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.


Nagatomo to Italy, Aishiteru Tokyo awakens

Don't call it a comeback, we've been here for years.

Actually, we've been really busy with, well everything. But, much like J-League this coming weekend, Aishiteru Tokyo is back and much like FCT will do our best in the “Post-W” struggle.

To start with, let's get the big news out of the way.

Nagatomo @ Cesena

Yuto Nagatomo, FCT and Japan's star side back, has signed a one-year loan deal with newly-promoted Serie A side A.C. Cesena. He will be the 9th Japanese player to ply his trade in Italy, and the first defender.

He will apparently be back in Japan to greet fans following Saturday's Vissel Kobe game, which should make the resumption of J-League play in Tokyo all the more memorable.

Best of luck to you, Yuto. Kick some Italian ass and be ready to lead Japan in four years in Brazil.


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 – a 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 – he'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.


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.


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 ホーム自由席 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.


Match Report J1R5 FC Tokyo 1:2 Kawasaki

The first Tamagawa Classico of the season saw Tokyo and Kawasucki battle to “Get the River Under Control” on Sunday before 22,199 hardy souls, who braved the drizzly elements and the sight of Frontale's two ridiculous mascots (the new one resembling a spring onion with the stalk severed off) with bragging rights on the line in this burgeoning rivalry.

It was also the first visit to Todoroki for myself and tokyobairn, and while the terracing in the away end brought back happy memories of standing for hours in the freezing rain watching Falkirk for my Scottish friend, I just thought the place was a dump. But I digress….

Quite frankly, there could never have been a better time to play Kawasaki (fair enough, one Kawasucki was enough), missing their two best players (the other Nakamura, and Juninho) and having returned from a midweek trip to Melbourne where they lost 1-0 to the Victory in an ACL Group Stage game.

True, jet lag is not an issue when you travel from Japan to Australia and back, but contrast their trek with our pitstop to Kokuritsu on Wednesday and it was clear the advantage was with us. However, details like that go out the window in derby games, so “respected” football pundits like to tell us on a regular basis, and thusly Tokyo gaffer Jofuku reinforced his defence from midweek, recalling Morishige for Hiramatsu in the centre, and Nagatomo for Kim at full back. There were a couple of surprises elsewhere in selection, though, Tatsuya again preferred to Akamine upfront (Why? What has he done thus far to justify that?), and Ricardinho not even making the bench.

The first ten to fifteen minutes were mostly a case of the two teams feeling themselves out, Chong Tese headed straight at Shuichi Gonda, then Hokuto slashed wide after Ishikawa's initial effort was blocked.

To be fair to Frontale (not easy for me to do), they had had the better of the possession to this stage, and made the breakthrough in the 21st minute, when Chong blasted home from inside the area after Morishige failed to head clear from a cross.

Tokyo responded to that setback by dominating the remaining 25 minutes of the first half, Hirayama had the ball in the net after Hanyu hit the post just three minutes after Chong's goal but the big fella was ruled offside when the rebound came to him, Hokuto fired just over from a free kick in a dangerous area, Hirayama looped a header onto the crossbar and then forced a fine save from Kawashima (to be honest I didnt see the last chance, side note: about the only good thing Todoroki has going for it is the large number of urinals).

Despite all those chances and near misses the Gasmen couldn't find a way past Kawashima in the Frontale net and went back to the sheds a goal down.

Frontale had been fairly content to sit on their lead and try and hit us on the break, and after Tokyo continued to press for an equaliser, that tactic worked to a T 16 minutes into the second half when that man Chong doubled Kawasucki's advantage (sorry, couldn't help throwing another one in there).

Kim had replaced Hokuto two minutes before the goal (with Konno moving into centre mid for the third game in a row), and then two minutes after new sensation Shigematsu replaced the mostly anonymous Tatsuya, but still Tokyo lacked a real cutting edge, and Otake was introduced (for Hanyu) with 20-odd minutes remaining.

Hirayama forced a decent save from Kawashima, but despite more possession Tokyo found it hard to create clear-cut chances, with Inamoto doing a good job of protecting his back four.

