Programme Notes: March 20th

This is the kind of week where J2 bloggers & writers really earn their corn. Just a four day turn around between games given that tomorrow has a full schedule of J2 games (Oh, and it is probably a difficult turn around for the players as well….). The reason there is a full slate of games is that it is a public holiday in Japan, my phone tells me it is the “Vernal equinox” – for whatever that is worth….

I’ll try and keep this edition of “Programme Notes” short and sweet (I don’t think it will turn out to be either) but it is a good time to assess Gifu’s start. Also, we welcome home a  former favourite when Tochigi SC come to town; Look at the development of Kyogo Furuhashi and look ahead to the full slate of games tomorrow. But first, a brief recap of a disappointing day in Kyoto last Saturday.

Coming back empty handed from Kyoto

If you’ve lived in Japan for any amount of time, you will have realised that a trip away anywhere, whether it be for holiday or for work, HAS to involve the bringing back of a souvenir from whence you came. If you don’t, there will be an air of passive aggressive side eying, and if you do you will be the toast of your office (until someone comes back from somewhere more exotic and blows your souvenir out of the water).

With Kyoto being arguably the best city to visit in Japan for tourists, there isn’t a shortage of acceptable souvenirs to bring back from there: My own personal favourite is the green tea & vanilla Baum Kuchen (a cake/donut kind of thing), and last. time I went to Kyoto I did the right thing and brought loads of “omiyage” (souvenirs) back to my office – the green tea was a big hit.


I say this not just to warn people who are thinking about coming to work in Japan, but to also point out that FC Gifu came back empty handed from their trip to Kyoto last weekend. On the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline, Gifu were undone by two goals from Tomoya Koyamatsu who, infuriatingly, is making a habit of scoring against us. The first was after a well worked build up with Victor’s fine save merely directing the ball into his path for an easy finish, while his second came courtesy of him finding space in the six yard area, allowing him to poke into an empty net. Gifu’s response came from Kyogo Furuhashi, who took advantage of a defensive mix up to finish really coolly into the top corner.

Truth be told, Gifu can’t complain about the outcome. We didn’t show the same cutting edge & incisiveness that we showed in Chiba (although Chiba’s struggles are becoming clearer week by week), and Kyoto were unlucky not to add to their haul of goals. It reminded me quite of lot of many of last year’s games in that Gifu had a lot of possession (59% to Kyoto’ 41%) and nearly twice the number of passes (can’t remember exactly how many off the top of my head) but it was Kyoto that looked the more dangerous going forward. Also similar to last year was Gifu’s inability to exploit Kyoto when we turned their midfielders & defenders – a little bit more directness wouldn’t go amiss. And there is one person who can help with this….


Forza Kyogo

Kyogo Furuhashi was, last year, a promising rookie. This year, he arguably Gifu’s most important player. When he is ‘in the zone’ he is a particularly difficult player to stop. His blend of pace and maniacal work rate should give defenders fits at this level. He needs to improve his finishing – he hit the post twice against JEF last week and, going back to last year, could easily have doubled his goal tally.

Still, he gets into very good positions and his finish on Saturday wasn’t that of someone low on confidence. In my very humble opinion, his best position is on the left hand side of attack. He and Fukumura can link up really well down that side and his searing pace – like the Tokaido Shinknasen scything its way through the magnificent Shizuoka scenery – can be unplayable at times. He is sometimes asked to ‘lead the line’ as it were, and play on the shoulder of the last defender, but unless the opposing team plays a high line (which they shouldn’t once they know Furuhashi is starting up front) then the defence can drop deep and nullify his pace on balls over the top/through channels. Stick him out the wing though, and defences can’t do that. If he’s on the left he roams free and, if given service like was against JEF, he has the ability to make defences pay.

Vamos Kyogo!!!


Hey, wait. I know you……

Tochigi SC come to Gifu for an important game at the foot of the table (I know it is too early for talk of six pointers, but these two teams have combined to lose six of their eight games thus far) and amongst their number will be a certain Brazilian midfielder who will be afforded a very warm reception upon his return to Nagaragawa.


