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Monday, March 14, 2011

Quake and Tsunami Wreak Havoc - J.League In Limbo

Friday afternoon's Magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and subsequent catastrophic tsunami, has caused unfathomable damage to vast areas in north-eastern Japan. Iwate, Fukushima, Miyagi and Ibaraki Prefectures were battered, whole cities and towns were washed away, and the death toll could reach 10,000, according to reports. There is no way that any of us can comprehend what the people up north went through, and their anguish at lost or missing family members and friends must be heartbreaking.

Football is completely meaningless when compared to this utter devastation, and the J.League took the only possible decision it could and cancelled the weekend's games in J1 and J2. When football in Japan will resume is hard to predict, (updating at 3:35pm) but the J.League has decided to postpone all league and league cup fixtures for the remainder of March. Reported damage at stadiums in Sendai, Kashima (both J1) and Mito means those venues are likely to be out of commission for the foreseeable future, though.

Please don't think I'm trying to make light of the situation by talking about an FC Tokyo practice match - a totally insignificant event in light of what has happened - but after three days of watching the horrific and heartbreaking scenes, I needed to do something to get my mind off things... And so, having returned from Okayama, FC Tokyo played a practice game against Meiji University yesterday afternoon. (I didn't go to the game, have used information from the club website.)

FC Tokyo 3 - 0 Meiji University (4 x 35 min game)
Goals: Hokuto (32nd min), Roberto Cesar (89th, 121st)

This four "quarter" (just like Aussie Rules Football) game enabled each of our four keepers to play, while the full (fit) squad was utilised, with Kazumasa Uesato playing almost three full quarters and Roberto, Kenta Mukuhara, Tomokazu Nagira, Sotan Tanabe, Kohei Shimoda (at leftback) and trialist Jade North all playing the final two quarters, but there was still no sign of Yohei Kajiyama, Naohiro Ishikawa, Pedro Junior or long-term absentee Daiki Takamatsu. Most pleasing for me though is that, although he didn't start, Roberto Cesar got through 89 minutes, playing the full second and third quarters, and the first 19 minutes of the fourth, scoring twice, making it five goals in his last two (both games against university students to keep it in perspective).

The lineup for the first quarter was telling, as it was the same as last Wednesday's practice game against Waseda, with Hokuto starting again on the right wing. We can assume then that was the XI for Okayama, meaning I would've been two players off again with my predicted XI (Hokuto & Shiota instead of The Salad & Gonda). Hokuto justified his selection though with the only goal of the first quarter, firing home the loose ball in the 32nd minute after Tatsuya had cut in from the left and seen his shot saved.

Shiota, Hanyu and Hokuto all took an early bath after the first quarter, and, with the exception of Uesato starting ahead of Roswell (Otake replacing Uesato after 22 minutes), the second 35 was what I had in mind with my predicted team: Gonda between the sticks; The Salad upfront with Hirayama; and Tatsuya back to the wing. Unfortunately this was the only goal-less quarter of the game, but I hope we see more of these personnel in this formation in the games to come (at least until Casual, Ishikawa and Pedro are fit).

The Salad and Otake stayed on for the third quarter, and Uesato returned, otherwise Tokizawa came on in goal, the back four was changed completely, Takahashi and Roberto played centre-mid and Sotan was upfront with The Salad. The second goal of the game came 19 minutes in (89th min), when Otake played a ball over the top, and The Salad beat the offside trap before slotting home.

But he wasn't finished yet, he bobbed up with his second, and our third, 16 minutes into the fourth quarter (121st min), latching onto a long ball from Uesato and beating the keeper again. Great, then, to see The Salad get another good run-out under his belt (which will hopefully be fitting a little looser now!), and three minutes after his second he was replaced by Under 18 midfielder Kento Hashimoto. The only change at the start of the fourth 35 had been Hironaga for Tokizawa in goal, while Takahashi had switched from midfield to defence and Mukuhara had done the opposite.

So a decent runout in trying and emotional circumstances, especially for our captain, Yasuyuki Konno, who is from Miyagi Prefecture, and Hitoshi Shiota, from Ibaraki. The boys will be at it again on Monday the 21st, at Kodaira, against Tokyo Gakugei University.

You'll Never Walk Alone

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