Monday, 20 February 2012

Agent Orange: Taking You To Greentown

The latest instalment of the ridiculously prestigious Saitama City Cup this year sees the two-time defending cup champion - yes, that's our boys - take on their most mysterious opponent ever, Chinese Super League side Hangzhou Greentown. Greentown got themselves in the Japanese press by hiring Japan's 2010 World Cup coach and national treasure Takeshi Okada. While most of the players on Greentown (or even the team itself) might be a mystery to you and I, they do have a couple of links to the J-League and to Omiya Ardija players past and present.

First, let's dive into the history of Hangzhou Greentown.

Wikipedia advises that Greentown began as Zhejiang Green city soccer club in 1998. The following year, like Omiya, they would start their life in the professional league ranks. 2001 saw them buy the charter and starting lineup of Jilin Aodong (now Yanbian FC) and move up to the Second Division of Chinese football. Greentown would miss out on promotion to the top level after a controversial 6-0 defeat to Changchun Yatai FC, as well as other mysterious losses. It would be revealed later that members of the team were taking bribes to throw contests.

After a several tumultuous years in the Second Division and numerous name changes, Greentown would in 2006 achieve promotion with a second place finish, just as Omiya had done a couple years earlier. A dour 2009 season saw the team finish in fifteenth and avoid relegation only due to another gambling scandal involving Chengdu Blades and Guangzhou FC. 2010 would however be the most successful year for the squad, with a fourth place finish and a spot in the ACL.    

Takeshi Okada became the surprise hiring as the team's new coach in the close of the 2011 season, after being linked heavily to Ardija's crosstown rival - and three-time Saitama City Cup losers - Urawa Reds. Immediately after his signing, Japanese tabloids were abuzz over who Okada would take with him to China. Former Kawasaki Frontale striker Juninho, legendary Gamba Osaka conductor Yasuhiro Endo and our own Rafael were all linked with moves to the nouveau riche Chinese Super League squad. Instead, Okada opted for other veterans of J-League campaigns. 

Mazola is speedy Brazilian midfielder who comes out of the FC Sao Paulo system and may even have run into new Omiya signing Carlinhos there in between loans out to other clubs. He spent 2011 at Urawa and showed signs of real talent, but never really seemed to fit in with the giant Japanese squad. This was illustrated in a controversial 3-2 loss against Vissel Kobe in which Mazola scored a game-tying goal only to see his teammates rush over and mob Yosuke Kashiwagi, leaving the mercurial dribbler to perform a painful and pathetic celebration alone in front of the home supporters (check the video at around the 4-minute mark).

Renatinho is a controversial striker who looked to be the heir-apparent to Juninho at Kawasaki. He scored 21 goals in 56 appearances for Frontale and thrived when he was the main target, but a failure to blend with Juninho and some outbursts during the middle of 2010 led to a parting of the ways. Still young at 24, Renatinho looks to get his career going again and possibly move on to bigger and better things. An Omiya connection is that he was teamed with current Squirrels Kazuhiro Murakami and Kosuke Kikuchi during his time in Kawasaki.

Jeong Dong Ho spent last year on loan to J2 side Gainare Tottori after two years of barely seeing time at Yokohama F Marinos. Ho is on the fringes of Korea's U23 squad and so probably is well known to Omiyalympians Cho Young Cheol and Kim Young Gwon.

Kim Dong Jin is a veteran of the Korean National squad who might be best known for scoring the winning goal in a 2008 Olympic match against Honduras. Formerly, the left back played with ex-Omiya midfielder Lee Ho for Zenit St Petersburg.

Du Wei is a big centerback who joined Greentown in 2011 after an extensive stint at C-League powerhouse Shanghai Shenhua. Du appeared in the 2002 World Cup and serves as captain for both the Greentown and the Chinese National Team. He has no links to any current Omiya players but was a teammate of our Honduran mega-flop Saul "Speedy" Martinez

On the coaching side, Takeshi Ono is Okada's right hand man and a former manager of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Ono took over Sanfrecce in 2003, one year after former Omiya captain Chikara Fujimoto had helped crash the team onto the jagged rocks of relegation before bolting to Nagoya. Ono stayed until the start of 2006, when he would be canned after a slow start. Later that same year his replacement's replacement would join the club: a man named Mihailo Petrovic, current coach of (three-time Saitama City Cup losers) Urawa Reds.

Hangzhou has taken part in a few training matches this year against J-League teams, beating Shizuoka sides Shimizu S-Pulse 3-2 and Jubilo Iwata 2-1, as well as playing a pair of games versus J2 side Kyoto Sanga (a 2-2 tie and a 6-0 loss).

What about us? We will go into next weekend's game with questions surrounding the identity of our front six. The Js Goal website and El Golazo have both reported that new midfield signee Carlinhos has an injured right foot. The extent of the injury is unknown but it's likely we won't see the midfielder in the Greentown game.

Goal king Rafael is also out with an injury to his groin. The target man has found the net in both the last two SCC matches and is now looking to overtake Bayern Munich's Lukas Podolski as nothing less than the all-time leading scorer in the Saitama City Cup. Kim, Cho and Keigo Higashi all have midweek Olympic qualifiers and are currently training with their Olympic squads. I imagine all three will see time in the game as substitutes.

In the training match against Tokushima Vortis, Jun Suzuki opted to go with something close to my previously-mentioned "Fucking Dope" lineup. Yu Hasegawa started in place of Rafael as the lone top striker, being aided by a trio of Hayato Hashimoto, Jun Kanakubo and Daigo Watanabe [oh man that hurts to write - F]. It's likely that Watanabe and Hashimoto will get the starts in the game [ditto - F].

Hashimoto currently (and shockingly) is tied for second among all-time scorers in SCC history. A brace could see the overly cautious midfielder as the goal king for the competition -  and would also provide another indication that the Mayans were correct in predicting 2012 as the year in which the world will come to an end. 

Among the midfielders Takuya Aoki looks to be the only sure starter going into the game. The backline probably will see Yuki Fukaya and Kosuke Kikuchi team in the middle of the defense with Takumi Shimohira paired either with Kazuhiro Murakami or Daisuke Watabe to form a back four. Takashi Kitano starts in goal.

If conventional wisdom holds true, Hangzhou should be a very physical test for Suzuki's team. It will be interesting to see how tight the game is called and if the official in charge is more inclined towards Omiya as a national representative or Okada as a national hero. I'd venture to guess the latter, but hey, that's just my paranoid mind (and two years of being at the bottom of the league in fouls received) taking over.

Bring on Greentown! Orange! Happy!! Football!!! Until Yosuke Kataoka fucks it all up, of course!!!!



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