Henik was a much loved member of Gifu’s squad on two separate occasions and so it will be a little sad to see him in Tochigi yellow tomorrow. At Gifu he was kind of caught in between two positions wth some viewing him as a central defender, while others viewed him as a central midfielder. The truth is, for me at least, somewhere in the middle of those two – something that Tochigi have identified as they are playing his a holding midfielder. His physical presence and work rate in front of the defence is ideal for a team that wants a screen – although you can say it didn’t really work for the first three weeks of the season as Tochigi shipped goals like I consume Pringles – often and in bunches – but Henik had his best game of the season last week when he was the dynamo that propelled his side to a vital 1-0 win against Kamatamare Sanuki.

His battle with Kota Miyamoto/Yuto Ono – almost polar opposite styles of players – will be key to this game. during the game he’ll get no love from our supporters but after the game I fully expect him to go our support behind the goal and get a rousing reception. You’ll have to look very closely to find someone with a bad word to say about Henik – if you can find one at all.

Henik after his final game of his first spell in Gifu

Henik is one of the good guys in football – he’ll lose his cool on the pitch sometimes, but after games he is a delight, smiling and being there for every single fan that wants to speak with him or get his photo. He’s now a family man, and he genuinely has the look of someone who genuinely enjoys his job & his life. Simply put, he is a fine human being.

Having said all that, I hope his team get beat tomorrow. After that, Boa Sorte Henik.


The pick of J2 tomorrow

  • JEF United Chiba vs Kamatamare Sanuki – if you could see me now, you’d observe me doing a wry head shake. JEF were a sexy pick to better their play-off defeat last year (not something I subscribed to, by the way) but this year has been almost an unmitigated disaster, compounded by last week’s 1-4 thumping at Tokushima. True, JEF were down to ten men early on, but that is the second time it has happened this year – they need to get their stuff sorted, starting with the visit of Sanuki tomorrow. If they don’t, the vultures will start hovering.



  • Oita Trinita vs Mito Hollyhock – hey, Mito! Suffering from vertigo? I read a tweet (for the purposes of this point I’m just going to assume the content was correct) that it had been over 5,000 days since they had been top of the league (you see, that’s just far too random/weird a stat to make up…..right?). Can they carry it on? Why not? They played some beautiful football as they brushed aside previously unbeaten Renofa Yamaguchi last weekend, but Yusuke Goto & Noriaki Fujimoto will present a real test for the LEAGUE LEADERS – yes, all caps for that honour.


  • Ventforet Kofu vs Tokushima Vortis – suddenly Vortis are playing like most people expected them to do this year. With Sisinio (*crying face*) anchoring a midfield & attack full of menace & young talent, their highly impressive performance and win at Omiya was followed up with a comprehensive beating of JEF United last Saturday. Kofu will provide a stiff test of Vortis’ footballing credentials, but if Vortis record their third win on the spin, they will start receiving those nervous looks from other teams that good teams tend to get.



  • Tokyo Verdy vs Avispa Fukuoka – a repeat of last year’s J2 play-off semi final in which Koji Yamase scored a beautiful winner. Verdy have carried on their good form from last year and are unbeaten to start this season. Douglas Vieira and Alan Pinheiro looks just as formidable as last year, and they will present a very real test for Masami Ihara’s charges. But Avispa are no mugs themselves, and can call upon Dudu & Daisuke Ishizu to give the hitherto impressive Verdy goalkeeper Kamifukumoto some headaches. An interesting game is almost certainly in store at Ajinomoto stadium.

Enjoy your J2 day.


Programme Notes: March 17th

A brief one this week due to other commitments, but just enough time for a quick look at Gifu and the J2 week.


Different players – same result

So, those of you that read last week’s programme notes would have read my assertion that there would be goals in Gifu’s trip to JEF United. Spoiler alert, there were. Gifu coming away with a 3-2 win wasn’t particularly surprising to me although the circumstances in which it came about, were.

Gifu were terrible in the first 30 minutes or so, JEF deservedly took the lead through Yusuke Chajima’s goal after Masanori Abe had carelessly given the ball away. But Kyoto Furuhashi’s cross for Paulo Tanaka to stroke in was the stuff of counter attacking dreams – it was pitch perfect. The teams then traded goals, Nagashima for Gifu, Kiyotake for JEF, before Koya Kazama – remember him? He scored a hat-trick at JEF last year – slalomed in from the left before arrowing a majestic 25 yarder into the top corner to snatch the win.


