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Match Report: J1R18 Omiya Ardija 0-3 FC Tokyo

J.League Division 1 Round 18
First Half
0- 1

Second Half
0 – 2

Final
0 – 3

July 18th 2009, 6:30PM kickoff at NACK5 Stadium (Omiya, Saitama) Attendance 13,527
GK 21 Nobuhisa Kobayashi
DF 2 Taishi Tsukamoto
DF 5 Daisuke Tomita
DF 3 Mato Neretljak
DF 4 Yasuhiro Hato
MF 23 Shin Kanazawa
MF 17 Hayato Hashimoto
MF 11 Chikara Fujimoto
MF 7 Tomoya Uchida
FW 9 Naoki Ishihara
FW 18 Dudu
Starting Members
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
DF 4 Bruno Quadros
DF 6 Yasuyuki Konno
DF 5 Yuto Nagatomo
MF 28 Takuji Yonemoto
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 18 Naohiro Ishikawa
MF 22 Naotake Hanyu
FW 9 Cabore
FW 13 Sota Hirayama
44′ 34 Seo Yong-Duk (for Dudu)
65′ 25 Kohei Tokita (for Tomoya Uchida)
81′ 15 Masato Saito (for Shin Kanazawa)
Substitutes 60′ 27 Sotan Tanabe (for Naotake Hanyu)
79′ 32 Yusuke Kondo (for Cabore)
85′ 40 Tatsuya Suzuki (for Naohiro Ishikawa)
Goals 44′ Sota Hirayama
70′ Yasayuki Konno
89′ Sota Hirayama
4′ Mato Neretljak
88′ Chikara Fujimoto
Cautions
Ejections

Report

Omiya’s game plan was very similar to that of mine whenever I play Winning Eleven against my Japanese friends, and worked about as well.  Tokyo was tired and made the usual assortment of passing mistakes (Kajiyama is back to his 5 fuckups:1 good pass ratio), and Yusuke was… embarrassing in his 15 minutes as a substitute.  Jofuku’s out of his right mind if he considers putting him back in the squad for anything but the reserve team until he gets out there and shows some hustle like Akamine did on Wednesday.  Omiya did manage to keep Nao off the scoreboard, stopping his streak at 6 games.  Yet in doing so, the Mighty Squirrels unleashed the beast that is Sota Hirayama, as seen in this photo courtesy of J’s Goal:

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…yes, this report was pretty much an excuse to post that image, and I’m comfortable with that.

Reports that #13 is considering a change in uniform number to something over 9000 remain unverified, but the two goals he scored on Saturday night were basically the exclamation point on the incredible two months he’s had ever since shaving his head.  His aggressive play and on-the-field mannerisms have inspired even some Tokyo supporters to refer to him as a heel (the traditional term for ‘the bad guy’ in pro wrestling).  I know Agent Orange over at Go!Go! Omiya Ardija thinks he’s a bastard.  That said he’s our bastard and we love him for it.  Plus there are any number of other players who are bigger douches, when it comes down to it.

In other news, as word of Tokyo’s continued rampage throughout J.League spread, the top 4 teams in the standings managed to soil their pants at the same time.  Kashima, Kawasaki, and Albirex all drew their matches, while Urawa lost on the WWI-era trench zone that is the Kyushu Oil Dome to cellar-dwellers Oita Trinita.  This leaves the top 5 as follows:

1.  Kashima Antlers (43 points)
2. Urawa Reds (34 points)
3. Albirex Niigata (33 points)
4. Kawasaki Frontale (33 points)
5. FC Tokyo (31 points)
6. Sanfrecce Hiroshima (26 points)

The coming month will be crucial for Tokyo as we play three of these teams – Hiroshima this coming weekend, Kawasaki next weekend, and Kashima on the 23rd.  Given how within striking distance we are to 2nd place Urawa (and just behind them on goal difference too; +5 to their +6), should Tokyo’s good run continue summer could end with the team in position for an ACL bid; or even the league championship.

Match Report: J1 Round 9: FC Tokyo vs. Omiya Ardija

J.League Division 1 Week #
First Half
2 – 1

Second Half
1 – 1

Final
3 – 2

May 2nd 2009, 7PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo) Attendance 18,886
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
DF 4 Bruno Quadros
DF 6 Yasuyuki Konno
DF 5 Yuto Nagatomo
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 28 Takuji Yonemoto
MF 18 Naohiro Ishikawa
MF 22 Naotake Hanyu
FW 24 Shingo Akamine
FW 9 Cabore
Starting Members
GK 21 Koji Ezumi
DF 25 Kohei Tokita
DF 6 Yosuke Kataoka
DF 3 Mato
DF 19 Yusuke Murayama
MF 33 Ryohei Arai
MF 23 Shin Kanazawa
MF 30 Daisuke Watabe
MF 7 Tomoya Uchida
FW 13 Yoshihito Fujita
FW 9 Naoki Ishihara
80′ 40 Tatsuya Suzuki (for Naohiro Ishikawa)
81′ 13 Sota Hirayama (for Cabore)
87′ 7 Satoru Asari (for Naotake Hanyu)
Substitutes Half 14 Park Won-Jae (for Daisuke Watabe)
67′ 11 Chikara Fujimoto (for Ryohei Arai)
78′ 28 Shunsuke Fukuda (for Tomoya Uchida)
4′ Naohiro Ishikawa
25′ Naohiro Ishikawa
57′ Naohiro Ishikawa
Goals 36′ Tomoya Uchida
67′ Mato
59′ Takuji Yonemoto
60′ Yuhei Tokunaga
87′ Satoru Asari
Cautions 13′ Yosuke Kataoka
Ejections

