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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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.

Season preview

IT IS ALMOST TIME!

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

Goalkeeper

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

 

Defence

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

 

Midfield

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

 

Attack

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

 

The Coach

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

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

The Evolution Continues

The phrase “evolution, not revolution” is particularly apt today, as it was announced (although it wasn’t a surprise) that coach Takeshi Oki will continue in charge of FC Gifu for the 2018 season.

I think everyone is familiar with what has happened in Gifu this year. The implementation of a pass-pass-pass-pass approach has made household names (well, if those households have DAZN) of Yoshihiro Shoji & Sisinio, as well as fostering the exponential improvement of defender Masanori Abe and introducing exciting youngsters Kyogo Furuhashi & Yuki Omoto.

The stats tell you what you need to know about Oki’s football. Gifu pass the ball most in the league with an average (!) of nearly 700 passes per game, and they have possession for longer than any other team in the league at 63% per game. The aforementioned Shoji & Sisinio are widely admired for their strict adherence to Oki’s footballing principles and not hoofing or booting the ball away. That’s not to say they don’t go long, but when they do it isn’t aimless – a long pass is very different to a long ball. Shoji & Sisinio both like to showcase their long passing prowess when possible (even if I would like to see it more often).

The fact that Gifu keep possession for such a long time should make the game conditions more favourable to them, no? Well, the results this don’t bear it out. There’s a lot of passing, but often too much just in the middle of the pitch, where opposition teams don’t really have to do anything other than shuffle around five yards to the left, then five yards to the right just to stay in shape. The reason I mentioned that I’d like to see Sisi & Shoji spray passes longer more often is that they force teams to shift and adjust quickly and that’s when they are at their most vulnerable. Most of Gifu’s good play comes when they get the ball wide to Fukumura or Furuhashi on the left, Omoto or Paulo on the right. This is because the midfield have set this up: deliberately keeping the ball in close quarters before drilling the opposition with a possible two-on-one with their full back. Possession is nine tenths of the law, but that other ten percent is where Gifu need to improve.

 

I think it is also fair to say that Oki doesn’t really like doing things in front of the TV cameras. His pre and post game interviews are one word/one phrase masterpieces that make me feel a whole lot better about my own limited Japanese.

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He doesn’t really feel like answering questions immediately after the game, and when he does, those answers aren’t really that positive. Sisinio tells me that he is really positive in the changing room, going around giving everyone encouragement, but that very really comes across in interviews. I’ll be interested to see/hear what he has to say during the end of season ceremony on Saturday. The one thing that I will say about Oki and his staff, is that they are very respectful of the supporters. I’ve not once seen him hide from the post game walk around the pitch, even after the humiliating losses against JEF United, Kamatamare Sanuki etc. He and his staff are always there, showing that they are with the players. I expect he’ll get a very warm reception from the supporters on Saturday night.

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Is 17th (or even 18th) what we expected this year? Yes and No – depending on your positivity levels in pre-season. Personally, I’m happy we stayed in the division although I do feel our playing style warrants a better points total. At the Nagoya game in Toyota, I was talking with a long time Gifu supporting friend of mine who said (while drunk, it has to be said….) “If we keep Oki for three years, we will have a chance to go to J1. His teams play very well, and he’s an excellent coach” We will enter year tow next year, and it will be time to see some progress.

With all that said, Oki will have a list as long as Pink Floyd guitar solo of things to do for next year. But there are a few things I would point him in the direction of.

 

The retention of Takayuki Fukumura

Fukumura is a difficult player to define. He is classed as a left back, but in reality I think he is a player who, in the venerated Dutch scheme, is a total footballer. He finds himself anywhere on the field, and not in any kind of unplanned Shun Nogaito WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?? kind of situation, but in controlled chaos kind of way. He gives Gifu so much going forward, that his defensive lapses are easy to forgive. Him and Furuhashi have struck up a good understanding on the left, and to be quite honest there isn’t another left back capable of filling Fukumura’s role. It is my understanding that he is out of contract at Shimizu S-Pulse at the end of the season, and so I would assume that Gifu would make a big push to sign him.

