Drop Watch: As you were….

Drop Watch: As you were….

Here are the key results form the bottom of J2 this weekend, and how they affected the J2 table:

Results:

  • Renofa Yamaguchi 4-1 FC Gifu
  • Roasso Kumamoto 1-3 JEF United
  • Albirex Niigata 2-1 Kamatamare Sanuki
  • Oita Trinita 2-1 Kyoto Sanga

Table:

  • 19. Kyoto Sanga – 34 (-16)
  • 20. FC Gifu – 33 (-20)
  • 21. Roasso Kumamoto – 27 (-30)
  • 22. Kamatamare Sanuki – 26 (-40)

So, not a lot of change. But I’m certain Roasso Kumamoto will feel the most disappointed – losing at home against a very uneven JEF United side after taking the lead. Gifu were soundly beaten against Renofa Yamaguchi and while the score looks close in Niigata, in truth Niigata were far superior to Sanuki, although Kamatamare did get on the scoresheet (which is a fairly rare occurrence for them) thanks to Kazuki Hara’s 93rd minute consolation goal. Kyoto had the hardest assignment of the weekend at promotion chasing Oita, and got off to the best possible start when Kaio put them in front in the first five minutes. However, it wasn’t long before the Trinita attacking juggernaut kicked into gear and Koki Kotegawa replied with two goals to lead Oita to victory.

Next weekend:

  • FC Gifu vs Fagiano Okayama
  • Kyoto Sanga vs Tokushima Vortis
  • Kamatamare Sanuki vs Roasso Kumamoto

Whoa! Hold on to your hats, folks. We’ve got ourselves a relegation (almost) death match in deepest Kagawa prefecture. The loser of this game – if there is one – will be hard pressed to avoid relegation. The winner will take a big chunk of hope into their final five (Roasso) or six (Sanuki) fixtures. Going on home and away form, Sanuki have won three times at home this year, while Roasso have recorded three wins away from home. Kamatamare are yet to beat Roasso at their Pikara Stadium home, but Sunday would be the ideal time to break that duck – but Roasso have had the edge in this matchup over the seasons, losing just one of their nine meetings and winning four of them. I’m pretty bullish about Roasso’s chances in this one. I think they’re a better team than Sanuki and while their form is horrendous I expect them to win this game.

A lot of their feelings could be influenced by what happens on Saturday afternoon when Gifu host Okayama. Traditionally in this fixture, the away side fares better and they are often close games. The last three matchups between these two sides have ended in draws and have been relatively low scoring. While we all know Gifu’s bad form coming into this game (12 defeats in the last 13 games) Okayama are quietly in a rocky patch – winless in their last five outings. Many people feel that this is THE pivotal game for Gifu. After this home game they travel to face Matsumoto and face Fukuoka on the final day – both those teams being desperate for points – and so this Fagiano game represents a huge chance for Gifu to pick up three points that would go a long way to confirming their survival in J2.

Kyoto meanwhile have an interesting game against Tokushima Vortis on deck. Vortis will be smarting after their potentially disastrous 0-3 home defeat against Zweigen Kanazawa. I’ve only seen the highlights of that game, but interestingly all of Kanazawa’s goals came at the end of either half – they scored in the 49th minute of the first half, and in the 86th & 93rd minutes of the second half – and so that is something that Sanga could look to exploit. Something that might be an achilles heel for Kyoto is their knack of conceding goals from set pieces, which they have done for 39% of their goals this year – something quite surprising when you consider the make up of their defence includes Tulio, Yuki Honda and Yuta Someya. Obviosuly there are organizational issues in play, but Tokushima are no slouches in the set pieces department, scoring over a quarter of their goals this year (27% to be precise) from set pieces.

J3 promotion results and current table:

  • FC Ryukyu 1-0 Giravanz Kitakyushu
  • Nagano Parceiro 1-1 Kagoshima United
  • Blaublitz Akita 0-1 Thespa Kusatsu Gunma
  • Azul Claro Numazu were on bye

 

  • 1. FC Ryukyu – 53 (+26)
  • Kagoshima United – 45 (+12)
  • Azul Claro Numazu – 43 (+11)
  • Thespa Kusatsu Gunma – 43 (+3)

It wasn’t the prettiest game, but FC Ryukyu continued on their promotion with a hard fought 1-0 win over the depressingly bad Giravanz Kitakyushu. It was left to one of the outstanding players in J3 this year, Kazaki Nakagawa (10 goals, 10 assists), to strike the important blow for the home side, who, with this win, stretched their lead to eight points.

