On Recent Events…

Despite a return to form on the pitch in recent weeks, it’s off the field issues that have earned the headlines for our beloved club in recent weeks. Of course, as a football fan it’s never nice to see your club on the front pages rather than the back pages, but as a foreign supporters group the challenges we have faced in recent weeks have been particularly concerning. As such, we feel it is appropriate to both inform our readers and offer an opinion on recent events. This post will be separated into two parts. In part 1, for those who have not yet learned of the incident in question, we will explain exactly what has happened and the circumstances around it. In part 2 we will offer our opinion on events.

Part 1

Firstly, we would like to note that the club or the fans of our regional rivals Kawasaki Frontale were in no way to blame for recent events, but we do feel it’s appropriate to put into context the rivalry between our clubs.

In recent years, ties against Frontale have become increasingly heated. In December of last year, Kawasaki defeated us on the final day of the season to deny us our first league championship in a decade. In May, we returned to Todoroki, the home of Frontale to face them in the final J-League fixture before the league took a two month break for the World Cup. At this game, a Frontale fan laid a scarf over a banner of club legend Naoki Matsuda, which had been positioned in front of the home fans due to a large traveling support. This act prompted a furious response from our fans, who moved towards the home fans and demanded the scarf be removed immediately.

In most other leagues, such actions in a local rivalry would be standard fare. As I write this article from Glasgow, Scotland, such an incident at a local derby wouldn’t gather a single line in a newspaper, with players, fans, managers and even politicians wading into the inevitable controversy that surrounds each Celtic and Rangers game that takes place. However, context is important here, and the J-League is not a league that has suffered from hooliganism or misbehaviour from fans in its 20 year history. The match day experience of fans in Japan is second to none. Stadiums are family-friendly, alcohol is readily available at reasonable cost inside the stadium, and there is little restriction on what fans can bring into the stadium overall. This tremendous match day experience comes at a cost; with the league and clubs’ sensitivity to public relations serving to sanitise the experience of fans who want to participate in ‘banter’ or to poke fun at their rivals. Acts seen as stoking rivalry are frowned upon and deemed ‘provocation’. For example, after Shimizu S-Pulse fans teased their relegation-doomed local rivals Jubilo Iwata in the Shizuoka Derby last year, the club reacted by banning songs and banners whilst the players were not on the pitch, as well as prohibiting them from ‘over-celebrating’ victories.

In March of this year, Urawa Reds, one of the most popular clubs in Japan, were forced to play a home game behind closed doors after fans displayed a banner reading ‘Japanese Only’ at the entrance to the section behind the goal. The Saitama stadium was closed for their home game against S-Pulse, and J-League president Mitsuru Mirai accused the club of “damaging the brand of not just the J-League, but of the entire Japanese football community.” Whilst instances of racism have occurred sporadically in the league in the past, this incident almost went viral. Images of the banner appeared on Twitter, international news outlets such as the BBC and Eurosport covered the story and the response of fans in the league was almost unanimous: racism would not be tolerated in the J-League. The supporters group responsible for the banner was disbanded, and the president of the club apologised for the incident and the slow response of club officials who had bizarrely waited to seek permission from the owner of the banner before removing it from the stadium. Yokohama F.Marinos fans, for their part, spoke out against racism at their next match. Fans Tweeted us pictures of banners they had created and put them out for display at the next available opportunity.

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(Photo via @jrwestw1)

Six months on from these events, and Kawasaki Frontale were back in town. Due to Nissan stadium playing host to a national school sports event, the tie was to be held at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa, our second stadium with an attendance of around 16000. If recent ties held at the larger Nissan stadium are anything to go by, this game could have sold-out twice over. Fans packed in to the venue and a full-stadium ‘tifo’ display reading ‘YOKOHAMA’ was displayed prior to kick-off. The match was a heated affair, with Kawasaki having a man sent off in the first half. Throughout the match tensions ran high and the Kawasaki players were relentlessly booed when they took possession and as they approached the corners. Our new boy Rafinha was lucky to stay on the field after apparently shoving the referee out of the way in an attempt to get to Frontale defender Jeci after a poor tackle from the Brazilian. The game finished with a 2-0 victory, our second win over our rivals this year and one of our best performances so far this season. As the dust settled, however, our performance on the field would be overshadowed by the actions of a fan in the stands.

Similarly to the Urawa incident in February, videos and images began to circulate on Twitter shortly after the match showing a Yokohama F.Marinos supporter waving a banana at Frontale’s Brazilian attacker Renato.

