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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Matchdays 31 to 33

I've been busy with J-Talk Podcasts, and not able to pay much attention at all to this blog in the final month of the season, so let's start our wrap-up with a brief look at Matchdays 31 to 33.

Nagoya 1-0 FC Tokyo

J1 Matchday 31

The Wednesday after we smashed Sapporo at home we headed to Nagoya, who were still well-and-truly in the hunt for the third ACL spot. Tulio scored the only goal of the game with a far post header from a corner in the first half, and though we outshot Grampus 16-6 there was no way through for us. The result saw us stay in ninth, but our own ACL hopes were all-but extinguished.

FC Tokyo 0-1 Kobe

J1 Matchday 32

Kobe came to town on November 17th in deep relegation trouble, and somehow left with all three points after a farcical game that frankly shouldn't have been allowed to finish. Heavy rain throughout the day soaked the pitch, and it only got stronger throughout the game, with players unable to dribble through huge pools of water from late in the first half.

Kobe scored an excellent goal through young fullback Ryo Okui, who played a one-two with striker Keijiro Ogawa and finished smartly from outside the box in the 27th minute, but the second half was a complete joke with the ball stopping dead everywhere on the pitch apart from some narrow spaces right on the touchlines. We had some chances in the second half but it was impossible to pass the ball along the floor, and one wonders if the game would've been postponed had we gone ahead, and not Kobe.

Gamba Osaka 2-2 FC Tokyo

J1 Matchday 33

For the second straight game we took on a relegation-haunted opponent, and while we'd all been entertained by Gamba's struggles throughout the season, I'd wager most observers still expected them to get out of jail in the last couple of games of the year.

After some early Gamba pressure, with Shuichi Gonda called into action to make a fine, low save from Akihiro Ienaga's shot, Aria Hasegawa had the ball in the net in the 14th minute only for the goal to be ruled out for a very borderline offside. Seven minutes later though we took the lead with a Yuhei Tokunaga thunderbolt from just inside the area. Kosuke Ota played a deep cross from out near the left touchline in search of Lucas, and when the ball sailed over the big man and his marker's head, Tokunaga arrived completely unmarked and lashed in at the keeper's near post.

Kazuma Watanabe and Aria both had close-range shots superbly saved in the 33rd minute, but Ienaga was not to be denied four minutes later though, and he got the hosts back on level terms with a header from a Yasuhito Endo freekick, although the ref missed an obvious foul on Jang Hyun Soo as our South Korean defender was pulled down by his shirt right in front of where Ienaga met the ball. Ienaga then struck again with half an hour left to give Gamba what looked to be a priceless lead that would've taken them out of the bottom three, although again we had complaints as Leandro flattened Masato Morishige as he started his run to meet a loose ball in the box.

But just as Yamagata did to us in our final home game of 2010 (I'm still having flashbacks of Yuzo Tashiro getting in front of Yasuyuki Konno and heading in Montedio's equalizer), there was to be a twist in the tail late on, and again, as has so often been the case since his arrival, Nemanja Vucicevic was heavily involved again, as he took a pass from Ota and unleashed a fierce shot that cannoned down off the bar (and may have crossed the line), with Watanabe outjumping Konno and heading home from a yard out for 2-2.

We had a chance to win it in stoppage time too, but Lucas made poor contact with his shot and the final whistle blew soon after, a hugely satisfying point in a game that meant a lot more to the hosts than it did to us. We stayed in 10th, and Gamba in 16th, and by now of course we all know how the last day of the season played out for them.

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