Nearest challengers Kagoshima missed the chance to put some daylight between themselves and Numazu as they were held to a 1-1 draw in Nagano, despite dominating for large parts. They had to settle for Quirino’s first half goal to gain a share of the spoils. With this draw, Kagoshima failed to record a win for the third game in a row – a mini slump that needs to arrested sooner rather than later, although they have the erratic Gainare Tottori on their schedule next and so anything could happen in that particular game.

As mentioned in last week’s drop watch, Thespa Kusatsu Gunma have made their promotion run by being economical, and that was the case last Sunday as they recorded their fourth 1-0 win in their last six games (the other two results being a 2-0 win against Cerezo U23, and a 0-1 defeat against Morioka). They’ve scored the third least number of goals in the division – 26 in 25 games but have conceded the joint second least – 23 in 25. it’s not the thrilling stuff that some other teams are serving up, but it is getting the job done and has put Gunma in sight of a return to J2.

This weekend’s fixtures:

  • FC Ryuyku vs Fukushima United
  • Gainare Tottori vs Kagoshima United
  • Thespa Kusatsu Gunma vs Azul Claro Numazu
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Drop watch: 10/6

Drop watch: 10/6

An important weekend down at the foot of J2, and the top of J3 (as your bonus material!). Here are the results in J2 last weekend, and how it leaves the table:

Table (as of October 3rd, 2018):

  • 19. Kyoto Sanga – 34 (-15)
  • 20. FC Gifu – 33 (-17)
  • 21. Roasso Kumamoto – 27 (-28)
  • 22. Kamatamare Sanuki – 26 (-39)

Kyoto Sanga took a huge step towards survival – some might even say THE decisive step – after their huge 4-0 win at second bottom Kumamoto. Two goals from the irrepressible Tulio, allied to goals from Yuki Honda and Tomoya Koyamatsu handed Roasso their nightmare scenario. Kumamoto have had problems at the back all year long as evidenced by their league “leading” 69 goals conceded but they’ve usually had an attacking threat too. But on Sunday, only half of that particular see-saw came to fruition and that defeat looks to be a very difficult one to come back from. With players like Tatsuya Tanaka, Yusuke Minagawa and An Byoung-jun you can’t rule out Roasso getting the ten points or so they’d need to have a shot at survival, but it is looking difficult, particularly when you look at their current form:

  • One win since May (against Gifu on August 19)
  • Lost 12 of their last 15 games
  • Lost their last five home games
  • Kept just three clean sheets all year

Like I said, all is not lost. They have two double digit scorers up front (An & Miyagawa both have ten league goals) and they have one of the top chance creators in the league in Tatsuya Tanaka (11 assists so far this year) so they do have some players to pin their hopes on, but with just seven games remaining to claw back their deficit, it is not looking good.

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Kyoto, on the other hand, are very handily placed now. Since the signing of Yoshihiro Shoji on loan from Vegalta Sendai, the club has transformed its fortunes. Contrast Kyoto’s record pre-Shoji, with post Shoji:

  • Pre-Shoji – 22 games, 4 wins, 4 draws, 14 defeats – 16 points (0.7 points/game)
  • Post Shoji – 13 games, 5 wins, 3 draws, 5 defeats – 18 points (1.3 points/game)

Of course, it is not just Shoji that has turned Kyoto’s season around. The goals of Renzo Lopez, the addition of Juninho and the improved form of Tomoya Koyamatsu – as well as the hard-to-believe-he-is-still-scoring-goals Tulio – have all boosted the Purple clad team from the cultural capital – but I don’t think it is too much to say that if they didn’t have Shoji, they would be in much worse shape than they are now. Realistically, given the teams & form below them, they just need one or two more wins to guarantee survival. Not a bad place to be in, all things considered.

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FC Gifu failed to build on their Del Piero inspired point against Tokyo Verdy last week as they fell to defeat at Zweigen Kanazawa in the Haku-san derby. For those who have watched Gifu a lot this year it was a familiar tale; decent performance in the first half without taking their chances, not so good in the second half with the other team taking their chances. Gifu should have gone in at half time in front, with good chances falling to both Gifu full backs; Takayuki Fukumura shooting over from a good position, while Masanori Abe tried an overhead kick from close range, when a better option might have been to lay it off. The introduction of Maranhao just before half time was a turning point as he is more agile & mobile than Yuki Kakita and his edgy, combative style put extra pressure on Gifu’s defenders, which showed in the second half as Masaaki Yanagishita’s men were far improved and it was no surprise that they went one up midway throught the second half. Gifu tried to get back into it but were killed off in additional time when substitute Masahiro Kaneko scored his second of the season.

