both players had already been shown yellow cards).  Oddly enough, over the course of the match the referees sided with FC Tokyo more often than not.  Players on the home team were shown no yellow cards through the entire match, a stunning first for the season if I recall correctly.

Overall, this was a match that Tokyo had to win (especially after the Shimizu campaign) and they performed well (though, naturally, another goal or two on the scoreboard wouldn’t have hurt).  Players are starting to become more daring on offense, particularly Cabore and Akamine; rather than going around the defenders they are attempting time and time again to go through them, more often than not creating scoring opportunities.  The defense, particularly Moniwa in strong form, managed to keep Shiota with little to do throughout the match except for the occasional goal kick, but as we all know a bored goalkeeper is a happy goalkeeper.

Nagatomo got the Hero Interview and actually momentary lost his composure when he was asked about his recent call-up to the National Team, recovering after a few seconds and repeatedly thanking the fans for their support.  He then gave the obligatory sha-sha-sha cheer to the supporters and was showered with “Nagatomo Tokyo!” and “Nagatomo Nihon!” cheers as he left for the locker room.

Overheard on the way to the station after the game: Yeah, the official attendance was 20,283… 20,000 of that was FC Tokyo fans, the rest was Oita. I do not believe that’s very far off from reality, quite frankly.

Match notes:

Starting Lineups

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Moniwa, Sahara, Nagatomo, (MF) Kajiyama, Konno, Kanezawa, Kurisawa, (FW) Akamine, Cabore

Oita Trinita – (GW) Nishikawa, (DF) Fukaya, Morishige, Uemoto, (MF) Roberto, Edmilson, Suzuki, Nemoto, Fujita, (FW) Kanazaki, Matsuhashi

Substitutions

FC Tokyo – Otake (Kurisawa, 59′), Asari (Kanezawa, 72′), Kawaguchi (Cabore, ’89)

Oita Trinita – Maeda (Nemoto, 57′), Kobayashi (Edmilson, 70′), Ichihara (Uemoto, 83′)

Goals

FC Tokyo – Akamine (14′)

Yellow Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (31′), Uemoto (56′), Roberto (70′), Maeda (77′)

Red Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (86′), Maeda (89′)

I’ve got a big exam on Friday but if I have time before then I’ll try to get the pictures up, otherwise I might just do an epic photo post after the away match at Omiya.  Stay tuned!

[Report] 04.26 Shimizu S-Pulse 1:0 (1:0) FC Tokyo (J1 R8)

Though the sports bar I found in Ebisu was suitably packed, our long-distance support (plus the support of a decent number of FC Tokyo fans) wasn’t enough to help FC Tokyo recover from an error-filled first half as it fell to Shimizu 1:0.

The match began with rain falling at Nihondaira, and FC Tokyo, though clearly the stronger team, made mistake after mistake to its detriment. Missed passes, turnover after turnover, and a lackluster performance overall contributed to what would end up being a well-deserved win for S-Pulse. A wet playing surface contributed to a lot of slipping and sliding and both teams were heavy on the fouls, with 33 committed by Shimizu and 36 by FC Tokyo.

Possession problems in the first half meant that Shimizu would hold onto the ball for the majority of the time, and it was only due to some last-gasp defending (as well as a lucky bounce off the post) that kept the score tied. In the 45th minute of play, a well-aimed corner kick made it into the box and was subsequently headed in by Shimizu midfielder Aoyama, bouncing off Shiota’s outstretched palms into the upper netting.

FC Tokyo recovered and managed to put on a strong attack in the second half spurred on by Cabore and Akamine, never quite managing to score the equalizer much to their detriment. For every solid shot they got off on goal, at least two more wasted opportunities plagued the team, and at times their energy seemed completely sapped. Even Hirayama coming in for Otake in the last 15 minutes of play wasn’t enough to turn the tide, and as the seconds ticked down in stoppage time it seemed like the boys in blue and red had all but given up.

I would not describe this as a match that Shimizu deserved to win, but rather one that FC Tokyo deserved to lose. Their tendency to play a weak first half and a strong second half came through today, and it’s something they certainly need to improve on. They also need to stop giving up points at the half because it’s a huge momentum killer.

Here’s the match notes:

STARTING LINEUPS

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Sahara, Fujiyama, Nagatomo, (MF) Asari, Kajiyama, Konno, Otake, (FW) Cabore, Akamine

Shimizu S-Pulse – (GK) Nishibe, (DF) Ichikawa, Aoyama, Takagi, Kodama (MF) Ito, Honda, Fujimoto, Fernandinho (FW) Hara, Nishizawa

SUBSTITUTIONS

FC Tokyo – Morimura (Asari 62′), Hirayama (Otake 77′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Yashima (Nishizawa 70′), Okasaki (Fernandinho 79′), Iwamoto (Aoyama 89′)

GOALS

Shimizu S-Pulse – Aoyama (45′)

YELLOW CARDS

FC Tokyo – Kajiyama (29′), Tokunaga (37′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Fujimoto (90′)