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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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!!



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.


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.


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.


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.

The First Win!!!

Last weekend, in a very cold Machida, FC Gifu recorded their first win under new coach Takeshi Oki, and released some of the pressure that had been building up.


It isn’t an excuse, but Gifu have had a tough start. Games against presumed promotion challengers Nagoya & Matsumoto and away at a surprisingly impressive Tokyo Verdy has made it quite difficult to reconcile the performances – which have been very good – with the points total, which hasn’t been so hot.

Going into the Machida game, Gifu were sitting on two points and had lost their previous three games. Takeshi Oki’s preferred set up is a 4-3-3 formation which gives Gifu lots of possession, but relies on a cutting edge being developed. In the first five games, Gifu created plenty of attacking opportunities, but because there is only one central forward in the system, many of the promising opportunities went to waste through a lack of numbers.


Against Machida, Gifu went with Daiki Tamori at CB alongside Tsubasa Aoki, and it was a decision which confused me at first. I know Tamori and Oki have a long relationship & Oki really values Tamori’s on-field leadership (much like Ruy Ramos did with Keiji Takachi) but Henik had been one of Gifu’s better performers at the back and so it was a little surprising to see him benched.

Elsewhere, the favoured trio in midfield of Yoshihiro Shoji, Sisinio & Yushi Nagashima were playing behind a forward three Kohei Yamada on the right, Hiroaki Namba in the centre, and very promising rookie Kyogo Furuhashi on the left.


The start of the game, while not being very pleasing to the eye, was weighted in favour of Machida as Yuki Nakashima gave Tusbasa Aoki a hard time with with his movement & timing of his runs. Gifu keeper Victor was forced into action action early, making a couple of good saves, one of which rebounded off Takayuki Fukumura and was just about cleared off the line. Gifu did make some running, and gradually were able to settle into their passing routine, although clear chances were at a premium. Kyogo Furuhashi probably having the clearest sight of goal, his 20 yarder being beaten away by the Zelvia keeper.


The second half took on a more even feel. Sisinio & Shoji started to get on the ball more, and space started to develop along the flanks. The seemingly limitless energy of Yuki Omoto on the right was causing problems, while Kohei Yamada, who had switched to the left, found himself in a couple of good positions and really should have scored when played in by Shoji. Yamada was replaced by Paulo Tanaka, and it was this change which spurred Gifu’s winning goal.

Fukumura was fouled on the left touchline, and he took the free-kick quickly, setting Furuhashi down the wing. He outpaced the full back before crossing into the box and waiting there was Hiroaki Namba who looped his header over the Zelvia keeper and into the net.

The goal came in the 70th minute, leaving Gifu with twenty minutes to hold on and record their first clean sheet and, consequentially, first win of the year. Zelvia pushed forward, but found Victor in excellent form – the Spanish goalkeeper’s highlight being an outstanding one handed save in additional time. That save secured the game for Gifu, and a vital first win of the year, which was probably just about deserved.


In all honesty, Gifu have been much better than their points tally has suggested. The way they play the ball about, led by the highly impressive Yoshihiro Shonji & Sisinio in midfield, isn’t the way a usual J2 side makes its living. I think it will take a bit of time to see the true results of this approach, but the initial signs are promising.The two Spaniards, Victor & Sisinio have settled in really well and are starting to show some good form. By all accounts, Yuto Ono has helped the players settle thanks to his Spanish language skills and Yoshinari Takagi has been a guiding hand for fellow GK Victor.

It is full back/winger Yuki Omoto that really caught my eye in this side. He is so quick and is always willing to overlap anyone in front of him. His pace is very quick, but it his ability to change direction quickly which really puts defenders in a difficult position. I’ve noticed that he often likes to control the ball with the sole of his boot, giving him a lot more control over the direction of the ball. His attacking intent from the full back role gives the team an added dimension and his outstanding start to the season gives us more cause for optimism.


The defence in general is still a work in progress. Tsubasa Aoki hasn’t been a defender for long and so is still learning his trade. His ability on the ball is the reason, I presume, he has been shifted to defence, but that means that he needs to work really hard on his positioning & timing – two traits that are completely different from being a holding midfielder. The positive signs are there – and the more he plays, the he will grow into the role, but he will inevitably have days where he looks like midfielder playing in defence as opposed to a defender.