 

Keeping the Sisinio/Shoji axis in midfield

Of course, Oki wants to retain the services of his tow best midfielders, but that will be easier said than done. Sisinio no doubt has a lot of offers heading his way, but he likes playing for Oki and if the manager can sell his vision of 2018, he might be able to persuade Sisi to join him. Shoji will almost certainly stay – that is my educated guess. Sisinio loves playing for Oki, and loves the style of play Gifu implement. Whether he’ll stay is still up in the air though.

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Yoshihiro Shoji leads the team out for the warm up

Find a sharper cutting edge

Hiroaki Namba is going on 34, Alex is often injured (but does look very good when he plays) and Koya Kazama is still transitioning from attacking midfielder to forward. Gifu really need someone capable of hitting 15-20 goals per year to take advantage of all the creativity this side possesses. Just a random name, but if Gifu had Matsumoto Yamaga forward Hiroyuki Takasaki, we would be a play-off caliber team. Someone who can occupy defenders, make the right runs at the right time, and can get into scoring areas & finish off moves.

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If Alex can stay fit, he could be the solution up front 

There are a selection of players that might fit the criteria, but some that come to mid for me include:

  • Kagoshima United forward Noriaki Fujimoto
  • Azul Claro forward Takuya Sonoda
  • Nagoya Grampus forward Ryo Nagai
  • Current on-loan forward (and injured) Kensei Nakashima

Any of these players could give Gifu a focal point going forward. If the creativity level is as high next year, then we can’t afford to keep wasting chances.

But I trust Oki. He knows exactly what he wants, and I’ve no doubt that he’ll search high & low to bring in the players needed. Hopefully we can put on a good show on Saturday afternoon when we welcome champions Shonan Bellmare to Nagaragawa. A win would be just rewards for Takeshi Oki.

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Rensho~~!

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, FC Gifu have strung consecutive wins together, one away from home and one at home. This is how they did it.

 

JEF United Chiba 1-3 FC Gifu

The Koya Kazama hat-trick will rightly get most of the plaudits, but this game showed the way that Gifu should play away from home.

Gifu initially set up with Kazama as lone frontman, with Kyogo Furuhashi on the left, and Paulo Tanaka on the right. It was a formation that didn’t really have great success earlier in the season, indeed, up until this point Kazama hadn’t scored a league goal in 2017. The system is dependent on width, with Furuhashi & left back Fukumura stacking the left side and Paulo & Yuki Omoto stacking the right side. This system works really when midfielders can switch the play quickly and in Sisinio & Yoshihiro Shoji, Gifu have two of the best in the league at doing that.

The first goal came after 45 seconds, and it came from the left hand side stack. Fukumura released Furuhashi down the left hand side, and Furuhashi’s outstanding cross was headed into the net by Kazama. A real bolt from the blue, but a superbly worked goal. Furuhashi is rapidly developing into an explosive player and he currently leads the J2 assist ranking, and with crosses like that it isn’t hard to see why.

Kazama’s second goal came from the right hand side. Paulo Tanaka released the ultra-quick Omoto down the right hand touchline, and his centre found Kazama again, who beat JEF’s keeper to the ball to double Gifu’s advantage. Omoto is a serious burner. He needs to work on his final ball, but if he improves that, he really could go on and do something special because his speed & stamina make him unmarkable at times. On the right, Omoto usually sets up at right back, with Paulo in front of him. This makes it difficult for opposition defences to decide what to do; Paulo is left footed so his inclination is to dribble inside, but if the defence covers that move, Omoto moves into the space on the outside. If done correctly, it will work every time the defence decides to leave Paulo one-on-one. Kazama’s second goal is the prime example.

His hat-trick goal wasn’t to dissimilar – Omoto getting to the byline and pulling the ball back to Koya, who feinted one way before prodding the ball into an unguarded net.

