Archive Page 2


As it stands…

There are just a handful of games to go in both J1 and J2 and almost a full league of teams split across the two divisions scrapping to confirm which tier they will be competing in next year.

Soccerphile, 20th October, 2017

I looked at the lie of the land at the bottom of the first division and top of the second for Soccerphile.


Urawa increasingly at home in the ACL

Urawa Reds are 90 minutes away from a first ACL final in 10 years, and they demonstrated in the semi-final first leg against Shanghai SIPG how they are becoming increasingly at home amongst Asia’s best sides…  (日本語版はこちら)

Football Tribe, 18th October 2017

Urawa Reds showed in their 1-1 first leg draw away to Shanghai SIPG three weeks ago how they have grown in Asian competition over the past six months.

Last time Reds were in Shanghai for a 3-2 defeat in the group stage back in March they looked intimidated by Hulk and co., only really clicking into gear once they were 3-0 down and the hosts had switched onto auto-pilot.

This time, however, Takafumi Hori’s side looked up for the challenge from the off, and despite conceding in just the 15th minute to another bolt from the blue from Hulk they didn’t lose heart and stuck doggedly to their task.

They made sure not to give SIPG’s key creative talents any time to settle on the ball, applying pressure straight away and conceding a lot of fouls in and around the middle third of the pitch. Tomoaki Makino alone brought down Hulk four times – in truth the 30-year-old was rather lucky to finish the game without getting booked – while further efforts from range by the former Porto man were blocked before they could trouble Shusaku Nishikawa.

Yes, the Brazilian battering ram did manage to barge his way through on more than one occasion – leaving Makino for dead a couple of times, and Takuya Aoki dazed and confused for the goal – but that is to be expected. The likes of Hulk and Oscar demonstrated once again here that they are at a different level to any other players in Asia. Their strength, awareness, and mastery of the ball are unlike that usually encountered in the J.League or any other division in the continent, and you have to concede that there will be times when they will be close to unplayable.

However, that’s not to say you just give up and succumb to your fate, and Reds picked themselves up each time in order to make sure SIPG didn’t have as easy a ride as last time out.

The mental boost provided by first having beaten Shanghai 1-0 in the return group stage fixture and then the sensational comeback wins against Jeju United and Kawasaki Frontale in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals has undoubtedly played a part in that improvement.

Credit should also be given to Hori for the way he has tweaked the team’s system to make them tougher to break down and less susceptible to quick counters.

Football Tribe, Wednesday 18th October 2017

The switch from 3-4-2-1 to 4-1-4-1 has laid the foundations for that development, but it is not as simple as merely changing the set-up of the team – you need to change the way they approach games too.

The clearest way that was demonstrated in the first leg of the semi-final was the manner in which Reds used the ball when they had it. They made almost exactly the same number of passes in both games (421 in March, 431 at the end of September), but made sure to do so further away from their own goal in the most recent match.

In the group stage game the majority of Reds’ passing combinations were amongst players in their own half, as they looked to dominate the ball without any real penetration. They recorded 65.1% of possession in that match but left themselves vulnerable to quick breaks from SIPG when they lost it, whereas in the semi-final first leg they had just 53.1% of the ball but in far more advanced areas, with the front five players rather than the back five moving the ball amongst themselves.

They didn’t manage to create a terrific number of scoring chances, but what it did mean was that when Reds lost possession SIPG had a lot further to travel before they were able to make attempts at goal.

Indeed, 10 of the home side’s 21 attempts were made from outside the area, and while a few of them caused slight scares – not least Oscar’s 69th-minute free-kick that thudded off the post – you stand far more of a chance when the opponent is shooting from 25 yards rather than five.

What is key now is to maintain that confidence and take it into tonight’s second leg. Shanghai are vulnerable defensively and have kept just one clean sheet away from home in this year’s competition – and that was the 1-0 win over FC Seoul in their first group stage game back in February. In addition to that, Reds have been outstanding at Saitama Stadium this campaign, winning all five of their ACL games in front of their own fans.

The best way to keep that run going and guarantee a spot in the final is by playing without fear again in the second leg.


Same old issues haunt Halil Japan

Coventry City striker Duckens Nazon thinks Japan can do well at next year’s World Cup, but picked up on a couple of weaknesses as his two goals helped Haiti to a 3-3 draw against the Samurai Blue  in their recent friendly in Yokohama… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Tribe, 13th October 2017

After the high of qualifying for Russia 2018 with a game to spare at the end of August Japan have come back to earth with something of a bump after a 1-0 defeat away to Saudi Arabia followed by the recent narrow 2-1 victory over New Zealand and disappointing 3-3 draw with Haiti.