The Gasmen had continued to press, and Konno got his second of the season two minutes into stoppage time after Shigematsu's shot was saved (pretty sure it was Shigematsu…I was five beers in by that time), but it was all too little too late. Tokyo probably deserved at least a point on the run of play, but were undone by a very professional performance by the home team.

The fixture man hasn't done us many favours, with the next game against Kashima (Aji Sta, 7pm, Saturday), and Jofuku has a lot to ponder at the selection table. If Kajiyama is fit to start (unlikely, I presume) does he replace Hanyu or Tokunaga? If he isn't, START KONNO IN THE CENTRE OF MIDFIELD! He's moved him in there three games in a row, so he has to start there if Casual isn't fit. Is Tatsuya out of chances to prove himself? Akamine or Shigematsu to start in his place if he is? Are we ever going to see Ricardinho start? Should I nickname him Aquilani? And so on and so forth.

Despite all those questions, Tokyo have another opportunity to really get the season going by taking one of the “big” teams down, and they don't come any bigger than the three-time defending league champions.


Nabisco Cup Group A FC Tokyo 2:2 Nagoya Grampus

The Gasmen began their defence of the Nabisco Cup before 12,291 people on Wednesday night at Kokuritsu, the scene, of course, of last season's magnificent triumph in the Final. The visitors, Nagoya, no doubt had the 5-1 battering we handed out to them at Aji Sta in the quarter-finals last season in the back of their minds, and were out for a spot of revenge.

Both managers selected near-full strength teams, Jofuku making three changes from the win over Omiya, restoring Hiramatsu and Kim to defence in place of Morishige and Nagatomo, and giving Tatsuya another chance up front with Akamine dropping back to the bench. Also on the bench was new sensation Shigematsu, and he was to have a major say on the final result in rather exciting circumstances. Nagoya's charismatic manager Stojkovic fielded his full contingent of foreigners, including the “Aussie Jesus” Josh Kennedy.

Tokyo won a corner in the first minute but didn't really settle into a rhythm until Tatsuya shot wide about 15 minutes in. Before then Grampus had carved out a few decent chances, with Kanazaki blazing over, while their Colombian holding midfielder Danilson appeared to be chanelling Juninho when he shot over the top from eight yards just after Tatsuya's miss.

Tokyo then enjoyed ten minutes of solid pressure and a goal seemed inevitable, Hanyu smashed a shot against the bar, and then Hirayama, Hokuto and Ishikawa all spurned good chances.  Hokuto was looking bright, one brilliant run in particular got the crowd excited but was halted just outside the box by Danilson. The goal that seemed inevitable did come, but at the wrong end as a long ball over the top was chased by Kennedy, and with Gonda, who should have come out to claim the ball, stranded in no-man's land, the big Aussie calmly lobbed the keeper to put Grampus on the board first.

Jofuku reacted at half time and brought Morishige on for Hanyu, switching Konno to central midfield, but the second half (almost) started disastrously for the Gasmen as Hiramatsu hacked-down a Nagoya player in the box and gave away a penalty. Gonda then kept Tokyo in the game by guessing right and punching away Burzanovic's poorly taken pen. Shigematsu made his entrance 10 minutes into the half, and the crowd buzzed whenever he was on the ball, the youngster looking right at home in the first team.

Tokyo were having some joy down the right, Mukuhara was pushing forward whenever possible, and it was from this area that the Gasmen then drew level on 68 minutes after the Ishikawa-Hirayama hotline got back in business, Sota slotting home from Nao's excellent cross.

Otake came on for Hokuto right after goal but some shoddy defending  straight from the re-start should have seen Nagaoya go right back in front. That chance was wasted but Tokyo's defensive weakness at set-pieces (thankfully missing from the first four games of the season) resurfaced six minutes later as Chiyotanda scored.

As the clock ticked down Tokyo grew more desperate, Otake spent a lot of time on the ball but needed to move it on quicker, then in the second minute of stoppage time the wee man slipped a ball through for Shigematsu who drilled home to send Kokuritsu nuts and rescue a point for Tokyo.