With club officials viewing the incident, swift action was taken. The perpetrator was taken aside after the game and asked to explain himself. Whilst he denied his actions were racist, the club took the decision to ban him indefinitely. President Kaetsu described the incident as “Unforgivable”, and even took the step of apologising profusely for the incident.

After several days deliberating, the J-League handed down a punishment to the club, a fine of 5 million yen. League President Mitsui Murai declared that “The club dealt with the case appropriately but we did not feel they were doing enough to raise awareness, as is their responsibility.” As such, at the weekend following the incident when we faced Vegalta Sendai, there were no drums, no ultras and no banners. Fans will participate in anti-racism educational events before taking their place behind the goal once more. The particular supporters group that the perpetrator was a member of (easily identified by their distinctive black shirts) have been disbanded and will not be welcome at any of the remaining matches this season. The club has also asked for a general toning down of the booing during player announcements of visiting clubs, and in particular a cooling down of provocative acts towards Kawasaki Frontale on social media.

Part 2

We at Tricolore Pride are deeply disappointed with the racist incident that took place at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa recently. We fully accept the decision of the J-League to punish the club in this instance, however we feel we are in as good a position as anyone to offer an insight in to the Yokohama F.Marinos support on this particular issue.

Whilst there were Tricolore Pride members attending the game on that particular evening, none of us were in the vicinity of the incident that took place. Aside from the racist actions of the individual himself, those sitting in the immediate area surrounding him must also accept some responsibility. Self-policing is an important part of any event in which large groups amass. The failure of those around the perpetrator to intervene is of great disappointment.

Only the perpetrator himself truly knows his opinion on racism, however it is obvious that he did not have the sense to know that such a provocative act was not a legitimate way to act at a football match. Education is the key in eradicating racism from both football and society as a whole. It is easy to simply throw a fine at a club and move on, but we commend the J-League for recognising this is not a long-term solution and for indicating a desire to see anti-racism training carried out by fans. We would hope that the fan in question grows to learn from his mistakes and will eventually see the error of his ways.

In the past year alone, we have hosted guests from the following nations at home games: India, the Netherlands, Zambia, Australia, Canada, Scotland, Tunisia, the Philippines, Italy and England. In that time, we have never received anything other than a warm welcome from, what we believe, are the best fans in the country. Fan group leaders have reached out to us, we have been given gifts, shared beers with and chanted alongside many fans. In our experience, race is inconsequential; when you don your jersey, you’re a Yokohama F.Marinos fan and nothing else.

On September 13th, we will face Nagoya Grampus at the Nissan Stadium. On that day, most of the Tricolore Pride blog members will be in the stadium, with Tony and Jamie flying in from Australia and Scotland respectively to see the team play. Yokohama F.Marinos truly are an international club, and, as our success on the field and popularity increases, our fan base is becoming increasingly international in turn. We will continue to encourage friends & guests from all over the world to attend home matches with us, without fear of racism or discrimination in any form.
Please join us in supporting the team to another victory against Nagoya Grampus.

We are Marinos.

Tricolore Pride.

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A Mid-Season Review…

Oh Spring. Are you really that necessary? Why do the seasons even change? Take me back to those halcyon days of winter when we swept aside the league champions to win the Emperor’s cup and kicked off the new league campaign with 3 consecutive victories. We were in full-bloom and looked strong, like we could really have a go at the league again this year, like we were back to our dynamic, counter-attacking best…

Alas, it doesn’t look like this’ll be our year. At all. After inspiring all that hope by winning our opening 3 fixtures without conceding a goal… we capitulated, falling to the bottom of the table. The next 7 games would see us score just 1 goal and pick up a measly 2 points from the 21 available. By comparison, season 2012 saw us pick up 11 points between rounds 4 and 10, scoring 11 goals in the the process.

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So what’s changed? Quite a lot actually. The biggest issue we have is, unsurprisingly, a lack of goals. Sure, we’ve managed to keep 7 clean sheets from our first 13 games, but with strikers Ito Sho, Fujita, Hanato and Yajima failing to score frequently in those matches, we’ve hit the net just 13 times, and drawn a blank in 6 games. Had we lost to Frontale in our final match before the mid-summer break, we’d currently find ourselves sitting in the relegation zone, a shocking state of affairs for a side that finished season 2013 in 2nd place.

