X’s and O’s

It has been a while since the glorious (and I use the word glorious because it turned out to be the perfect evening) win  against Matsumoto Yamaga – a Yamaga team that has gone on to win their following two games.

But enough of Matsumoto, we’re here to talk about Gifu. In the intervening time, we have played two away games with one at the league leaders and one at the pre-season favourites for promotion and Gifu’s performances in those games – if not the result at Oita – are very promising going forward. I’m going to take a deeper look at those games, starting with the aforementioned trip to Oita Trinita.

Oita Trinita 2-1 FC Gifu

This will be a game I look back on at the end of the season and think “How did we not get what we deserved from this game?” In fact, I don’t have to wait until the end of the season to think like that, I thought it for the entire week following it.

To set the scene, Oita were (and still are) top of J2, playing a brand of aggressive, fast paced counter attacking football that is difficult to defend against. Gifu went into it on the back of their best performance of the season – the win against Yamaga. Gifu, as is their style, controlled the pace of the play in the first half, carving out several half chances but it was Oita who had the best chance of the half but the usually reliable Kenji Baba somehow put the ball wide from close range.

Or, rather, I should have said “The best chance of the half up until Gifu took the lead” as Gifu went ahead on the stroke of half time. A corner from the left was floated to the near post where Daiki Tamori headed it on, and the flick on gave Kyogo Furuhashi time to jump in front of his marker, with whom he’d been left one-on-one at the back post, and he planted his header into the far corner. 1-0, and another set piece goal. Set pieces are something that I had long since forgotten about concerning goals for Gifu. Our team isn’t that tall or physical and so it seemed that we were more likely to concede a goal from an attacking corner rather than score one. But we are much more varied in our approach now, with the key being we are able to use movement to create space in certain areas of the box. Case in point – this goal. If you watch the replay you’ll see that our two biggest players – Tamori & Tadashi Takeda – go to the near post and Ryan De Vries is somewhere near the penalty spot. This opens up a large space in the middle where players are man marked and as long as the player at the front post gets the flick on, the players actually in the area are absolutely in play. Furuhashi took full advantage to put Gifu in the lead.

It didn’t take long for Oita to equalize after the break. Tamori seemed to misjudge a high ball, Kohei Isa controlled it well and hit a superb shot across Victor and into the far corner. It was a really good goal and while Tamori might look at himself and think he should have done better but that should take nothing away from Isa’s finish.

 

After this, Gifu went back on the offensive, with Furuhahsi & Paulo Tanaka causing their usual havoc on the wings. Koya Kazama’s cross led to Paulo being quite clearly pulled back in the area, but even without the penalty being given, the ball fell to Kota Miyamoto, but Gifu’s highly impressive midfielder fell back as he shot and the ball screwed wide. Even more agony was to come, Furuhashi blasted one just wide from the edge of the area, and then THE chance came. Furuhashi blazed his way down the left and his ball across the box found Paulo Tanaka, but Shun Takagi made a fantastic reflex stop. The ball rebounded to Kazama, but his goalbound shot hit an Oita defender and the ball rolled agonizingly slowly towards the goal, but another Oita defender came in a swiped the ball away, like a crow taking a big ‘niku-man’ in Yokohama (true story that happened to me. Bastard crows).

After all those chances, in hindsight it seemed inevitable that Oita would go on and score, although no-one really thought it would happen in the most agonizing circumstances. In the second minute of additional time a ball into Gifu’s area found ex-Gifu youngster Takumi Kiyomoto whose shot was blocked by Victor. The rebound fell nicely for substitute Kazushi Mitsuhira, and his shot was deflected on to the post by Kota Miyamoto. It then went through Takayuki Fukumura’s legs and arrived back at the surprised Miyamoto whose touch took it just – and I emphasize the word JUST – over the line. No blame can be attached anywhere. Gifu were unhappy with the assistant, but in truth you want assistants to help the referee when possible and he did just that. We often criticize them when they chicken out of something, so we have to give them credit when they get something right.

But it was VERY close…..

 

Omiya Ardija 0-2 FC Gifu

This might have been the best all round performance of the Takeshi Oki era in Gifu. Omiya were regarded almost universally as one of the favourites for automatic promotion. They have a depth of attacking players that few teams can match, have a seemingly good coach in Masatada Ishii, have NTT Docomo backing and possess one of the best goalkeepers in the league (one of, not THE best….). So for Gifu to go there and outplay them spoke loudly in terms of where Gifu are at in their progression.

