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.