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[Match Report] J1 Week 30 Shimizu S-Pulse 1:2 FC Tokyo

J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Semifinal Part 2
First Half
1- 2
Second Half
0 – 0

1 – 2

October 25th 2009, 1:03PM Kickoff at Nihondaira “Outsourcing” Stadium (Shimizu, Shizuoka) Attendance 19,275
GK K. Yamamoto
DF Ichikawa
DF Iwashita
DF Arata
DF Ota
MF Edamura
MF M. Yamamoto
MF Ito
MF Hyodo
FW Johnsen
FW Okazaki
Starting Members
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
DF 4 Bruno Quadros
DF 6 Teriyuki Konno
DF 5 Yuto Nagatomo
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 28 Takuji Yonemoto
MF 40 Tatsuya Suzuki
MF 22 Naotake Hanyu
FW 24 Shingo Akamine
FW 13 Sota Hirayama
Fujimoto on for Hyodo (68)
Hara on for Masaki (69)
Takaki on for Arata (78)

Substitutes 25′ 33 Kenta Mukuhara (for Nagatomo)
76′ 15 Daishi Hiramatsu (for Tatsuya)
85′ 8 Ryuji Fujiyama (for Hanyu)
7′ Okazaki Goals 3′ Tatsuya Suzuki
39′ Own Goal
89′ Iwashita Cautions 28′ Sota Hirayama
33′ Shingo Akamine


Apologies for the late report, Nabisco Cup preparations are consuming my days.
It was a sunny, blustery afternoon at Nihondaira; perfect for a soccer match.  Nihondaira has become one of my favorite stadiums in Japan this season; great architecture combined with a welcoming atmosphere, great concessions, and a passionate supporter base.  We took all local trains (3.5 hours but also about 40% of the cost of a shinkansen), so the trip started at about 9AM, but it was worth it to arrive up the mountain.

Oh, and the game was pretty good too, except when it wasn’t.  Most of this has to do with the a Mr. Joji Kashihara, a referee so incompetent that he wouldn’t be able to officiate a game of rock paper scissors without calling a foul.  Between the constant whistling of non-fouls, whistling of real fouls, and general ineptitude, the game proceeded with a glacial pace at times with the players almost unwilling to go full steam out of fear that the play would just be whistled dead.  According to his Wikipedia entry (Japanese only), Kashihara is known for whistling too often, brandishing cards too often, and allowing the game to get out of control too easily.  He refereed the Urawa Reds-Manchester United friendly in ’05, as well as a Shonan Bellmare-Tokyo Verdy match in ’07 which saw 12 yellow cards and 2 ejections.

So yeah, as far as I’m concerned in the first half Tokyo were playing against 12 men.

The first half started with a bang as Tatsuya snuck in a fantastic header goal that seemed to set the pace for the day.  4 minutes later, however, Shimizu capitalized on a corner kick to get one back courtesy of Okazaki, who scored about 50 goals in NT play earlier this month.  Once again, Tokyo’s ineffectiveness at defending against the set play was plain for all to see, but the team fought back (against both S-Pulse and the ref) and gained control of the game back.

At 25′, a stunning substitution as Nagatomo was pulled out for Kenta Mukuhara.  It was later announced that Nagatomo had suffered a dislocated shoulder (!) during pre-game warmups.  The team has announced that it will take 3 weeks for him to fully heal but from what I understand they’re gonna tape him up and give him some Tylenol and push him onto the field next Tuesday.  In any case, Mukuhara did very well in Nagatomo’s stead so it could have been worse.

At about 35′, Tokyo scored what we thought was goal #2… until it was called back for offsides.  I need to see a replay to determine whether or not it was a valid offsides call, but by then the supporters were absolutely exasperated.  Fortunately 4 minutes later Shimizu defender Iwashita would give us a gift; in attempting to clear the ball he unintentionally headed it in for an own goal.  Thanks #5!  Tokyo would go into halftime with a 2-1 lead.