Once again, it was the play of winger Kyogo Furuhashi which ignited the team. I’ve gone through Furuhashi’s numerous strengths in many a previous post, but for those who just like highlights, they were all on display at the NACK5: pace, directness, skill and sudden changes of direction. In the first ten minutes he gave Omiya right back Noriyoshi Sakai a taste of what was to come throughout – namely a one-on-one beating for pace. It is difficult to feel sorry for professional athletes given their compensation but by the end of the game he was completely done, the constant chasing of Furuhashi’s shadow and the ultimate humiliation: a nutmeg so devious that he fell backwards as if he had been yanked down by an invisible rope.

Furuhashi is the personification of what a player would look like if Takeshi Oki was given a limitless budget and time in an advanced laboratory. He is young, fearless and devoted to the technical aspects of the game. In fairness, lots of players have those attributes but what they don’t have is the searing pace that Kyogo has. Balls in to feet work for him, but if a ball is played in the channel between centre-back and full back, there is only going to be one winner.

Furuhashi’s goal came from him cutting in from the left and playing the ball into Ryan De Vries. The New Zealand forward took a deft touch with his right foot before playing a sumptuously quick back heel which left the Omiya defenders stranded and landed straight in the running lane of Furuhashi, who guided the ball coolly around Omiya ‘keeper Kasahara. “Oki football” ans the DAZN commentator put it – and it was. Quick, one/two touch short passing designed to leave the opponent on their heels. Oki to a tee.

 

Gifu continued their overall control and really should have added to their lead, but Tadashi Takeda – more on him to come – scuffed a shot from six yards out when almost anyone else would have scored. But Takeda wasn’t to be denied, and on the hour he powered in a glorious header from a pinpoint Yuto Ono free kick. Gifu have a little bit more about them at set pieces this year compared with years past. There is a decent amount of short corner tactics, but also it is noticeable (and I hope I’m not revealing any secrets here…) that the movement in the area is better. You often see the bigger players pulling to the near post in order to create space behind them, just like for Furuhashi’s header against Oita. There is no way that, in usual circumstances, Furuhashi should be scoring headers from a corner given his size and lack of heading prowess. But space was made for him because most of the defensive attention was focused on the near post, leaving him virtually unmarked at the far post.

Takeda made his room by screening himself before making his run at the right time, and his header went far too quick for Kasahara who seemed to dive after the ball had nestled into the net. Cue boisterous celebrations from the supporters behind the goal and Takeda’s reaction showed just how important that second meant both to him & to Gifu.

Mateus came on for Omiya, and he immediately injected a spark to their game. A question I posed on my most recent appearance on the J-Talk Podcast was why wasn’t he involved from the beginning? Whenever I’ve seen him play he’s looked the business with his pace and his directness. Luckily for Gifu he wasn’t on form the beginning because with him on, plus the whiff of desperation, Omiya started to up their speed although it was really until the last minute when their chances came – Genki Omae somehow fired wide from what was almost an open goal, while the same player teed himself up for a volley which went just over Victor’s bar. Victor had a relatively quiet afternoon and I’m sure he was expecting to be much busier. Pre-game, the Gifu supporters hoisted a banner which said “Victor is better than Casillas and De Gea!” before the game as a response to a Tweet / Instagram post in which Victor felt he had to apologize for his actions against Oita. Just to make it clear, everyone I spoke to felt that he had nothing to apologize for, but he did anyway, which speaks to the kind of character that he is. This clean sheet is yet another feather in an increasingly impressive hat the Spanish goalkeeper is wearing.

After the game in their post-match interviews, both Oki & Furuhashi kept a poker face that almost certainly masked their obvious delight in side. Both of them talked about the need to erase the mistakes (I didn’t see that many) and to be more clinical.

Gifu have won three out of the last four and have played really well in doing so. They’ll face another test when Albirex Niigata roll into town on Saturday afternoon, but there’s no reason to fear them. Gifu are playing well, and have the potential to get better – and that is enough to get me excited for it.