To say Gifu are stuck in a rut is to underplay it somewhat. Since winning at Ventforet Kofu on July 15th, Gifu have lost 11 of their subsequent 12 games, with the aforementioned Verdy game bringing their solitary point. During this run, they’ve conceded 2.4 goals per game, and given that they lost top scorer and attacking force Kyogo Furuhashi to Vissel Kobe in July, as well as being without Junichi Paulo Tanaka for a long spell, that 2.4 goal handicap is incredibly difficult to overcome.

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Gifu did this last year as well. They started slow, had a purple patch in the middle of the season before plummeting down the table towards the end of the season, in fact, last year Gifu lost six of their final nine games, while not winning any of the remaining ones.  Last year, they garnered enough points while the going was good to stave off any threat of relegation – this year they might not be so lucky. So far, the only thing keeping them outside the relegation zone is the equally as bad form of the two teams below. The concerning thing is that they’ve now seen three teams overtake them to move away from relegation danger – Ehime FC, Albirex Niigata (both of whom are safe now) and Kyoto Sanga (who are well on their way to being safe).

 

Kamatamare Sanuki didn’t play, but ultimately didn’t end up losing anything either due to Kumamoto and Gifu’s defeats. Sanuki will now have a game in hand, although it will be against high-flying Machida.

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In a glass half full scenario, Sanuki will have had time to regroup, and refresh themselves ahead of the crucial run in. Also, they have to play Roasso Kumamoto (giving them a semblance of ‘destiny in their own hands’). The glass half empty point of view shows that they they haven’t won since July, and have only scored one goal in their last nine games. They travel to red-hot Albirex Niigata (four wins in a row, 10 goals scored/2 conceded) before hosting Kumamoto. Striker Tetsuya Kijima will like miss the rest of the year, and they desperately need either Kazuki Hara or Kentaro Shigematsu to resume scoring goals (both of them have six goals so far, but last scored back in July).

Upcoming games:

  • Albirex Niigata v Kamatamare Sanuki
  • Renofa Yamaguchi vs FC Gifu
  • Roasso Kumamoto vs JEF United
  • Oita Trinita vs Kyoto Sanga

 

PROMOTION WATCH

Figure I might as well start to look at the top of J3 because that is something that a lot of people will be starting to nervously check. Here are the results from last weekend and the table as it stands today:

Last week:

  • Kagoshima United 2-2 Blaublitz Akita
  • Azul Claro Numazu 1-4 FC Ryukyu
  • SC Sagamihara 0-1 Thespa Kusatsu Gunma

 

The J3 table:

  • 1. FC Ryukyu – 50 (+25)
  • 2. Kagoshima United – 44 (+12)
  • 3. Azul Claro Numazu – 43 (+11)
  • 4. Thespa Kusatsu Gunma – 40 (+2)

Ryukyu look strong, and their 4-1 thumping of Numazu is a stark warning to the rest of the league that the Okinawan side are not going to let up. Ryukyu are by far and away the best attacking side in the division having scored 52 in their 25 games thus far. It would be surprising if they weren’t to finish in the top two.

Below them, Kagoshima rescued what could be a critical point when they equalized in the third minute of stoppage time against Akita last week – a result made all the more impressive due to the fact they were down to 10 men AND Akita scored their second goal in the 90th minute. The point would prove to be important once Numazu were beaten the following day.

Slightly under the radar have been Thespa Kusatsu Gunma, the team relegated from J2 last year. It hasn’t been pretty (or entertaining), Gunma have scored the third least goals in the division (25) but have the third best defence having only conceded 23. Nine of their twelve wins have come by a single goal, with five wins coming via 1-0 scorelines.

The final thing to note is the licensing situation for the clubs. There is a long conversation to be had on the club licensing structure, but that is for another article, here is just for giving an overview of the situation. And the situation is as follows:

  • FC Ryukyu – J2 license
  • Kagoshima United – J2 license
  • Azul Claro Numazu – No J2 license
  • Thespa Kusatsu Gunma – J1 license

Basically, if Ryukyu & Kagoshima finish in the top two (and Gunma for that matter), they will be promoted and the teams in 21st & 22nd place in J2 will be relegated.

If Numazu finish in the top two, then only one team will be relegated from J2. That means a lot of Sanuki, Kumamoto & Gifu supporters will be cheering on Numazu as the season draws to a close.