Playing with fire

In the first half, Gifu’s passing out from the defence was woeful, sometimes bordering on football suicide. It is a side-effect of Takeshi Oki’s footballing principles, possession is key and it must not be given away carelessly at any cost. For whatever reason last Sunday, it just didn’t work. Perhaps a lot of credit should be given to JEF United for pressuring the Gifu defenders and midfielders every time they got the ball and maybe that ruffled the players. It took Kota Miyamoto, Gifu’s midfield base, almost the entire first 45 minutes to get a hold of the game. Last year, we had Yoshihiro Shoji who dictated games and it is unfair to compare Miyamoto to Shoji. But in the second 45, Miyamoto looked a lot more assured and looked like the type of midfielder that Oki needs to assert “Gifu Domination Soccer” ball retention principles. Shoji and Sisinio were arguably the best midfield axis in J2 last year, so replacing them is no easy task at all, but if Miyamoto can at least do a passable impression of Shoji, that would then allow Nagashima & Yuto Ono to assert their passing wares further up the field. It’s early days, but the arrow is pointing up for Kota Miyamoto.


Welcome Rizer!

Ryan De Vries made his Gifu debut when he came if the bench towards the end of last Sunday’s game and showed a glimpse of what he can bring to the side. He looked strong, decisive and could even have had an assist; his cleverly delayed pass to Kyogo Furuhashi saw Ryogo round the keeper, but his shot came back off the post. He’ll get fitter & fitter, but his physical presence is something that we haven’t had in a while. I look forward to seeing him in action more.



Culture Vultures

Gifu head to Japan’s cultural capital Kyoto tomorrow (if you’re reading this on Friday, today if on Saturday) to take on Kyoto Sanga. Kyoto started the season with a bad loss at home to Machida Zelvia, but have since followed that result with two respectable draws, 2-2 at Fukuoka, and 1-1 at Niigata last weekend. Those draws have come with Uruguayan forward Renzo Lopes up front, and he will be Gifu’s main thorn to deal with in the game.

Kyoto were SO bad to watch last year it was a little bit upsetting. When you think of Kyoto Sanga, you think of their academy and their usual nice attractive style. Last season saw Tulio & Kevin Oris up front and their version of mid-80’s football. Tulio scored plenty of goals, but there was no future in that style of play – and there was almost certainly no future for manager Takanori Nunobe if his side continued on that trajectory.


Last week, Sanga set up with Lopes up top on his own, with Iwasaki and Koyamatsu operating outside of him. Behind them, in a deeper role, were Shigehiro & Sento – all of those are young, energetic and potentially dynamic players and this is the Kyoto that should be performing. As an aside, the battle between Takayuki Fukumura at left back and Koyamatsu on Sanga’s right wing will be a treat to watch.

This match has sneaky goal upside. Both attacks will fancy their chances against the respective defences. If Kyoto trot out Tulio & Ishibitsu, Gifu will probably find lots of joy. I don’t think Kyoto’s defence will be all that happy about facing the pace of Furuhashi & Tanaka, while the choice of “centre forward” for Gifu – I would guess between Yamagishi & De Vries – will be interesting. Yamagishi is a clever mover who drops deep often. De Vries will be more likely to challenge Tulio & Someya (if it is indeed those who play) in a match up.


The J2 picks

There are quite a few interesting games on tap this weekend. Here is the sushi chef’s selection:

  • Omiya Ardija vs Zweigen Kanazawa – while it is probably too early to declare a full blown crisis, if Ardija are beaten at home by a gritty but limited Zweigen side, alarms bell will definitely start ringing at the NACK5
  • Mito Hollyhock vs Renofa Yamaguchi – the league leaders travel to face the third placed side, not a sentence I thought I’d be writing about these two teams but goal happy Renofa and stoic Mito are both unbeaten and this will be a game that both will think they should be winning.
  • Matsumoto Yamaga vs Fagiano Okayama – Yamaga’s first “home” game is against 100% Fagiano Okayama. Home is in quotation marks because this game will be played in Kofu (due to Matsumoto’s inclement winter weather) but Yamaga will still turn out a great crowd. This is a tough assignment though, given that Okayama are yet to concede a goal. I fancy Matsumoto here though to get heir season up and running.
  • Tochigi SC vs Kamatamare Sanuki – Tochigi’s goal conceding bingo arrives for another week. So far they’ve conceded 3 (vs Okayama), 4 (vs Oita) and 5 (vs Yamaguchi) so what will it be this week: 2 or 6? Eyes down…..