Despite such a poor season so far, It’s not all doom and gloom in the ‘Hama, as in the mid-season break the club announced the signing of Brazilian striker Rafinha from Ulsan Hyundai in the K-League. Rafinha has experience of the league, having played with Gamba Osaka back in 2011 & 2012, departing for Korea before they were relegated from J1. The move proved a successful one as he would go on to lift the 2012 ACL title, scoring in the final against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure what to expect of Rafinha, as I haven’t seen much of him, but I believe I do know what is required to make this F.Marinos side a successful one again. Watching the side has been frustrating at times this season. Our full-backs are decent enough players at this level, and our central defenders are still very capable despite advancing age. We are strongest in midfield, and even have some options out with Saito and Shunsuke this year, unlike last season. Our style of play is, unashamedly, defensive. We defend in numbers and look to hit back on the counter. At our best, the guile and precision of Shunsuke balances well with the directness of Manabu to create a dangerous counterattacking threat. Except, that hasn’t been the case this season so far. We’ve looked slow going forward, like we’ve lost a yard of pace. Our full-backs seem less inclined to bomb on, and the link up play has been disjointed and, at times, even clumsy. This side is crying out for a mobile striker who is willing to work the channels and create space for our 3 attacking midfielders. Rafinha has license to be ‘greedy’, even, and set an example for a shot-shy midfield who have often overplayed the ball this season. If he can carry out these duties, not only will he be successful in Yokohama, but so will his team mates.

The club also announced the departure of left-back Dutra, who will retire from football at the end of this month. Approaching his 41st birthday, Dutra has displayed a remarkable work ethic over the past 2 and a half seasons with the club and has certainly set an example to some of the younger players.

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 Photo: Yokohama F.Marinos

August of 2013 saw fans memorably turn up for the game against Sagan Tosu wearing headbands with large cut-outs of his face to celebrate his 40th birthday. His performances in his second spell with the club were, undoubtedly, a mixed bag. His effort and commitment are unquestionable, however, and his combined 9 years of service at the club will be remembered fondly. Obrigado, Ossan!

News out of Marinos Town today that volante Seitaro Tomisawa will be out for up to 4 weeks with a hamstring injury is a blow with the Sanfrecce away game just around the corner. Kanpei scored a fantastic driving effort and put in a man-of-the-match performance in the same tie last season. He’ll be replaced by one of Ogura or Mikado, who had deputised in midfield prior to the mid-season break. 

In other injury news, Shunsuke took advantage of the 2 month gap between fixtures to have surgery on a lingering gallbladder issue that has been affecting him since November 2013. Sadly, Shunsuke was also involved in a training ground accident at that camp in Niigata and had a gash in his head stapled. Fortunately, the knock shouldn’t stop him from returning to league duty on July 15th, and will hopefully mark the end of his misfortune…

Finally, April of 2014 saw the introduction of the Tricolore Pride banner at F.Marinos matches, and a big meet-up for a few games. Brendan, Dan, Stuart and I all attended the home match against Vegalta Sendai and were joined by a few friends under our banner. The meet was detailed by Dan in the most recent edition of the fantastic JSoccer Magazine, and we definitely recommend you pick yourself up a copy.

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Vamos F.Marinos!

 

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Yuji Nakazawa on ‘Japanese Football’

On the Japanese sports site Sponichi Annex, Yuji Nakazawa recently commented on the need for continuity in Japan’s national team’s style of football:

In response to the Japan being eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 Brazil World cup former Japanese national player, Yokohama F. Marinos defender Nakazawa Yuji said,

“I have recommended the establishment of  ‘Japanese Football’”

Based on his experience of participating in two consecutive tournaments in Germany in 2006 and in South Africa in 2010 he feared that there is no continuity in Japanese football,

“In 99 Japan’s style was modelled around the French who won in the previous year. After that, we played ball-moving and people-moving football. From around 2010, we played Spanish ‘pass football’. With every World Cup when a 4 year cycle is ended, so, the ‘Japanese style’ constantly changes”

To establish a style, consistent leadership is essential from junior training age so he has suggested to the JFA that, “it would better if they managed this and this won’t happen unless the Association appoints a leader who is able to organise this in all age groups.”

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A warm welcome to Rafinha!

It was nice surprise to hear that Rafinha has signed for us. JSoccer magazine quickly posted up a video of Rafinha’s previous performances.

A short message from him was posted on the club home page the following day:

I am very glad to be able to come to a big club. I’ll do my best to demonstrate my full power in order to fufill the team goal of winning the league championship. Thank you for your support.

We all wish him the best of luck and hope to see some fine goals from him, like this one, in the near future!