#WeAreGifu

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The Longest Tunnel

Japanese people have a saying when things are going against you. They say that you are “in a long tunnel” – a very apt metaphor for the eight month (!) home winless streak the FC Gifu supporters had endured until they beat Matsumoto Yamaga 2-0 on Sunday night.

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More on that particular game later on, but just to illustrate the point, here is Gifu’s record since their previous home win, a 2-1 win against Ehime FC on September 3rd, 2017:

  • Avispa Fukuoka – lost 1-2
  • Nagoya Grampus – lost 2-6
  • Tokushima Vortis – lost 0-2
  • Tokyo Verdy – lost 1-2
  • Shonan Bellmare – drew 1-1
  • Yokohama FC – lost 0-1
  • Tochigi SC – drew 1-1
  • Ventforet Kofu – lost 3-4
  • Tokushima Vortis – drew 0-0
  • Zweigen Kanazawa – lost 0-1

That rogues gallery of results is difficult to look at. True, there are lots of strong teams there, but to go ten games without a win at home is very trying for the supporters. Still, over the course of those games, the average attendance was 7,540 – a highly respectable number for a J2 side. But it was about time to reward the support with a win, and what better opponent to do so against than Matsumoto Yamaga.

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The reason(s)? Need you ask?

  1. It’s the closest we have to a true derby in this league (sorry Kanazawa)
  2. They had Ryo Nagai in their squad, someone who took great glee when he scored against Gifu for Nagoya last year (not to mention his hat-trick at Gifu the previous season)
  3. The kit debacle from last season (yes, it still pisses me off a bit…not much, but a bit)

 

So how did the win come about? Well, everyone played their part but it will be Kyogo Furuhashi who takes the plaudits, and deserved plaudits they are because I don’t think I’ve seen a better individual performance for Gifu for a long time…..maybe ever.

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It started in the third minute when he chased back a long ball bound for Yamaga full back Hayuma Tanaka. Kyogo won it initially, then lost it, and then fouled Tanaka. Not an ideal outcome, but that was to set the tone for Furuhashi’s evening. The work he did in defence was outstanding. constantly chasing back and doing the work of two players. In the second half, he prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity for Yamaga by sliding in to take the ball off a Yamaga forward (almost directing it into the path of Daizen Maeda in the process, but we’ll leave that aside…).

The dirty work of forward is rarely appreciated, but it didn’t get past a lot of people at the stadium. But what EVERYONE at the stadium will remember are the goal & the assist that Furuhashi provided. His goal came from yet more incessant pressing of Yamaga high up the pitch. Maybe it was because they were wearing white, but at times Matsumoto thought they could play it around at the back like Real Madrid. In the 66th minute, goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita rolled the ball out to Masaaki Iida, and while the Yamaga icon’s touch was a little heavy Furuhashi was on it in a flash, dispossessing him and coolly slotting past a visibly shaken Morita.

The noise that came from the stands when the ball nestled in the back of the net was something special, and sensing it, Furuhashi jumped over two lots of advertising hoardings behind the goal (he didn’t really have to as there are gaps to run/walk through, pro tip!) but the energy was palpable and and as he pumped his chest, supporters sensed this was Gifu’s night.

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Yamaga brought on Ryo Nagai & Hiroyuki Takasaki and started an aerial bombardment of Gifu’s penalty area, but time and again Daiki Tamori & Tadashi Takeda stood firm to repel the ball. It seems strange to go through a match review without praising Victor as the best keeper in the division (which he is) but he really didn’t have any super saves to make. He did everything he had to do excellently though, and fully deserved the clean sheet.

As the clocked ticked into the final minute of four minutes of additional time at the end of the game, Furuhashi collected the ball in the inside left channel and instead of heading for the corner to waste time, he arrowed towards the Yamaga goal giving the solitary defender Yuya Hashiuchi “the eye” before laying the ball on a plate to substitute Hiroaki Namba who delighted in planting the ball into the net with what was to be the final kick of the game. As Namba was celebrating at the corner flag, manager Takeshi Oki was celebrating with his coaching staff, and I swear that he had a smile on his usual stoic/unimpressed face. Victor ran all the way to the corner flag to celebrate with Namba and others just hugged each other in a show of what this win actually meant to the players. Stadium DJ Ryosuke Kuze went all South American with his “Gooooooaaaalll! Gol! Gol! Gol!” exclamation.