Programme Notes

This week I’ll look at the burgeoning reputation of Gifu’s goalkeeper, a look back at the defeat against Yokohama FC, the experiences of a foreign player in Gifu, a look ahead to Sunday’s trip to Chiba, a brief look ahead to the J2 weekend, and a “where are they now?” look at a former FC Gifu player. Ready? Let’s dive in.


FC Gifu 0-1 Yokohama FC

I remember watching the same fixture last, and having almost the exact same feeling post game. Yokohama FC are a good physical side, that were simply more efficient than Gifu. The obvious caveat is that they have one of the best players in the league in Ibba, and it was his sublime finish just before the hour that gave YFC all three points.

They have a good spine to their team – Kaito Yamamoto in goal, Calvin Jong-a-pin in defence, Kazuhito Watanabe in midfield and obviously Ibba up top. This year, they have a bit more to offer down the sides as well – Jeong Chung-geun and Eijiro Takeda team up very well on the left, although Jeong also has the ability to cut inside.

But Gifu could have got something from the game, a couple of times they were inches away from getting a decisive touch on a goalbound shot. But we didn’t. And we still haven’t scored yet. It is coming though – hopefully soon. I’m not sure that Furuhashi should be in the centre, I’d much prefer him out wide where he can use his searing pace to torch opposition full backs and having Paulo on the pitch always gives Gifu a wildcard because you never know what he’s going to do – except that you know he’s never going to stop running. People have this image of him being a joker, clowning around, but you won’t see any drop in effort from him. It is a very underrated part of his professional make up.

My gut feeling – and my gut is very influential in the way I think – is that we’ll see at least a couple of changes in the line up this weekend. There’ll be an emphasis on wing play and possibly a little help for the defence. We’ll see…..


Safe hands

Victor Ibanez is starting to make quite a name for himself in J2. For the second week in a row he produced a string of fine saves to keep Gifu in the game, but unfortunately, for the second week in a row, he also ended up on the wrong side of the scoreline. The fact that he has to produce these saves isn’t the nicest thought in the world, but it is very comforting to know that Gifu have one of the best goalkeepers in the league behind the defence.


His positioning is excellent, and as mentioned in previous blog posts he starts a little further forward than most goalkeepers. That extra yard or two narrows shooting angles and forces attackers into more difficult shots. He keeps his centre of gravity low in order to be able to transfer weight to either side quickly and very rarely wastes the ball when he has it at his feet. It feels like no coincidence that his play has improved along the lines of his Japanese language proficiency. Goalkeepers, out of all the positions, need clear communication with those around them. At first it was difficult, but his Japanese skills are improving – although he uses his native tongue to curse! – and with it the comfort of playing.

If there was one thing I would love him to do, it would be to come and clean out everyone/everything when crosses & long throws are put into the box. In J2, the set piece is a crucial part of a team’s attacking armory but if the first couple of times they do their thing, the keeper comes and takes the ball/punches it/makes a nuisance of himself teams soon have to move onto their plan B. If Victor could do that early in the game, it would put pressure back on the attacking team, and would also lift some of the pressure on CBs Daiki Tamori & Masanori Abe, both of whom are decent in the air, but not commanding.

Still, that is nit-picking. Victor is morphing into a very, very good goalkeeper. Long may his improvement continue.


Ryza’s travels

If you follow FC Gifu forward Ryan De Vries on Instagram – and if you don’t, I recommend that you do – you’ll know that he has spent this week exploring the delights of Gifu city. In his posts & videos, De Vries is at the top of Mt. Kinka, the mountain which lies in the middle of Gifu, at the castle, down by the Nagara river and at signs commemorating Oda Nobunaga.

Each team varies, but Gifu usually train between 2-3 hours a day (some teams do less) and so the rest of the day is left for the players. It’s an interesting thing to consider, especially for players playing in provincial cities and not the megalopolis’ of Tokyo & Osaka, and Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo to certain extents. You do three hours work per day and you are left to your own devices for the rest of the time. I work 8-10 hours a day so it isn’t really a problem for me, but Ryan is new to Japan, and so it makes sense for him to get to know his new surroundings. Victor was/is the same. He has done more traveling around Japan in 14 months than I’ve done in the last five years. When I spoke to Victor about it last year his eyes lit up when talking about his travels. His family came over from Spain and he had a genuinely good time showing them around his adopted country. Victor’s Instagram feed could work as a promotional account for Japanese tourism.