 

More than anything, this was a clinical performance. Sure, they could have scored more goals and sure, JEF were pretty abject, but this was the prototypical away performance. The shape was strong, Fukumura was superb in defence & attack, Shoji, Ono & Sisinio while not dictating the play as they are used to doing, did the simple things well (and props to Shoji for standing up to Andrew Kumagaya – that is what a captain does).

But of course, Kazama gets the headlines. He led the line well, dropped off cleverly before exploiting the gaps he had created. It was the performance that Oki had in mind when he started the season playing Kazama up front. I’ll admit I was sceptical, because I thought that Koya would be too slow to get into the area. He’s a clever, skillful player but not blessed with the kind of pace that role needs, but what his intelligence does do is that it makes him aware of spaces and he took full advantage in the JEF game. It was a much needed win because the season was slowly starting bog down and supporters were starting to get a bit nervous and looking over their shoulders at Sanuki, Kumamoto etc in the relegation battle. The next question was could they build on the JEF win?

 

FC Gifu 2-1 Ehime FC

A game of two halves (as someone famous once said), Gifu were electric in the first half but more subdued in the second half, and only just came away with the three points.

Unsurprisingly, Oki stuck with the same starting line up that beat JEF the previous week, and the team started really well and dominated the first half. Koya Kazama opened the scoring wit ha beautiful right footed curler from around 20 yards, but the goal owed so much to the energy and pressuring of Kyogo Furuhashi. Furuhashi harried & chased, and ultimately dispossessed an Ehime defender near the halfway line which set Gifu off on the counter attack. The ball made its way to Sisinio who in turn found Kazama, who had cultivated some space for himself right on the edge of the area. He received the ball while opening his body and was able to curl a beautiful shot past Ehime’s young Korean goalkeeper Park Seong Su. A fabulous finish, but one which owed a great deal to the energy of Furuhashi. Gifu could, and should, have enhanced their lead but had to settle for a single goal lead at the break.

 

The second half was a different story. Ehime came out a bit more fired up and started to close Gifu down a bit more when they had possession. Sisinio went off after just five minutes of the second half and that seemed to affect the way Gifu played. Ehime were well in the game and it came as no surprise when they leveled things up with 12 minutes to go. Gifu were caught sleeping from a quick free-kick, and the resulting cross found Ehime forward Koki Arita completely free in the middle of the area to head past Victor. Arita is a good striker at this level, but there is no way he should be completely unmarked in the box – really poor defending.

It nearly got so much worse for Gifu just two minutes later when Ehime’s Shuto Kojima found himself in space in Gifu’s area. His shot beat Victor, but not Daiki Tamori, who had shuffled himself on to the line behind Gifu’s goalkeeper, who cleared the ball away.

That was to prove a crucial turning point as Gifu seemed energized by that event and upped the pace to first half levels. Koya Kazama nearly grabbed his second after taking down a sensation long ball from Fukumura, only to see his goalbound effort excellently blocked by Ehime defender Nobuhisa Urata. The first resulting corner was cleared, but the second was brilliantly delivered by Yuto Ono, and it found the head of veteran striker Hiroaki Namba who headed the ball into the roof of the net. His celebrations tell you all you need to know about how important that goal was to him – and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mind the yellow card given to him for taking off his shirt.

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Gifu held on for four minutes of additional time to claim a much needed and confidence boosting home win. It wasn’t easy though – the second was tough watching for the supporters because it seemed like Gifu let Ehime back into the game. One thing that struck me during the game was that while possession is key for the style Takeshi Oki wants, it sometimes negates the need for incisiveness. For example, there were quite a few times that Gifu got in behind Ehime but players, instead of taking a chance and heading towards the danger-zone, too often stopped in their tracks & played the ball back to start the process off again.

