Sunday, 26 September 2010

Agent Orange: Woefully Undermanned

What a long, strange September it has been. Usually the worst month of the season for us here in the Squirrel Republic, this time around we've actually seen three wins! The first was a predictable and slightly unenthusiastic 4-1 win versus Fourth Division side Kamatamare Sanuki. The second was a rousing and dominating win over Shimizu S-Pulse. Finally, yesterday we put down FC Tokyo in a game that was eerily reminiscent of 2007 and our victory over then-bogey team Sanfrecce Hiroshima. So let's take a look at all that in more detail in Agent Orange's Month In Review:

Kamatamare Sanuki

This Emperor's Cup game had all the intensity of a training match. About thirty Sanukiacs made the trip up north (South? I don't know where Kamatamare is, actually) and cheered hard for a full ninety minutes. Their team, peppered with former Tokushima Vortis players, put up a good effort but were undone by a combination of luck and the skill of Lee Chun Soo. Meanwhile Lee Ho was roundly panned by Omiya fans for his errors and his backpassing. It was the first time that I've seen our supporters get on a player during a game.

The match also marked the return of Hayato Hashimoto to the starting line-up and Jun Kanakubo to actual playing time. Hashimoto was still disappointing but Kanakubo was decent. This was the first game where you could see Chun Soo not only show quality on his finishing, but develop chemistry with Rafael as well. The Kamatamare goal at the end was nice effort and fully deserved: I gotta admit, I'm a bit of a fan now after that performance [the Noodle Boys will win the Shikoku League and earn themselves a crack at promotion to the JFL if they avoid defeat against Tokushima Vortis Second next Sunday - Furtho].

Shimizu S-Pulse

Bad ref, good result! Shimizu was coming off a packed week after contesting home and away games against FC Tokyo in the Nabisco Cup, as well as squeezing in an Emperor's Cup tie. The meeting at Omiya Park started with a series of calls for S-Pulse and mirror image events deemed "not fouls" the other way. Rafael was at the center of most of it and earned a yellow for his troubles. The effort was there in this game and the middle four of Mato Neretljak, Shusuke Tsubouchi, Shin Kanazawa and Takuya Aoki played probably their best match of the year. Really everyone did. I can't even complain about Chikara Fujimoto in this one: two clear chances and an assist.

Rafael started the scoring with a well-taken chance after walking a tightrope to stay onside and so Mr 100 became Mr 200 with that goal (that is, Ardija's 100th J1 home goal and 200th J1 goal). Mato returned to the scoring sheet with a wonderful header that was just like reuniting with an old friend: good to see and you hope in the future you can see more often. The scoring was finally topped off when Rafael sprung Lee Chun Soo on a pass splitting the defenders. The game ended with a Tsubouchi red card.

Kashima Antlers

Awful ref, worse result! With Yuki Fukaya injured and Tsubouchi suspended, Omiya was forced to go with the twin tower combo of Mato and Shunsuke Fukuda. The midfield was dominated early by the veteran group of Antlers and the lion's share of possesion went to them. But I'm starting to wonder if there is a problem with goalkeeper Takashi Kitano and certain stadia around the J-League. Arguably his worst Omiya performances have been at Vegalta Sendai, Vissel Kobe and Kashima - all three with roofs behind the goals and stands close to the pitch.

I don't know if there is a perception issue or what, but Kitano has had trouble on balls in all of these places, including the knuckler by Marquinhos that resulted in the first Kashima goal. And the twenty-plus minutes afterwards were comically bad. It started with a handball that wasn't called on Shinzo Koroki, a turnover to Aoki and a call for a handball that looked exactly like the handball that Koroki didn't do... setting up a free kick in which two Antlers players were in the offside position. Marquinhos eventually managed to head the ball in, after several shots went everywhere but the net.

Kashima would get two more shots on goal without the burden of worrying about the offsides rule. One would result in a header by Koroki, who really was loathsome all game, between his diving and the two-footed studs-up slide he put on Rafael on a restart. The last would result in a yellow card for Kanazawa, who shoulder-blocked an offside Marquinhos to the ground. Coach Jun Suzuki waved the white flag at half time, extracting Rafael for Naoki Ishihara.

FC Tokyo

A 1-0 win after six straight losses to them. I did not see the game but I did see the highlights. Rafael got robbed of a goal in a similar circumstance to England at the World Cup. The ball bounced off the bottom of the cross bar, came down on the "goal scored" side of the goal line and bounced out. The official in the match was the always-noxious Junpei Iida but it did really seem difficult to call so just this once, I won't slam him. Rafael looked dangerous in the clips and absolutely had the Tokyo defense in knots on his assist to Kanakubo, who got up in the air and headed in a good cross for the winner.

I can't tell you who had a good or bad effort in the game. I will say two things, though:

1. I was very surprised to see Fukuda in over Mato. I think of all the center back combinations, Mato and Tsubouchi offer the most upside. When I saw the combination of Fukuda and Tsubouchi in Nabisco Cup, it wasn't bad. I'm not sure what Suzuki is thinking although it worked, so I'm not going to complain.

2. I'm very happy to beat a team that has really rubbed it in our faces over the past couple of years. Between the Naotake Hanyu Diving Show and the ever-irritating Sota Hirayama, it really is good to get a win against them. While I'm still not convinced that Tokyo will go down, I'm not going to shed a tear if they do and I think it will be very ironic if they are relegated and Sendai stay up, considering they loaned Shingo Akamine out to Vegalta (and by the way, he scored the lone goal in Sendai's win over Marinos on Saturday).

Masashi Oguro? Yeah, not a great pick-up, especially when you consider that Oguro has made teams worse wherever he goes. Over the past three years, he has:

a. gone to Tokyo Verdy, seen them relegated and on the verge of insolvency;

b. been loaned to Yokohama FC, who languished near the bottom of J2 until he was jettisoned (they are in sixth as of Sunday); and now

c. found his way back to Chofu, where he has helped FC Tokyo to a 2-5-7 record in all competitions and sixteenth place. I don't think this could have gone worse for FC Tokyo if Verdy had planned it.

Overall a good month for us. We're not out of danger yet, but getting six points in this stretch was a big deal.


Our friend Richy at the Forza FC Gifu blog (and a closet Vegalta Sendai fan to boot) had a couple of interesting comments here on my last post about how I think Vegalta fans suck. The only thing I can really say about is this: I hate them. Rational, irrational, I don't care - I want them gone. Am I being unfair to Sendai? Maybe, but so what. If you go back five years before the title, everybody was raving about how great the Urawa Reds fans were and I see the similarities to Vegalta now. That's what I was pointing out.

You can see it in media coverage as well. This year, they've gotten four cover stories in the weekly soccer rags and at least one in the monthlies. Omiya hasn't ever gotten a cover. I think you are seeing that bias on the field as well. They currently are frontrunners for the J-League Fairplay award, which just kills me because they have been as dirty as anyone this year. To sum up, then, I don't like 'em and I probably never will. Gifu on the other hand is allright with me!


We stole a win on the road, we should honor it with a song.




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