I haven’t met De Vries yet, although I’m hopeful I’ll do so soon, but I’m interested to find out how he spends his free time. Maybe some Japanese lessons, maybe a bit more exploring around Gifu, maybe some tape study. If he’s relaxed & comfortable off the pitch, then hopefully that will transpose itself into good result on the pitch.


JEF United preview

I watched JEF’s 0-0 draw with Mito last week. There was a lot of bluster, but with regards to clear cut chances JEF didn’t create that many. With Larrivey up top on his own it was left to Hirotaka Tameda & Yamato Machida to provide support from the wings. The one player that I’d be concerned about (outside of the prolific Larrivey) would be midfielder Yusuke Chajima. He gets into the spaces that Gifu often find difficult to cover, the area between the base midfielder (usually Yuto Ono but it might be someone else this weekend) and the centre of defence. Players that drift to the side also cause a problem too. JEF manager Juan Esnaider is banned from the bench/technical area after throwing a bottle down in disgust during the previous game. How much of an impact that will have, we will have to wait & see.

In many ways, the two teams set up as mirror images of each other; 4-3-3 with an emphasis on ball players and width. If it sounds like JEF have the players/system to cause Gifu problems then it stands to reason that Gifu’s formation could cause JEF the same problems – as it did so spectacularly last year. Gifu blitzed JEF down both sides early on with Koya Kazama’s first two goals coming from crosses from Kyogo Furuhashi on the left, and Yuki Omoto on the right. Gifu will need similar outlets and similar chance creation if they are to repeat last year’s excellent win at the Fukuda Denshi Arena. There is pressure on both teams, although one suspects more on JEF because expectations were high (too high?) coming into this season and the fact they’ve only taken a point from their opening two games is cause for concern. If they don’t win on Sunday it feels like it won’t be a good atmosphere. On paper, Gifu’s start always looked difficult – although the longer the goalless & winless run goes on, the more that negativity starts to creep in. What Gifu absolutely don’t need is a result like the one JEF inflicted on us in the first meeting between the teams last year – JEF came to Gifu and won 6-4.


Flashback to last year…..before JEF pasted Gifu 6-4

I predict goals in this game (surprise surprise), it actually wouldn’t surprise me if there were five or more. I’ll go for a 3-3 draw.


Hey! Didn’t you used to play for Gifu?


Ryutaro Karube did (he’s furthest left in the photo above). He suffered a serious injury, and despite a comeback, had to retire. That was until he resurfaced in South East Asia, trialing at a couple of clubs before signing with Vietnamese side FC Thanh Hoa. He’s apparently back to full fitness, and this week curled in a beautiful free kick for his side in their AFC Cup game against Indonesian side Bali United – you can see it here.

Karube always seemed to be a luxury player for Gifu, somehow more cultured than J2 level, his long strides and passing accuracy stood out. He was put in defence by Ruy Ramos and I thought it might signal his move to a sweeper style player – a role I think he would thrive in by the way – but it didn’t. I always thought of him as lost potential, and so it makes me very happy to see him back doing well again. Who knows, he might make his way back to Gifu one day…..


The J2 slate

Here’s what is interesting me this weekend:

  • Tochigi SC vs Renofa Yamaguchi – red hot Renofa (if you can be red hot after just two games) head to Tochigi side that has already given up seven goals. If Tochigi haven’t sorted out a quick fix their defensive woes, Renofa’s attack might have a field day and could well extend their 100% record.
  • Omiya Ardija vs Tokushima Vortis – not really the game Ricardo Rodrigues would have chosen to try and get his Vortis side back on track after two defeats to open the season. Omiya themselves are smarting after their defeat at Machida Zelvia last year. Quite possibly the most attractive game of the weekend in the second tier.
  • Fagiano Okayama vs Oita Trinita – a sneakily decent game might be on the cards at CityLight Stadium. Okayama are defending their 100% record and zero goals against record against a side that is teeming with attacking talent – no-one more so than Yusuke Goto. The livewire forward has three goals in his first two games but will have his work cut out against Fagiano’s organised defence.

Enjoy your J2 weekend!

Programme notes

Instead of a detailed preview of tomorrow’s (or today’s, depending on when you’re reading this) game against Yokohama FC, I’m initiating a bite-sized weekend preview which will hopefully brush on all the main points, and some under the radar points too. Let’s begin….