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Here’s what was said post-game:

  • Kyogo Furuhashi: “We hadn’t won for a long time at home, and that was something that we wanted to put right. We played really well as a team, from defence through to attack. The shape was good. Plenty of times this year the defence has played well and we attackers weren’t able to score. I felt pretty bad during/after those games and I’m happy that I could contribute tonight. This is for the supporters.”

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  • Takeshi Oki: “It had been however many games since we won at home. It was a really good performance and I’m just happy with how it played out. It feels like I’d like to congratulate our supporters on the win. Hopefully we can use this as a starting point to give our matches true meaning as we look to move up the league.”

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The only down points to this game were injuries to Yuto Ono and Ryan De Vries, both of whom had to be replaced during the game. Yuto left the stadium on crutches, presumably to get an X-ray on his taped up foot, but he seemed in good spirits as he left. Ryan got a couple of hard knocks during the game, but the expectation is for him to be ok.

One point that might have missed in the euphoria of the result was the debut of Gifu-born midfielder Shohei Mishima, who came on to replace the injured Ono. Mishima looked accomplished in what he did, although he didn’t really many chances to showcase his attacking talents because he was tasked with screening Gifu’s defence. However, he didn’t look out of place and I look forward to seeing him in action if/when he gets his chance again.

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Next up? Only a trip to league leading Oita Trinita. But Gifu already have three away wins our name, and a draw at Okayama, who were top when we faced them. Confidence should be high for both teams. But let us just enjoy this home win first, please?

 

Programme Notes – April 21st

After a week’s hiatus (work……always work) there is a lot to catch up on. But surprisingly, not in the goals column.

 

Nil-nils reign supreme

In the last two games, Gifu have been involved in two scoreless draws. The fact that they came against two of the better attacking units in the league Tokyo Verdy (A) and Tokushima Vortis (H) only adds to the intrigue.

Against Verdy, Gifu were undoubtedly the better team and two golden chances to win it, but neither Kota Miyamoto nor Kensei Nakashima could convert their chances. A draw looks a good result but I know they were very disappointed not to come back from the capital with all three points.

Tokushima was a very different affair. Despite the scoreline, it was a very entertaining game with chances for both sides. Sisinio told me after the game that he thought Vortis just deserved to win because they created a few more chances but I disagreed with him – because we are both biased (more from Sisi later).

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In deference to Vortis’ ex-Gifu midfielder, Vortis did play well and if they’d had Daiki Watari (who somewhat disappointingly warming the bench at Sanfrecce Hiroshima) then they would have won. On the flip side, Gifu had three golden chances and if two of them hadn’t fallen to right back Masanori Abe we could well be talking about a Gifu win. But in the end it was probably an fair result.

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Sisi’s return

I had a chance to speak with the ex-Gifu midfielder upon his return to the stadium where he was adored:

  • Me: It must be a bit weird, no?
  • Sisi: Haha! Yes! When I came in I automatically went to the home locker room. And the drive on the bus (to the stadium) brought back memories.
  • Me: How do you like Tokushima?
  • Sisi: It’s a nice place. Small – similar size to Gifu. Sometimes it is a little inconvenient because trips can take a long time because we have to go to Kobe first. But the scenery is nice, there are some nice beaches. It’s good.
  • Me: How’s your physical condition. Obviously you are a bit rested this week….(after his red card against Verdy the previous week)
  • Sisi: Yeah, I feel good. Last year, it took me one hour to get to training everyday (nb: he lived in Nagoya whilst he played at Gifu) but now it is much shorter and I can get a lot more rest and don’t have to worry about too much traveling. No injuries so far. So far, so good!
  • Me: Looking forward to this game?
  • Sisi: Hmmm. Looking forward? That’s difficult to say. Obviously I had a very good time here last year and in a way it will be difficult to play against Gifu. I still have many friends here. But I’m professional and my team is Tokushima. I always Gifu to do well….just not today!
  • Me: Ha! I’ll accept that answer. Still studying Japanese?
  • Sisi: Yes, very much. Almost everyday. I go to training, have lunch at the clubhouse, relax a little bit and then usually go home and study. I’m getting better!

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At the end of the game, he went to the Gifu supporters and bowed/saluted them. Most of the curva behind the goal had stayed for that particular event and it was very well appreciated. Yuki Omoto was there too – although he was treated slightly differently during the game that Sisi was…..