Vital Statistics:

Full name: Rafael dos Santos de Oliveira
Date of birth: 30 June 1987 (age 27)
Place of birth: Osasco, Brazil
Height: 1.72 m (5 ft 8 in)
Position: Striker

Previous Clubs
2004 – Nacional-SP
2007 → Avispa Fukuoka (loan)
2008 → Paulista (loan)
2008 → Atlético Juventus (loan)
2009 → Votoraty (loan)
2010–2011 → Thespa Kusatsu (loan)
2011–2012 → Gamba Osaka (loan)
2012– 2014→ Ulsan Hyundai (loan)

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All the way from down under to cheer our boys on!

This past week has been a mixed bag of results with even more erratic weather to boot but an undeniable highlight of the week for us was having the honor of meeting up with longtime Tricolore Pride reader, Brett, and his family from Melbourne! Not only did he and his family travel all the way here to cheer on their beloved Melbourne Victory, they even came along to the Kashima game to show their support!

Brett was also kind enough to write us an account of his stay in Yokohama complete with some awesome photos to share too! Thanks Brett!!

This is in two parts. Why you say?
Well at home in Melbourne, Australia our home team is Melbourne Victory. But from previous visits to Japan, Yokohama F. Marinos are our J-League team we follow. This for the most part has meant we have had to follow the Marinos from afar by watching occasional feeds and (you guessed it) by checking out the Tricolore Pride website, among other web sources.
By the quirk of Melb. Victory qualifying for the Group Stages of the the 2014 ACL, and the Yokohama F. Marinos winning the Emperor’s Cup, It turns out that the two teams I follow actually compete against each other (for the first time) in the Group stages of the Asian Champions League. This opportunity was too good to miss, hence the whole family made the journey from Australia to Japan to see these teams play at the Nissan.
However, as fans of the F. Marinos, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to travel earlier to see the F. Marinos play Kashima Antlers, the weekend before the Melb. Victory fixture.
Hence, Part One should be taken as from the Marinos fan point of view (just to clear up any suggestions of Bi-Polar)
Part One:
By now, anyone reading this post will have known the result for a while now. Up 1-nil at Half Time, it was looking good for the Marinos. Then the Second Half. Quite simply, loose defending cost the F. Marinos 3 goals and at the final whistle, Yokohama F. Marinos 1 – 3 Kashima Antlers. Less said about this result the better in my opinion.
Not because I can’t handle losing (well that’s not completely true, but that can be said about any football supporter), but because while disappointing, the result was not the sole reason we (my family) travelled to see Yokohama that day.
You see, for the players and all staff associated with (any) club, their success and failure is purely based on the cold results after 90 plus minutes; and the tabled results as the season/competition progresses.
If we as fans were to adopt this, we would never invest the money, time, or (most importantly) the passion to follow a club. While we all suffer bad results, the passion to follow a team can never be measured against. Which is why, even after a loss like that suffered by Yokohama F. Marinos last weekend, fans will show up again at the next game to go through 90 minutes of tension and hope again. And again after that. And so on…
It was this passion to see our adopted team play that brought us to Japan in the first place. So my family and I quickly looked past last Saturday’s Kashima result, and instead left the Nissan proud of having been able to participate in cheering on the boys, meeting new people, sharing the shifting emotions as the game progressed, and catching up with Brendan and Daniel from Tricolour Pride.
Below are some images that try to capture some of the colour and atmosphere we experienced that sunny Saturday afternoon in late March.
So to all the F. Marinos fans we met that day, though we spend most of our time a hemisphere away, we thank-you so much for welcoming us.
Part two:
And now comes the reason why we travelled. A brief recap or ‘previously on Tricolore Pride’…
Live in Melbourne Australia, follow Melbourne Victory (the ‘One Team in Melbourne’), also follow from afar Yokohama F. Marinos, both teams are playing each other in the group stages of the 2014 ACL, hence family on plane to Japan to see Victory play Yokohama at the Nissan. Right, up to speed?
With Saturday’s F. Marinos songs still ringing in our ears, come Wednesday afternoon we had to turn our attention to supporting our Melbourne team, who  themselves (like Yokohama currently) are juggling playing regular season matches and mid week ACL matches.
While Victory claimed the 3 points in Melbourne just a couple of weeks earlier (see previous pictures and story in this blog), it was against a Yokohama side minus a few of the big guns – Shunsuke Nakamura, Yuji Nakazawa, to name a couple of some of the usual starting XI that missed the trip to Melbourne.
While Coach Higuchi could be questioned for underestimating his opponents in that match, in an ironic copy of Higuchi a couple of weeks earlier, it was Victory’s coach Kevin Muscat who went into the return Yokohama away leg with a few of Victory’s starting XI missing from the line up. It appears squad rotation to compete (or juggle) in both domestic and confederation competitions was high in the minds of both Higuchi and Muscat. While this would normally be cause for concern, as a Victory supporter, time and again over the past couple of years we have seen our younger players step up to take on these challenges and generally perform quite well.
Hence when a couple of Victory supporters got together pre-match for drinks, there was a quite confidence the boys would do us proud.
After the short walk to the Nissan, we were directed around to the visiting supporters end, to find several expats and others there to join us support the Victory. In all about 30 people were in the away supporters area, doing our bit to support the Victory boys.
Now while hearing about away supporters in a Yokohama F. Marinos blog is not what most readers want to hear, but the away end does give you a great view of the Yokohama supporters end. They easily out sung us for volume but their co-ordinated displays were a sight to behold. We dealt with the lack of volume down our end by occasional changing the Tricolore lyrics in their songs to our Victory lyrics we usually sing. We found out later some of the visiting Western Sydney Wanderers fans (who played Kawasaki Frontale the evening before in their Group H ACL match) were there with the Tricolore fans, to sing against us as well. At least they were learning from the best, and according to their social media reports, loved the experience like we did the previous weekend.
But to the game itself, and an early penalty awarded to the Victory saw us go 1-0 up earlier in the first half, but once composed, the Marinos pair of Ito Sho and Nakamachi Kosuke slotted 2 in the back of the onion bag, too have Victory trailing 2-1 at half time. Late in the second half a goal by Hyodo Shingo looked to seal the result for Yokohama, but an extra time goal by Victory’s James Jeggo brought the scoreline back to 3-2.
Unfortunately for the Victory that was all that could be done, as the scoreline finished with Yokohama claiming the win with a 3-2 scoreline. But unfortunately for the F. Marinos, that late goal by Jeggo enabled Victory to keep the better goal difference and hence the 3rd position on the Group G table, with Marinos anchoring the table, but on equal points.
While it is still possible for either of Yokohama or Melbourne to still get a top 2 spot to progress to the knockout round of the ACL, with two rounds left, this is becoming a bigger ask for both our teams.
After the match we slowly made our way around the stadium, catching up with happy (well happier now, than they were on the previous Saturday) F. Marinos fans. We had some Victory stickers to give to some of the kids, my wife was swapping scarfs with some Tricolore girls, and finally we caught up with Brendan, Stuart, Chris, and Han for a few laughs, stories, and eventually a few ales in a restaurant resembling Bruce Wayne’s Bat-Cave.
Unfortunately, being mid week, the following day’s work commitments meant the need to catch the last trains for the night. This is when we had to say our last goodbyes, and express our appreciation for catching up with Brendan, Stuart, Chris, Han, and Daniel. Thanks for all the work that goes into Tricolore Pride, and we hope to return to the Nissan soon to lend our voices to Yokohama F. Marinos, once more.
That was our Yokohama F. Marinos experience – we have seen them 3 times in the last 3 weeks. That’s so cool.

