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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

FC Tokyo 2-2 Ulsan

Asian Champions League Matchday 2
Should've been the winner...
On a beautiful early spring day FC Tokyo played our first ever home game in the A.C.L. yesterday when we hosted South Korean outfit Ulsan. Having taken a first half lead courtesy of Yuhei Tokunaga's superb chip from the edge of the box, we were then pegged back twice in a manic last 10 minutes, after the Koreans equalized, captain Yohei Kajiyama put us back in front with 83 minutes gone, but then ex-Spews striker Maranhao made it 2-2 with two minutes left.

First things first though: Where was everyone?
A very disappointing crowd of 14,110 was all we could muster to our A.C.L. home debut on a perfect weather day, a national holiday, but I'm sure no one at the club is surprised as they did absolutely nothing to promote the game. Yet another opportunity wasted by our marketing department, who couldn't sell ice to the eskimos. And am I still bitter at the club for the farcical 'lottery' they held to decide which SOCIO members would get one of the 900 A.C.L. kits in the first release? Well after seeing every single one of those 900 kits yesterday, yes, I most certainly still am.

Anyways enough of that, I should just write a(nother) letter to the club... to matters on the pitch then, and our XI showed three changes from the epic win over Nagoya, with Aria Hasegawa, Naotake Hanyu and Lucas replaced by Takuji Yonemoto (Yone! You beauty!), Tatsuya Yazawa and Kazuma Watanabe respectively, in what is now (still!) our stock 4-5-1.

Watanabe was straight into the thick of things and fired off the game's first shot in the opening minute, but as things got going it was clear from the outset that Ulsan were going to be a much tougher proposition than Brisbane two weeks ago, as they looked very solid at the back and a threat on the counter, with ex-Gamba frontman Lee Kuon Ho the danger man.

Ulsan looked to get the ball wide and fire crosses in for their beanpole striker Kim Shin Wook to attack, but Tokunaga and Kosuke Ota did well from their fullback positions to restrict opportunities for the likes of Lee and former Gamba, Oita and Cerezo midfielder Akihiro Ienaga to cross. With a lot of the game happening in the midfield third of the pitch a goal before halftime didn't look likely, but it took an audacious moment of skill to break the deadlock in the 37th minute.

After Yonemoto, Naohiro Ishikawa and Kajiyama combined well to win a corner on the Tokyo right, Ishikawa decided against pinging the ball into the box and instead picked out Tokunaga 25 yards out, pretty much dead in front of goal. With the Ulsan defence perhaps expecting a chipped cross, Tokunaga strode forward, held off Lee Yong and from the 18 yard line clipped the ball over Ulsan keeper Kim Young Kwang and under the bar for a superb goal.

We were pretty good value for the next 30-40 minutes, Ulsan huffed and puffed but never really looked likely to score, Hideto Takahashi was having a superb game for us in central midfield (and all over the park, he was everywhere), and the introductions of Aria and Hanyu (for Yonemoto and Yazawa) freshened things up as we looked for a killer second to ice the game. To be honest it had all gone a bit flat, and it appeared we'd just be able to play out time, but then a mental last ten minutes put paid to that.

The first equalizer came in bizarre circumstances after the Ulsan keeper launched a long kick into our half. They had left a lot of men forward after their corner was cleared seconds before, but when Lee Ho won the flick header they would've had five men offside... except for the small fact of Masato Morishige playing them on, and we had the ridiculous scene of five attackers racing in against one defender and the keeper, Maranhao slipped in Kim Seung Yong and he fired past Shuichi Gonda with the minimum of fuss.

Just three minutes later we were back in front though, after a goal so simple it looked like a training drill. A 17-pass sequence that began when Tokunaga won the ball back in our half ended with Aria and Ishikawa playing a one-two, Aria dribbling to the edge of the box and then slipping the ball out to Hanyu on the left. Roswell took two touches, sized up his options and then squared the ball to Kajiyama, who side-footed home with venom from 12 yards to surely, we thought, seal the three points.

But South Korean teams have a proud record in the A.C.L. and you knew they weren't going to lie down, and with two minutes left a ball over the top found Maranhao, who had timed his run between Ota and Morishige (who should have been shading to that side) to perfection, and lobbed a stranded Gonda to make it 2-2.

The manager was raging after the game, even singling out Morishige for his lack of concentration on the two goals we conceded, but in all honesty we couldn't really complain too much about the result, it was just a shame to let them in late on when we had done quite well in restricting them for the first 80 minutes.

Ulsan were my tip to win the group before it started, and after two matchdays I don't see much reason to change that, even though we lead the group, ahead of the Koreans on goal difference (we both have four points), with Beijing and Brisbane level on a point each after last night's 1-1 draw in Beijing, where we go for our next group F game, on Wednesday, April 4. Hope that sentence wasn't too confusing.

On the Gas Man of the Match: Hideto Takahashi

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