Not the most convincing of displays then, Gonda atoned for his indecisiveness on Nagoya's first goal with the penalty save, but Shigematsu will get the headlines for his second goal in as many games and fair enough too. Hanyu-Tokunaga in central midfield clearly didn't work again, but I'm starting to get bored of going on about it so much, so lets just be pleased with a point having had to come from behind twice, and look forward to the Tamagawa Classico on Sunday! Hopefully Shigematsu, if given the chance, will make it three from three!


[Match Report] J1R3 FC Tokyo 0:0 Cerezo Osaka

I've been a bit busy with shooting shows (to the extent that I didn't actually make it to Saturday's match >_<) and have to catch up on posting the templated match reports, but for now here's a guest report from regular commenter Y.N.W.A.:

I'd like to begin my first match report on the site by saying dokool certainly knows which games to miss! A lovely, though blustery, evening was not matched by the action on the pitch, as Tokyo carried on their customary sluggish start to the season with a disjointed performance.

The cruel defeat away to the Red Cubic Zirconias the previous weekend (may I just say, at the hands of an incompetent referee and a blind linesman) saw Jofuku react by making four changes to the starting XI, bringing in Hiramatsu for the suspended Morishige in the centre of defence, Kim at left back for his debut in place of the harshly dropped Mukuhara (this saw Nagatomo switch to right back), Ishikawa for Hokuto on the right wing and Akamine for Tatsuya up front supporting Hirayama. Unfortunately Kajiyama had picked up a knock and didn't even make the bench, and his continued absence from the first XI meant the Tokunaga – Hanyu partnership continued in central midfield. More on that later

Moniwa got a good reception on his return to Aji Sta, both ends of the stadium doing the “Mo-ni-WA” chant before the game, but Sota and Aka were hoping to expose him as part of Osaka's back three.

The signs were mixed in a fairly even first half, Tokyo had the better early chances with Hirayama forcing a good save after a mazy run after about 6 minutes, but Cerezo were keeping the ball well, with their Brazilian midfielder, Martinez, spraying the passes around and showing off a neat collection of flicks.

Tokyo were unable to retain possession for any length of time up against Cerezo's five-man midfield and were forced to play on the counter, but when they were able to nick the ball chances did come, notably when Ishikawa embarked on a 50 metre run but saw his shot parried away, with Akamine taking one touch too many when the rebound from Nao's effort found its way to him, Cerezo's South Korean keeper, Kim, saving well again.

There were some nervy moments for the Gasmen though as Cerezo's numerical advantage in midfield began to tell and they finished the half strongly, Nagatomo cleared off the line after Gonda flapped, and in stoppage time a dangerous ball was whipped across the six yard box but thankfully for Tokyo, with Gonda stranded, no Osaka player arrived in time to get a touch on it.

The second half began in mostly the same vein, with the Gasmen unable to gain control of midfield, despite the best efforts, it should be said, of Hanyu, who linked play fairly well in his best showing of the new season. Tokunaga, despite a few nice moments, was let down time and again by poor passing and Matsushita offered little down the left, and he was replaced by Otake 13 minutes into the half. Cerezo looked more dangerous in the second half, and in Kagawa they had the most creative player on the pitch. There were sighs of relief from the home end on more than a few occasions as Osaka's poor finishing let Tokyo off the hook.

Ishikawa had put in a decent shift, looking threatening but struggling to really impose himself on the game, and Jofuku took the opportunity to hand Ricardinho his debut with 21 minutes remaining. He got right into the thick of it, too, the little Brazilian, playing on the left wing, tracking back to win the ball and going on some nice runs, but his delivery looked a little rusty, as was to be expected. Akamine had done little in the second half and with Tatsuya ready to come on with 10 minutes left I'd assumed it would be him going off, but with Hanyu seemingly contractually obliged to be subbed every game it was indeed number 22 heading for an early bath, which meant Otake had to go into central midfield next to Tokunaga.

There were half chances at either end in the final stages, but truth be told, Tokyo didn't deserve anything out of the game, and considering the amount of possession Cerezo had, a point was a decent return for an underwhelming performance. Obviously no Tokyo player covered themselves in glory, but Nagatomo had a good game back in his natural position, Hiramatsu was steady enough next to the almost-always excellent Konno, Hanyu showed some good signs and Ricardinho's cameo was mostly positive.