The second half featured less scoring but someone must have warned Kashihara that unless he started calling some fouls against Shimizu someone was gonna file a complaint, because the groans from the home end echoed those of the away end in the first half.  Tokyo basically managed to assert complete control of the game and displayed some of its signature passing and created a few more scoring chances that, sadly, didn’t work out.  Near the end of the game, lifetime Tokyo veteran Ryuji Fujiyama, who announced earlier this week that he would be leaving the team after 16 years with the organization, came on as a substitution much to the delight of the visiting crowd.  After 90 minutes the players were exhausted and a few limped to the visitor end, but the 3 points were ours.

With this victory, Tokyo is in 5th place:

1.  Kawasaki Frontale (55)
2. Kashima Antlers (54)
3. Gamba Osaka (51)
4. Shimizu S-Pulse (50)
5. FC Tokyo (49)

and not only are we in 5th place but stunningly, despite all of the problems this team has had to face over the course of the season, we are still in ACL contention.  More on that in the next post.  For now, back to flagmaking.

[Match Report] Nabisco Cup Semifinal Part 2 – FC Tokyo 1:0 Shimizu S-Pulse

J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Semifinal Part 2
First Half
1- 0
Second Half
0 – 0

1 – 0

September 6th 2009, 6PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo) Attendance 22,181
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
DF 4 Bruno Quadros
DF 2 Teriyuki Moniwa
DF 33 Kenta Mukuhara
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 28 Takuji Yonemoto
MF 18 Naohiro Ishikawa
MF 22 Naotake Hanyu
FW 9 Cabore
FW 13 Sota Hirayama
Starting Members
to be added
72' 40 Tatsuya Suzuki (for Hanyu)
80' 3 Hideki Sahara (for Hirayama)
82' 15 Daishi Hiramatsu (for Ishikawa)
17' Sota Hirayama Goals


On a triumphant night at Ajinomoto Stadium, I… was in Shibuya, shooting PUNKAFOOLIC SHIBUYA CRASH.  I was fortunate enough, however, to catch the result right before I went to shoot dustbox, and as they say in the local parlance テンション上がった!  While being a Tokyo supporter comes with its ups and downs, such is the life of all soccer supporters, as similarly expressed by the chorus of dustbox's Hurdle Race:

Just like a hurdle race!
Gotta get over again and again.
Just like a hurdle race!
What's waiting for me!?

…okay, yeah, that's a bit of a stretch, but give me some credit for trying to tie it all together.

With this victory, FC Tokyo advances to its first Nabisco Cup final in 5 years, when it defeated Urawa in a much-storied penalty shootout to claim its only silverware in club history.  Tokyo's opponent will be Kawasaki Frontale, a team that has so far stymied Tokyo twice this season but faces one of the roughest schedules out of all J.League teams in the next month:
Sept. 12 — Antlers
19 — Urawa Reds
23 — Grampus (ACL)
26 — Gamba
30 — Grampus (ACL)

Yeah, wow, that's brutal.

In October, Kawasaki has to play against Yokohama FM, Omiya Ardija, and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, plus the Round 2 Emperor's Cup Match (I assume that their hypothetical Round 3 match, like Tokyo's, will be moved to November 11th due to their Cup Final appearance).  Additionally, should Kawasaki beat Nagoya in the ACL quarterfinal series, they would advance to the semifinals and play matches on the 21st and 28th of October.  While both of Kawasaki's prospective opponents are located in the Middle East, it appears that the 28th would be played at Kawasaki so there's less hope that the team will be horribly jet-lagged before the 3rd.

Anyway, while I can't personally report on the match, I've made friends this summer with Andre, a Canadian supporter of FC Tokyo who's spending nearly half a year travelling around Japan and seeing lots of FCT matches.  He was there on Sunday and so I've asked him to share his thoughts with our readership:

For those of us overseas cats who can only follow our favorite Asian squads via the internet, to actually be able to watch that favorite Asian squad reach a cup final, live, during your travels is a unique experience. I had the opportunity to sing, chant and scream as the Red and Blue won a convincing 1-0 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse last night at Ajinomoto. Having the advantage from the 2-2 draw on Wednesday night in Shimizu, Tokyo could have defended, sat back and hoped for the best. A draw, the better nil nil draw, would have seen the team back into the finals it won in 2004. And if you, like myself, watched how poorly the team played at the start of this campaign; not to mention the last several weeks before Oita, you can understand the collective sigh of relief many of us had after the final 4 minutes of stoppage time was whistled down. What needed to happen, and happen quickly was the return of Hirayama to form, as he has been having some extremely frustrating games as of late. The slump is officially over. A cross was met by Hirayama and found its way into the back of the net comfortably.  Hirayama was all smiles and cheers.  In replay it kinda looked like an S Pulse defender deflected it in the 50/50 between himself and Hirayama in the box, but who cares about such details. Tokyo was up 1-0, albeit fairly early in the game.