 

Yuki ganbare~~!!

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I’ll say a few things about this:

  1. Booing ex-players is nothing new. I’ve done it before (not in Japan) and it is part & parcel of the game in many countries.
  2. Why was Omoto booed, and Sisinio wasn’t? I don’t know. They were both outstanding for Gifu last year. Maybe it was accepted that Sisinio would move on from Gifu because he was too good to play at the bottom of J2 again. Maybe we expected Yuki to stay and continue his development with Takeshi Oki. That is just guesswork.
  3. Omoto was THE standout player last week. As soon as he touched the ball, we were all reminded of why we loved him on our team last year. The pace, the directness, the energy – I’m very jealous of Tokushima for having him. He’s missed most of the season through injury – indeed Sunday was his first full game for Vortis – but nce he gets up to full speed I think he’ll establish himself as one of the best players in J2 and if Vortis don’t go up this year, Omoto will almost certainly be in J1 2019 anyway.
  4. I hope Vortis can help Yuki reach his potential. Most Gifu supporters wish him well. The fact that some booed him during the game on Sunday? Who cares. Football is a game of opinions & choices.
  5. I’m not going to sway from my view that I formed last year: Omoto is a national team player in waiting. With good coaching and good development he’s borderline unplayable at times. He’d have no problems in J1 – and the attacking full back/wing back is the new in vogue player. Omoto is the future of the right sided player.

A trip to the top

Gifu are on the rod this weekend when they visit the western Japanese city of Okayama for a date with table topping Fagiano Okayama. In one of the very many weird quirks of the J.League, Gifu actually have a good record at Fagiano having won five of the nine meetings there, and only losing twice.

Okayama play a three back system, with the impressive Jun Ichimori in goal. The one player to watch is midfielder Kota Ueda. He has been very impressive in Okayama’s fast start, and beware if he is given a free-kick within 25 yards of goal. He has already scored two free-kicks this year and his delivery or shooting prowess is always a menace.

In a way, I’m more confident about getting a result from this game than I was about getting a positive result at home against Vortis. Okayama are highly organized, but in Kyogo Furuhashi and Junichi Paulo Tanaka we have wildcard players that can disrupt an organized defence.

 

300 not out

Big salutes going out to Hiroaki Namba, who made his 300th appearance in the J.League when he came on as a sub in the Vortis game.  There’ll be more on this when I have the time to write a fully deserved article on him. But in the meantime – congrats Nan-chan!

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Programme notes – April 6th

A lot to get through, and not enough time to do so, so let’s get straight to it.

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FC Gifu 3-4 Ventforet Kofu

There is a lot I could say about this match. I could say that Gifu played really well in the first half. I could say that it looked like Barcelona, not Kofu, streaming forward in their red & blue shirts in the first five minutes of the second half. I could say Gifu got brutally exposed by a team that had only scored three goals in their previous six games. I could say that Gifu still looked really good going forward.

Wait, I’ve said all that I wanted to say.

But it wasn’t just me that had some thoughts on the game. Gifu’s goalkeeper Victor told me:

“In the first half, we played well. It was a good time for us. And then, first part of the second half was…..(searching for the right word)….crazy. In the second, they got through many times. One on one with me. One or two times a game, I can deal with. But when it is four, five, six times it is very difficult.”

Ryan De Vries had the same view

“First half we played well. Deserved to be in front. And then five minutes of madness after half time and we are behind.” (More from Ryan later)

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That more or less tells you what you need to know. Going forward, Gifu were as potent as ever, but after half time they could not deal with the pace of Junior Barros running at the defence. Kofu also got a lot of attacking threat from the impressive Ryo Takano, a left sided defender that I hadn’t seen a lot of previously. He was direct, quick & decisive and I’d like to see a bit more of him because on that display he looked really good. It should be back to the defensive drawing board for Gifu, who incidentally haven’t kept a clean sheet since September 16th last year against Renofa Yamaguchi. We are conceding an average of two goals per game this year, and if that continues we won’t make the progress we desire.

It isn’t the defence’s fault. They were left exposed by the pace & power of Dinei & Junior Barros on Sunday, and we get caught in our transitional phase between attacking and defending. It isn’t a new phenomenon, and it is something we just have to hope remedies itself as the team gets used to its new pieces. Although a trip to unbeaten Tokyo Verdy is hardly the best place to go about resolving this issue.