On the minus side, while I can't really criticize Kim for his defensive work, he didn't get forward as much as Mukuhara likes to, and when he did his delivery was ordinary, Matsushita continues to struggle to settle, and Tokunaga just doesn't appear suited to central midfield at all. I realise the injuries to Yonemoto and Casual have forced Jofuku to think on the fly, but square pegs don't go in round holes and our new captain seems to lack the awareness and passing ability needed to play in the centre.

With Morishige returning against Omiya hopefully the manager will pair him with Hiramatsu in central defence and push Konno into midfield next to Hanyu. This would allow Tokunaga to return to full back with Kim dropping back to the bench.

But wrapping up the game, this was clearly a missed opportunity for the Gasmen, a home game against a promoted team should be three points in the bank for a team looking to finish top four as a minimum, but to be fair to our visitors from Kansai, they were good value for their point, and with better finishing they could easily have returned to Osaka with all three.


[Match Preview] Is this the year?

November 3rd, 2004.

It's been a long time.
2009年11月08日 味の素スタジアム ● 0-1
2009年03月14日 埼玉スタジアム2002 ● 1-3
2008年08月16日 味の素スタジアム  ● 0-1
2008年07月05日 埼玉スタジアム2002 ● 0-2
2007年08月25日 埼玉スタジアム2002 ● 2-3
2007年06月17日 味の素スタジアム  ● 0-2
2006年11月26日 味の素スタジアム  △ 0-0
2006年08月12日 埼玉スタジアム2002 ● 0-4
2006年05月17日 味の素スタジアム △ 0-0
2006年03月29日 さいたま市浦和駒場 ● 0-2
2005年12月10日 愛媛県総合運動競技場 ● 0-2
2005年08月20日 埼玉スタジアム2002 ● 1-2
2005年04月16日 味の素スタジアム ● 0-2
2004年12月19日 埼玉スタジアム 2002 ● 1-2

…a very, very, very long time.

Five years, four months, and ten days have elapsed since FC Tokyo slayed Urawa Reds in penalty kicks to win the 2004 Nabisco Cup. In that space, Urawa has won 12 of 14 games played, with the other two matches (both at Ajinomoto Stadium) ending in scoreless draws. Indeed, it seems that some things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, cherry blossoms blooming in the spring, and Urawa walking away from FC Tokyo with three points.

Like in 2009, Urawa will play host to Tokyo in its home opener after getting curbstomped 2-0 by reigning champions Kashima Antlers the previous week. Their offense will, again, be in disarray, and fans will, again, be wondering how Finke intends to salvage the team yet, as always, remain irrationally confident that Urawa will win all of the championships they are eligible for and a couple they probably aren't.

Unlike last year, however, the Reds will not be facing a reeling Tokyo squad with a rookie goalkeeper that had surrendered four goals in a horrific opening day loss to Albirex Niigata a week earlier. Instead, their opponents will be riding the momentum of a breathtaking stoppage time victory and one of Japan's most heralded back lines, with three of the four regular call-ups to the NT. Shuichi Gonda is no longer a frightened 20 year old, but instead a poised veteran who tied the J.League single-season shutout record and got a national team call-up of his own back in January. Naohiro Ishikawa, who missed last year's Urawa match following his season-ending knee injury, is likely to be back in the lineup as a “super-sub” and is expected to contribute in a similar fashion to his picture-perfect assist in last week's match. Hirayama, for several seasons a disappointment, may have finally awoken.

And that is why Tokyo could slay the Urawa dragon tomorrow in front of what's sure to be a packed house at Saitama Stadium.

In various occasions throughout the last week, players including Hirayama, Nagatomo, and Gonda have made assertive statements regarding a Tokyo victory. And you know what? This year of all years, I think it might be time to belive them.

It's generally being reported/predicted by the media that Jofuku will keep the same lineup from last week, and whether that's the best idea or not it seems like there aren't many better options.

The big question mark will, once again, involve Kajiyama and Ishikawa. Ishikawa is again set to come off the bench as a so-called “super sub”, but there are some rumblings about Kajiyama being ready to start. Unlike last week where the starting lineup was essentially announced on the FCT TV program “Tokyo Hotline,” it seems like Jofuku is playing his cards a little closer to his chest. There's also a chance that Akamine could earn a start, adding to the mystery.