Cheers to all, and best of luck for the rest of the season.

 Brett and family.
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An ACL Defeat, Fan Photos and Musings on Marquinhos…

Melbourne Victory 1 – 0 Yokohama F-Marinos

That was a hard one to take. Despite dominating possession for the entire second half, missing several gilt-edged chances and even rattling the crossbar from a Jungo free-kick, the ball just wouldn’t go in to the net. After the match I had two main considerations; firstly, how are we going to compete in the J-League this season if we struggle for goals like this without Shun and Sho? Secondly, is our ACL campaign dead in the water before it ever really started? 

 

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Amidst all the talk of a lack of goals, I was amused to see Brazilian striker Marquinhos get on the scoresheet for Vissel Kobe at the weekend in their 1-1 draw against FC Tokyo. To say that Marquinhos left F-Marinos last season on bad terms wouldn’t necessarily be accurate, but one certainly could argue that the circumstances surrounding his departure were somewhat bizarre. For a player reported to be earning the highest salary of any player in our squad, his decision to depart after our failure to secure the league title, and some weeks before the seasons officially ended, was a strange one. Rather than compete in the Emperor’s cup in the hope of salvaging something from the season, Marqui left the club (and fans!) and took a trip back home to Brazil for Christmas before returning to Kobe in the close season.