Drop watch: 9/30

Drop watch: 9/30

It is all getting a bit closer at the bottom. Kyoto Sanga’s crucial 1-0 win against Avispa Fukuoka in midweek has breathed new life into their escape bid. These are the most recent results for the teams downstairs in J2:

Wednesday September 26:

  • Kyoto Sanga 1-0 Avispa Fukuoka

Sunday September 23:

  • FC Gifu 1-1 Tokyo Verdy
  • Kyoto Sanga 0-2 Tochigi SC
  • Matsumoto 2-0 Kumamoto
  • Sanuki 0-2 Omiya Ardija

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Above: Gifu forward Yuya Yamagishi runs at the Tokyo Verdy defence

Now the table looks like this:

  • 19. FC Gifu – 33 (-15)
  • 20. Kyoto Sanga – 31 (-19)
  • 21. Roasso Kumamoto – 27 (-249
  • 22. Kamatamare Sanuki – 26 (-39)

Above: Highlights from Sanuki’s defeat against Omiya Ardija last weekend

This weekend’s games:

  • Zweigen Kanazawa vs FC Gifu
  • Roasso Kumamoto vs Kyoto Sanga
  • (Kamatamare Sanuki vs Machida Zelvia has been postponed)

So, it doesn’t take a lot of working out that the game down in Kumamoto – if it goes ahead – is a huge clash. Should Roasso lose, which is distinct possibility as they’ve lost six of their last seven at their Egao Stadium home, they’ll fall seven points behind Kyoto, and at stay at least six points from FC Gifu. The simple fact of the matter is that Roasso simply cannot afford to lose this game. Also working against them is the fact that they’ve never beaten Sanga at home in their J.League history – Kyoto have won six of their seven visits to Kumamoto with Roasso registering a solitary draw in those seven games. Kyoto will have received a huge psychological boost after their gritty win against Fukuoka in midweek, this coming hot on the heels of a seemingly calamitous home defeat against Tochigi SC. This is the last game of the J2 weekend and so the teams will know what their direct competitors have done. Who will handle the pressure better?

FC Gifu felt that the point they attained in their draw against Tokyo Verdy last weekend was a point dropped, but given the other results last weekend, a point doesn’t seem that bad – especially against a team that had Douglas Vieira, Alan Pinheiro and Leandro on the pitch at the end of the game. That draw was Gifu’s first point in eleven (!) games and sets them up with a bit more confidence for their possibly typhoon affected game in Kanazawa this weekend.

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Above: Gifu’s Junichi Paulo Tanaka will be facing his former club Zweigen Kanazawa on Sunday – weather permitting.

Kanazawa beat Gifu in the return fixture earlier this year and were deserved winners. You can read a bit more about this game in my full preview, which you can find here.

I’m not sure how Kamatamare Sanuki feel about missing this game against Machida Zelvia, postponed because of Typhoon #24. One the one hand, Sanuki are in a dreadful run of form, taking only one point from the last nine games, and only scoring one goal in that run. On the other hand, it might have been a good time to play Machida after the Tokyo club found that they were ineligible for promotion due to the fact that they haven’t received a J1 license – stadium concerns being at the top of the list for their refusal. Machida might have felt a bit deflated…..or maybe not. Perhaps we’ll never know. What we do know is that Sanuki have a week to rest up before they head to face a suddenly red hot Albirex Niigata (four wins in a row) before hosting Roasso Kumamoto the following week. It will be a critical fortnight in the history of Kamatamare Sanuki.

All the games are subject to the weather being ok. Currently, the path of Typhoon #24 is is set over the Japanese mainland, making landfall in Kyushu (Kumamoto) tonight and hitting the central Japan area (Gifu/Kanazawa) tomorrow afternoon.

As of right now, I’d say it is a 50-50 proposition that these games take place. To follow the weather conditions I’d recommend the following accounts:

 

 

 

Zweigen Kanazawa vs FC Gifu

Zweigen Kanazawa vs FC Gifu

Intro:

A derby…..well, kind of. The two clubs’ PR departments have labeled this the “Hakusan derby” – The Mount Haku derby (Mt. Haku is a mountain that sits on the border of Gifu and Ishikawa prefectures).

It may not look like a derby on paper, but on the pitch back in April Kanazawa certainly played like it was a derby, hustling to a deserved 1-0 win in Gifu. It was possibly one of the worst Gifu performances under Oki in that there seemed little fight in the side – although somewhat ironically it was after this defeat that Gifu went on their best run of the year and played some of the best football I’ve seen any Gifu side play.