Gifu look so dangerous, as I said in the JEF review, when they stack either side and isolate the opposition full back. They did it plenty of times on Sunday, but too often they didn’t take advantage of it. It seems churlish to demand more after consecutive victories, but I  would like to see more chances being taken in the final third. Get the ball in the area, shoot quicker etc. Of course, if nothing is on, get the ball back to creative players like Shoji & Sisinio who can create things out of nothing, but once we get the opposition turned around, we have to exploit it. We did it well in the first half, but in the second half the will to do it seemed to fade a bit. Maybe it is tiredness – this team has played a lot of minutes this season, and trained a lot this summer so it would not be a surprise to see some kind of fatigue set in.

 

But there is some tough sledding ahead. Here is the immediate future for Gifu:

  • Mito Hollhock (A)
  • Renofa Yamaguchi (A)
  • Avispa Fukuoka (H)
  • Nagoya Grampus (H)

Mito are unbeaten at home since the first day of the year; Renofa are fighting for survival; Avispa are looking for automatic promotion while Nagoya are local rivals and also going for promotion. This is a tough September, so it was crucial that Gifu took advantage if these games against teams with little to play for. The next game, at Mito, will be tough, but Gifu will go into it with confidence after these two victories – let’s hope that September can be like our April, when we went unbeaten. If that happens, it will be something to write home about!IMG_2342.JPG

You win some, you lose some (and you draw some)

It has been a busy start to August for FC Gifu. Here’s a recap of what has transpired so far.

FC Gifu 2-0 Thespa Kusatsu Gunma

Welcome to the Yuto Ono show!! Ono stepped in for suspended captain Yoshihiro Shoji and put in an excellent performance. He was highly responsible for Gifu’s opener, winning the ball through pressure in the midfield before feeding Alex, the Brazilian striker shifting the ball on to his right foot before calmly shooting past Gunma’s ‘keeper.

Gifu continued to dominate, chances falling to Kazama, Alex & Yuki Omoto, but couldn’t add to their lead. The home side were indebted to Victor as the Spanish ‘keeper preserved Gifu’s lead when he saved from Tatsuki Kobayashi’s close range effort. Gifu still went forward in search of the killer goal and came so close when Koya Kazama’s shot cannoned back off the inside of the post – had it gone in it would have been just reward for an enterprising performance on the right hand side of Gifu’s attack. When Gifu’s second goal did come, it came from a very unlikely scenario. Yuto Ono’s near post corner kick was left by two defenders, leaving Gunma keeper Niekawa with no reaction time as the ball sneaked in at the near post. Ono could barely hide his surprise, running away laughing and saying to the assistant that he it was lucky. Still, it was highly deserved for an industrious performance from the Number 23.

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I spoke to him after the game. “Lucky goal! Lucky kick!” Modest, but accurate. I told him not to say it, but I think he was still laughing too much to listen. Incidentally, before the game Victor said he’d be happy with a 2-0 win, and that is exactly what he got! It was a much needed win for Oki & co, the supporters were getting a bit frustrated with things, especially after the Machida defeat, but this win appeased them a bit and showed that Gifu can win home games they dominate.

 

V-Varen Nagasaki 2-1 FC Gifu

I don’t think either side did enough to say they say deservedly won the game, but the way in which Nagasaki took the three points left an incredibly sour taste in the mouth.

Nagasaki took the lead from the penalty spot after Takayuki Fukumura was adjudged to have pulled down a Nagasaki forward, although the referee conveniently decided to ignore the blatant pulling of Fukumura’s shirt that led to the Nagasaki forward being able to get in front of Gifu’s left back. Gifu leveled thanks to a fantastic strike from Brazilian striker Alex, crashing the ball into the top corner after a break down the right from Kyogo Furuhashi. It was a truly excellent strike that was somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the game.

A game which looked like it was idling towards a draw was suddenly injected with excitement & controversy as in the fourth minute of additional time Daiki Tamori was adjudged to have brought down Nagasaki defender Ryutaro Iio – although I’ll leave it for you to decide what actually took place. Yoshihiro Shoji obviously didn’t understand because he thought the whistle was for a free kick. Substitute Keita Nakamura thumped the ball in off the post to give Nagasaki a scarcely deserved win.

