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Match Report: J-League Round 1: FC Tokyo vs. Albirex Niigata

J.League Division 1 Week #
FC Tokyo First Half
0 – 1

Second Half
1 – 3

Final
1 – 4

Albirex Niigata
March 7th 2009, 1PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo) Attendance 27,568
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda

DF 5 Yuto Nagamoto

DF 15 Daishi Hiramatsu

DF 2 Teruyuki Moniwa

DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga

MF 6 Yasuyuki Konno

MF 17 Jo Kanazawa

MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama

MF 22 Naotake Hanyu

FW 24 Shingo Akamine

FW 32 Yusuke Kondo

Starting Members
GK 1 Takashi Kitano

DF 17 Jun Ichida

DF 5 Mitsuru Chiyotanda

DF 6 Mitsuru Nagata

DF 29 Gilton Ribeiro

MF 15 Isao Homma

MF 10 Marcio Richardes

MF 7 Toshihiro Matsushita

FW 11 Kisho Yano

FW 16 Hideo Oshima

FW 9 Pedro Junior

62′ #40 Tatsuya Suzuki (for Jo Kanazawa)

64′ #4 Bruno (for Naotake Hanyu)

64′ #9 Cabore (for Yusuke Kondo)

Substitutes 81′ #20 Young Cheol Cho (for Hideo Oshima)

87′ Kazuhiko Chiba (for Toshihiro Matsushita)
89′ Gotoku Sakai (for Marcio Richardes)

51′ Yusuke Kondo Goals 44′ Gilton Ribeiro

53′ Pedro Junior

68′ Hideo Oshima

72′ Pedro Junior

69′ Yohei Kajiyama

87′ Yasuyuki Konno

Cautions 78′ Isao Homma
Ejections

Report

Jesus Christ on a cracker.

Following a 6th place finish in the 2008 season, with which FC Tokyo seemed to imply that its days of being a chronic underachiever may have finally come to an end, the team managed to squander the goodwill of the supporters in 90 minutes of frustrating and at times atrocious play in front of a surprisingly underwhelming crowd of just under 28,000.

After some pomp and circumstance (Nobuo Kawaguchi’s ‘retirement fairwell’ to the crowd and the first in-stadium performance of Tokyo Dorompa, who, to be fair, can bust quite a move), the game started on a somewhat awkward note with neither team unable to find any sort of rhythm for the first 15-20 minutes of play.  Following that, however, it was almost all FC Tokyo as they continuously pressed the attack, setting up consecutive chances in front of the Niigata goal but never managing to succeed.  Even more impressive is that Tokyo was able to keep up that pressure with 10 men, as newcomer Daishi Hiramatsu lived up to his reputation for complete disregard for personal safety and spent a couple agonizing minutes on the sideline receiving treatment for a cut to his forehead.  On the rare occasions that the ball found its way back into the Tokyo penalty area, rookie goalkeeper Gonda proved his technical skills with some booming kicks that left the crowd speechless.

Everything seemed on-course for a 0-0 draw to end the first half, until Albirex was awarded corner kick late in extra time.  Anyone who follows the team knows that defending against corner kicks has always been a perpetual weakness, and this corner was no exception.  A perfect cross connected to Gilton Ribiero, who sailed it in on the left post just past Gonda’s outstreched fingers.  The whistle sounded for the half and many FCT players visibly expressed their frustration at this lapse.

Early on in the second half, things seemed like they could possibly turn around as Yusuke Kondo scored a beauty of a goal from beyond the penalty box, evening the game at 1 all.  Yet 2 minutes later, another corner kick would lead to another goal for Albirex.

While FCT was clearly the dominant team in the first half, the second half saw an unorganized mess of a squad trying to keep pace with an Albirex team that has apparently improved significantly since their last encounter in late 2008.  The third Albirex goal came as a horrid back pass from Hiramatsu ended up in control of new Albirex transfer Hideo Oshima, who made easy pickings of Gonda for the score.  The last nail in the coffin came a few minutes later as Albirex swarmed Gonda, who was unable to stop Pedro Junior’s effort by himself.  Though FCT made some valiant efforts in the last 20 minutes, Albirex were unable to capitalize on at least two opportunities that could have meant a 1-6 finish.

