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….
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.
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 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.