Tokyo put foot on the gas

FC Tokyo obliterated Chonburi in their ACL play-off match, and while it’s hard to read too much into a mauling of such dire opposition the early signs suggest the capital city side will be a little more adventurous this year… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, Friday 12th February, 2016

Homecomings don’t get much better than 9-0 shellackings, and Hiroshi Jofuku’s return to FC Tokyo went smoother than anyone could have expected on Tuesday night.

Chonburi took Kashiwa Reysol to extra-time in last year’s play-off, but they were utterly torn apart from the outset at Ajinomoto Stadium; rabbits in the headlights of a direct and determined Tokyo side.

“No matter how many goals we’d scored, when a corner kick was over the centre-backs were giving their all to get back; no matter how many goals we’d scored, the players were giving everything to win possession back straight from kick-off, and because of that we were able to win 9-0,” Jofuku said post-match.

“In terms of what we are aiming for, however, the quality is still not quite there.”

Despite the outrageous scoreline he was right not to get carried away, with the gulf in quality between Tokyo and Chonburi at times embarrassingly vast. The hosts won’t come up against meeker defenders for some time – if ever again – and it was impossible to keep track of the number of times Tokyo players were allowed to attack crosses totally unchecked.

The fact that Jofuku’s team didn’t let up in their pursuit of goals – Hiroki Kawano slotting home the last from the penalty spot in the 92nd minute – and that they were decisive enough to convert the majority of the chances when they came does bodes well, however, as does the fact that new recruits Takuma Abe, Kota Mizunuma, and Yuichi Komano all claimed goals or assists on debut, while goalkeeper Yuto Akimoto ended his first game with a clean sheet.

Kosuke Ota was the only regular to leave over the off-season, and the addition of four experienced J.Leaguers plus the impressive Ha Dae-sung means that on paper Tokyo have a more balanced squad this year, and for Jofuku that quality in depth is a must if his team is to compete on all fronts in 2016.

“The players who played today, the players on the bench, and those who didn’t feature at all are all key,” he said. “When there is competition for places that shows in the games. That is the most important thing. I absolutely feel that having a high level of competition is vital.”

FC Tokyo v. Chonburi FC, Ajinomoto Stadium Tuesday 9th February, 2016

As well as keeping players on their toes, having high quality replacements in reserve is crucial when coping with the demands of the ACL alongside the regular domestic season.

The players don’t seem to be concerned about the extra workload, though, with Takuji Yonemoto relishing the chance to take part in continental competition again.

“[The schedule’s] tough, but for me personally the fact that there are more games is something I’m very happy about as a football player,” the 25-year-old said. “You don’t get many opportunities to play in a tournament like the ACL, and so I want to look forward to it. I don’t really have any anxiety at all.”

Yonemoto played in five of Tokyo’s seven games when they last took part in the ACL in 2012 – getting knocked out by Guangzhou Evergrande in the Round of 16 – and feels that the side is stronger defensively this time around.

“I don’t know a great deal right now about the teams we’ll face, but if we play against teams like today then we have to carry on like this and make sure we overcome them. During the difficult spells, however, we have to focus on our defending and make sure we don’t concede any goals. If we can do that then I think we’ll be able to pick up wins. I think the perseverance we have in defence is something that is different to 2012.”

Ryoichi Maeda also has previous experience in the ACL, having appeared in the group stages for Jubilo Iwata in 2004 and 2005, and he agrees that the opportunity should be one the players embrace rather than shy away from.

“Instead of [worrying about the schedule] I think that being able to play away to strong teams will be a positive thing for us, in terms of keeping us prepared and in good physical condition,” the former Japan international said, before adding that he doesn’t expect the team to be targeting draws on their travels to Jeonbuk, Jiangsu, and Binh Duong.

“Perhaps at the start of games we will be set up a bit more defensively, but overall we will always be trying to win games.”

That was certainly evident in the cruise over Chonburi, and it will be interesting to see if Jofuku can get his team – so efficient and controlled under Massimo Ficcadenti – playing more proactively and lethally against the bigger sides in the continent as the tournament progresses.

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