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.