Last week: Gonda; Mukuhara, Morishige, Konno, Nagatomo; Nakamura, Tokunaga, Hanyu, Matsushita; Hirayama, Suzuki

This week: Gonda; Mukuhara, Morishige, Konno, Nagatomo; Nakamura, Tokunaga, Hanyu, Matsushita; Hirayama, Akamine/Suzuki

Or if Kajiyama can start, Gonda; Tokunaga, Morishige, Konno, Nagatomo; Nakamura, Kajiyama, Mukuhara (why not, at least he'll play 90 minutes), Matsushita; Hirayama, Akamine/Suzuki

Hell, as long as I'm pulling names out of a hat let's take a page from commenter Bobby Mann Ate My Leg and spin it a little: Gonda; Tokunaga, Morishige, Hiramatsu, Nagatomo; Akamine, Mukuhara, Konno, Matsushita; Hirayama, Ricardinho

I don't imagine we'll figure out what's up until tomorrow, but the possibilities are certainly intriguing. I like Matsushita and want to see him get more playing time… I also want to see Nakamura come out and have a better outing than he did last week. At this point, Suzuki and Hanyu are really starting to become liabilities… Suzuki is a very servicable substitute but Hanyu's days as a regular starter could be numbered.

In other news…

  • FC Tokyo announced the tentative signing of 16-year-old volante Shuto Kono on Friday. The young U-17 NT player is the first pro player to emerge from the JFA Academy, a school set up by the Japanese Football Association with the goal of raising Japan's future elite class of soccer players. He was born and raised in Tokyo and has supported FCT his whole life, which makes him an ideal addition to the squad. Honestly, signing a 16-year-old probably doesn't mean much in the short term, but there's a possibility that Kono could be the next Yonemoto so in the long term it's a very smart pickup for the team.
  • Sunday's game is a near-sellout, with 2000 tickets set aside for match-day sales. Saitama Stadium's capacity is about 63,000. Last year's Urawa home opener, played in the rain, drew just over 50,000.
  • Speaking of rain, there's none expected on Sunday: partly cloudy and around 11C/50F.
  • Sota Hirayama will contribute a monthly column to Weekly Soccer Magazine with his first article to appear in Tuesday's edition.
  • FC Tokyo and derby rivals Kawasaki Frontale are set to announce details for this year's Tamagawa Classico on Monday. In addition to the usual press conference, the Tower Records in Kawasaki will be selling the official “Tamagawa Classico Anthem” CD (featuring the track “Get The River Under Control”), claimed to be the first musical collaboration between two J.League squads. I'm sure it won't be as bad as City Bred, Two Colors.

[Match Report] J1R1 FC Tokyo 1:0 (0:0) Yokohama F. Marinos

J.League Division 1 Week 1
First Half

0 – 0

Second Half

1 – 0


1 – 0

March 6th 2009, 2PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo) Attendance 29,011
GK Gonda

DF Mukuhara

DF Konno

DF Morishige

DF Nagatomo

MF Nakamura

MF Tokunaga

MF Hanyu

MF Matsushita

FW Suzuki

FW Hirayama

Starting Members

GK Ikura

DF Fujiya

DF Nakazawa

DF Ogura

DF Tanaka

MF Hyodo

MF Kanai

MF Kano

MF Yamase

FW Hasegawa

FW Watanabe

64' Kajiyama (Hanyu)

69' Ishikawa (Nakamura)

76' Akamine (Suzuki)

Substitutes 61' Sakada (Kano)

79' Shimizu (Hasegawa)

90+2' Bastianini (Kanai)

90+1' Hirayama Goals


It was rainy, it was wet, it was a little cold, it was windy, it was miserable: why not start the season? A day removed from temperatures in the low 70s and cloudless sunny skies, FC Tokyo and Yokohama F. Marinos played in front of just over 29,000 fans who braved the elements to come to Ajinomoto Stadium and kick off J.League's 2010 season. Tokyo had to manage with the loss of midfielder Takuji Yonemoto to a torn ACL and midfielders Kajiyama and Ishikawa still not ready to play a full 90. Yokohama was not only still waiting for Shunsuke Nakamura's return but lost defender Naoki Matsuda to injury. Regardless of who was in the lineup, though, it was time for that old ditty to be sung at Ajinomoto for the first time in over 3 months.