There is a lot of blame to go around for today’s loss; the only player who probably deserves it the least is Gonda, who performed about as well as one could expect for a second-stringer with no experience on the field.  Hiramatsu was reckless and stupid and it cost the team dearly.  Akamine failed to convert one of any number of opportunities in the Albirex box.  Kajiyama was careless in his passing, resulting in several turnovers.  Players all over were losing the air battle with the regularity of a Swiss watch.  The defense was unable to hold together without Sahara, who may still be out for the Urawa match.  The list goes on.

Yet the person who burdens the most responsibility could be manager Hiroshi Jofuku as a result of his questionable lineup and even more questionable substitutions.  Especially puzzling were his decisions to start Jo Kanazawa at midfield (when Otake would probably have been a much better choice), to not start Cabore, and to bring in Bruno to replace Hanyu at a time when the team needed more offense, not more defense.  Another fact that’s become blindingly apparent is that the team is hurting from that empty 3rd foreign player slot and should start taking resumes for defenders w/ tall vertical reaches as soon as possible.

While the supporters behind the goal didn’t boo following the loss, that’s probably more out of respect to Jofuku’s 2008 performance and out of deference to Gonda, who needs all the encouragement he can get before facing Urawa in a week.  Should the team recieve a similar result in Saitama Stadium, the boos that were part and parcel of an FC Tokyo game 2 years ago may come back into favor sooner rather than later.

Quotes

It’s very difficult to win in J.League when you give up two goals off of corner kicks in a game.  We absolutely have to reflect on the fact that we’re repeating such mistakes.

The 3rd and 4th goals we surrendered were due to the mistakes of individual players, and any team that allows those sorts of mistakes to continue has no right to say that they’re in contention for the J.League title.

We can and must learn from Albirex’s strength in front of the goal.

~Hiroshi Jofuku, excerpts from postgame press conference

Errata

I had the pleasure of meeting a few of Aishiteru Tokyo’s readers following the game and I’m pretty sure they’ll all be chipping in their opinions of today’s debacle in the comments section.  In addition, when I mentioned my blog to a woman I was sitting next to before the game, she told me that her husband had actually seen my site.  So, apparently we’re spreading in popularity, slowly but surely!  Once we finish expanding the site and getting content and media organized, work can begin on my next Big Idea: an International Supporter Group in the vein of the small but dedicated groups of foreigners supporting teams such as Shimizu and Yokohama.  I have a neat idea that involves taking over a section (or agreeing to meet at a certain area of the concourse) and offering English conversational practice in return for donations towards material for flags and banners.

Also, Urawa lost and Jubilo got embarassed by Montedio fuckin’ Yamagata.  So the day wasn’t a total loss.

[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′)

[Youtube/Photo Roundup] 04.19 vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Sadly the guy who usually posts highlight clips off the TV broadcast has disabled embedding of all of his videos, but there’s enough handheld stuff to make up for it. All photos are mine, all YouTube vids are their respective owners’.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki’s supporters out in force

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Tokyo’s supporters in high spirits.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Hooray giant flag displays!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

“Walk on… walk on… with hope in your hearts…”

Video of YNWA – the supporters actually started singing before the song started and we all looked a little silly trying to get back on track, but we ended strong!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Nagatomo on the defense!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Pressure on Kawasaki.

Cabore goal!

Otake goal!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki fans try to rally the troops.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Otoko ni wa, jibun no sekai ga aru…

Konno goal!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Juninho attacked from all sides.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Victory!

Team bow and Otake’s curtain call to the supporters.

End of Otake’s curtain call and Akamine’s hero interview.

REPORT: 04.19 FC Tokyo 4:2 (2:2) Kawasaki Frontale (J1 Week 7)

Let’s get the TL;DR version out of the way…

FC Tokyo, if by some microscopic chance you’re paying attention to this little blog? that is how you win matches, and how you will continue to win matches.

On a day that started sunny, clouds threatened throughout the match but it didn’t start to rain until most of us began to leave the stadium. But a storm was brewing on the field as the 13th round of the Tamagawa Clasico was one to remember.

The boys in blue and red dominated the pitch almost from start – none of the mistakes we’ve seen in the past, or at least if they were made they were all done in the last few minutes when the match was all but decided. Tokyo dominated the midfield and kept constant pressure on Kawasaki to the point where it was only a matter of time before they would score – the question was when.