 

Paulo at it again

Junichi Paulo Tanaka – to give him his full name – scored a sublime opening goal on Sunday to put him joint top of the J2 goalscorers chart (tied on five goals with Ado Onaiwu from free scoring Renofa). Paulo has hit four in his last two outings, and is finally showing signs of fulfilling the undoubted potential he has. He is finding lots of space out wide and he & Kyogo Furuhashi almost operate as if they are tied to the same piece string – when Furuhashi goes wide, Paulo is dragged into the middle and vice-versa.

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As I stated in a previous edition, Paulo is seen by many as a joker, someone more important for team morale than on the field – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. His acceleration has always been there, but this year he has added a level of composure and confidence in front of goal. Long may it continue.

 

Ryan’s view

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I was lucky enough to catch a quick word with forward Ryan De Vries after the game on Sunday. Here’s what transpired after we had gone over the game.

Me: How are you settling in at the club? How do you find the training?

Ryan: The training is good. I like it. The coach always wants us to give 120% and that’s how I like to train.

Me: What is the pace of the game like compared to what it was like in New Zealand?

Ryan: Yeah it is quick – a bit quicker than what I was used to in New Zealand but not too much. When I played for Auckland City, we were usually the stronger team and so we were the team that set the pace of the game. When your team can do that then obviously you can dictate how fast you want the game to be. Here it is a bit different, as you saw today!

Me: How’s the communication?

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a bit difficult at times obviously. If there’s a message that needs to get to me on the pitch it has to go through the translator before it gets to me. Although sometimes it is difficult to hear instructions being shouted at me from the sidelines! A lot of the time though, we don’t need to necessarily speak to understand what’s required – gestures and body language can convey a lot of the meanings. It’ll get better bit by bit as I learn more Japanese.

I look forward to speaking more with Mr. De Vries in the future.

 

Tokyo calling

Tokyo Verdy are one of only two unbeaten teams in the league (the other being Machida Zelvia) and are coming into this game off the back of a highly impressive win at Tokushima Vortis.

Lots of people, myself included, wondered how Verdy would fare after losing their two wing backs in the winter – Kazuki Anzai going to Sagan Tosu while Koki Anzai went to Kashima Antlers. As it turns out, not much has changed because their main pillars, forwards Alan Pinheiro and Douglas Vieira remained at the club, and if you can keep your goalscorers then you work around the other positions. Vieira isn’t your archetypal Brazilian forward in that he’s lean (skinny, even) and doesn’t display a devastating turn of pace. But he gets himself into good positions, and he is cool when in those said positions. 18 goals last year, and four already this term proves that he was a key keep for Miguel Angel Lotina’s side.

Aside from Vieira, Alan Pinheiro is an athletic threat down the left, while Tatsuya Uchida has been very good in the centre of the midfield. Add in one of the best goalkeepers in the league in ex-Oita Trinita GK Naoto Kamifukumoto and you have the makings of a good side.

 

The Record

Overall, Tokyo Verdy have dominated this matchup. They’ve won 12 of the 19 games these two clubs have played, while they’ve won 7 of 9 at home. History isn’t on Gifu’s side  here. And of course, who can forget the time that Verdy scored four times in 10 minutes to come from 0-3 to win 4-3 – I certainly can’t forget that game.

 

Around J2 This Weekend

Albirex Niigata vs Fagiano Okayama – Fagiano are still top despite their shock loss at home to Ehime last week, but this is a difficult assignment for them. Expect a cagey game at the Big Swan, with possibly one goal deciding it.

Renofa Yamaguchi vs Omiya Ardija – After a defeat at Matsumoto last week, another tough away trip for the Squirrels. Renofa are the league’s (joint) top scorers and will be in no mood to spare Ardija manager Masatada Ishii more pressure.

Tochigi SC vs Tokushima Vortis – On paper, it should be a great chance for Tokushima to right the wrongs of last week’s 0-4 defeat at home to Verdy, but they’ll have to do it without Sisinio and Bueno, both of whom were shown a red card last week. Tochigi SC were surprisingly competitive at Avispa Fukuoka last week and are playing with more confidence than they were at the start of the year and so this is far from a forgone conclusion.