It should be kept in mind that none of those games carried any meaning for Vahid Halilhodzic’s side and that a lot of fringe players were given chances to show what they could do, but the looseness out on the pitch does raise concerns about a lack of strength in depth ahead of next summer’s finals.

The loss in Jeddah can perhaps be excused as Saudi Arabia needed a win to book their own place at the finals and an almost-full-strength Japan put in a decent showing, but the recent Kirin Cup outings highlighted issues in both defence and attack that will need addressing if the Samurai Blue want to make any kind of mark at their sixth consecutive World Cup.

“Playing games like this you know why teams like [Japan] play in the World Cup,” Haiti striker Duckens Nazon told me after his young side very nearly stunned an experimental Japan XI in Yokohama on 10 October.

“The level is very high. They can move the ball quick – every time they move, they move, they move; they never stop – so I am very proud of the result.

“We have played a lot of big teams before and I think they have really got a chance because they can move the ball. They play a lot of passes; they can move the ball quick and every time they move. This is the most important; it’s really difficult as a team to play against them.”

However, after a slow start from the visitors and some slick, direct, and effective attacking play from Japan had seen them establish a 2-0 lead the flow of the game started to change, with Haiti gaining more of a foothold and beginning to threaten themselves.

“We scored the second goal quite early and so we had an unusual amount of breathing space,” Masaaki Higashiguchi, given a rare start between the posts in place of Eiji Kawashima, said.

“Maybe we lost our level of tension a little, which led to their first goal. Then we weren’t able to get it back and became a little sluggish – I think that was everything.”

Nazon agreed on that front and felt that Kevin Lafrance’s close-range strike – prodded under Higashiguchi after he had managed to evade Yuki Kobayashi and Gen Shoji in the 28th minute – offered the Haitians all the encouragement they needed to complete their second half comeback.

Football Tribe, Friday 13th October, 2017

“I think the thing that saved us was the goal we scored in the first half,” the Coventry City striker said. “I think – I don’t know, because you never know in football – but if we didn’t score this goal it was going to be very difficult in the second half.”

As it was that goal knocked Japan’s confidence and they were pegged back to 2-2 just eight minutes after the break, Nazon converting a Carlens Arcus cross from just inside the area after a quick free-kick out wide had caught the hosts on their heels.

Despite the introduction of Yosuke Ideguchi and Shinji Kagawa before the hour mark Japan struggled to regain control of the game, and the next goal also went the way of Haiti as Nazon sent home a beauty from 25 yards after being allowed to cut inside and set his sights without any defenders making a challenge.

“I tried to do this kind of shot a lot of times in my club as well – you don’t have to think, just [take a] touch and I know where I want the ball to go.”

The lack of any pressure being applied in such a dangerous area is certainly a cause for concern, with the 23-year-old revealing it was an area he had identified as a weakness in Japan’s defence.

“I wasn’t really surprised because in the first half every time I tried to play forwards but I said in my head during half time ‘I’m going to drop in and try a couple of times, maybe I can have this type of shot’, and I succeeded.

“I watched just before and on the pitch is very quick, so when you think something you have to do it quick. You don’t have to think one minute, two minutes – quick. And I did it and it was great.”

That kind of spontaneity is what Nazon feels Japan lacked on the night.

“They try to do the same thing every time, but sometimes you don’t have to think – you just have the ball and make something and that can be good. But it looked like they have a tactic – I don’t know how to say it; they have to do like this, like this, like this – they cannot change, you know? I think they need a guy who is a little bit crazy in the head and can do something, you know? It’s like this. Football is like this.”

Although Japan ultimately had their blushes spared by Shinji Kagawa’s rather fortunate late equaliser, they certainly need to add a little ‘crazy’ in attack – and eliminate it in defence – ahead of the World Cup, and before that in next month’s friendlies against Brazil and Belgium.


Albirex’s Swansong

Albirex Niigata will soon be sinking down to the second division, but they have been swimming against the tide in J1 for a few years now… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, 28th September, 2017

Albirex Niigata showed plenty of fight in the second half of last weekend’s 2-2 draw away to Consadole Sapporo, coming from two goals down to pick up a point on the road and looking the more likely of the two to snatch all three as the clock ticked down.