It seems like everyone is talking about how Gifu keep the ball, but it really is interesting to see the difference from last year to this. Shoji & Sisinio are playing really well. Shoji’s all round game has been outstanding thus far – a true all round midfielder, and the way he delivers long passes by cutting down on the ball as he strikes it is footballing Hida beef – outrageously good. Sisinio’s range of passing and his constant go-forward is crucial in this side. He isn’t the conductor of this orchestra, but he is the guy whose solo steals the show. Yushi Nagashima shows from time to time, and probably needs to be a bit more consistent, but he is a menace when he does get the ball. I would expect Hideyuki Nozawa to start pushing Nagashima for his place in the midfield pretty soon.

Up front, I feel that the team needs a “striker” as opposed to a “false nine” and that is why Namba playing has made the team look better because at least there is a central presence. When Koya Kazama played up front, he tended to drift out wide (as he would in a usual game because he is usually a right sided attacker) but Namba provides a focal point not only for Gifu but he also occupies defenders as well. In the next game, I would think Paulo Tanaka would come in in place Kohei Yamada. Yamada is good at what he is asked to do, but Paulo & Omoto on the right is a very appealing proposition.

As mentioned before, the start has been tough, but that mean there should be some more winnable games on the schedule – starting this week when we face Mito Hollyhock at home. See you there!

Consadole Sapporo 1-2 FC Gifu

Just three days after Gifu’s worst performance of the season came a superb bounceback performance as Gifu left the beautiful city of Sapporo with all three points.

FC Gifu starting XI: Tokizawa, Masuyama, Watanabe, Okane, Nogaito, Kazama, Henik, Takachi, Aoki, Namba, Leo Mineiro.

Gifu, not surprisingly, made some changes from the team that lost 0-3 at home to Oita on Sunday with Koya Kazama coming back into the team in place of the suspended Gilsinho. Both full backs were replaced – Masuyama in for Abe and Nogaito in for Fuji. and the impressive and hard-working Tsubasa Aoki came in to partner Henik in the centre of midfield.

Consadole almost took the lead immediately as defender Uehara found himself unmarked 7 yards out, but Tokizawa palmed the ball over. Gifu started to get into the game and they took the lead just after the half hour. J2’s assist king Keiji Takachi swung in a vicious corner and Masaki Watanabe glanced in a header at the near post. It was the defenders first goal for the club, and what a time to get it.

Just before half time, defender Naoya Okane had to be alert to block a Sapporo attack down the left but that was about the limit of Consa’s attacking threat and Gifu went in at the break 1-0 up.

Sapporo again came out the blocks quick and “Gifu-killer” Uchimura was first to test Tokizawa, but Satoshi held on his shot at the second attempt. Consadole then wasted a couple of good chances as Arano and then Horikome both failed to keep their cool when staring down on goal.

Gifu came so close to a second when Henik thumped a howitzer against the crossbar, and then minutes later Leo Mineiro smashed his penalty – won by himself – against the bar too. Leo made amends for that miss when took a beautiful pass from Hiroaki Namba, rounded the goalkeeper and slotted the ball into the empty net in the 93rd minute.

Game over.

But not quite as Consadole’s Uehara headed in a goal in the 95th minute to give Gifu more than a few scares, but the final whistle went soon after and Gifu got the win they craved after such a disappointing defeat on Sunday.

Next up for Gifu is another crucial game, this time at the K’s Denki Stadium against fellow strugglers Mito Hollyhock. Gifu have won their last three away games, and so will go there in confident mood.

FC Gifu 0-3 Oita Trinita

Gifu’s recent good form came to a grinding halt as a fired up Oita Trinita side breathed life into their survival battle with a crucial win.

Oita fans had plenty to celebrate

Oita started the game really well, and they took the lead early when Akihiro Hyodo lashed in a shot from 25 yards out, past the despairing dive of Satoshi Tokizawa. Worse was to come for Gifu as Rei Matsumoto doubled Oita’s lead, taking full advantage of some very slack marking in the Gifu area.

Gifu’s pre match huddle

The second half didn’t get much better, and when man-of-the-match Hirotaka Tameda scored a fine individual goal to make it 3-0, Gifu’s misery was complete. But actually it wasn’t as there was still time for Gilsinho to get sent off.

A really horrible result that punctured all the recent optimism, ahead of a crucial 5 days when we face Consadole Sapporo and then fellow strugglers Mito hollyhock.

Gifu supporters pre-game