The last time out in Kanazawa, the two teams played out a 1-1 draw, ex-Gifu forward Koichi Sato’s opener canceled out by Koya Kazama’s equalizer.

 

Zweigen Kanazawa stat pack

  • Preferred formation: Usually 4-4-2, but sometimes 4-2-3-1
  • League position: 15th
  • Top Scorer: Maranhao & Yuki Kakita – both have 8 goals
  • Most Assists: Keigo Numata – 4
  • Most chances created: Keita Fujimura
  • Key player: Honoya Shoji (centre back)
  • Most recent game: Kanazawa 1-0 Yamagata

If you watch the highlights, you’ll see why Kakita has done quite well this year. For his goal, he times his run perfectly, and his movement between the Yamagata central defenders is something could also give the Gifu central defenders problems. The flip side is that he could – probably should – have had a hat-trick after missing a couple of easier chances than his goal. But still, he got into those positions and his movement is going to be an issue for Gifu’s central defensive pairing, whomever they may be.

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Above: Yuta Kakita moving slyly into position between the Yamagata defenders in anticipation of weighted cross. Kakita would go on to score from this position.

Team news:

For Gifu, there are no new injuries or suspensions to deal with so I expect that the same starting XI that played against Tokyo Verdy to line up on Sunday. Junichi Paulo Tanaka will once again be playing against his former team and thus will be extra motivated to do well. In much the same way that Koichi Sato plays the pantomime villain for FC Gifu supporters, Paulo is the same for Kanazawa supporters. For Kanazawa, playmaking midfielder Hisashi Ohashi is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card of the year last time out. Aside from that, Tomonobu Hiroi is doubtful, as is Kiwara Miyazaki.

Something else to factor in is the weather. Typhoon #24 is scheduled to make landfall around the central Japan region sometime on Sunday afternoon. Whether or not the peak will hit Kanazawa before kick-off is uncertain (but according to current weather reports unlikely), the game is expected to take place in fairly windy conditions. (You can keep up to date with the track of the typhoon here)

A day in the life of FC Gifu x ADP

A day in the life of FC Gifu x ADP

What brings together a Word Cup winning legend of football, a Japanese rock group, a traditional dance outfit and a couple of cute ladies promoting a small town? Why, of course. It is an FC Gifu match day. Here is a look at what went on in the planning of this very VERY busy September 23rd in Gifu.

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9:00am

For reasons best known to myself I decided to arrive early at the stadium. My thinking was that it would be very busy and that I would need to get myself settled in before the mass hordes of the media arrived. I was reliably informed that this would be the biggest gathering of media since Ruy Ramos’ first game in charge of the club, and larger than when Nagoya Grampus came here last year.

When I arrived, I was far from alone. But I was the first person to put my bag in the media room, a feat I’m very proud of. At this time there were lots of people scurrying about; people that were far busier than I was. The first people to do their setting up for the big day were Japanese rock group Cinema Staff – the (nearly) all Gifu group that perform Gifu’s player entrance song.

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They rehearsed their song twice, and I stood next to Gifu legend Tsukasa Masuyama, who is now an academy coach. As a frustrated musician – I did play the violin when I was younger, and I got up to the level of playing the Van der Valk theme – I was a little bit taken aback at how good they sounded live. I have this image of Japanese music in my mind of being an octave higher than UK music, and I generally don’t care for J-Pop/J-Rock etc. But Cinema Staff might have changed my stance on it. At this point in the day, it was already hot, around 28 degrees and I was beginning to wonder what it might be like for the kids who were to play on the pitch with Del Piero in an hour’s time.

 

10:00am

The man himself shows up (although I have to admit I missed his arrival due to talking with Stadium DJ Ryosuke Kuze about how we simply must win this game – a conversation I had with him before the four previous home games – all of which ended in defeat. More interestingly for me (more interesting than Alessandro Del Piero? Yes, I think so) was getting to talk to Hirofumi Moriyasu. Moriyasu is a fluent English speaker and played for Gifu around six years ago, right when I was becoming a full time supporter. He has also played for Sydney FC in the A-League and on this day was to be ADP’s interpreter. Hiro (when I met him, he introduced himself as ‘Hiro’ so I think it is best to continue his wishes) now runs an a football school in Osaka that instructs their players in English as well as Japanese. This, in my opinion, is a very worthwhile initiative and one that is done in a few places now. Football is global, but is also an easy vehicle to push English language learning. Moriyasu teaches simple commands & instructions to youngsters and might be planning a trip down under as a kind of study tour. Watch this space! Well, this space in particular.

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Waiting for the man himself….