Ultimately, however, the game epitomised their season, with it all being too little too late.

Yes, there are still seven games to play and mathematically Wagner Lopes’ side could execute a miraculous escape, but realistically survival has been off the menu for a while now. Put bluntly, the team’s relegation to the second tier has been a long time coming.

The game looked to be up for the Hokuriku side five years ago, but against all odds they avoided their fate on the last day of the 2012 season courtesy of another positive result against Consadole – that time a 4-1 win at home – which combined with Gamba Osaka’s 2-1 loss away to Jubilo Iwata and Vissel Kobe’s 1-0 defeat at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima to send the Kansai duo down instead.

Albi’s escape from the jaws of defeat invigorated the side the following season and they soared up to seventh place, finishing just eight points behind champions Sanfrecce and a full 30 above the relegation zone, but such high-flying antics were not to last and they began their slide back down the rankings in 2014.

That year they ended 12th – nine points clear of relegation – but they edged closer towards the trap door the following campaign, surviving by just six points and finishing 15th, before only clinging onto their J1 status last year on goal difference – Nagoya Grampus this time granting them a get out of jail free card by losing their final game at home to already-relegated Shonan Bellmare and consequently following them down to J2.

An alarming transfer period ahead of this season forewarned of another battle against relegation, and while losing its best players to bigger sides was something the club had grown accustomed to the departures of Michael James, Leo Silva, and Rafael Silva in one fell swoop left them with huge holes to fill.

No standout signings arrived to take the place of that key trio, and with Fumitake Miura a little surprisingly brought in for his first J1 coaching job after just a year in charge of J3 side Nagano Parceiro there weren’t many who expected big things from Niigata in 2017.

Football Channel, 28 September 2017

Those concerns proved well founded when Albirex went winless and picked up just two points from their first six games, and while a 2-0 victory away to Ventforet Kofu on 16 April secured a first three points of the season it was followed by three goalless defeats on the spin which saw Miura shown the door.

Koichiro Katafuchi oversaw the following week’s 6-1 pasting at home to Urawa Reds before Wagner Lopes arrived bringing with him hope of a fresh start, and while things began well with a debut win over Consadole – them again – on 20 May, that turned out to be a false dawn with the team not having won a league game since.

That run has now stretched to 15 matches, and despite the bold claims ahead of Saturday’s match that Albirex would attack from the outset there were no signs of such a bombastic approach in the early exchanges at Sapporo Dome. The visitors did slightly edge possession in the first 20 minutes with 56% of the ball, but they didn’t manage a single shot on target in that time, and they failed to pose any realistic threat even after Consadole goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun was forced off injured in the 27th minute.

Ryohei Yamazaki opting to dive and try to win a penalty in the fifth minute of first half stoppage time rather than look to go for goal legitimately was indicative of the team’s lack of confidence in the final third, and it was unsurprising when the hosts instead took the lead just a couple of minutes later with the last kick of the first half.

Things didn’t especially improve in the second period, and it was only after Consadole relaxed a little too much and ceded control after Reis had doubled their lead with a 56th minute free kick that Albirex started to assert any kind of authority on the game.

They should be credited for not throwing in the towel, at least, and substitute Atsushi Kawata’s late brace did enable the team to salvage a little pride from the game, but ultimately that is all they are now playing for.

Next year Albirex will be playing in J2, but they can at least try to ensure they go down with a fight and without setting any new records for fewest points gained in a J1 season.

That dubious honour is currently shared by Consadole (2012), Oita Trinita (2013), and Tokushima Vortis (2014); each of whom picked up just 14 points from their 34 games.

Albirex currently sit on 12, so just one win will spare them the ignominy of creating new, unwanted, history. They’ve only managed two from their 27 games so far, though, and time – and games – are running out.


Kawasaki on the front foot

Unbeaten in over two months, scoring for fun, and solid defensively, Kawasaki Frontale look set to challenge on all fronts at the business end of the season – including in Asia…  (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, 12th September, 2017

Kashima Antlers are currently six points clear at the top of J1 and looking as dogged as ever in first place, but Kawasaki Frontale’s recent displays suggest Go Oiwa’s side will have to maintain their current pace if they are to make it over the finish line in first place.

Frontale have been in sensational form over the past six weeks and are unbeaten in nine games in all competitions, while the only defeat in their last 17 games was a bizarre blip at home to Jubilo Iwata on 29 July when they were stunned 5-2.