Kawasaki drew first blood with a set piece – these seem to be Tokyo’s weak point as of late (recall that Verdy’s one goal against Tokyo was from a free kick). Tokyo was unable to clear and Kashima foward Chong Tese kicked to the lower right post past Shiota. However, FCT quickly countered, and 6 minutes later Cabore slammed in the equalizer. Just a minute later, Frontale capitalized on a miscue near the Tokyo goal – an FC Tokyo player fell over Shiota as he was diving to make the save and as a result Shiota got caught outside of the box, leaving midfielder Taniguchi a practical open net. This would end up being the last major defensive mistake Tokyo would make for the rest of the game.

Right before halftime, Akamine came through with a fantastic goal to tie things up at 2 apiece, and the supporters behind the goal were rabid.

After halftime, Tokyo continued to pressure, but was unable to get a score. Then, in the 63rd minute, Otake came in for Tokunaga and in the same minute sliced through the Kawasaki defense and slammed in what would turn out to be the game winner. As you watched Otake slip past one defender after another, you knew 10 seconds before it happened it was going to be a goal, and what a glorious way to pop his cherry. 7 minutes later Konno pushed a fourth goal in with what appeared to be his knee and was almost an own-goal, essentially sealing Kawasaki’s fate with 20 minutes left in the match. Even the Kawasaki players seemed resigned to going back across the Tamagawa with no points by the 80th or so minutes, despite a few strong offensive pushes that tested Tokyo’s defense and kept Shiota busy. But, in the end, the melody of nemuranai machi rose into the night as FC Tokyo took home the win.

Game notes:

-This match was pretty rough – four yellow cards were given, and a couple were omitted, including a rough collision by Kawasaki GK Kawashima on defender Nagatomo in the second half. Much like in last year’s match, Kawasaki essentially attempted to bully FC Tokyo – except this time, FCT fought back and did so convincingly

-Juninho had a couple breakout moments where he wove past the first line of defense, but in the end he was contained in the same way Hulk was contained.

-Stupid mistakes were way down – like, insignificant compared to the B-Team effort that they put up against Jubilo and even smaller compared to Verdy. Better passing in coverage, fewer turnovers. A few give-and-go plays didn’t go as planned, but more did than didn’t. Additionally, according to the official website FC Tokyo took 8 shots and made 4 of them. I’m not sure whether I should be happy that they’re picking their opportunities or upset that they’re not taking more shots, but 4 is the most they’ve scored since last August against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

-Attendance was 22,283 – roughly the same as for the Verdy match, which surprised me. I’m inclined to think that a number of Tokyo fans feared the rain and stayed home, and they missed out. Kawasaki’s supporters were loud and impressive – fat lot of good it did them in the end, but they’re probably the largest supporter group we’ve opposed so far this year, including Verdy.

-Defender Hideki Sahara faced his former squadmates on Kawasaki for the first time since joining FC Tokyo. He received a yellow card and plenty of cheers from the home crowd as well as a couple gate flags making note of his change of residence: Photo 1 Photo 2

-Akamine got the hero interview but Otake got summoned for the sha-sha-sha chant. He went right up to the front of the supporter’s section so I didn’t see anything but I expect it’ll show up on YouTube soon enough.

-Speaking of photos I did appear in the Match Day Program – they did not include my plug for the blog but they did fix my bungled Japanese, so one for two. I’ll scan it tonight or tomorrow when I upload my photos from the game.

Finally the match notes:

STARTING LINEUPS

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

Kawasaki Frontale – (GK) Kawajima, (DF) Igawa, Terada, Ito, (MF) Mori, Nakamura, Taniguchi, Yamagishi, Ohashi, (FW) Chong, Juninho

SUBSTITUTIONS

FC Tokyo – Otake (Kurisawa 63′), Kawaguchi (Cabore 84′)

Kawasaki Frontale – Yabu (Ohashi, 63′), Kurotsu (Yamagishi, 74′), Kukino (Mori, 84′)

GOALS

FC Tokyo – Cabore (25′), Akamine (43′), Otake (63′), Konno (70′)

Kawasaki Frontale – Chong (19′), Taniguchi (26′)

YELLOW CARDS

FC Tokyo – Sahara (’19)

Kawasaki Frontale – Taniguchi (’31), Terada (’46), Mori (’48)

With today’s matches over, FC Tokyo finds itself in 3rd place in the standings – naturally this may (and likely will) change after tomorrow’s games, but things are looking up.  The next match is an away game against Jubilo – I won’t be there but I’m sure I’ll figure out some way to watch the game and get some sort of report up.