I ran into Sisinio & Takayuki Fukumura the day after and when I spoke to them about the referee Fukumura just laughed (I don’t know if he speaks English but he clearly understood what Sisi & I were talking about). Sisinio, usually so talkative, just kind of shrugged his shoulders and laughed. “What can you do?” he said. Exactly. What can you do?

Alex’s goal was probably the only bright point to come out of this game for Gifu. If he continues to bang those kinds of goals in, he’ll be an asset for us. The rest of it was much of a muhcness, lots of passing but not that many chances created. Nagasaki weren’t much better, but they find themselves in the top six. I think it speaks more to the division than the level of Nagasaki’s team.

 

FC Gifu 1-1 Fagiano Okayama

A frustrating draw after dominating the entire second half. The first half was a more even affair with Okayama’s direct & physical style paying dividends when Park Hyun-jin scored after a bout of penalty area pinball, the cause of which was a long throw from Eiichi Katayama.

Gifu goalkeeper Victor was in fine form in the first half, making two or three very fine saves, but it wasn’t all one way traffic as Yoshihiro Shoji went very close to leveling things right on the stroke of half time, but his curling effort from the edge of the area went just wide.

In the second half, Shoji was pushed a bit further forward and that was the catalyst for Gifu to dominate. Kensei Nakashima, the on-loan Yokohama F.Marinos forward who replaced the injured Alex very early in the first half, had two or three very good chances to score but failed to hit the target with two of them, and saw Okayama ‘keeper Ichimori turn a powerful shot away. It looked to be heading for another highly frustrating home defeat until the captain intervened, heading in a clever cross from Yuki Omoto to give Gifu a deserved share of the spoils.

It is difficult to understate the influence of Shoji on this game. He was outstanding in the second half when he was given a more advanced role. His off the ball running created problems for Okayama’s defence, and his willingness to be physical, as in holding the ball up and inviting others into the play was something that Gifu have missed. When Shoji & Sisinio get into that kind of groove – Sisinio was once again excellent pulling the strings in midfield – Gifu look more potent. Sisi came off with muscle cramps towards the end of the game, a sign that the summer heat is catching up with him, but I suspect he’ll be fine for tonight’s trip to Roasso Kumamoto.

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One man I doubt will be ok is Alex, the forward came off after just two minutes of the Okayama game with what turned out to be an upper thigh injury. He said after the game that it would probably be a minimum of one week before he can get back to running full pelt, so that would rule him out tonight and make him very iffy for Sunday’s tilt with Kamatamare Sanuki.

With Alex presumably out, there is one foreigner spot free and it has Henik’s name on it. He started off the season at centre back but hasn’t really played since the 4-6 defeat by JEF United. His absence coincided with the emergence of Alex up front, but I think Gifu could benefit from a bit of meanness & toughness in either central defence or just in front.

Roasso will present a decent challenge  – they only just lost to Nagoya and have beaten JEF & Tokyo Verdy at home recently. I think they’ll pose a very physically demanding test and I expect lots of crosses for the centre backs to deal with. There is a slight rumour that Victor has picked up an injury, I don’t know the veracity of it, but hopefully he can come through and play.

Elsewhere, personally I think it might be a good chance to rest some starters. Yushi Nagashima doesn’t look the same player he did at the beginning of the year, he’s not influencing the games as much as he did when he was fresh and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the bench. I think Yuto Ono has earned a place in the side so I think he would be a very able replacement. I think Nakashima will start up top and hopefully he will be able to capitalize on chances that come his way. I’ll put his missed chances down to rustiness last time out – to be fair to him he hasn’t played regular football for a while and so it’ll probably take a little time for him to get up to speed but Gifu really need a sharp point to their attacks and Nakashima comes with a decent reputation.

Other players who could look to feature are Jun Suzuki (as Fukumura has played almost constantly), Kentaro Kai and Go Iwase.

Hopefully Gifu can kick on tonight and start a run of good results.