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

Advertisements

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.

IMGP1544.JPG

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.

IMGP1436.JPG

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.

IMGP1454.JPG

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.

IMGP1540.JPG

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.

IMGP1507.JPG

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.”

IMGP1581.JPG

  • 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.”

IMGP1447.JPG

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.

IMGP1520.JPG

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).

IMGP0654.JPG

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.

IMGP0696.JPG

 

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!

IMGP0786.JPG

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~~!!

IMGP0748.JPG

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!

fullsizeoutput_546

 

Ouch (but not the end of the world)

It was going so well for the first 30 minutes. Yuki Omoto’s well worked goal had put FC Gifu in front, and the balance of play was fairly even. But then Taishi Taguchi curled in a shot from 25 yards and it all went downhill from there. Here is the story of Sunday October 1st, 2017.

 

An early start

From a young age, I’ve been going to stadiums to watch football. I’ve been to some of the most iconic footballing venues on the planet, but never have I arrived at a stadium as early as I did on Sunday. Why? I’m not that sure to be honest. Wisdom of the crowds to a certain extent. I knew that a lot of people were going to be there early, and I thought it would be wise to get there earlier than usual to avoid all the transport congestion, food stall waiting that surely would entail. As it was, I arrived at the stadium (after a quick pit stop at the nearest 7-11 for supplies) at around 10:15am – for a 3pm kick off.

That seems a bit crazy now, but when I got to the stadium I found out I was far from the first, and was far from early. I met up with a group of supporters that I know who had been there since 9am and by the time the gates were opened to season ticket holders at 11:30am, there was a huge number of people in the stadium vicinity.

IMG-2597.JPG

I met up with FC Gifu president Hiroyuki Miyata who told me that he had been there since 8am and hadn’t had a lot of sleep the night before. Not surprising since this was the most hyped home game in Gifu’s relatively short J.League history. Next up I met the stadium MC’s – Hiramatsu-san & Kuze-san. Hiramatsu-san was the long time MC before he moved to Kanto for work reasons at the start of this year, but he had a contractual agreement to be MC for the Nagoya games (he was also guest MC in the first meeting at Toyota Stadium). We had a good talk about what we thought might happen, the crowd etc and we both agreed that it wouldn’t finish 0-0, something we were right about……

 

Next up, meeting big Richy. Anybody that knows Gifu knows that actually Richy pre-dates me as a Gifu supporter. What he lacks in fashion sense (a lot….sorry mate) he makes up for with footballing knowledge (a lot). One of the things I said to him was “I hope it is a close game” the thinking being that, although of course we wanted Gifu to win, a heavy defeat in front of what was certain to be a record crowd could be quite damaging. After that, we went to grab a beer (a beer which I didn’t expect to have to wait 20 minutes in line for) with a Nagoya supporter we mutually know (I’ll leave him nameless as he probably doesn’t want to be associated with Gifu supporters anymore than he has to….) and talked about what we expected. Of course, as a Nagoya supporter who had admittedly had a few beers he was pretty confident about what was about to transpire. “We’re going to fucking win” were his exact words, if I remember correctly. I think we have some kind of Nostradamus on our hands with that one.

IMG-2672.JPG

In the stadium, the crowd was building. As the players came out for their warm ups, behind both goals were practically full. One of the perks of my role with Gifu is that I get to go out on to the pitch side when the players come on for their warming up time. I’m lucky in that get to see what the players go through before a game, and it is fascinating. A couple of fist bumps with Victor and Yoshinari Takagi and they were away, closely followed by the players.

IMG-2624.JPG

At this point, Gifu supporters were already in full voice and, along with their Nagoya counterparts, were making for a great atmosphere. As the teams came out, the Nagoya end exploded into their red & yellow flag tifo – simple but effective, and it looked good both in the stadium & on TV. In the home supporters end, a mosaic which read “We Are Gifu” was portrayed, and it looked really good in the stadium.

My photo doesn’t do it justice to perfectly honest. As the players lined up for the pre-match ritual of receiving gifts from a seemingly endless stream of sponsors, I caught the eye of Gifu’s Spanish midfielder Sisinio, who gave me a quick nod that seemed to say “I’m ready” and as the game kicked off, it was clear he was.

IMG-2730.JPG

IMG-2712

Gifu lined up in their now customary 4-3-3 formation, with Shoji, Sisinio & Yuto Ono patrolling the middle of the park, with Furuhashi & Paulo Tanaka on the wings. Koya Kazama, whose father Yahiro is Grampus coach (as we heard on the local news programmes plenty of times in the lead up) was the focal point of Gifu’s attack. Gifu started shakily, conceding a dangerous free-kick almost immediately, but Gabriel Xavier’s delivery was poor, and would be something that we wouldn’t be able to say as the game progressed. Sisinio settled in well, getting the ball, opening his body and looking for the wings. A couple of times his passes didn’t reach their intended targets, but the fact that he was doing it regularly put doubt into Taishi Taguchi & Yuki Kobayashi’s minds – they didn’t want to get caught too far in front of their defence, and it was from a Sisinio switch that the opening goal of the game came. Sisi took the ball in midfield, and found Paulo on the right touchline. Instead of taking it inside like he usually does, Paulo saw the run of Yuki Omoto into clear space and played a clever cushioned ball right into his path. Omoto, by now in the penalty area, shifted the ball from his favoured right foot on to his left, leaving Nagoya defender Washington stranded, and promptly curled the ball in off the far post. An excellent goal, and a worthy addition to Omoto’s burgeoning CV.