Report

Sadly I wasn’t able to watch the match so I didn’t get to see Ishikawa’s hat trick… this is a trend, as almost any time I miss a home game we take home points.

[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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[Preview] 04.26 – 05.10 GOLDEN WEEK SPRINT (J1 Round 8 through 12)

As is apparently traditional, J.League schedules each team for 4 or 5 matches during the Golden Week holiday in an attempt to get more attendees into the stadiums while they can enjoy a rare extended holiday.

In FC Tokyo’s case, this means five matches played over the span of two weeks, three at home and two away. These matches are against a variety of opponents from all over the table, and how they perform in this period will be as good an indicator as any of what the season holds for the team.

I will not be attending the first match (away at Shimizu) for obvious reasons. However, as I’m a season ticket holder I’ll be at the Oita, Nagoya, and Kashiwa home games, and have procured a ticket to attend the away campaign at Omiya. So, in the interest of not flooding this blog with 20 posts in a week by posting match previews every 24 hours (and in the interest of staying sane by not having to do so), I’m going to preview the upcoming two weeks of insanity here in one big post. Match reports/YouTube roundups will hopefully come after each match and if anything occurs that drastically alters the face of any matches I’ll naturally post that as well.

So, let’s get started with the home team!

Where FC Tokyo Stands

It’s been a long time since the Blue and Red stood alone as high as third place (the last time they were this high in J1 was in 2005, when they spent the first month or two of the season in first place). Trailing last year’s champion Kashima Antlers by two points and the current table leaders Nagoya Grampus by five, FC Tokyo is arguably the hottest team in the league right now – while Nagoya may be in the lead, and teams like Kashima and Urawa may have stronger rosters, Tokyo has youth, poise, and a new sort of confidence that the team – and the fans – have been waiting for. Manager Jofuku has put a team on the field that the supporters expected last year and have been waiting for for the last several years – what remains to be seen is whether that momentum can be sustained.

On the attack side, FC Tokyo is taking more shots, controlling its passing better, and getting around defenders with ease. Newcomer Cabore may not yet be the goal-scoring machine that he was in K.League last year (in fact, he’s has three so far – certainly not bad by any stretch), but he’s creating chances, making key plays, and pulling attention from other defenders, making him just as dangerous. Fellow arrival Hanyu, though he’ll miss the next game with an injury he sustained during the Verdy match, has also performed well and added depth to the lineup. Team elder statesman Yasayuki Konno leads the squad with four goals and is as dangerous as ever in the box, while Shingo Akamine has finally found his groove and pushed the attack.

Yet if any player could be considered to be emblematic of FC Tokyo’s success, it would be young phenom Youhei Otake. Raised through the Tokyo system, and easily spotted among the squad (as he’s a few centimeters shorter than most of his fellow teammates), his speed, passing ability, and pure passion for the game have energized the team and captivated the fans. His first J.League goal, less than 30 seconds after coming onto the field, was a perfect lob that the Kawasaki keeper had no chance of stopping that followed a swift dissection of the Kawasaki defense. Already being referred to by some fans as 神の子 – “Child of the Gods”, Otake will likely be the future face of the team.

Defensively, though the team’s goal differential is only +2, 2008’s defense is a vast improvement over last year’s, and Saturday’s game was as great an indication of that as any. Half a year after getting pounded 7:0 by Kawasaki, FC Tokyo held the Dolphins to two goals that came off of free kicks (the one troubling point on the squad), and neutralized Kawasaki strikers Chong and Juninho. A week earlier, Verdy striker Hulk found himself attacked on all sides for most of the game and was, save for his set-piece goal that was admittedly a beauty, a non-factor. A frequent lament of the team’s performance last year was that every time FC Tokyo would march up the field, they would soon be swarmed on all sides by defenders that seemed to materialize out of nowhere as though they were Agent Smith and his many replicas. These days, the shoe is on the other foot, and boy does it fit great.