The rest of the match reflected how this series began at Shimizu and is ultimatly, I believe won us the the semi-final: defense. The defending was strong, more so than in last weeks' first leg. Bruno, my dear Bruno, was a menace on the back line preventing many a Shimizu attack. The most dangerous  player on Shimizu, and someone who Tokyo had a hard time dealing with on Wednesday was the big Norwegian Johnsen.  Frode was finally kept quiet by the Tokyo defenders last night. The chances went Tokyos' way for most of the match, with Cabore and Ishikawa having some difficulty in linking up, as opportunities were flying everywhere in the middle and late parts of the second half. Cabore was giving it his all and if what is rumoured turns out to be true, and this was Cabore`s final game for Tokyo, he went out flying. Ishikawa is still looking like he's trying way too hard to get back to where he left off before his injury, making silly errors, but he still looked fast and strong the only way Ishikawa can. What I liked, and it seemed that Jofoku gave the team the same advice at halftime, was to not let Shimizu dictate or pressure the game. There was a lot to lose during the match and Tokyo never allowed Shimizu to  bully or rally. Shimizu can be a difficult team to play,  playing particularly well before these semi-final legs in regular league play.

November 3rd is closer than you think, and with Kawasaki defeating Yokohama, this final is going to be something to write home about. I can hardly wait.


Thanks for the report, Andre!

If you haven't seen the sticky on the top of our website, you can go here for our special Nabisco Cup Ticket Info page.  For the next two months, look to Aishiteru Tokyo for the net's most comprehensive English coverage of FC Tokyo and their journey to Kokuritsu for the final battle against Tamagawa Clasico rivals Kawasaki Frontale.


Halfway Home

Full report and photos from the wonderful Outsourcing Stadium are a bit delayed; I'm on my backup computer while my MacBook Pro gets some needed repairs before the 3-year warranty runs out next week and all of the photos are on my Mac-formatted RAID server
essay services

For now what you need to know is this: Tokyo tied Shimizu 2-2 in the away leg of the semifinal on Wednesday night and is coming home to a must-win (or at least must-scoreless-draw) situation.

The result was unfortunate as Tokyo pretty much blew a 2-1 lead up a man; this is as much an indictment of Tokyo's sloppy play in the second half as it is recognition of Shimizu's tenacity.  Oddly enough they scored when down a man against Tokyo in their Nabisco Cup Group Stage match as well, so this is a very unfortunate trend.  Bruno matched up well against Shimizu's big man Frode Johnsen in the first half, Kenta Mukuhara was not as effective in the second.

Yonemoto's goal was a shocker; he seems to have picked up a tendency to score goals he has no right to get.  But hell, I could think of worse habits.

Anyway I'm glad I made the trip out to Shimizu; their stadium is FANTASTIC and I recommend it to anyone who wants to check out a game in Japan.  Wonderful sight lines, beautiful backdrop, great concessions, superb atmosphere.  I even got to meet up with Barry over at S-Pulse UK Ultras; bringing my total of fellow J-Bloggers I've met up to 3 thus far.  We've got a tight little community going and I hope that the planned upgrades to the Rising Sun will help us spread the word even further.

But now we look ahead to Sunday; disappointingly I won't be able to attend the match (I've been given the chance to shoot a major punk festival in Shibuya and I can't turn that down no matter how deep my soccer loyalties lie) but I have high hopes that the fans at Ajinomoto can help the team carry through to the finals.  Here's the result breakdown:

Result – Consequence

Tokyo win (any score) – Tokiyo advances to Nabisco Cup Final
0-0 draw – Tokyo advances to Nabisco Cup Final (away goal rule)
1-1 draw – Tokyo advances to Nabisco Cup Final (away goal rule)
2-2 draw – Following the second half, teams play 30 minutes of extra time followed by penalty kicks if necessary
3-3 draw or higher – Shimizu advances to Nabisco Cup Final (away goal rule)
Shimizu win (any score) – Shimizu advances to Nabisco Cup Final

So as it is with most of these affairs, the safest way in is to win.  I think Tokyo is more than capable of doing so (especially if they play as they did in the first 45 minutes on Wednesday), but that's why they play the full 90 minutes.

