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Friday, March 11, 2011

Okayama v FC Tokyo: J2 Matchday 2 Preview

#This game, along with all others in J1 and J2, was postponed due to the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck vast areas in Japan's north-east last Friday.#

For FC Tokyo supporters, last weekend's win over Tosu didn't really get the blood pumping, but seeing as though we hadn't won in the league at Aji Sta for 364 days, it was nice to leave with a (slightly) positive taste in our mouths to go with our sunburnt foreheads (for those of us in the Back Stand, at least). While the performance was far from inspiring, a wins a win as they say, and with just four of what I consider to be our best XI on the pitch from the start (though I may have to reassess that after Takumi Abe's emergence), there's clearly plenty of room for improvement in the weeks ahead. Job done then - enough's been said about the Tosu game, both in Tokyo Bairn's excellent Match Report, and in Episode 3 of Gas Talk - its three points in the bank, on to the next game. And so to Week 2, and our first-ever visit to Okayama.

I was wrong with a couple of my selections for last Saturday, with Hideto Takahashi preferred to Roberto in the holding midfield role, and Hokuto to Yohei Otake on the right wing, so trying to get inside Big Bear's head and predict the XI each week could be an exercise in futility, but don't worry, I'll keep trying! The picture for this weekend has been further blurred (though in a positive way) after Wednesday's 8-0 (3 x 45 min periods) training match win over Waseda University, but here's how I think we'll look from the start at Okayama, and its looking a little more exciting: (For the record, we started the 1st 45 against Waseda with 10 of the same XI as Tosu, the exception being Takuji Yonemoto starting ahead of Takahashi, but we know from Kusatsu/Tosu that that doesn't mean it'll be the same for Okayama.)

The first thing that jumps out at you there? No, not me selecting Tatsuya again; hopefully you've noticed I think its time to unleash The Salad! Okuma said on Roberto Cesar, amongst other things, after he played the whole second half against Tosu "[he] hadn't played for 4 months before today, and although his condition is far from 100% I think he showed us some glimpses of what he can do. It's going to take some time for us to understand his style and integrate him into the team."

It might be wishful thinking on my part that he'll be considered ready to start this soon, and that plan/idea would leave no forwards on the bench, but he got through 78 minutes work against Waseda (the final 33 mins of the 2nd period and the full 3rd 45), scoring a hat-trick in the 3rd period, so I think we might as well throw him out there. We'll hopefully see some better link-up play between The Salad and Sota Hirayama than last week.

I'd keep Tatsuya Suzuki in the team, but shift him to start on the right, after he played well there in the second half against Tosu, with Hokuto (clearly not fit last week) dropping to the bench. Yonemoto looks nailed-on to return - Takahashi will have known he was only keeping Yone's spot warm - and Naotake Hanyu and Tatsuya Yazawa (M.o.t.M against Tosu, according to the O.t.G. poll) should keep their spots with Casual, Pedro Junior and Ishikawa all still out (none of them featured at all against Waseda).

The only other talking point is choosing Shuichi Gonda or Hitoshi Shiota in goal, and seeing as though Gonda played both the 2nd and 3rd periods on Wednesday, his finger is clearly fine so he should come straight back in. Harsh on Shiota but football is a cruel game etc etc. Should be no doubts over the back four, Takumi Abe's Tokyo debut was very encouraging, and the other three pick themselves.

They call themselves "Fagiano" and are in their third season in J2, having joined the league along with Toyama and Tochigi in 2009. They finished bottom their first season, and 17th in '10, so have clearly found it tough to adjust to life in the J.League. Through those difficult first two seasons, though, they never got battered the way they did at Hiratsuka last Sunday. Shonan had their way from the start, racing to a 3-0 lead at halftime before running out 5-0 winners, handing Okayama their worst-ever J2 loss. If that wasn't bad enough, their big Bulgarian, Ilian Stoyanov, pulled a thigh muscle in the first half and was replaced at half-time, and he's already been ruled out of Saturday.

They'll have to re-jig because of Stoyanov's absence (Tetsushi Kondo replaced him against Shonan), but they set up officially 3-6-1 (more like 3-4-2-1 actually) against Shonan: Lee; Sawaguchi, Stoyanov, Goto; Ohmichi, Chiaki, Kukita, Kishida, Usui, Tadokoro; Nakano. I mentioned Kishida in my pre-season J2 Power Rankings, he was their leading scorer with 5 goals in '10, and would appear to be their big threat.

This will hopefully be the only time we'll ever visit(!) in league play, so to commemorate the occasion Okayama have released this limited edition scarf that I'm sure will go like hot cakes:
and Tokyo Bairn will be disgusted, but it looks like they've succumbed to "Teddy Bear Culture" as well...
Their 20,000-seater, Momotaro Stadium, now known as kanko Stadium due to sponsorship, looks a nice venue, and I'm sure the hordes of travelling Gasmen fans will enjoy themselves down there. Even though they'll be up for it in their home opener, this shouldn't even qualify as a potential banana skin.
This has gotta be: Away Win.

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