During that time Toru Oniki has steered his team up into second place in the table, to the semi-finals of the Levain Cup, the fourth round of the Emperor’s Cup, and the brink of the AFC Champions League semi-finals as well.

Under Oni-san it has become clear what we need to be doing, nobody slacks off, and we are all putting in the running for the transitions between defence and attack,” Kengo Nakamura said after his side’s latest victory over Yokohama F.Marinos on 9 September.

“Of course there are technical skills and ideas as well, but that base is incredibly important for us at the moment.”

There is certainly a solid foundation in place, but technical skill and ideas are far from an afterthought with this Frontale side and some of their football this season has been a joy to behold. Nakamura, of course, is playing as pivotal a role as ever, and his awareness of what is happening around him and unnerving ability to pick out and execute passes is unrivalled in the J.League.

He is given plenty of help in the middle of the park though, and while Ryota Oshima rightfully receives a lot of plaudits as another tricky schemer between the lines it is Eduardo Neto who holds everything together in the centre.

The Brazilian’s reading of the game is exceptional from a defensive point of view and he doesn’t shy away when his team has the ball either, always making sure he is an option for a teammate. A glance at the stats for this season demonstrates his ubiquity to the team’s style, with the 28-year-old involved in all of Frontale’s top five passing combinations in the league, and eight of their top 10.

What really stands out about Kawasaki this year is their depth, with quality players all over the park and also on the bench. There are top class individuals at each end of the pitch in Jung Sung-ryong and Yu Kobayashi, while the likes of Elsinho, Shogo Taniguchi, Shintaro Kurumaya, Akihiro Ienaga, and Hiroyuki Abe have also played key roles. A bench boasting the likes of Eduardo, Yusuke Tasaka, Kentaro Moriya, and Takayuki Morimoto means there are plenty of high-grade replacements available as well.

“At the moment we are able to play our own football whoever is playing – to put in good performances and get results,” Tatsuki Nara, another who has established himself as an integral part of the team, said after the 3-0 win over Marinos last Saturday.

Football Channel, 12th September 2017

The centre back was adamant there is nothing blasé or reckless about Frontale’s approach though, and insisted that a 15th clean sheet of the season was just as important to he and his teammates as the latest goals flying in at the other end.

“[Us defenders] have to focus on contributing more than just defence, but it’s not the case that we are known as an attacking team so therefore we don’t mind if we concede,” he said.

“If we are able to keep a clean sheet at the back then it means the chances of us winning increase, and we don’t think in the way that if we score three then it’s ok to concede one. Our stance right now is to score four or five and also make sure we don’t give the opponent anything at the other end and don’t concede, that’s the mentality.”

Nothing will change heading into Wednesday’s ACL quarter-final second leg against Urawa, where Kawasaki know another clean sheet will guarantee their progression.

“[Urawa] need to score two goals to win, so I’m sure they are going to come out trying to put a lot of pressure on us,” Nara said.

“That doesn’t mean we are going to play defensively though, that’s not our philosophy. We have confidence and if we get one or two goals then they will need five.”

The last time Frontale failed to score was in the 2-0 defeat away to Marinos on 4 June, and their recent nine-game unbeaten streak has seen them find the net 23 times – only failing to score more than once in a game on one occasion, the 1-1 with FC Tokyo on 5 August.

They have also recorded some healthy wins over their closest rivals already this season, beating Kashima 3-0 away on 19 May and Reds twice – 4-1 in the league on 5 July and then 3-1 in the quarter-final first leg on 23 August – before cruising 3-0 past Yokohama this past weekend.

“Scoring three goals against Marinos, who had the best defence in the league, gives us a lot of confidence as a team and individually, and lets us know we aren’t making any mistake with the type of football we are playing now,” Nakamura said. “I think (this performance) embodied our play style.

“We have to put aside the result from the first leg (against Urawa) and fight in the second. Of course we need to get our heads set for the game, but what we have to do doesn’t change – the fact that we need to go and get an away goal is still the same. It’s very important for us to keep going with the style of football we are playing at the moment.”

If they are able to do that then it is hard to see Urawa inflicting Kawasaki’s fifth defeat of the season on Wednesday, and in this vein of form there won’t be many sides in Asia wanting to square off against Frontale.


Challenger Shinada follows her own path

An interview with Ayaki Shinada, who, frustrated with certain restrictive aspects of Japanese culture, moved abroad at 18 to further her career and this summer signed for Spanish First Division side RCD Espanyol…


Football Tribe, 30th August 2017

Japanese players usually only earn the chance to play overseas after building a reputation domestically, but every so often one takes the initiative and secures a move of their own accord.

