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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two Games With One Post

There's good news and bad news in this, another FC Tokyo update.

Firstly, the good:

Sapporo 0-1 FC Tokyo

After the impressive away win over Niigata, the Gasmen were on the road again in Matchday 11, when we headed up to Hokkaido to take on fellow promoted club Sapporo. They had sealed their spot in J1 with a final day win over us last season of course, so we were out for a spot of revenge, and there were some familiar faces waiting for us.

Three ex-Tokyo players were in the starting XI for the hosts: Fatty (Yusuke Kondo), Fatty Jr (Shunsuke Maeda) and Jade North, and I'd heard from Jade in the week, he was really looking forward to facing his former teammates.

Our XI showed just one change from the win over Niigata, with Naohiro Ishikawa recalled in place of Naotake Hanyu, who was injured. That meant Yuhei Tokunaga continued alongside Masato Morishige in central defence, and Aria Hasegawa was again preferred in central midfield ahead of Takuji Yonemoto.

Casual Magic!

Photo from Tokyo Chunichi Sports
As most people were settling into their seats, Tokyo were suddenly ahead, in the first minute, thanks to a fantastic piece of skill and technique by our captain, Yohei Kajiyama. After we had won a corner on the left almost straight from kickoff, the ball was cleared out of the area by the Sapporo defence, but only as far as Ishikawa. He darted into the box, drove the ball low and hard, and Casual, who had worked his way in front of his man just outside the six yard box, dinked the ball with the outside of his right boot, the ball spinning across the helpless 'keeper and settling inside the far post.

And that turned out to be the only goal of the game. There were plenty of goalmouth incidents, with Shuichi Gonda turning in a man of the match display that almost matched his performance in the season opening win at Omiya (though he left the scorpion in his locker this time), but our first minute goal was enough and meant we had notched our second straight league win, rising to sixth in the table in the process.

I should also mention that I had further messages from Jade North (who turned in a strong display himself, having become ever-present in the league for Sapporo) after the game, and he was very thankful for the reception the Tokyo end gave him after the game.

Next up: the other promoted team, Tosu, visit Aji Sta on Sunday afternoon.

And now, the not so good:

Ulsan 1-0 FC Tokyo

We knew a point would be enough to see us top Group F and get the one-off Round of 16 game at home, but despite dominating the entire 90 minutes it was not to be, as we were undone from an Ulsan set piece and lost for the first time in our debut A.C.L. campaign.

Our XI contained five changes from the Sapporo win, with Hitoshi Shiota strangely preferred to Gonda (on the bench) in goal, Jang Hyun Soo came in for Kosuke Ota (who was left at home) and started at right back - that move saw Kenta Mukuhara switch to the left - while with Ishikawa having joined Hanyu in the treatment room Hasegawa started on the right of midfield with Yonemoto coming into the centre, and there was a first Tokyo start for Hiroki Kawano in the hole behind Kazuma Watanabe, who replaced Lucas, as he has done in every A.C.L. game. That was a very long sentence - sorry.

Right from kickoff we looked the better team as we controlled the majority of possession and fashioned the lion's share of chances in the first half hour. Watanabe's left foot shot from just outside the area was straight at the 'keeper in the 9th minute, then three minutes later he failed to hit the target with a follow-up shot from 15 yards after Hideto Takahashi's 25-yarder cannoned off the post.

But wait, there's more: Kawano, who looked well in the mood, fired over after cutting in from the right in the 23rd minute, before Tatsuya Yazawa thumped a volley on target that the 'keeper tipped over. Then came probably the best chance of all (though Watanabe's miss would be close second), as Yazawa crossed superbly from the left leaving Jang, four yards out, with the simple task of nodding home, but he either misread the flight of the ball or just cocked up, as the ball glanced off his forehead and out for a goal kick.

All the while Takahashi and Yonemoto were doing an excellent job in midfield breaking up Ulsan attacks and the backline were superb in keeping dangermen Lee Keun Ho (hang on, didn't he used to be good for Gamba? He was terrible in both the games against us) and that dirty green Maranhao completely silent.

Kawano had another go in the 35th minute but under pressure he couldn't get his effort on target after Jang had crossed well from the right, but then came the sting in the tail, as we all got a reminder of why football is such a #### of a game.

Firstly, the ref gave a soft free kick when Tokunaga took the ball in a tackle but got his man following through, and then when the ball was swung over to the far post Shiota was caught in no man's land, unsure of whether to come for the outswinger or stay at home. He did make a reaction save to the initial headed effort, but the ball bounced across the face of goal and ex-Spews 'striker' Maranhao looked certain to nod in. Mukuhara put just enough pressure on him so that he headed against the bar, but the ball came to Kang Min-soo eight yards out and he lashed home through Shiota and Takahashi.

Absolute bastards, but we only had ourselves to blame, two gilt-edged chances and several other near misses but nothing to show for it and they made us pay. We again had more of the ball up to half time and again in the second half, but despite Casual hitting the post from the edge of the box (flag went up for offside, wouldn't have counted anyway), Aria sliding in but shooting straight at the keeper and Yazawa having a long ranger saved down low we couldn't unlock them and we were on the end of an undeserved odd-goal result.

That all meant that we finished second in the group, and have to travel to China for the Round of 16 game against Super League champions Guangzhou, who won Kashiwa's group, on the 30th of May.

P.S. Maranhao is a twat.

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