The Home opener

There aren’t many more exciting feelings for football supporters than their clubs’ first home game of the season. For Gifu, it comes a week after a 0-2 reverse at Fukuoka, and this promises to be a very stern test. Looking back at Gifu’s opening home games back through the years:

  • 2012: 2-2 vs Gainare Tottori
  • 2013: 0-2 vs Yokohama FC
  • 2014: 3-1 vs Kamatamare Sanuki
  • 2015: 1-0 vs Kamatamare Sanuki
  • 2016: 0-4 vs Consadole Sapporo
  • 2017: 2-2 vs Renofa Yamaguchi


Scenes from opening day, 2014.

So, unless Gifu are playing Sanuki, the opening home game of the year doesn’t usually go that well. Let’s hope for something brighter this weekend.


Yoichi Naganuma

There weren’t many bright spots from last week (except you, Victor. You are a star!) but one potential bright spot (at least for me anyway) was the performance of Yoichi Naganuma at right back. When Gifu lost Yuki Omoto to Tokushima, I wondered how we would replace him; in my opinion Omoto has the potential to go on and become an extremely good attacking full back. Definitely J1 level, maybe even higher if he works on his defending. But it should have been clear that Takeshi Oki values attacking prowess from the full back position, and Naganuma – an attacking right sided player by trade – seemed an obvious fit. He got forward well, and linked up nicely with Kyogo Furuhashi at times, and if Furuhashi drags opposition defenders away from the touchline, that can be the space in which Naganuma thrives. It worked for Omoto last year, and we are hoping that Naganuma is the next young talent to benefit from Oki’s footballing education.


The opposition

Yokohama drew their opening game 0-0 at home to Matsumoto Yamaga – although that score barely reflected the drama that was contained at Mitsuzawa. Yokohama should have had two clear penalties, they hit the post and Yamaga ‘keeper Tatsuya Morita made several excellent saves. They should have won, but they also could have lost it in additional time when Matsumoto captain Masaaki Iida headed against the post.

Yokohama FC’s mascot. Could be an alien. Could be a bird. I’m not sure.

An entertaining game, and one in which young Korean forward Jeong Chung-geun looked very lively. Playing off Ibba, he got into positions that caused problems for defenders; should they step out of the defensive line to mark him, or should they give him space and deal with him when he gets the ball. Jeong has a lightning quick turn of pace, and if he gets in between Gifu’s defence and midfield, there may be trouble ahead.

Outside of Jeong, obviously the main threat is Ibba. The big Norwegian hit 25 goals last year, and on his day is almost impossible to keep quiet. He’s good in the air, technically excellent and his dead ball skills are outstanding. One of the Gifu defenders is going to have to have a excellent game if Ibba is to kept off the scoresheet.


The King

One of the questions I’ve had all this week from non-football fans has been “Is Kazu coming to Gifu?” I have to admit, I don’t know. He didn’t come last year because the previous week he had played over an hour of a game, and didn’t feel that he would be in the best condition to come – and it turned out they didn’t need him anyway because YFC won pretty handily.

He has had all sorts of platitudes this last week because he turned 51 years young. Suffice to say, to still be a professional footballer at that age is phenomenal and I hope (along with thousands of others) that he makes it to Gifu tomorrow. But I also hope he loses.


Website renewal

Something “under the radar” or “not particularly interesting to most people” was the unveiling of FC Gifu’s re-modeled website – accessible here.  It has the more modern visual look, easy to access, and features the clubs social media accounts prominently. Oh, and the shop if you want to drop ¥20000 on a home shirt. Oh, and this website is still on there too – just hit “fan” and then “links” and you’ll see this site’s banner.


J2 weekend

With four games on Saturday, and seven on Sunday, those of a J2 persuasion are in for another bumper weekend. What I’m interested in?

  • Albirex Niigata vs Matsumoto Yamaga – who will be the snow kings?
  • Oita Trinita vs Montedio Yamagata – are Oita as advertised? Surely Yamagata can’t be as bad as they were last week when they lost 0-3 at Mito
  • Ventforet Kofu vs Tokyo Verdy – are we looking at Verdy as the real deal? A statement win in Kofu – who probably aren’t looking forward to playing Douglas Vieira and Alan Pinheiro – would give us a good signal.
  • Renofa Yamaguchi vs Ehime FC – Renofa played some beautiful stuff against Kumamoto last week, albeit helped by some “average” defending from their visitors. Yamaguchi have another chance to test their attacking skills against an Ehime team that is still smarting from a home defeat against Kanazawa
  • Avispa Fukuoka vs Kyoto Sanga – another performance like last week will have people wondering whether Kyoto can pull out of last season’s slump. Avispa must believe that Tulio & co. are ripe for the taking.