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I’m sure he had his reasons. Some say that the emotion of losing the title was too much for him so he felt it better to move on, but for me, Marquinhos owed it to the fans to stay where he was and finish his contract at the very least. His form in-front of goal had been non-existent since August and, despite scoring 16 league goals in the first half of the season, he failed to score a single goal in the final 10 matches of the season.  That he scored his first goal since joining Kobe last weekend (and his first goal since August last year!) is of no surprise, and I have no doubts he’ll get another this weekend… just to rub it in! 

 

As for the ACL, the decision to leave Shun, Bomber and other starting XI members in Yokohama as the others made the trip to Melbourne was either an error of judgement on the part of Coach Higuchi (in underestimating our opponents), or an indication that he no longer feels the ACL is a competition worth putting it ‘all’ in to. There’s evidence to support the latter, as last season saw Sanfrecce Hiroshima essentially give up on the tournament, playing a second string throughout most group matches and finishing bottom of their group. Personally I’d like to see the side do well in the ACL, but I do recognise the lack of real depth in our squad means we need to be sensible in choosing who plays where and when. Sparing Shunsuke and a few others a 20 hour round trip in between two league games was probably the right thing to do, but I feel for the fans who made the huge journey to Melbourne for the game. The support received great praise from the locals (who know a thing or two themselves about supporting their club) and a TricolorePride reader named Brett, who’ll be making his own debut at the Nissan in the next few weeks, sent us these photos to share with fans of the club. Thanks Brett!

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ACL MD 1 Review, MD 2 Preview

Despite coming off a disappointing performance in the pre-season Super Cup, spirits were bouyed amongst the Tricolore faithful in the lead up to F.Marinos’ much anticipated return to the inter-continental stage. Hundreds of supporters made the trek across the Sea of Japan, and whilst expectations were difficult to form – we knew both that the opposition would be tough and that it was difficult to judge our own ability playing in a higher level competition, the mood could be described as one of cautious optimism. Shunsuke himself understood the difficulty of the task ahead of them, saying before the game that although they’d like to play positively, an away draw would be a good result.

When the whistle blew to start the game, however, it soon became apparent which team was ready for the contest and unforunately that was not the team wearing white, blue and red. Despite Higuchi starting three defensive midfielders – Nakamachi, Tomisawa and Mikado – the home team dominated the centre of the park and spreading the ball wide they consistently out-paced us down the flanks. Whilst the defence kept a clean sheet in the first half, there was a visible air of desperation in the back third as we scrambled to clear the ball from danger, and with most of these clearances going straight back to the opposition, there was little let up in the pressure on our backline.

With the ball, our fortunes fared no better as we struggled to deal with Jeonbuk’s defensive press that extended right across the ground. The players in green rushed to close down every Marinos player as soon as he received a pass, they bustled us off the ball, and we resorted to low-percentage 20 metre-plus passes out from the back half which were too easily cut off. Additionally, despite the Jeonbuk’s defence comfortably seeing off chips and high crosses directed towards the front third, we kept at it throughout the game.

 
Hence the story of the night for us was turnovers and all of the goals we conceded were directly created from Marinos turnovers in the defensive half. Firstly, Shimohira missing his target in an outlet pass from the penalty area, the ball rebounded directly into the box after which Kurihara Yuzo made a complete hash of his attempt to stop the scorer. For the second, Kurihara’s lethargy and lack of movement to provide a passing outlet for Enomoto resulted in a rushed punt upfield, straight down the opposition’s throats and they punished us with a neat three-man combination and a smashing finish by Lee Seung-Gi. The third, well, although the less said the better, Kurihara’s lax pass from 15 metres inside the centreline was cut off, the resulting counter attack creating the opportunity for Jeonbuk’s Leonardo to well and truly bamboozle the referee by tripping on thin air, already well past Enomoto’s outstretched arms.

Looking over the match statistics one might think that it was a three goal burst in ten minutes that did us in, yet that wasn’t the case at all as we simply weren’t in it for any of the ninety minutes. The most disappointing thing was we were unable to assert ourselves into the game whatsoever, that we didn’t try to play the short passing, technical football that served us so well for the first two-thirds of 2013. With Shunsuke aggressively marked (no real surprises there), no-one else – coaching staff incuded – seemed to step up to the challenge of the Champions League. We all knew prior to the match that the Korean team was going to be fast and press energetically, why were the players so unprepared? At least Shunsuke had the grace to apologise to those who had traveled for the match and supported right til the end.