As it is, Hirayama apparently caught a fever and has been bedrested for a day or so, whether or not he recovers by Sunday will be crucial.


Live from Shimizu!

Sorry about the last couple match reports being delayed; I've been really busy with the end of summer and getting ready to start work at my new job.  Additionally, due to a sizable photography gig on the 6th, I will not be able to attend the home leg of the FCT/Shimizu Nabisco Cup Semifinal.

Fortunately, due to a good day at the pachinko parlor, I've got more than enough funds to attend tomorrow's away leg.  So if you're on Twitter, follow @aishiterutokyo for the latest from Outsourcing Stadium.  I'll probably spend some time before the game chilling with Barry over at S-Pulse UK Ultras, and that should be fun as I always look forward to meeting other writers in the English J-Soccer Blogosphere.

Shimizu is 4 points ahead of us in the standings; we've also beaten them two times already this season.  None of this matters of course because this home-and-away series will determine who goes to the finals of the 2009 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup.

Additionally, with Nagatomo and Konno in the Netherlands with the national team, tomorrow's lineup will probably look something like this:

GK: Gonda
DF: Tokunaga, Bruno, Moniwa, Mukuhara
MF: Yonemoto, Kajiyama, Ishikawa, Hanyu
FW: Cabore, Hirayama

The most important thing for Tokyo will be scoring precious away goals; a win would be fantastic of course but even a draw would have huge ramifications as long as it's not 0-0.  The team seemed to awaken from its slumber against lowly Oita on Saturday and it was a welcome relief to see Ishikawa back on the field.  Tokyo seemed to have a bit of rust in the first 30 minutes but dominated the second half, so I think they'll be going into Shimizu with the right mentality.

S-Pulse has had a much better summer than Tokyo, going undefeated (5 wins, 4 draws) in league play since their loss at Kokuritsu.  Additionally, the Orange… whatevertheyares bounced back from a 2-1 loss at Saitama Stadium to beat Urawa 3-0 at home and advance to the semis.  They are certainly one of the most formidable teams in the league right now and to underestimate them is to do so at one's own peril.

Anyway this will be my 3rd time visiting a new stadium this year (2009 has also marked my first trips to Hitachi Stadium and Kashima Stadium), thus fulfilling one of my New Years Resolutions.  So, either way I'll have accomplished something!


Match Report: J1 Round 15: FC Tokyo vs. Shimizu S-Pulse

J.League Division 1 Week #
First Half
1 – 0Second Half
1 – 1

2 – 1

June 27th 2009, 7PM Kickoff at Kokuritsu Stadium (Shinjuku, Tokyo) Attendance 28,987
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
Starting Members
GK 29 Kaito Yamamoto
DF 25 Daisuke Ichikawa
DF 3 Naoaki Aoyama
DF 2 Arata Kodama
DF 4 Kosuke Ota
MF 23 Shinji Okazaki
MF 8 Takuma Edamura
MF 7 Teruyoshi Ito
MF 13 Akihiro Hyodo
FW 11 Kazuki Hara
FW 18 Frode Johnsen
74′ 40 Tatsuya Suzuki (for Naotake Hanyu)
85′ 33 Kenta Mukuhara (for Cabore)
89′ 24 Shingo Akamine (for Naohiro Ishikawa)
Substitutes 42′ 6 Marcos Paulo (for Takuma Edamura)
73′ 10 Jungo Fujimoto (for Akihiro Hyodo)
83′ 15 Shinji Tsujio (for Daisuke Ichikawa)
7′ Yohei Kajiyama (PK)
62′ Naohiro Ishikawa
Goals 58′ Frode Johnsen
17′ Sota Hirayama
26′ Yohei Kajiyama
42′ Shuichi Gonda
66′ Yasuyuki Konno
Cautions 6′ Akihiro Hyodo


The blue and red express continues to roll up the J.League table as Tokyo played a tough game of soccer against a Shimizu squad that was much improved from that of two weeks ago.