Ayaki Shinada is one such player.

The 24-year-old recently signed for RCD Espanyol in Spain, the latest development in a career that has already taken in stints in the USA, Finland, and Sweden.

As is the norm for female players, Tokyo native Shinada took her first footballing steps by playing alongside the boys before spells at Nippon TV Menina and then Sakuyo High School in Okayama. Finding herself frustrated at the more restrictive aspects of Japanese football – and culture in general – she decided upon graduation that a move overseas was the best option, and after participating in a tour to play against teams in the US in 2011 she caught the eye of a coach at Lindsey Wilson College, Kentucky, who recruited her on a scholarship.

“We all held a much bigger space in the game,” Shinada says of her initial impressions of playing in the States. “In Japan, especially for women’s football, we make it a very narrow space and often make short passes – no one really makes long passes and it’s very different. But in the States we had the space you have to work in.

“Also, when we defend in Japanese football we defend together. That’s how Japanese do it, but (in the US) it was more like one versus one situations; you have to do it, you’re going to have the responsibility to stop the player, or go around the player in front of you. I’d say that was one of the biggest differences.”

Taking the plunge into such a different environment would be a daunting prospect for most people, but Shinada, then just 18, thrived in her new surroundings.

“Actually it was better for me because I like to be clear what’s wrong or what’s correct,” she explains.

“That’s another way I didn’t fit in with Japanese football. Sometimes it was not your fault but the people watching who have more ‘right’ to say decide who was wrong. There were many times I disagreed. Or maybe they explained it to me but I still felt like I saw it a different way. So when I got to the States it was much clearer – what is my job and role and everything, so that was just perfect for me.”

One thing that is slightly more ambiguous is Shinada’s position, and she umms and ahhs when asked where she plays.

“That is kind of a hard question for me, because I play everywhere – but not goalkeeper. Well, once, but not very good! I would say my best position is the anchor; defensive middle, in front of the centre-backs.”

As well as embracing a new style of play and clearer sense of accountability on the pitch in the US, the wider variety and more open culture of discussion and exchange also appealed to Shianda’s inquisitive personality.

Ayaki Shinada, Getty Images

“There are so many people that come from other countries, so sharing information about what’s really happening in the world, talking about more things like what you think is good in your country, and what’s not good – that also made me think what’s good in Japan or not good.”

That desire to keep learning and developing led to a move to Sweden after graduation from Lindsey Wilson, followed the next year by a switch to Finland. Two years in Scandinavia, which Shinada says helped her adapt further to the speed and strength aspects of the game, then saw her agree the move to Espanyol in June this year.

“Technique wise (Spain) is so much better than any other country I’ve seen,” she says of her new home.

“It’s different technique to Japanese. Japanese is more like without movement – simple passes and simple touches are very good – but Spain was more like making something different. You can dribble while juggling the ball, or if you pass it very strong everyone still has a soft touch. It’s more interesting, I would say.

“I really like it. Now in Spain I can get something new. It’s more like, ‘Oh, you’re passing that way? Ok!’ or, ‘You can make that pass or that shot from here or maybe cross like this…’ it’s just I get so many more ideas here.”

Despite having spent her entire professional career outside of Japan Shinada still harbours the hope of being involved with the Nadeshiko, but knows she has to keep improving with her club to achieve that aim.

“That is definitely one of the objectives for everyone, to play for your country. I’ve had it from a very young age, when I started I was thinking that would be amazing. However, I think that playing for the national team is not my main goal – it would be nice to go through on my path, but my objective right now is more to play in the Champions League and play for a good team. Yes, that would be great (to play for Japan), but it is not my current objective – I am more focused on different goals and know I need to keep working hard.”

For the time being the priority for Shinada is to establish herself in Spain and make the most of the stimulating environment she is now playing in.

“For me I kind of get bored doing something similar or just following orders, but in Japanese football you’ve got to do it simple always, or follow what everyone believes. Nobody wants to make any mistakes. You can technically, but not everyone is pleased if you try. But it’s so different in Spain – everyone tries. I don’t know, I feel so comfortable here.

“I’m just a challenger. I might make it and I might not make it, but I don’t really care. If I make it I feel lucky.”

That outlook has proved more than effective for Shinada so far, and such a positive approach will surely see her keep going from strength to strength over the coming years.