10:30am (or just a few minutes after….)

Alessandro Del Piero, Juventus & Italy legend, steps foot on the Nagaragawa pitch. One of the kids actually looked at me and asked one of the staff “Is he Del Piero?” but when he saw the guy with shorts and black Adidas boots on, he soon realized his error. ADP shook hands with all the academy coaching staff before getting stuck into his kids coaching element – starting off with the youngest and making his way up the ages. Cameras followed him everywhere, as did a lot of people wearing various Juve and Italy shirts, hoping to get a glimpse of their one time idol.

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He did his role superbly; chatting with the kids, playing some sumptuous through balls and some outrageous skills. I didn’t see him score but maybe he was too polite to do so. By the time he had finished, it was 11:15 and he had to dip away for a quick wardrobe change…

11:20am

It’s one of the staples of FC Gifu match days – the local angle. I’ve said here, on Twitter and on podcasts millions of times before that J2 clubs NEED to make a connection to their local communities because, quite frankly, there are lots of other options for people these days. DAZN has all the games, Netflix, Baseball amongst others. It takes a lot to attract the casual watcher – which is who you need to attract in order to make them into the loyal supporter of the future. Today’s local theme was the Gifu University “Yosakoi” dancers and I’d be lying if I said I knew how to properly categorize their dancing style – modern/traditional Japanese is the best I could describe it as.

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It was really good to watch and for their second part they included a group of mentally handicapped young people who participated in the dance. That part was exceptional to see and the dancing was really quite technical – everyone involved did a really good job.

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11:30am

Talk show time! I’ve been at FC Gifu when there have been only two or three camera people so to see a full bank of them was pretty surreal. Still, all the lenses were focused on Keiji Hirahata – Hira-chan to most – as he introduced Alessandro Del Piero and J.League deputy chairman Hiromi Hara to the crowd.

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To be honest, Hara was a bit a spare wheel here – I’m not really sure why he was there. He didn’t contribute much but then I suppose he wasn’t really asked to. It was ADP that did the talking (and Moriyasu the translating). Del Piero waxed lyrical about his previous visits to Japan with Juventus and about how excited he was to meet Giffy (Yes, the Italian legend really said he was excited to see FC Gifu’s mascot). He was also asked about how Gifu could break out of their funk and other easy hits. It ended with a hug between ADP & Giffy – and off they went to prepare for their free-kick battle.

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12:15pm

If you made a list of the top 10 free-kick takers of the modern generation of footballers, Alessandro Del Piero would be in there. How was it that he became to be involved in a battle with a provincial Japanese mascot? Well, it all started way back when – when a young Alessandro was watching the Italian version of Captain Tsubasa. fast forward a few years – a more than a few major honours – and Gifu attach to a company that uses Captain Tsubasa as its logo. A few phone calls and emails are sent between Italy, LA (where ADP is based these days) and Gifu and it turns out that Del Piero would be delighted to come and receive a Gifu jersey with Tsubasa on the sleeve. I wondered how this could have all been put together but I was told that one of ADP’s management team is a Japanese lady, and that she co-ordinated the efforts between Del Piero and the club.

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Del Piero and Giffy (still feels weird typing that) entered the field hand in hand before Giffy was sent to the goalmouth to assess his goalkeeping options. ADP chose his spot just to the left of the ‘D’ – proper Del Piero territory. Best of three – and Del Piero curled his first effort into the bottom corner. His second was somehow pushed on to the crossbar by the mascot, while the third arced into the bottom corner again. 2-1 to Alessandro, and everyone was happy. An exchange of shirts later, and Del Piero was then off for his press conference.

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1:00pm

Gifu’s media room very rarely sees the kind of activity that it saw last Sunday. When Ruy Ramos had his first game in charge against Kamatamare Sanuki back in 2014, it was rammed. This day felt a little less rammed but it was still heaving. The floor was given to NHK Gifu’s sports reporter Miki Watanabe who fired off a series of questions, including the obligatory “Do you have a message for the supporters?” To be fair, she asked some decent questions including “Have you ever been in a bad run in your career and how did you get out of it?” to which Del Piero replied “Well, not like Gifu are in now…..” with a bit of a dark chuckle.

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Then it was open to the various media for a couple of questions. One person – I forget who but it might have been a Chunichi Newspaper reporter – asked Del Piero “Do you have any plans to sign for Gifu?”