Once again, Tokyo started the game off with an early goal to take the lead and momentum.  This time it came off of a PK that Cabore earned when he was egregiously tackled on the far left side of the Shimizu penalty box.  Kajiyama took the kick and sent it rocketing to the left post past the keeper for an easy 1-0 lead.

After that, as if he felt that he had given FCT an unfair advantage, the referee seemed to favor Shimizu for the rest of the match; S-Pulse took 20 free kicks in the match compared to Tokyo’s 11.  Furthermore, Tokyo recieved no less than 4 yellow cards during the match.  Despite this, Tokyo’s defense did a terrific job of stopping any Shimizu attacks; in partciular Bruno made a terrific tackle late in the first half to stop what appeared to be a dangerous drive.

Tokyo continued to dominate in the second half as well, but Shimizu brought the game back to a deadlock when their goalkeeper fell over while walking the ball out (I’m actually pretty sure that an FCT player bumped into him but I could have been mistaken, causing play to stop and the referee to come over and check on him.  This break in the action allowed Shimizu extra time to move its men down the field, and Johnsen was able to sneak an easy one past Gonda.

Five minutes later, Naohiro Ishikawa took a deflection off Kajiyama of a pass from Hirayama and proceeded to thread the goddamned needle, rocketing a shot that slipped just above the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and slamed in and under the crossbar for the score.  Nao is now the second-highest scorer in J.League with 8 goals, first among Japanese players.

From then on it was simply taking control of the field and depriving Shimizu of any opportunities to even the score.  While Tokyo missed several opportunities over the course of the game that could have easily made it a 3-1 or even 4-1 game, this was a well-earned victory and if Nagatomo’s postgame speech was any indication, team spirits couldn’t be higher.


“I feel like I’m seeing more shooting opportunities than I used to.  In the first half there were some chances, but in the second half the play just opened up and I felt like there were a lot more options.  My game is definitely becoming more interesting lately.” ~ Naohiro Ishikawa

“In the first half we moved the ball around a lot but we weren’t able to move the ball forward as much as I would have liked.  On defense we fell into some dangerous spots a few times but we successfully forced Shimizu to give up the ball.  Overall we were able to get thigns done so all we can do is look at what we need to correct from today’s match.”  ~ Naotake Hanyu

“One of the important points we looked at heading into this season was whether we could break  the kind of zone defense that Shimizu used against us so effectively last year.  Because we scored three points against them in the Nabisco match, the players came into this game with confidence.  I’m happy that 28,000 fans came to help us start our summer counter-attack.” ~ Hiroshi Jofuku

Nabisco Cup Group B Round 6: FC Tokyo vs. Shimizu S-Pulse

Nabisco Cup Group B Round 6
First Half
1 – 0Second Half
2 – 1

3 – 1

June 13th 2009, 2PM Kickoff at Komazawa Stadium (Setagawa, Tokyo) Attendance 12,538
GK 20 Shuichi Gonda
DF 33 Kenta Mukuhara
DF 4 Bruno Quadros
DF 15 Daishi Hiramatsu
DF 25 Yuhei Tokunaga
MF 28 Takuji Yonemoto
MF 10 Yohei Kajiyama
MF 18 Naohiro Ishikawa
MF 27 Sotan Tanabe
FW 9 Cabore
FW 32 Yusuke Kondo
Starting Members
GK 21 Yohei Nishibe
DF 25 Daisuke Ichikawa
DF 3 Naoaki Aoyama
DF 5 Keisuke Iwashita
DF 2 Arata Kodama
MF 10 Jungo Fujimoto
MF 7 Teruyoshi Ito
MF 16 Takuya Honda
MF 13 Akihiro Hyodo
FW 8 Takuma Edamura
FW 11 Kazuki Hara
57' 40Tatsuya Suzuki (for Yusuke Kondo)
66' 24 Shingo Akamine (for Cabore)
75' 19 Yohei Otake (for Sotan Tanabe)
Substitutes Half 20 Shun Nagasawa (for Teruyoshi Ito)
68' 22 Genki Omae (for Jungo Fujimoto)
68' 4 Kosuke Ota (for Arata Kodama)
6' Cabore
61' Naohiro Ishikawa
73' Shingo Akamine (PK)
Goals 83' Genko Omae
34' Kenta Mukuhara
58' Yuhei Tokunaga
Cautions 70' Naoaki Aoyama
71' Naoaki Aoyama
73' Keisuke Iwashita
  Ejections 71' Naoaki Aoyama


