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Friday, December 2, 2011

Sapporo v FC Tokyo: Saturday 12.30pm

J2 Matchday 38 Preview
Love this Sapporo...
This one...not so much.
Our J2 adventure comes to an end tomorrow, with a lunchtime kickoff away to Sapporo. This game means far more to the hosts than it does to us, as they are sitting in the third and final promotion place, and anything other than a win will likely see them spend another season in the second tier in 2012. The game is already a near sellout, and by kickoff there may not be an empty seat inside Sapporo Dome.

Besides our two long-term absentees everyone is available, with the likely exception of Casual, and we owe it to the rest of the league, especially Tokushima (who are goal difference behind Sapporo in 4th), to take this game as seriously as any other, even though the league is won, our promotion is confirmed etc. etc. With any other manager you might say there's the temptation to make wholesale changes, but remember its Big Bear in charge so we can pretty much rule that out.

Therefore Shuichi Gonda should return in goal, and the rest of the XI will probably remain largely the same (although can we completely rule out Big Bear giving Tatsuya Suzuki a sympathy start...?!), considering there are two full weeks between this and our next Emperor's Cup game, away to Mito. I'd love to see The Salad and Lucas starting together, but that seems unlikely, and as Daisuke Sakata was tried in the hole during Wednesday's intrasquad training match, the manager obviously realised that playing Tatsuya Yazawa there didn't work against Chiba. 

There's certainly some question about how 'up for it' our players will be, with our lot sorted and them having it all to play for, but they're all professionals and looking to keep sharp for the Emperor's Cup, so hopefully we'll go close to matching their intensity. Plus, we can't let Fat Yusuke score against us...

3rd; W:20 D:5 L:12 GF:47 GA:31 (+16)
They've lost as many games as 12th-placed Oita and they're the lowest scorers of the top five, but they're in the promotion fight because they've avoided draws (they've won more games than Tosu) and have the second-stingiest defence in J2. This game has been looming large for them in recent weeks, but they could've been out of sight of Tokushima had they not lost to the dirty greens in Matchday 34 and, more surprisingly, Kusatsu in Matchday 36 (though of course Tokushima were dreadful last weekend against Tosu).

Last Saturday with their season on the line they went down to Hiratsuka and did the business, beating Shonan 2-0 with goals from midfielders Hiroyuki Furuta (who has taken The Fat Man's spot in the XI the past three games) and Hiroki Miyazawa. Their team was: (4-5-1) Lee Ho Seung; Takaki, Yamashita, Nara, Iwanuma; Furuta, Miyazawa, Kawai, Sunakawa, Uchimura; Diogo.

Yoshihiro Uchimura has been their most effective attacking player with ten goals, making up for the indifferent play of Diogo, who has been a disappointment and has managed only three goals in 15 appearances, while their decision to promote a number of players from the Under 18s has borne fruit, with centre back Tatsuki Nara filling in for fellow 18 year old Kazuki Kushibiki for the past six games.

Both teams will set up 4-5-1, and you'd expect the opening 20 minutes or so to be pretty cagey, as even though we're the away team we're likely to see most of the ball with them content to sit back and soak up pressure, looking to hit us on the counter attack. Sakata (if he starts) is likely to be more positionally aware playing in the hole than Yazawa was last week, so his link-up play with Lucas should be interesting to watch.

The first goal is obviously crucial, if we can get ahead they'll have to open up and really come at us, which leaves them vulnerable to our quality on the counter. But if they score first look for them to park the bus and defend for their lives, though thats clearly a dangerous game considering we've been held scoreless just once in the past three months. Sounds like a no-win situation for them then!

I have no preference for which one of Sapporo or Tokushima go up with us and Tosu, but with Sapporo most likely needing to win, as the Shikoku side having a far easier-looking game on paper away at 14th-placed Okayama (who, just for the record, they drew 2-2 with back in June), I think the pressure might be too much for them and if our heads are in the game I just can't see us losing.
This could still be enough for Sapporo if Tokushima bottle it, but I'm tipping a...Draw.

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