Now, far be it from me to tell real media people how to do their jobs but it struck me that if you had a chance to ask a living legend of the game you cover, wouldn’t you choose a question with a bit more gravitas than a quasi-comedy question? I would – in fact I had my question lined up about how Japanese players had changed since he played against Hidetoshi Nakata in Serie A – but this guy completely wasted his chance. I hope he reflects on that in the future. You had the chance to ask Del Piero ANYTHING, and you chose to piss it away. Rubbish.

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Del Piero went on to explain how his playing style was taken from Platini, Zico, Van Basten and Maradona and that he believes that football isn’t the be all and end all of life. He spoke eloquently about how kids need to find something to believe in and something to strive for in their lives and if it was football, great. If not, no worries. Just don’t put too much pressure on them – something I hope the parents in the room took on board.

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And with that, Del Piero was gone – probably to get a drink because he spoke A LOT.

1:55pm

Ahead of kick offs in Gifu (and maybe other J.League grounds) there is always a kick in ceremony, where some local dignitary kicks the ball to referee so they can get the game underway. I’ve seen Paddington Bear do it. A guy dressed as Kimchi do it. The children of my friends do it. I’ve seen people cry doing it. Falling over doing it. Various things have happened in this carefully choreographed event. Of course, Del Piero was asked to do this – imagine that. You’re the referee of a pretty banal (by outside standards) J2 game, expecting the mayor of some countryside locality to kick you the ball but actually it turns out to be ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO! Imagine that??? I was a little disappointed ADP didn’t curl it around the referee but still, you can’t have everything.

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Now, the game itself could get underway.

2:50pm

Half time. Gifu are one nil up thanks to Koya Kazama’s smart finish and everyone is in a great mood. Cinema Staff – remember them from way back in the morning? – come out to do their live set. It is no mean feat to set up for a live musical performance in five minutes, but they did and they belted out the Gifu anthem “Hyper Chant”, much to the delight of everyone in the stadium – well, those who weren’t outside getting food & drinks. Cinema Staff are fully live band – drummer, vocalist and two guitarists. For them to get set up, perform, and un-set-up (is that a phrase?) in under 15 minutes is a testament to their “roadies” and the Gifu staff. Great work.

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Also, at half time, FC Gifu do a ‘half time caravan’ where the local sponsors and local dignitaries go around the stadium to promote their town/city/wares. On this day Ono town (in Gifu prefecture) and their lovely ladies led the caravan, followed closely by Gifu’s cheerleading group “GGG” – the wildly popular GGG I should say – and Del Piero & Moriyasu. I have to say, a lot of people were just as happy to see Moriyasu as they were to see Del Piero. The caravan came to an end, and the second half kicked off.

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3:50pm

Full time, and a 1-1 draw didn’t really satisfy either team but at least Gifu’s losing run came to an end. I had to shoot off almost straight after the final whistle due to having to catch a train to Tokyo so I couldn’t really see the after party (as it were). But on my train to Nagoya then to Tokyo, I had time to reflect on the magnitude of the day for the club.

On the pitch, it didn’t go as planned, or as well as it could’ve done. But off it, the day was a huge success. The first important thing was the weather. It was almost perfect, after the blazing hot early morning, it cooled own to an acceptable temperature for all. Secondly, Del Piero was a gentleman. He took part in all events with humility and a sense of enjoyment. Thirdly, Gifu’s staff worked extremely hard both on the day, and in the run up to it. The president, Hiroyuki Miyata, and the PR staff did plenty of interviews with both traditional media (TV, newspapers etc) and new media (websites, YouTube accounts) – a smart move.

From its inception in May, through to the final whistle on the day itself, this event seemed like it could go wrong in many ways. What is Nike’s new slogan with Colin Kaepernick? “So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.” Gifu dreamt crazy in thinking they could persuade Alessandro Del Piero to come to our humble city.

Crazy dreams do come true.

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#WeAreGifu

Tokushima Vortis vs FC Gifu

Tokushima Vortis vs FC Gifu

You want a preview of Gifu’s trip to Tokushima? No? Tough luck – you’ve got one anyway.

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Last 5 games:

  • FC Gifu
  • Kyoto Sanga (H) – 2-3
  • Roasso Kumamoto (H) – 0-2
  • Machida Zelvia (A) – 0-1
  • Omiya Ardija (H) – 0-1
  • Albirex Niigata (A) – 0-5

 

  • Tokushima Vortis
  • Montedio Yamagata (H) – 5-1
  • Fagiano Okayama (A) – 1-2
  • Oita Trinita (A) – 1-0
  • Kamatamare Sanuki (A) – 4-0
  • Tochigi SC (H) – 4-1

 

Head to head:

The reverse fixture this year was a 0-0 draw in Gifu back in April. The game itself was of a high standard and it was a little surprising that it ended goalless. I thought Gifu just shaded it, but Vortis midfielder Sisinio thought his side were slightly better. Whatever, it was a really good game to watch.

