Tokyo, September 25, 2007: Two strange games at the weekend.
On Saturday I headed for Urawa Komaba Stadium and the Ardija-JEF United match. Played on a poor surface, the game was a terrible advert for Japanese football.
It was hard to believe that Omiya were fighting for their J1 lives, as the match resembled a pre-season kickabout or an end-of-season affair with nothing at stake for either team.
JEF won 1-0 with a goal from Saito, but their failure to add a second against 10 men in the second half was a major concern for manager Amar Osim. In the end JEF had libero Nakajima to thank for the clean sheet, first with a timely interception in his own goal mouth, and then with a fine tackle just outside the box.
But overall it was a poor spectacle, with too many passes going astray and few moments of inspiration or coordination.
Sunday at Ajista was much, much better, FC Tokyo against S-Pulse.
There was only one team in it for a while – and it wasn’t the home team.
S-Pulse, one of the biggest Japanese teams I have seen, started really well, looking bright, confident and well-organised.
Then suddenly they were 2-0 down.
The first Tokyo goal was an own goal, scored by the unlucky Kazumichi Takagi as he met Ishikawa’s cross from the right with a diving header into the far corner. All credit to Ishikawa, though, as his cross, clipped in early and on the half-volley, was a beauty.
As was the finish shortly after by Akamine, who drilled a left-foot half-volley inside the near post after an incisive run into the box from Fukunishi.
From being in control of the game, S-Pulse were now in trouble and staring defeat in the face. It was incredible how quickly the game had changed, and Tokyo never looked likely to let them back into it thanks to the driving force of Konno.
Konno, happily back in central midfield after his stint alongside Fujiyama in the centre of defence, is always my MVP – and that is before the game even kicks off. It is up to someone else to play better than Konno to win my vote, and it is rare that anyone does.