Posts Tagged ‘京都サンガ

17
Jul
12

Decisions, decisions

The end of this season will see the final team promoted to J1 afforded that right by virtue of an English Chamionship style play-off. Well, sort of…

Last summer I wrote about the introduction of a play-off system to J2 and how I thought it would hugely benefit the division.

Just past the halfway point of the 2012 season it looks like I was right, with far more teams in-and-around the key positions this year.

After 21 games (the new midpoint after the division grew to 22 teams) the distance between first and 11th was just 10 points, while, currently, after 24 games, the top 10 are separated by that margin.

At the halfway stage last year (19 games) Consadole Sapporo, in 6th, were the last team to be within 10 points of the leaders. Tosu, who eventually earned promotion with Consadole were just one point further back.

Whereas teams may not have overly rated their chances with only three places up for grabs in 2011, the fact that twice as many spots for potential promotion are available this year has resulted in almost double the number of teams being in striking distance of J1.

It seems that the chasing pack are picking up a stronger scent of potential success.

Of course that is not the only explanation, and it could quite reasonably be argued that the openness of the division is also down to no one side being able to establish themselves as the team to beat.

I’ve seen a fair few J2 matches this season and while the standard is obviously below that of the first division I’ve enjoyed most of them.

The games increasingly offer up good entertainment, although this is not always because of especially good play but often because of the opposite.

Decision-making is absolutely vital in football and far too frequently at the lower levels attacks break down or chances are afforded to the opposition because a player makes the wrong one.

The best example of this came when two of the sides jostling at the top of the table, Tokyo Verdy and JEF United, came head to head last month.

JEF were the better side but made consistently poor choices, while Verdy were much sharper and efficient when they had the ball and deservedly took the three points.

A couple of weeks later the tables had turned, with JEF the far more incisive team in their home game against Kyoto Sanga.

The visitors bossed possession but couldn’t make it count, and before Takeshi Oki’s team knew what had happened they were 3-0 down.

Takeshi Okada’s former right-hand man said after that defeat that his team had “collapsed” after conceding the first goal, and despite a spirited late revival they still returned to Kansai on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat.

That wasn’t the first time they’d had that feeling, and I have also seen them leave it too late against Gainare Tottori and Yokohama FC this year, as well as conceding a late, late goal to lose at Shonan Bellmare.

A lack of composure has seen a talented group of players too easily affected by the flow of the game when steadier heads may well have kept calm to claim the win.

It is not only the players who have been making peculiar decisions, and although the J.League should be commended for having introduced the play-offs they, too, have also made some slightly strange calls with regards to the format.

Giving the higher ranked teams a slight advantage by hosting the one-legged semi-finals at their stadiums is understandable – if a little unfair – but deciding to award the victory to that side if the game ends in  draw is bizarre.

The final, too, will be contested in that manner – albeit at a neutral venue – which not only weighs the tie heavily in the favour of the team that finishes 3rd (or 4th, if an upset takes place in one of the semi-finals) but also raises the possibility of a fairly dour showpiece.

One team will know that a draw is enough to ensure their promotion and so may very well enter the game with a suitably unadventurous mindset; in short, like England.

However, all the teams know this is how things will be decided so are well aware of the value of finishing as high as possible.

Hopefully that will ensure that the action remains this close and unpredictable right up until the final exchanges.

27
Mar
12

Going local

When you live in Tokyo sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city for a bit. If you can do that by local trains and take in a football match while away then all the better…

It’s that time of year when I check the fixture lists, pack my bag, buy a seishun juhachi kippu and travel around Japan a bit.

This tradition started when I first arrived in Japan and a) couldn’t afford the shinkansen, and b) wanted to see more of the country (but mainly a)).

Although it’s certainly tiring, in some respects it’s also quite relaxing.

You can admire the hugely varied scenery rolling by, and the change in the landscape also provides more of an idea about the team you are about to watch.

Around the world football clubs often have the most passionate support and unique identities in areas where there is not much else to do.

Clubs in these places bring people together and provide a sense of belonging, which is perhaps sometimes lacking in bigger, more metropolitan areas.

Even bearing that aspect in mind, I have to admit I was still not expecting too much from my visit to Tottori.

After the Osaka Derby – I still like big games too – I caught highlights of Gainare’s home defeat to Machida Zelvia and it wasn’t the best advert.

There’s a car park behind one stand, a rice-field behind the other and not a lot else, it seemed. Plus the team had lost 3-0.

The opponents for this game, Kyoto Sanga, did make it a little more appealing, boasting some of the best young talent around, and I thought I could perhaps just focus on them.

Still, when I woke up at 7am and remembered the journey ahead of me it was a little tricky to will myself out of bed.

As each transfer down the San-in Line took me further into the countryside I grew more positive though, and the spectacular views of rivers, mountains and shorelines certainly had a calming influence.

Everything today is carried out at such a frenetic pace, and the slow and steady progress of the local trains to Tottori provided a nice remedy to the hectic existence of living in a place where it seems anything and everything can be rented by the hour.

Seven hours after boarding my first train in Uji I arrived at Tottori and it didn’t take long to see that Gainare – along with the famous sand-dunes – provide a core focus for the town.

There were flags hanging welcoming the Sanga fans to the area (“You’ve come a long way so welcome to Tottori!”) and upon check-in at my hotel the receptionist became a lot more chatty when I asked how far the stadium was.

“Ah, Gainare!” he beamed. He wasn’t really a fan but one of his friends was in the oendan, he added.

I made my way back to the station to catch the free – yes, free – bus to the ground, and although when I arrived there were only three people waiting, by the time we set off there were probably enough of us to constitute a World Cup finals squad.

As we pulled away from the bus stop the first drops of rain began to fall from the ever-darkening sky and I hoped it wasn’t a bad sign.

It wasn’t, and as soon as I arrived at the wonderfully-named Tori Gin Bird Stadium I had a good feeling about the club.

There were friendly staff and fans milling around, and, unbelievably to an Englishman, bars selling real ale, vodka, whiskey and anything else you might fancy.

I bought myself a Daisen burger (sadly, I had to resist the bar) and made my way inside the ground.

The football only venue with an old school scoreboard – thankfully no OTT player intros or music after goals here – left another positive impression.

The game was enjoyable, too, and the 2-1 scoreline flattered Sanga. Gainare were dominant and should have won by more.

That may have been something to grumble about elsewhere, but club staff and fans alike were in high spirits after the match.

One member of staff who had returned to work for her hometown club after a decade in Tokyo was beaming when I left the stadium.

It seemed that, to her, Gainare hadn’t only beaten Sanga, Tottori had prevailed over Kyoto, the former capital. And that made my trip more than worthwhile. That’s why I love football.




If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

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