For what may be the first time this season, Tokyo played 90 minutes of exciting, fast-pced, attack-oriented football and managed to absolutely decimate Shimizu S-Pulse in what was essentially a dead-rubber game for the orange legion.  Shimizu had locked up a berth in the quarterfinals already; a win would guarantee first place and a matchup with Nagoya Grampus, while a loss or draw could possibly knock the team down to 2nd and result in a tieup with Group A's first place squad (which turned out to be Urawa.  Tokyo, on the other hand, controlled its own destiny and could make it to the second round (and win Group B) with a win.

The match ws a wild back -and-forth affair from the start; topped with an early goal by Cabore that gave Tokyo a rare first-half lead.  Though Tokyo (particularly Kajiyama) made many silly passing mistakes, the lead held and the boys in blue and red went into the locker room feeling pretty good about themselves.

The second half featured drama, intrigue, and a rare officiating decision that favored Tokyo.  16 minutes into the second half, Naohiro Ishikwa let off a ripping shot that would prove to be the game winner.  10 minutes later, Akamine was pulled down inside the box by Shimizu defender Naoki Aoyama, who began protesting practically before the referee pointed to the penalty spot.  With the Tokyo fans egging him on, Aoyama continued to protest and was eventually showed a red card for his trouble.  Akamine's first attempt was blocked, but the referee gave another Shimizu player a yellow for encroaching on the penalty area and called a redo.  Akamine didn't miss the second time and Tokyo steamed on to a 3-1 victory despite getting a bit lazy on defense with a 3-goal lead and a 1-man advantage (hence the '1' in the equation.  Gonda proved his skills by stopping a penalty shot late in the second half that would have made it 3-2 and caused heart rates to go up behind the Tokyo goal, and from then on it was merely a question of which songs to sing until the final whistle.

Having captured Group B, Tokyo will now take on Nagoya Grampus in the quarterfinals of the Cup.  The home leg will be July 15th at Ajinomoto Stadium (4 days after the teams meet in J1 play at the same stadium), while the away leg will be on July 29th.  The winner will play the winner of the Urawa-Shimizu series in the semifinals.


2009 Nabisco Cup Groups

Editor’s Note – With the 2009 season I hope to make Aishiteru Tokyo even better than it was last year; that is to say even when my life is hectic there will still be fresh content.  To that end I’ve enlisted my good friend Lantis to help out with “maintenance” posting – injury reports, transfer news, YouTube roundups, and all the things I always seemed to never have time to take care of last season.  He’ll also poke me to update my game reports at a regular pace, which will help matters greatly.  Hooray more writers! –dokool

Thanks to a reliable source, it appears that the 2009 Nabisco Cup groups have been decided. This year’s format has two groups of seven teams in a single round-robin set of fixtures, with the top two teams from each group joining the four ACL teams in the knockout stage:

Group A

FC Tokyo
JEF United Chiba
Kashiwa Reysol
Kyoto Sanga FC
Montedio Yamagata
Shimizu S-Pulse (again)
Vissel Kobe

Group B

Albirex Niigata
Oita Trinita
Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Urawa Reds
Yokohama F. Marinos

Bye to Quarterfinals

Gamba Osaka
Kashima Antlers
Kawasaki Frontale
Nagoya Grampus

From the source, JEF is coming to Ajinomoto (or possibly Kokuritsu), but who the other home matches are isn’t clear. The full J.League schedule should be out later this month, so the timer is ticking for the 2009 season to kick off.

Tokyo Gas is coming to town!

On a cold day in Sendai (wait, that’s every day in Sendai, isn’t it), FC Tokyo met one of their most frequent opponents this season, Shimizu S-Pulse, for a record 5th time.

Like many of their other matches this season, the Gasmen fell behind in the first half, this time on a set play.  But as the second half began, the team was resolute; they’d come this far, and they would keep going all the way to New Year’s Day.