Enjoy the weekend!


Season preview


The 2018 J2 season kicks off today (as I’m typing this at 10:30am on Sunday, February 25th) and it is one with a lot of question marks for FC Gifu. Here’s what I’m looking at.



I think that Victor has the number one job. Despite Gifu’s poor defensive performance last year, the Spanish goalkeeper held up to scrutiny and looked one of the better goalkeepers in the division. His shot stopping is excellent, as are his ball skills, which Oki likes because it allows the team (in theory) to build from the back. This year I’d like him to see him come out for crosses a bit more, but he really needs some help from those in front of him. Speaking of which….



Gifu got caught out a lot last year. Some of that can be attributed to the style of play (attacking) and the personnel chosen (usually four defenders and six attacking players) but some of it has to fall on the defenders themselves. It was strange because I saw individual improvement from Daiki Tamori & Masanori Abe, but Gifu’s goals against column took a beating. Tadashi Takeda has been brought in from Okayama and I would guess that he will be a starter in the centre of defence. Right back is a question mark given the departure of Yuki Omoto to Tokushima, and it could be that Masanori Abe plays there, or new boy Takumi Fujitani might get the nod. Takayuki Fukumura will be the left back, but this group will have to play as a cohesive unit a lot better than they did last year. But while the onus is on them, they will need help from those in front….




No Yoshihiro Shoji (Vegalta Sendai) and no 2017 MVP Sisinio (Tokushima) puts a huge question mark as to how Takeshi Oki will set his team up. Assuming that he sticks to his 4-3-3 philosophy, there are two ways he can go. The first is to put ball players in there, much like last year. In this scenario Yushi Nagashima, Takuya Shimamura and Ezequiel Ham would be the leading candidates. If, on the other hand, Oki decides to offer some protection to his defence, then Woo Sang-ho could be placed as an anchor alongside captain Yuto Ono and then there would be one more spot available – possibly Gifu-born Shohei Mishima or Yuya Yamagishi – the winter arrival from Gunma.



The main news this winter was the signing of New Zealand forward Ryan de Vries. He comes highly rated from Auckland City where he was in fine goalscoring from before he made the move to Gifu. He seems to be a striker in the mould of Cristian Nazarit (remember him?) in that he is big & fast and can hold the ball up. We haven’t really had someone like that for two or three years now, and so it will be interesting to see how de Vries adapts to life in the professional ranks (this contract with Gifu is his first ever pro contract). Elsewhere, big things are expected from second year striker Kyogo Furuhashi, whose electric pace made him a real fan favourite last year. Given space down the left, he can completely dominate opposition full backs and create chances for whoever plays centrally. On the other side, Paulo Tanaka & Koya Kazama will look to take the right sided forward role, the benefit given to Paulo because of his ability to cut inside on to his left foot.


The Coach


It is a big season for Takeshi Oki. His brand of football was very pleasing to watch, but resulted in some pretty big defeats at times. His stated goal is to finish in the top ten this year, and given the amount of good teams in the division (more than last year, IMO) that would be no mean feat. Gifu have a tough start this year, Fukuoka away, Yokohama FC at home – both games that Gifu lost last year and those teams are expected to battle for play-off positions. Oki almost certainly won’t sacrifice his possession orientated style of football and so, despite the departure of ball hawks Shoji & Sisinio, I think we can still expect some possession and pass heavy stats coming Gifu’s way this year. The main thing that will turn Gifu into a mid-table is being able to tighten up at the back, and that is why I think a true defensive midfielder would be a huge addition to this team – my guess is that it will be Woo Sang-ho but we will have to wait and see.

Anyway, the season kicks off in just over two hours time….enjoy!!!

J2 preview….from a very special source!

With the big J.League kick-off coming up this weekend, Jon Steele (@J2KantoBites on
Twitter) takes a look at some of the games taking place on the opening day of the J2
campaign. All games are on Sunday (25 th February).

Tokyo Verdy vs JEF United (Ajinomoto Stadium, 14:00)

The official marketing for this match leans heavily on the fact that it is a ‘Kanto Derby’
between two ‘Original 10’ teams (clubs that were around for the inaugural season of the
J.League back in 1993). Personally though, I feel that it’s the performance of these sides last season that makes it an intriguing game. Both teams made it into the post-season Play-Offs in 2017, falling at the Semi-Final stage.

