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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

FC Tokyo 0-1 Hiroshima

J1 Matchday 4

Didn't quite work out, but I liked the idea.
Considering the terrible weather conditions, a reasonable crowd of over 16,000 rolled up to Aji Sta on Saturday afternoon to see unbeaten FC Tokyo take on Hiroshima. Unfortunately for Gasmen supporters, the performance of the players somewhat matched the weather, as we slipped to our first defeat of the season courtesy of a goal from Hiroshima talisman Hisato Sato.

Mr Popovic sprung a bit of a surprise at the selection table, calling on Sotan Tanabe to replace the suspended Aria Hasegawa, while Tatsuya Yazawa was recalled with captain Yohei Kajiyama missing due to injury. I had seen Tanabe tried in the central role during a 3/4-sized pitch training game at Kodaira on Wednesday, and to be frank he had struggled to impose himself there, but it was a somewhat positive move considering his other option was the defensive-minded Takuji Yonemoto.

Hiroshima set up with their typical three back formation, but it became apparent in the opening minutes that their back three was actually a back five when Tokyo had the ball, and they set up to clog the midfield and force us to pass through them. If Naohiro Ishikawa's goal on the counter against Kobe gave us flashbacks to '09, then this Hiroshima gameplan had us casting our minds back in horror to '10, when visiting teams followed The Blueprint On How To Play FC Tokyo Away(TM) all season, and our failure to counter it played a large role in our eventual relegation.

But this is a new era under a new manager, and we trusted in the players to find a way through the visitors, and it was left up to Masato Morishige to try to dictate play from the back, with Hiroshima content to sit deep and look to hit us on the break. They fashioned the best chances in the opening half hour too, as Shuichi Gonda's goal led a charmed life, two narrow misses giving us a warning that we had to be on guard at the back.

Tanabe was busy but couldn't find a way through, Lucas and Naotake Hanyu looked to stretch Hiroshima's defence but their sheer weight of numbers back there meant that our best hope was getting the ball wide, though while Yuhei Tokunaga was able to create openings for crosses on the right, Kosuke Ota struggled to impose himself and the ball always seemed to stop when it came to him.

Halftime came and the visitors could be content with the 0-0 scoreline, and 11 minutes into the second half they got the goal they came for when Mihael Mikic, who had had the better of Ota down the Hiroshima right, rolled a brilliant ball across our backline and Sato, who had lost the attentions of Kenichi Kaga, ghosted between our central defenders to tuck home past a stranded Gonda. Kaga's lapse in concentration proved costly, and we were faced with the difficult task of chasing the game against an opponent happy to sit on their lead.

Mr Popovic introduced Kazuma Watanabe and Yohei Otake (The Little Maestro!) with 25 minutes left, but then stationed Otake on the right and Ishikawa on the left for large stretches, which meant that our opportunities to get balls into the box were limited, with both wingers looking to cut inside rather than getting to the byline to get crosses in.

The last 20 minutes were an exercise in frustration as there was simply no way through, with not even the introduction of The People's Champion, Sota Hirayama, at the death having an effect, and Hiroshima celebrated a deserved win at the final whistle, mission accomplished as they handed us our first loss and joined us on nine points.

Tomorrow night we play in Beijing in the pivotal Matchday 3 of the A.C.L., and a point there would set us up well for the remainder of the group stage, with two of the three games left to come at home, while on Sunday afternoon we'll look to Get the River Under Control against Kawasucki Kawasaki at Todoroki.

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