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Friday, August 19, 2011

Tochigi SC v FC Tokyo: Sunday 6pm

J2 Matchday 21 Preview

"Avenge my... shattered leg..."
Don't worry, Sota, we haven't forgotten.
After gaining revenge for our Matchday 6 loss to Kusatsu last Saturday, FC Tokyo continue on our vigilante tour through J2 as we look to avenge this.....

That's right, while our first-ever visit to Tochigi SC could have big ramifications at the top of the table, and is the first of two meetings we'll have with them in the next three games, the main purpose of our trip is to see if we can snap the leg of a Tochigi player, preferably Ricardo Lobo, their main striker.

(I'm joking, of course, and as they don't appear to have a mascot we can kidnap, we'll just have to settle for winning on the pitch).

It's been four months since that fateful 'friendly' at Kodaira, and in that time we've bounced back from a horror start to sit on the summit of the second tier after 20 games, while our hosts have been consistently good all season, and have been in the top four all year.

We'll be unchanged again, for the 11th straight game, but the whole squad got a runout yesterday at Kodaira as we played two practice games against university opponents.

Bit worried about the new-look this11.com,
this kit is far too pink for my liking...
The first team played a 2 x 30 minute match against Sendai University, winning 3-1 with goals from Masato Morishige and Naotake Hanyu in the first half and Roberto Cesar in the second.

Roswell took an early bath after the first half, with Lucas replacing him to partner The Salad, while interestingly Naohiro Ishikawa came on for the second half in place of Sotan Tanabe...hinting that Sotan will be the one to make way when Nao is finally fit enough to start?

Yasuyuki Konno, Yohei Kajiyama and then The Salad himself all headed in for an early bath from midway through the second half, with Kenta Mukuhara, Kazumasa Uesato and Tatsuya Suzuki, respectively, replacing them.

Those three then buttered up for a 2 x 45 minute, 4-2 win over Tokyo Gakugei University that was noticable for a couple of reasons.

New signings Genki Nagasato and Daisuke Sakata made their Tokyo debuts, replacing Ishikawa and Tanabe (who returned for the first 22 mins), and both of them got through the last 68 minutes of the game, although it still may be a little soon for them to be involved in the squad for Sunday.

Pleasingly, Ishikawa and Lucas scored our goals in the first half, while Tatsuya and Hideyuki Nozawa, our Japan Under 17 World Cup representative, netted after the break.

In just their third J2 season, the hosts have made remarkable progress, putting themselves well and truly in the hunt for promotion after finishing 17th in their debut year and then 10th in 2010. As I mentioned earlier, they've been in the top four all season, but dropped out of the promotion places after last Saturday's shock 2-0 loss at Yokohama FC, which saw their league-longest 12 game unbeaten run come to an end.

Leading scorer Lobo was suspended for that game, but he's certain to return here for a battle of 7-goal strikers with The Salad, in an all-Brazilian frontline alongside recent signing Sabia, while they also have a Brazilian holding midfielder, Paulinho, who is arguably their most important player.

Of course they haven't done this well this season just on the backs of their South Americans, and young winger Kota Mizunuma, who came in from J1 Yokohama last season, is the most exciting of their Japanese players, having kept the more experienced Kazuhisa Kawahara (ex-Niigata) on the bench for most of the season.

Their XI from the Yokohama FC loss was: (4-4-2) Takeda; Akai, Okubo, Owada, Irie; Mizunuma, Paulinho, Ochiai, Sugimoto; Sabia, Hirose. Its nailed on that Lobo will return in place of Hirose, but they'll have to replace Ochiai in midfield next to Paulinho after he was sent off last Saturday, with Shuto Suzuki likely to get the nod.

I got plenty of things wrong in my Pre-Season J2 Power Rankings, but calling Tochigi "darkhorses for promotion" was one thing I got (partially) right, although even then I still slightly underestimated them. Lobo has been as good as advertised, and Konno and Morishige will have their hands full with both him and Sabia.

They've only been beaten three times all year and are allowing well under a goal a game, so as with last week it may come down to us being patient and taking our chance when it comes - although that surely won't be from the penalty spot again, as we've had spot kicks in five straight games!

I'm tempted to go for a draw here, and we could live with that as this shapes as a very tricky trip, but it'd be great to keep that three-point buffer at the top, and if the game opens up we should have enough quality in our XI and off the bench to come away with the points and avenge Sota's broken leg.
Not overly confident, but.....Away Win.

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