In general, Tokushima have had the better of this matchup, winning 10 of the 21 games between the clubs in J.League history, whilst at home they’ve won 6 of the 9 meetings, with Gifu emerging victorious twice.

 

The players:

  • FC Gifu
  • Top scorer – Junichi Paulo Tanaka – 7
  • Most assists – Takayuki Fukumura – 4 (Fukumura is suspended for this one)
  • Most important – Whoever plays as the striker. Gifu need a goal threat – it is THAT simple.

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  • Tokushima Vortis
  • Top scorer – David Barral – 7 (actually Yatsunori Shimaya is their top scorer, but he was sold to Sagan Tosu in the summer)
  • Most assists – Sisinio – 4
  • Most important – Ken Iwao. The midfielder is having another superb season under the tutelage of Ricardo Rodriguez. Scorer of five goals from his midfield position thus far for Vortis, he has benefitted from being pushed further forward during Tokushima’s summer reshuffle. After Vorits sold Shimaya and Ryogo Yamasaki (to Tosu & Shonan Bellmare respectively) Rodriguez decided to deploy Iwao in a more advanced position, leaving Sisinio to drop back into the holding midfield role, a role where he collects passes from defenders and gives him time to look up and pick passes. This in turn has given Iwao the license to spend a bit more time in attacking positions where his skill on the ball, his pinpoint passing accuracy in short areas and his eye for goal has been activated. Iwao’s current ranking in the attacking stats for Vortis are:
    • Goals – 3rd
    • Assists – 2nd
    • Shots – 1st
    • Chances created – 1st

The blossoming of Iwao has really come about in the second half of the season. Once he was pushed further forward, Vortis have embarked on a run of nine wins in twelve games. It is too simplistic to say that it is all down to Iwao, because of course that narrative forgets to include the signings of Peter Utaka and David Barral, but his importance to the style and implementation of Rodriguez’s footballing philosophy can’t be underestimated.

 

Tokushima Vortis playing style

I really like the way Tokushima play – incisive and easy on the eye. Predicting how they set up though is a difficult task because if there is one thing that manager Ricardo Rodriguez likes to do, it is tinker with his formations. Going by the stats on the excellent Football Lab site, Tokushima have employed no less than six different formations this year, but by far their most successful is the 3-3-2-2 set up that they’ve employed recently and it is that formation which I expect to see on Saturday

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The Vortis starting XI from their previous game

There might be some personnel changes to contend with given that Taro Sugimoto and Sisinio were left out/rested last weekend and they’ll both be itching to play in this one; Sugimoto is from Gifu and Sisinio was the 2017 player of the year for Gifu.

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Goalkeeper Yuji Kajikawa was actually second choice at the start of this year when Costa Rican ‘keeper Carvajal was brought in, but he reclaimed his place in the tenth game (not that Carvajal did anything noticeably wrong in my opinion) and has been a steady presence all year. In defence, since the departure of Leo Osaki to Vissel Kobe, Vortis have usually gone with Izutsu, Kotaro Fujiwara and the experienced Hidenori Ishii. In front of them they are really spoiled for choice. Sisinio can anchor the midfield, as can Taiga Maekawa – but Maekawa, much like Ken Iwao, is probably better utilized further forward. Against Tochigi the width was provided by Ryuji Sugimoto on the left and Genta Omotehara on the right. The departure of Yuki Omoto to V-Varen Nagasaki left a pretty big gap to fill on the right, and it was initially though that Rikuto Hirose (long a favourite of mine) would pick up the slack but he picked up an injury against Kamatmare Sanuki. Rodriguez gave Omotehara first crack at replacing him and the on loan Shonan man played very well in the win against Tochigi last time out.

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Up front are arguably the best front two in the league – Peter Utaka and David Barral. Most people probably know about these players but suffice to say that they are probably too good for J2 and if they are given half a chance, they will punish teams. Utaka took a little bit of time to get up to match fitness but since he’s come into the team, he has enjoyed the partnership with Barral. Barral, for his part, has done exceptionally since arriving in the summer. Seven goals from seven appearances and his excellent movement takes up a lot of attention so that others in the system can flourish.

In summary, this would have been a very difficult assignment in a normal situation. But given the form that both teams are in – completely at opposite ends of the spectrum – this is going to be very, VERY difficult for Gifu.