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.