Asian Champions League Group F Matchday 4
Thank god it wasn't his knee again...Both photos from Tokyo Chunichi Sports
It was a much-changed Tokyo XI from the loss to Kashima on Saturday, with Hitoshi Shiota replacing the injured Shuichi Gonda in goal, Aria Hasegawa coming in for the suspended Hideto Takahashi (who was due a rest anyway), and Sotan Tanabe, Yohei Otake and Kazuma Watanabe given starts over Tatsuya Yazawa, Naotake Hanyu and Lucas (who all took spots on the bench). This was the first time in this young season that we'd seen Mr. Popovic prepared to rotate, and three unenforced changes among five in all was quite a bold move and an indication he felt fresh ideas were needed on the pitch.
We were somewhat surprised to see Otake start in the hole, with Tanabe on the left, as we'd never really seen Otake given time in that role under the two previous managers, but The Little Maestro was right into the thick of things, and his class on the ball was evident from the opening minutes.
|Great header from Kazuma.|
An early goal was just what we needed, and Beijing attempted to take the sting out of the game by keeping the ball for much of the next ten minutes, but with our midfield and defence pressing effectively quite high up the pitch they were unable to create any clear chances for their big Brazilian striker Reinaldo.
When we did have the ball we looked to spread it wide, with Otake and Hasegawa spraying passes out to Tanabe and Kosuke Ota on the left, and a little more quality on a couple of ocassions from Tanabe might have seen us extend our lead, but his crosses, and one attempt to play a return ball to Otake, came to nothing.
If Beijing controlled the ten minutes after the goal, then we re-assumed total control for the remainder of the half, and in the 37th minute Watanabe was agonisingly close to his second after Aria played a brilliant ball out to Ota, and his almost-inch-perfect cross was headed just past the post by the striker.
There was still time for some Shiota follies, as he made a right hash of one-timing a clearance from Jang's backpass, with the ball actually crossing the line but the chubby little lino running the line down our side failed to spot it. Then, just as it looked like we'd have to be content going in at half time 1-0 up, The Little Maestro got the goal he deserved for an outstanding first half display. Ishikawa started the move from deep in our half, passing ahead to Aria, who slid a brilliant ball down the right for Watanabe to run on to. Kazuma dribbled into the box, cut back on to his left foot, and with Otake unmarked on the far post he slid the ball across, it came off a defender but sat up invitingly for Otake to nod in.
You could see how happy all the other players were for Otake to get his first goal of the season, and it was just reward for a superb first half, and a vindication of Mr. Popovic's decision to start him. At the start of the second half though there was a worrying scene when Takuji Yonemoto, who had been his usual efficient self in the first half, crumpled to the floor after an innocuous-looking challenge with Beijing midfielder Piao Cheng. As the trainer rushed out to attend to Yone naturally our first thought was "Oh, he's done his knee again," but as Sean Carroll first tweeted it turned out he may have dislocated his shoulder when Cheng backed into his raised arm.
Tanabe shifted into the middle with Yazawa coming on to play on the left, and just six minutes after entering the fray Yaza unveiled another daft goal celebration following a superb set up from Ishikawa. Again picking the ball up well inside our half, this time on the left, Nao released Yazawa with a sublime through ball he played as he was falling to the floor. With a defender in pursuit Yazawa cut back on to his right foot, but his touch was heavy and the ball rolled square inside the penalty area and should have been cleared by a sliding Beijinger, but he missed the ball completely and Yaza dinked home past the advancing 'keeper.
That was game over, Sota Hirayama got 15 minutes on the pitch after replacing the excellent Watanabe, the visitors had the ball in the net late on but it was correctly ruled out for offside, and right at the end Yuichi Maruyama came on for his Tokyo debut in place of Tanabe.
An excellent night, and as I said at the top just a point from either of our last two group stage games will see us through. The next game is home to Brisbane (at Kokuritsu) on Wednesday, May 2.