Posts Tagged ‘大熊清

14
May
11

Derby day out

I went to the Tokyo derby and while the atmosphere was in fitting with occasion, the football was some way off…

Officially this was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season. 

Yes, it was happening in J2 but the Tokyo derby was back. FC Tokyo’s recently humbled stars were coming face-to-face with Tokyo’s ‘original’ club (if we ignore that whole starting-in-Kawasaki bit) for the first time in three years.

To be honest though, I went along more out of a sense of obligation than expectation. 

I’d been at Ajista for FC Tokyo’s previous game against Consadole and it was dire. Tokyo (red and blue) and Consadole (white) had served up a poor-man’s El Clasico, complete with slow approach play, poor refereeing and Brazilians overreacting. Unfortunately, nobody reprised the ‘Messi’ role and it ended as a drab 0-0.

Verdy, meanwhile, were alone with Tochigi as the only teams to have started with a 100% record in J2 – although they were probably slightly less happy with their three losses from three than the league leaders were with their trio of victories.

Still, it was Golden week, it was Greenery Day (which the pre-match VT took much glee in promoting, to the ire of the away support), and it was a derby. As the original Clasico so wonderfully demonstrated, a game needn’t be technically gripping if the drama can be provided elsewhere.

And things started fairly well. The teams were greeted by nearly 30,000 supporters, the home fans (although, really, there was no such thing as a home team) unfurled a “Real Tokyo” banner to taunt their Johnny-come-lately neighbours, and the match started at a fairly frenetic pace.

After an end-to-end start when Verdy should have had a penalty and Kajiyama should have scored for Tokyo, both teams began to surrender possession far too easily, although Verdy certainly looked the most likely to score.

An FC Tokyo fan I’d spoken to before kick-off confessed he wasn’t holding out much hope for the match and expected the Gas Men to be 1-0 down at half-time and to go on to lose 3-0. I told him to do his best but he replied simply, “It’s not up to us to do our best; it’s up to the players.”

And these fears seemed well-placed as his team struggled to cope with the positive, probing runs of Hiroki Kawano who was steadily establishing himself as the best player on the pitch by some distance.

Half-time came and went without any goals, but shortly after the break the game’s decisive incident occurred.

Roberto Cesar, who had been booked in the first half (and was lucky not to receive a second yellow straight away for showing a complete lack of respect to the referee), burst towards the Verdy penalty area and then flung himself embarrassingly to the ground after minimal, if any contact. A deserved red card, and game on. Although not in the way I’d expected.

Rather than looking to make the most of their one-man advantage Verdy seemed happy to settle for the 0-0 and cut-back on their expansive forays into the Tokyo half.

This approach certainly livened up the occasion, primarily because it enabled Tokyo to create chance after chance. Yazawa had a goal correctly disallowed for handball and Kiyoshi Okuma marched repetitively from the bench, shouted at someone then strode back to his seat swigging water and ruffling his hair. Verdy keeper Doi invited pressure from Suzuki when dallying in possession and was extremely lucky to see the ball squirt up into his arms, then he got injured and sub forward Kazuki Hiramoto had to pull on the jersey as the closing minutes were played out 10 v. 10.

No goals but plenty of talking points, then, and the match was tense, enjoyable and fairly draining.

However, while this is fine for the neutrals, the reactions of both sets of fans demonstrate just how far these two teams are from where they want to be.

The Verdy players were applauded enthusiastically for picking up a point against 10 fairly unimpressive men, while FC Tokyo were jeered from the pitch after their second 0-0 in a row.

I’ll certainly be going to the Tokyo derby again, although, on this evidence, it looks like the fixture will be staged in the second tier for a  while yet.

23
Dec
10

Osaka Nihon

For my column in this week’s Weekly Soccer Magazine I considered the fact that J1 will be without a representative from the capital next season, while another city, Osaka, is further establishing itself as the home of Japanese football. 

FC Tokyo’s relegation made official what we have known for a while: the economic, political and cultural capital is most certainly not the first city of Japanese football.

And a quick glance at the J.League teams appearing in next season’s Asian Champions League means it is not particularly difficult to see where the power really lies.

As Kiyoshi Okuma’s side gear up for the Tokyo derbies next season – when they face Verdy in J2 – Osaka’s two teams, Gamba and Cerezo, will be leading the charge into the ACL.

Nagoya Grampus won their first ever J.League title this season, Montedio Yamagata did fantastically to further establish themselves in the top-flight and, at the bottom of the table, Vissel Kobe seized upon Tokyo’s feeble end to the season and put together a seven-game unbeaten run to remarkably stay in J1.

While the achievements of these sides are impressive though, my team of the year would have to be Cerezo.

The club, like Sanfrecce Hiroshima in 2009, will make their debut in the ACL next season just over a year after they were playing second division football.

Since achieving promotion from J2, the team’s positive and attacking style has been a joy to watch, and, while many were fearful for the side’s chances in the top-flight after the departure of Shinji Kagawa, some of the combination play of Akihiro Ienaga, Takashi Inui and Adriano in the final third has been spectacular.

I saw the team play twice in the middle of their seven-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, first away to Jubilo and then at home FC Tokyo, and the energy and enthusiasm on display was fantastic.

When I played football back in England players would often shout “It’s still 0-0!” when my team scored first (not something that happened very often), in order to ensure that we all stayed focused. During Cerezo games somebody must have been doing likewise, and it looked like the team thought they absolutely must score every time they were in possession.

The speed at which they moved the ball from front to back and created chance after chance gave the impression of a team very much enjoying their football.

As well as causing their opponents many problems when on the offence, Levir Culpi’s side were not the easiest to break down either. Their duo of Brazilian midfield anchors, Amaral and Martinez, provided the perfect platform from which to build and a defence marshalled superbly by Teruyuki Moniwa saw the side finish with the second best goals against record and the best goal difference in the division.

While the demands on the team’s relatively slim squad meant they were unable to provide a real challenge for the title, they excelled when the pressure was really on at the end of the season, winning  five of their last six games – including the last four, during which they scored 14 times.

Cerezo justifiably took a lot of the headlines this season, but the perception of the black and blue half of the city continues to puzzle me.

Gamba have finished outside of the top three just once in the last seven years, have one of the league’s finest managers and this season provided the J.League Young Player of the Year in Takashi Usami.

The club receives very little recognition for all its success though, and this year just one Gamba player made it into the J.League Best Eleven – Yasuhito Endo, who was appearing for a record-breaking eighth consecutive time.

Endo’s relaxed attitude perhaps sums up the understated coverage his team receives. When I asked him why he thought he was always in the team of the year he smiled and replied, “I don’t know,” before adding that, “I want to be in (the Best Eleven) however many times I can – until I retire. I’m not satisfied to be second (in the league) and, of course, I have a strong desire to win.” 

This focus on the future rather than reflecting on past achievements – which Cerezo also epitomised by insisting on pushing on after their promotion – perhaps gives the clearest insight of all as to why it is now Osaka’s clubs that are at the forefront of the Japanese game.

03
Oct
10

The Back Post – Poisoned chalice?

On Wednesday my column, ‘The Back Post’, started in the Daily Yomiuri.

It will appear once a month and be supplemented by match reports and other articles. The first edition, which focused on the problems currently being experienced by FC Tokyo, can be accessed here




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