There are still a few questions that face the team – the foremost in my opinion being can they stay fit. GK Shiota was helped off the field after Saturday’s game by trainers, and although he’s a tough SOB one can’t help but worry. MF Emerson has been out for several weeks now and his eventual return will only add depth to Tokyo’s attack. Other concerns include the team’s vulnerability to the free kick, their ability to consistently score (one can only hope that the offense clicked during the Kawasaki match and will continue to do so), and their strength against stronger squads. So far Tokyo’s wins have come against Albirex Niigata, Consadole Sapporo, Tokyo Verdy, and Kawasaki Frontale – not exactly the top teams in the league by anyone’ standards. Their one loss came against Yokohama F. Marinos in what was undoubtedly their worst performance, and the team has pulled draws against Vissel Kobe and a surprisingly resilient Kyoto Sanga FC.
All in all, they are winning games they are supposed to win, which is all well and good, but to reach first place the magicians on the squad had better dig deep into their hats and pull out some rabbits. This stretch of games will provide them the perfect opportunity to do so.

Round 8: 04.26 Shimizu S-Pulse vs. FC Tokyo at Nihondaira Stadium

Shimizu presents a dangerous matchup for FC Tokyo – while the team is undefeated in the Nabisco Cup group stage (including a win against FC Tokyo and a win and draw against Tokyo Verdy), in league play they have only 5 points to their name, hovering above the relegation zone along with Albirex Niigata. Their last game was a convincing draw against Yokohama F. Marinos that did nothing else if not prove that S-Pulse hasn’t lost its energy from last season. Where Shimizu has lacked so far this year is in the goal department – they’ve put five on the board in the first seven games of the year, tied for the lowest in the league with Albirex. If FC Tokyo can keep Shimizu off the board and their offense continues to click as it has in the last couple games, this should be a relatively easy three points.

Round 9: 04.29 FC Tokyo vs. Oita Trinita at Ajinomoto Stadium

Truth be told… I really have no idea how Oita is performing this season. Apparently they’re in the middle of the table. I think we may have lost to them last year, I could be wrong. In any case I don’t think predicting a Tokyo victory would be unreasonable, but someone correct me if I’m mistaken.

Round 10: 05.03 Omiya Ardija vs. FC Tokyo at NACK5 Stadium

In what could be the most intriguing match in this strech (if not the highest-profile; that honor goes to the Nagoya campaign), FC Tokyo travels north to take on the “other” Saitama team – a surprisingly resilient Omiya Ardija squad that has gone from a team that just barely avoided relegation to a mid-table contender. Omiya’s match on Sunday, a well-fought 0-0 draw away at Urawa, proved that though they lack depth, they do not lack skill or passion which, when concentrated enough, will beat an expensive roster such as the Reds’ 9 times out of 10.

Win, lose, or draw, this will be a fun and entertaining match – the visitor’s stand at NACK5 (which I’m referring to from now on as 靴箱競技場) sold out in about a day or two and FC Tokyo fans are scrambling to get tickets in the back stand as they come out to visit Squirrel Nation. Omiya, for its part, will open the sprint by playing home against Kashima and away at Gamba Osaka. Following their near-upset of Urawa, fans across J.League will surely be tuning into those two games and FC Tokyo would be advised to take notes as well.

Round 11: 05.06 FC Tokyo vs. Nagoya Grampus at Ajinomoto Stadium

Depending on Tokyo’s performance in the first three matches of the spring, this could be the match that defines how our season will play out. Nagoya is currently the strongest team in J1, with an unbeaten record that includes having won the last six games including wins against ladder-toppers Yokohama FM and Urawa. The team is high on new head coach Pixy’s dust but whether they will continue to be strong or flame out early like they did last year is yet to be seen. For what it’s worth, Nagoya’s three opponents before the Tokyo match include away at Verdy (which, given Verdy’s latest performances without Hulk, will likely be the equivalent of stealing candy from a small retarded child), home against Kawasaki, and away at Osaka.

Round 12: 05.10 FC Tokyo vs. Kashiwa Reysol at Ajinomoto Stadium

Just when you expect that most teams in J1 are about to fall over from exhaustion, one last Saturday game gets attached to the schedule to test the mettle of both the players and hardcore supporters alike. Kashima is currently hanging tough on the lower half of the table and could prove to be a reasonable threat to Tokyo – then again given that all 18 J1 teams will endure similar schedules, Kashiwa may be ready to collapse as well.

As far as my predictions – the “middle of the road” prediction is two wins (Shimizu and Oita), two draws (Omiya and Kashiwa), and one loss (Grampus). Optimistic would be 3 wins (Shimizu, Oita, Kashiwa) and one draw (Nagoya), with Omiya as a game that could net Tokyo either one point or three. Conservative would be one win (Shimizu) two draws (Oita, Kashiwa) and two losses (Omiya, Nagoya). I think if one is to predict based on the assumption that Tokyo is the “favorite” for all but the Nagoya match, the only team with the potential footing for an upset is Omiya.

So, to sum things up, this sprint should be good for FC Tokyo and at the end we’ll most likely be in the top half of the ladder.  I’m attending a concert in town tomorrow but I may try to find a sports bar that w