Sunday’s game is a great chance for them to blow away any hangovers or disappointment from last term, and make a statement about their desire to go one better in 2018. Added to this is the fact that we’ll see two of J2’s top-performing foreign managers (Miguel Angel Lotina at Verdy, and Juan Esnaider at JEF) going head-to head. Futhermore, Verdy new boys Masashi Wakasa, Yusuke Higa and Hiroki Sugajima (back from a season-long loan) will be going up against the club that they played for in 2017. It should be an entertaining match, and JEF will be hoping to make a better impression than they did in the corresponding fixture last season: they completely collapsed in the second half, and lost 0-3.


Yokohama FC vs Matsumoto Yamaga (Mitsuzawa Stadium, 14:00)

This game is a repeat of the opening fixture of last season, when Yokohama shocked their
newly-relegated visitors by winning 1-0. That seemed to set the tone for a quietly
impressive season for Yokohama, although they eventually fell away from the Play-Off race and ended up 10th. Yamaga finished 8th overall, only 2 points outside the top six, but considering the quality of their squad this was viewed as something of a disappointment by all involved.

Yokohama will be eager to repeat their heroics from this time last year, and Matsumoto will be just as determined to avoid the sucker punch that they stumbled into. The visitors will arrive at Mitsuzawa led by coach Yasuharu Sorimachi for the seventh season in a row, and he needs to improve on last season’s performances in order to avoid questions about potentially overstaying his welcome at Alwin. Meanwhile, when it became clear that they weren’t going to reach the Play-Offs, Yokohama fired Hitoshi Nakata and brought in the Brazilian tactician Tavares (he oversaw the last four games of 2017 as ‘Edson’). The new(ish) manager could do with a good start, and perhaps a goal or two from the talismanic Ibba, to reassure home fans that he is the right man for the job.


Omiya Ardija vs Ventforet Kofu (NACK-5 Stadium, 16:00)

A big crowd is expected in Saitama for a fixture that was a J1 game twelve months ago.
Omiya finished rock-bottom of J1, but in some ways seem to have assembled a more
promising side than they had in 2017. Masatada Ishii is undoubtedly an excellent coach, and he has managed to persuade lanky Swedish forward Robin Simovic to swap J1 football with Nagoya for a stint at NACK-5. That should mean plenty of goals for the Squirrels this season, but they look strong all over the pitch thanks to additions like Taisuke Nakamura (Iwata) and Yuta Mikado (Fukuoka). After the disappointment of last year’s capitulation when the going got too tough for them, you sense that Ishii will be virtually demanding a good showing from his side here.

Kofu finished their (equally miserable) J1 campaign with seven points more than Omiya, but do not appear to be a particularly impressive side this time around. Not many
commentators expect Tatsuma Yoshida’s men to have a big impact on the automatic
promotion race, so an away game against one of the pre-season title favourites represents a great chance to make a statement of intent. The Brazilian forward Dinei has joined from Shonan, and is a proven goal-getter at J2 level, but it’s not clear who (if anyone) is going to share the scoring duties with him. This opening match might be an opportunity for the likes of Lins and Yuki Horigome to step up and show what they can do in a high-pressure game.

Hopefully it’s not an omen for Sunday’s clash, but these sides last met at NACK-5 during the relegation run-in last season (Round 33), and they produced… a pretty drab and forgettable 0-0.



Avispa Fukuoka, who lost out to Nagoya in last season’s Play-Off Final, will host FC Gifu at a newly-renovated Level-5 Stadium. Since this is the only game at 13:00, there’s a chance for someone to make a name for themselves by scoring the first J2 goal of the season (at least they get a 45-minute head-start).

Tochigi SC, promoted from J3 last season as runners-up, will celebrate their return to the second tier by hosting Oita Trinita (14:00).

Albirex Niigata will have get early taste of what to expect at the sharp end of J2. Newly
demoted from J1, they’ll be on the road at perennial strugglers Kamatamare Sanuki (14:00).

Renofa Yamaguchi host Roasso Kumamoto in what looks like an early example of a
relegation six-pointer (15:30). These sides finished third-bottom and second-bottom
respectively in 2017.

Mito vs Yamagata 14:00
Tokushima vs Okayama 14:00
Ehime vs Kanazawa 14:00
Kyoto vs Machida 15:00