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Guangzhou Evergrande’s promotional banner for their ACL clash with F.Marinos

So what should we expect from tonight’s game against mainland powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande? Whilst Evergrande’s first half at home against Melbourne Victory in Match Day One might give us hope, the second half is likely the more instructive to consider. Slow out of the blocks, in the first stanza the Chinese team gave the Australians enough space and time on the ball to be able to play well-worked combinations from one end of the pitch to the other, looking like world-beaters in doing so. The underdogs could have even been even more than two goals ahead at the break if they’d made the most of their opportunities.

However Marcello Lippi made his changes at half time, tightening up the midfield and defence by taking off third striker Muriqui for defender Liao. Given the way they came out in the second period with more purpose and desire to shut the visitors out of the game, the Italian may have given the team as a whole a good roasting in the changerooms to boot. With time on the ball more limited, Victory struggled to execute to the same level as they had in the first half, leading to turnovers and increased pressure in the back third. Evergrande didn’t take long to force errors in the A-League’s brittlest defence and brilliant finishing in a twelve minute spell turned the two goal deficit into a one goal lead.

It sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it? Yet comparing the two matches, I’d say that Jeonbuk had the far higher intensity off the ball than Guangzhou, even when the latter did decide to step out of first gear. It may be simply a case that the Chinese Super League champions underestimated their A-League opponents, yet for this match are evidently motivated, drawing directly on nationalistic ferver – the (in)famous Asian Cup final loss to Japan to be specific (see above)*, to promote the match.

Much of the attention on Guangzhou centres on their multi-million dollar imported strikers. Whilst Lee Seung-Gi for Jeonbuk was no slouch in the finishing department, Evergrande will field up to three strikers his match and better in Muriqui, Elekeson and now, of course, this year’s biggest signing in Asia: Alessandro Diamanti. The latter started to repay the generosity of his employers immeditately with a sensational brace in the opening match day, whilst Muriqui is the reigning tournament Golden Boot and MVP, and Elkeson selected to the ACL ‘Dream Team’. These three will punish us even more than Jeonbuk for the kind of defensive mistakes we made two weeks ago.

Yet as Higuchi pointed out in a press conference in the lead-up to this match, aside from the top-shelf imports, Evergrande’s local players are all of ‘Representative Class’. So Marinos will have their work cut out for them across the park, not just in the back third, and go into this one firmly as underdogs despite being at home. I expect that Evergrande supporters will travel in numbers, along with encouraging overseas students and the like based in Tokyo to come to support them. The traditionally lower mid-week crowd will need to be on-song as well as the players. Much will depend upon how the visitors approach the away tie, will they seek to take the upper hand from the start or perhaps more likely play the longer game of waiting to seize upon our mistakes before trying to assert their dominance in the second half?

Either way, after the disappointment of Match Day 1, tonight’s tie is a must-win for F.Marinos. Let’s hope Shunsuke gets another Man of the Match in this encounter.

*The image above was tweeted by @GZEvergrandeFC with the following:
还记得2004年亚洲杯决赛吗?当年场上的老对手郑智和中村俊辅将在明天的亚冠比赛中再度交手。这一次,胜利将属于我们!胜心不变,10年不晚!
“Do you still remember the 2004 Asian Cup Final? Zheng Zhi and Nakamura Shunsuke, old opponents from that time, will again face off in tomorrow’s Asian Champions (League) match. This time, Victory will be ours! Eternal Heart desiring Victory, 10 years Never Late.”
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2 for 2!

Hey Everyone! Yokohama F.Marinos kicked off their 2014 campaign with two real poor showings against last years Champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the Xerox Cup, as well as 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Jeonbuk Hyundai of Korea in the Asian Champions League.These two poor results had pushed the panic button for some of us and with the J1 season starting it appeared we could be in trouble in the goal scoring department as we had yet to get ourselves a goal in our first two matches. Things were uncertain who could break the floodgates open when F.Marinos kicked off the 2014 J1 season at home versus Omiya Ardija.

F.Marinos took control of the match early and rewarded after Manabu Saito made one of his trademark dashes into the box only to be bundled over, new signing Jungo Fujimoto hit the loose ball to the keepers right and F.Marinos had their first goal of the 2014 season. After a chance for new signing Ito Sho the score remained 1-0 at HT. The Saitama Squirrels got themselves back into the match after the restart and appeared as though they stood a chance of levelling the match. The game wore on and it seemed as if at any moments Yokohama’s slender lead would disappear. Then out of nowehere Ito Sho collected a ball from roughly 40 M and blasted an absolute thunderbolt to secure a 2-0 victory for F.Marinos. Job done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHzs5cfFm8I 