04.16.08 Nabisco Cup Group B Result – FC Tokyo 1:1 (0:0) Jubilo Iwata

A much more spirited match than anyone likely expected ended in a draw for the Gasmen as a 10-man Jubilo struck in stoppage time for the equalizer.  The boys in blue and red controlled the pitch for most of the game and got off twice as many shots, but in the end it wasn't enough to get the three points.

Tokyo, running what looked almost like a 4-2-2-2 formation, performed very sloppily in the first 15-20 minutes, turning the ball over several times.  Jubilo was not able to capitalize and Tokyo settled down, peppering the opposing keeper with shots that didn't quite find their way into the net.

Cabore was stretchered to the sideline following a hard tackle in the first half, and while he walked back onto the field he was replaced a few minutes later by Akamine, a troubling sign.  Moniwa fell hard in the second half and took a minute to get back up, but he would go on to stay in the rest of the game.

Akamine's goal in the second half was a beauty and although they weren't able to score a second goal (another troubling sign), the fact that Tokyo outshot Jubilo 15-7 is a promising sign, as are some of the shots from farther out in the box that the team took, particularly an early effort by Nagatomo.  Tokyo's attackers love to get in nice and close for their goals but the sooner more players start emulating strikes like the one Hanyu delivered against Verdy, the better they'll be – otherwise their opponents will be able to thwart them by crowding the box.

Another surprise of the night was Hirayama – Jofuku obviously had enough faith in him following his performance against Verdy to put him back in the starting lineup, and Hirayama showed enough hustle to elicit cheers from the fans several times over the course of the night, several times pushing dangerously close to the Jubilo goal and twice getting a shot off.  If Cabore's early exit turns out to be an injury look for No. 13 to start across from Akamine on Saturday.

Jubilo's goal happened during a 4-minute stoppage time, in a surprise push following NIshi's ejection that didn't quite catch Tokyo off guard but at the same time shouldn't have been allowed to take place to begin with.  If I saw it correctly, Shiota got his hands on the first shot and batted it away, but Jubilo midfielder Komano got the rebound and slammed in the goal.

FC Tokyo

Starting Lineup: Shiota (GK), Tokunaga (DF), Bruno (DF), Moniwa (DF), Nagatomo (DF), Kajiyama (MF), Konno (MF), Kanezawa (MF), Kurisawa (MF), Cabore (FW), Hirayama (FW)

Substitutions: Akamine (Cabore, 35'), Otake (Kurisawa, 62'), Ikegami (Kanezawa, 70')

Goals: Akamine (51')

Yellow Cards: Kurisawa (62')

Jubilo Iwata

Starting Lineup: Kawaguchi (GK), Suzuki (DF), Tanaka (DF), Kayoshi (DF), Komano (MF), Kawamura (MF), Ueda (MF), Naruoka (MF), Nishi (MF), Jiushinyo (FW), Nakayama (FW)

Substitutions: Bandai (Juishinyo, 62'), Inuzuka (Naruoka, 66'), Nanami (Nakayama, 77')

Goals: Komano (89')

Yellow Cards: Suzuki (43'), Tanaka (78'), Nishi (87'), Nishi (89')

Red Cards: Nishi ('89)

Also, while I was taking some photos around the stadium to put on here, I was interviewed by FC Tokyo staffers who put together the matchday programs for their Blue & Red Caravan feature, which is basically little mini-interviews with the fans (in my case, favorite player, how I got into FC Tokyo, etc).  I managed to pull it off in Japanese without sounding like a total retard (or at least they'll edit any retardedness out) and if they're to be believed I'll be featured in the program for Saturday's match against Kawasaki.  I'm… afraid.  But I did mention this blog so here's hoping they include the URL!

In other Group B action, Shimizu S-Pulse apparently curb-stomped a Hulk-less Verdy to the tune of 5:0.  Ouch.  I feel like I should send the guys over at Soilent Green 1969 a funeral wreath or something.

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