 

The place, as they say, went off. This was the dream for lots of Gifu supporters: to be beating Nagoya Grampus at home in a meaningful game. Gifu needed to settle and to make Nagoya work for their chances, although there was very little anyone could for Taguchi’s equaliser, which was a beautiful shot past the outstretched hand of Victor. Hands up – it was a quality strike. It wasn’t too long before Nagoya put themselves in front, Keiji Tamada’s quick layoff taken in stride by Gabriel Xavier, and the Brazilian forward rounded Victor and slotted into the empty net. Just like that, Grampus had turned the game on its head and were forcing Gifu to make the running once again. Half time came, and the game was finely poised – although no-one really though that that would be the end of the scoring. The level of play during that first half was very high for J2 – I would posit that these two teams were/are the best “footballing” sides in the division, and the style of both teams combined to produce a half that flew by.

 

However, the game was punctured for Gifu less than 30 seconds after the start of second half when Nagoya took a two goal lead. An intelligent run by Hisato Sato dragged three defenders wit him to the right of the area, and when he played the ball across the area, Gabriel Xavier was there in oceans of space and a player of his quality is not going to miss those kinds of chances. 1-3, and Gifu were really behind the eight ball. It could have been different if Kazama’s shot almost immediately after Xavier’s goal wasn’t well saved by Yohei Takeda but once Gifu were chasing the game, it wasn’t going to end pretty – Nagoya, for all their defensive faults (and they have them, which is why promotion won’t be easy for them), can be ruthless going forward. Xavier completed his hat-trick with another easy finish, and at this point this is what I had feared: the game slipping violently away from Gifu with plenty of time left. At this point, Nagoya brought on Robin Simovic, and Gifu brought on Hiroaki Namba. Namba scored to bring the score to 2-4 and maybe created a false sense of hope, but after Nagoya brought on Yuki Oshitani & Ryo Nagai, those hopes were snuffed out in professional style. Ryota Aoki capped an industrious game with Grampus’ fifth of the afternoon in the 85th minute, while Rio Nagai added the final insult with a deft finish in the 92nd minute. Full time, and a score of 2-6 wasn’t what people had in mind when they rocked up before 10am in the morning.

IMG-2758.JPG

Gifu manager Takeshi Oki: “Nagoya were very good, weren’t they? I can’t fault the players, I know they gave their all but they were picked off systematically. The turning point was the goal just after half time. You could see the heads go down a bit after it. We got back into it, but when their fifth goal went in, their heads went down again. It isn’t a nice feeling, and I feel bad bad for all the supporters that turned out today. We will start again tomorrow and try and prepare for our remaining games.”

Sisinio: “They were good. They were a completely different side from the one we played in April and sometimes you just have to congratulate the other team. We started well, but I think we left too much space behind us (he means “us” as in the midfielders) and when the opponents have good, technical players they can make that space work for them.”

I think that last point from Sisinio is very pertinent. I’d put this down as a system defeat. Gifu’s system couldn’t cope with Nagoya’s sharpness when they turned Gifu’s defenders around. Before the game I was really surprised that Robin Simovic was only on the bench, but in hindsight, it makes sense. The mobile-ness of of Tamada, Sato, Xavier & Aoki made it really difficult for Gifu defenders to track them. Had Simovic started, he would’ve been a natural target for Nagoya, but because they three or four smaller, more nimble players, they stretched Gifu’s defence side to side and up & down and ultimately gave Gifu’s defenders too many problems to figure out.

IMG-2769.JPG

It has been a theme of Gifu this year, the lack of protection in front of the back four. Oki eschews a true holding midfielder in favour of “true” footballers, those whose primary focus is to keep the ball. Possession, or more accurately attack, being the best form of defence. It is true up to a point, but the fact that Gifu conceded six at home for the second time this year means that it has to at least be considered. Gifu don’t really have a destructive midfielder on their books – possibly Henik if you pushed me to name one, but aside from him everyone is what you would call a footballer. It is how he feels football should be played, and I think the vast majority of supporters are right behind that idea. But you can’t keep shipping goals at home like Gifu do and expect to keep getting positive results. The defenders aren’t bad – I’d put forward the notion that centre back Masanori Abe is the most improved player this year – but they just don’t get the help they require at times. (Most) good teams need a screen in front of their defence and Gifu’s is currently possession. When they don’t have possession (which, in fairness, is quite rare) they don’t have a screen and opposition attackers & midfielders have direct access to Gifu’s defensive line.

Also, Nagoya showed how to be clinical. When they got in advanced positions, they were always looking for a positive pass, and only went back when it was necessary. Gabriel Xavier’s first goal is a prime example: Keiji Tamada was facing his own goal when he played in Gabriel, but his flick wrong-footed the Gifu defence and gave Xavier – who was making runs from deep all afternoon – a free run into the area. This speed of “turning” the defence creates chances and I wish Gifu would try and do that more often.

IMG-2762.JPG

So where do Gifu go from here? Literally, to Oita next weekend. Figuratively, that is slightly more difficult. Gifu are not going to the play-offs, they’ll unlikely be a top half side but at the same time they won’t be going down. A finish between the places of 17th-14th is the most likely scenario given the difficulty of the remaining schedule. I’d expect more playing time for Kento Yabuuchi – a forward that came on for his J.League debut in the closing minutes of the Grampus game – and possibly defender Kentaro Kai. Alex is close to returning from injury and I think he’ll play a part as the season comes to a close too.

The defeat in this game has the potential to completely overshadow the season, butI hope it doesn’t. It is easy to forget that Nagoya are bankrolled by the biggest automobile maker in the world, and as such can afford a deep bench with players that would start for Gifu. But Oki wants to attack, and wants to play on Gifu’s terms which in this league is a highly admirable thing to do. I just want him to protect the defence a bit more. Hopefully, it will come. Don’t lose faith!!

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.

IMG_2394.JPG

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.

DF_GNfUUwAIudAw

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.

DG_WkHjVwAAtzDq.jpg

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.