Programme Notes – March 31st

After a week basking in the glory of an away win win in Ehime (yes, there IS glory in that), it is back to the grind as Gifu welcome Ventforet Kofu to the Nagaragawa Memorial Centre tomorrow afternoon. That is just one of the topics we’ll touch on, but first a quick look back at what transpired in Ehime last weekend.

 

With a little help from my friend…..

Junichi Paulo Tanaka. Hat-trick hero.

Two statements that wouldn’t seem likely to go together, but they did last weekend. Paulo plundered the Ehime FC defence to the tune of three goals, and even had time to hammer one against the bar.

He rightly got the MVP of the game, but he would (and indeed, was) the first to say that his hat-trick came about largely because of the speed and skill of Kyogo Furuhashi on the left wing.

 

The goals:

  1. Furuhashi’s shot is directed into the path of Paulo, who cuts in and curls it into the corner.
  2. Furuhashi is released down the left, barely avoids having his head kicked off before squaring to Paulo. Paulo takes a touch and sends the ball coolly past the Ehime ‘keeper.
  3. Ono plays Furuhashi in down the left, Furuhashi crosses for Paulo, Paulo does the rest.

I’m not a mindreader, but it is my guess that Takeshi Oki, when he is thinking about his selection, envisions his two wide players getting into those sorts of positions all game long. If they play like that again, Paulo & Kyogo are going to be a handful for any defenders in this league. Kyogo’s pace (recently he was described by El Golazo as a “speed star) is well known, but it is difficult to prepare for Paulo Tanaka because to be honest, I’m not sure he knows what he is going to do when he gets the ball. That element of mystery paid dividends on Sunday, hopefully it will tomorrow as well.

 

Tip of the hat…

…to Ryan De Vries. He hasn’t scored yet, but his presence up front is already starting to look good. He occupies defenders because he is a genuine centre forward. Defenders have to account for him playing at their level of defence. Kota Kazama & Yuya Yamagishi are more ‘false nine’ players, and so they drop deeper, giving defenders a bit more breathing space.

The goals will surely come (tomorrow pleeeeease) but Ryza’s effect on the team is already being seen.

 

Wind & trees

Ventforet (for those who don’t speak French, ‘Ventforet is a nod to the rural nature of Kofu, combining the French words ‘vent’ (wind) and ‘foret’ (forest)) arrive in Gifu for their fifth away game of the year. So far they’ve lost two, drawn one and won one of their away games in 2018 – the sole win being an impressive win at Avispa Fukuoka.

The striking (pun intended) fact about Kofu this year is that they’ve only scored three goals, and have drawn a blank in four of their outings. That isn’t to say that they don’t have players who can trouble Gifu. I’m thinking of Lins in particular with his ability to pick the ball up deeper and run at Gifu’s defenders (although he’s apparently an injury doubt). Dinei also knows how to find the net, but Kofu have to get their act together in front of goal soon – although hopefully not tomorrow.

 

“Create a New History”

FC Gifu have NEVER beaten Kofu in ten previous J.League games – Kofu have won five and five have been drawn. If we want to live up to our 2018 season motto, we could put a down payment on it by winning tomorrow.

 

Up for the cup?

The draw for the first round of the Emperor’s Cup was made this week. Gifu travel to Montedio Yamagata, and a win at the ND Soft stadium on June 6th will likely see them facing off with J1 & ACL side Kashiwa Reysol in the next round. You can find the whole draw here.

 

The pick of J2 tomorrow

  • Matsumoto Yamaga vs Omiya Ardija – some clown on the premier J.League podcast coined this the “disappointment derby” and given the two teams’ respective starts to the season, it seems an ok name. Matsumoto are playing their first game of 2018 at their Alwin Stadium – they’ll hope for a successful homecoming.
  • Fagiano Okayama vs Ehime FC – league leaders and best defence Okayama at home against bottom of the table, anaemic Ehime. Home banker…..right? If only things were that simple in J2.
  • Mito Hollyhock vs Machida Zelvia – third versus fourth. You’d have got very long odds on that being the by-line for a game between Mito & Machida in 2018 – but believe it. Mito play some good stuff, Machida are unbeaten. Eyes down for a good game.

Enjoy your J2 weekend!

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.

SONY DSC

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…..