And opportunity came 5 minutes into the second half, when midseason aquisition Katsuya Suzuki was fould in the penalty area and FCT was awarded a kick.  Suzuki deferred to Shingo Akamine, who sent a low shot to the left just past the outstretched hands of Shimizu’s goalkeeper to tie the game at 1.

A minute later, Shimizu’s defense collapsed again as a series of brilliant passes between Cabore and Nagatomo on the left side split the Shimizu defense.  Nagatomo lobbed the ball to Suzuki, who again set up Akamine for a cross and the winning goal.

Though Shimizu did challenge for the rest of the half, FCT held strong and secured a berth in its first semifinal since 1997, when as Tokyo Gas FC beat Kansai University, Ehime FC Youth, Nagoya Grampus, Yokohama FM, and Belmare Hiratsuka before losing to eventual champions Kashima Antlers.

After the game, the fans passed out Santa hats in celebration of the holidays and pulled out what I can only imagine is a classic chant from the old days:

Tokyo’s next opponent will be the ever-tenacious Kashiwa Reysol, who beat out Sanfrecce Hiroshima in a thriller of a match that went into overtime.  The game will take place at Shizuoka “Ecopa” Stadium, out in the ass-end of nowhere, on December 29th.

On the other side of the bracket, tournament surprise Sagan Tosu pulled ahead early but eventually fell 3-1 to Yokohama F. Marinos, who will play the winner of Gamba Osaka vs. Nagoya Grampus.  The remaining quarterfinal match will be played on Christmas Day due to Gamba’s Club World Cup commitments.

It will certainly be an interesting set of matches – Brazillian Alex is playing his last matches for Kashiwa, as is their manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki.  The team finished in the middle of the table in a season that included a stunning upset against Urawa.  They beat FC Tokyo on a rain-soaked field at Ajinomoto during the Golden Week Sprint, but lost to the Gasmen at home, both by 1-0 scores.

Nagoya is arguably the strongest team of the five remaining, having finished third in J1 and secured a spot in the 2009 ACL.  FC Tokyo split their series this year, losing 1-0 at home on a game marred by questionable officiating and won 1-0 at Nagoya.  Several Nagoya players, including Norweigan striker Johnsen, are playing their last matches for the team as their releases or transfers have already been announced.  Because of their already-secured ACL slot, should Nagoya win the cup Japan’s fourth and final ACL slot would go to Oita Trinita, who finished fourth in J1.

Gamba Osaka is a bit of a paradox; they won the ACL this year as their odds of winning J.League shrank and they finished .  Because the ACL champion no longer has a guaranteed invitation to the tournament, Gamba needs to win the Emperor’s Cup in order to return to the competition in 2009.  They’ve just played two matches in two days – against Manchester United and Mexican club team Pachuka in the FIFA Club World Cup, which is why their match against Nagoya is to be played on Christmas.

Yokohama F. Marinos, disappointing underachievers in this year’s J.League, have ascended the tournament ladder with a combination of luck and skill.  They beat J1 basement-dwellers Consadole Sapporo to reach the 5th round, where they dispatched Urawa 6-5 on penalty kicks.  This week they Sagan Tosu on Tosu’s home turf, eventually pulling away with a 3-1 win that was nothing if not contested thoroughly by the home team.  Continuing in the luck vein, Yokohama will have twice the rest of either of its possible opponents.  This is Yokohama’s first semifinal appearance since the 1993 Emperor’s Cup; they were champions the year before.

Though the final two teams are far from decided, some fans across the country are already tempting fate and snatching up tickets for the last match at Kokuritsu.  The front stands are for all intents and purposes sold out, while there are still plenty of tickets remaining in the back stand, where the majority of supporters will likely make a beeline for.  Will Tokyo and Osaka battle for national supremacy once again?  Could Kashiwa and Yokohama slug it out in the Battle of Kantou?  Will Nagoya win it all and give Oita a late Christmas gift?  We’ll all know in a little over a week.

[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:


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


FC Tokyo – Morimura (Asari 62′), Hirayama (Otake 77′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Yashima (Nishizawa 70′), Okasaki (Fernandinho 79′), Iwamoto (Aoyama 89′)


Shimizu S-Pulse – Aoyama (45′)


FC Tokyo – Kajiyama (29′), Tokunaga (37′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Fujimoto (90′)

[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