Now, as far as the actual match is concerned, well, there's a whole lot less to be impressed with. After Hirayama teasingly hit the post in the opening minutes, neither team could really establish a rhythm. Passes missed, balls falling short of their intended receiver, and generally sloppy play to suit the sloppy weather. Both teams had a couple decent scoring chances but neither threatened; If you had TiVo'd the match, I would suggest skipping ahead one hour to get to the second half.

The second half is where it got interesting. Yokohama definitely looked more threatening and created some hairy situations, but Tokyo managed to stave them off. With a poised Gonda between the posts and a back line consisting of two current NT players (Konno and Nagatomo), a star defender with NT experience (Morishige), and a more-than-able third year player (Mukuhara), this was not the same back line that gave up 4 goals to Albirex Niigata on Opening Day last year.

While Tokyo was holding defensively, the offense didn't kick back into gear until roughly the 70th minute, when Naohiro Ishikawa tagged in for Nakamura, taking the field for the first time since his season-ending injury against Kashiwa Reysol last October to a stadium-wide ovation. Immediately, Tokyo showed signs of life, pressing the attack and getting closer to Yokohama's goal than they had for most of the game. Akamine went in for Suzuki seven minutes later, an indication that Jofuku intended for his team to play for 3 points.

One highlight of the game was seeing Matsushita, picked up from Albirex Niigata in the offseason, and his free-kicking abilities. As anyone following Tokyo last season is well aware of, the only thing Tokyo was worse at than defending against the set play was taking advantage of their own set play. Matsushita's skills as a player were a bit shaky, but his two free kicks were impeccable and both had the potential to result in goals. When Matsushita and Ishikawa both positioned themselves to take a free kick closer to the end of the game, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only Tokyo supporter who got goosebumps.

However, with the clock hitting 90 minutes and 3 minutes of additional time, it seemed like both teams were just about resigned to taking home one point.

Then Akamine dished the ball off to Ishikawa and the race was on.

Go on, watch it again. In fact here's a different angle

After the goal… no, wait, fuck it, I'm going to enjoy this. Here's Ishikawa's little hurdle again in slow motion so you can see him absolutely own Yokohama's Shohei Ogura. This is the soccer equivalent of when a player dunks over a defender, teabagging him in the process. You just can't get over it.

Finally, here's a slightly different angle. Put this next to the first angle and wear some funny glasses and you can watch Yokohama's back line get served in 3D.

Okay, I'm finished now. After that it was simply holding off a halfhearted attack by Yokohama and waiting for the ref to blow the final whistle.

After the game, 7 of us including two regular commenters to this blog walked down to Chofu where we found… that Kenny's Irish Pub wasn't open because of a private party (on game day! The nerve!) But we did find an izakaya and held what was basically the first official meeting of TOKYO DAMACY 1999! Everyone had a blast and I hope we have many more similar meetings in the future.

On to Urawa!


“We may not have played so well, but the defense focused when it needed to and helped win the game.” – Ryuhei Tokunaga

“We didn't possess the ball for long enough to play how we want to play and that's something we'll consider going into next week.” – Toshihiro Matsushita

“After last year's opener [1-4 defeat to Albirex Niigata] I just wanted to get out of the locker room and go home as quickly as possible, but this year I want to sit down with other players and talk about the game. I feel like I've matured in a lot of ways since last year.” – Shuichi Gonda

“While [Ishikawa and Hirayama's goal-scoring play] was important, I'm more satisfied with how the team didn't fall apart even when we couldn't get a solid attack started. As far as the goal is concerned, Kajiyama and Ishikawa were only on for a short period of time but they did their job well. After that, it was just a matter of Hirayama getting into position to take the shot. I want to see Hirayama's accuracy increase, but more importantly I want him to put his body where it's needed to create plays, and he was able to accomplish that today.” – Hiroshi Jofuku