Urawa with history-making chance to rescue their season

Urawa Reds have disappointed in the league in 2017, but the AFC Champions League offers the players a chance to write their names in history… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, 23rd August, 2017

It would be something of an understatement to describe Urawa Reds’ season to date as a disappointment, and the side many – including this correspondent – considered favourites for the J.League title sit seventh in the table, 13 points behind leaders Kashima Antlers with 11 games to play.

Mihailo Petrovic received his marching orders back on 30 July after delivering just three wins in 12 league games from the end of April, with long-time coach Takafumi Hori handed the reins until the end of the season as the club look to rescue a campaign that was steadily slipping away from them.

The 49-year-old will struggle to mount a serious revival in J1 in that time – despite going unbeaten in his first three games after Saturday’s 2-1 win over FC Tokyo – but he could do his prospects of landing the job on a more permanent basis the world of good if he can navigate his way to success in Asia.

Reds face Kawasaki Frontale in the first leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, and the players are fully aware that continental competition gives them a huge opportunity to rescue their season – and reputation.

The legacy of becoming an Asian champion was on full display last month as the bulk of the triumphant 2007 ACL side reunited for Keita Suzuki’s retirement match, with the likes of Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Robson Ponte, and Washington being treated to reverential returns to Saitama.

The fact it has been a decade since that triumph – and that Reds have failed to add any major silverware since – was also driven home though, highlighting not just the pressure on this year’s players but also the possibly-once-in-a-career opportunity they have before them.

“Last year we finally won the Levain Cup but if we don’t win the league or ACL then we can’t build a good reputation,” Satoshi Horinouchi, now employed behind the scenes at Reds and a regular in the 2007 ACL campaign, said.

“Of course we don’t do it in order to earn praise from others around us, but you saw with Keita and everyone today that winning titles gives everyone the opportunity to feel real joy.

“It would have been great to have won [the ACL] once or twice since [2007], to give more joy to the fans, but that’s the reality and this year we’re still in it and have Kawasaki next. From now it’s the turn of the current players, staff, and supporters to achieve the same results as at that time.”

Tomislav Maric wasn’t involved in the ACL winning squad but also knows what it takes to deliver glory for Reds, having struck the 73rd-minute winner in the 2005 Emperor’s Cup final against Shimizu S-Pulse. The 44-year-old feels that winning titles often comes down to psychological strength.

Football Channel 23 August 2017 : Getty

“Urawa Reds must think about every year [being] champion and this sometimes is mental,” the former Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim striker said.

“To be champion or not be champion is sometimes [about whether] you are strong in the head or not. Sometimes this is important. When you see in Europe, the Champions League, when Real play Juventus this is a high, high level but sometimes in the game you win in a mental situation. You win one situation in one against one and maybe this is the situation that will win you the match.”

Yuichiro Nagai did just that back on 14 November 2007, setting Reds on their way to glory by putting them 2-1 up on aggregate in the 22nd minute of the ACL final second leg against Sepahan, and is as surprised as anyone that Reds were unable to build on that triumph.

“It seemed like that would be the start of something, but for one reason or another it didn’t happen,” the current Thespakusatsu Gunma striker said. “But it’s difficult, that’s football. This year they have a chance. In 2007 we won the ACL and the in 2008 we played Gamba and lost, with Gamba going on to win the tournament.”

Nagai thinks beating their domestic rivals spurred Gamba on to success that year, and believes Reds could gain a similar boost if they are able to overcome Kawasaki this time around.

“Maybe it’s more difficult to play a team from the same country as you know each other very well. Of course teams are always scouting so you know about every team, but the level of familiarity is totally different (when playing a team from the same country). That aspect means it will be a really difficult game, but if you can win that kind of match then it can really help to push you higher – that momentum can be very important.”

Tulio, meanwhile, felt the energy from the stands was pivotal for Reds 10 years ago, and is perhaps something they are lacking now.

“Saista was full every time and, speaking completely honestly, I feel that if you compare it to now there is a difference in the voltage of the supporters,” the former Japan star, now playing for second division side Kyoto Sanga, said.

“When the fans and team truly become one I think the opponents feel it too – coming to Saitama they can’t win. Standing on the pitch with those guys I really felt respect as a player. For that kind of team to materialise is not easy, and I think that even after 100 years everybody will remember those players and that team.”

That is beyond doubt, and if this year’s players can achieve the same feat then the disappointments in the league will be whitewashed as they write their names into the club’s history.

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