Next up for the boys was a trip to the picturesque views of Shizuoka versus Shimizu S-Pulse. Shimizu was itching for this fixture as last season they had taken an almighty thumping from Yokohama and were keen to get some revenge. Shimizu had in the off season pipped Marinos for front man Novakovic from Omiya Ardija, it seemed for me personally that he would likely inflict some damage. F.Marinos established an early lead after Seitaro Tomisawa found Manabu Saito with a long and accurate pass to the flank. The Samurai Blue speedster left his marker for dead and slid the ball past the keeper for the opening goal. The contest was to become a bit chippy with F.Marinos picking up 4 yellow cards, but it was to be Sugiyama of Shimizu who would see red after a second bookable offence. It was nice to see a fellow Canadian Dejan Jakovic playing in the J.League for a club I have a soft spot for. Yokohama enjoyed their lead though and held off Shimizu to a few minimal chances. This looked like a familiar scoreline as we have been able to grind out these kinds of results in the past and it proved to come true on the day. A late Genki Omae effort buzzed past the post and Shimizu were once again left to reflect on another home defeat to Yokohama.

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Fuji Xerox Super Cup

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 Yokohama F.Marinos

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 Yokohama F.Marinos

F.Marinos fans gather at the National Stadium in Tokyo for the Super Cup

Yokohama F.Marinos launched their 2014 season at Nissan Global Headquarters talking the talk – aiming for five titles from the five competitions the club is participating in this year: the J.League, Emperor’s Cup, Nabisco Cup, Asian Champions League and the Fuji Xerox Super Cup. Last and as a pre-season one-off game most definitely the least of the bunch, the Super Cup nonetheless is a piece of silverware and is seen as a launch pad for the season’s campaign. Additionally, it presented another encounter against a team with whom a strong (and mostly friendly) rivalry has been growing over recent seasons, Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Having met only six-or-so weeks earlier in the Emperor’s Cup final, both teams had a point to prove – Yokohama to drive home their recent record as the better team head-to-head (despite the final day capitualtion in last year’s title race), Hiroshima to avenge the Cup loss that denied them a domestic title double.

F.Marinos were slow out of the blocks and never really got up and running, and it was soon obvious for all the talk, the players’ form wasn’t as bright as the flourescent orange away uniforms they were sporting. Passes were underhit, targets missed and movement sluggish. The players struggled to link up and whilst new signing Fujimoto Jungo stood out as being out-of-sych with the players around him, he was by no means alone in this regard.

In contrast Sanfrecce looked sharp and energetic, forwards quick to move up and press when we brought the ball within a few metres of the halfway line, the midfielders behind also rapidly closing down the first receiver inside our attacking half and continuing the effort relentlessly each time we passed the ball. The spring in the Purple Archers’ step was exemplified in the sixth minute when right winger Mihael Mikic skipped past our veteran left back Dutra – suddenly looking every one of those 40 years of age – and whipped in a cross for 19 year-old Notsuda Gakuto to finish off at the far post.

Sanfrecce were happy to cede Yokohama the majority of possession and harry us at every opportunity, then spring forward on the counter. Having suffered painfully at the hands of Saito Manabu at Nissan Stadium last season, Hiroshima were determined to shut him down with two or more defenders confronting him at every turn when the ball was at his feet. Marinos’ best chance to level the scores came when Saito cut inside through Hiroshima’s midfield press, sprinted down into the penalty area and crossed to the open Fujimoto. The hapless midfielder added to his underwhelming debut by taking the ball awkwardly first-time with his favoured left foot and sending it well off-target, when he likely had time to control it with his right and take a shot with his left.

That the lone forward Hanato Jin was substituted early in the second half without having registered a shot on goal was less an indictment upon him than it was of the team as a whole in being unable to give him good service. Yajima who replaced Hanato didn’t threaten either, whilst a single positive was that Shimohira Takumi, feeling no doubt more at home in orange than his team-mates, looked more lively than the ‘Old Tiger’ that he replaced. Dutra will be as unhappy with his performance as any and, to be fair, has had the upper hand over Mikic in all their recent duels, so it may be a tad too early to consign him to the scrapheap just yet.

The one-sided contest finished two-nil after a clinical counter was finished off by another 19 year-old (take note, Mr Higuchi), Asano Takuma, dealing us our first loss to Hiroshima since May 2011. The result was disappointing, yet more so was the endeavour (or lack thereof) of those on the field. It is clear that the 2014 F.Marinos are still very much a work in progress – the players looked like they were still getting used to playing with each other and the intensity is just not there yet, whilst Sanfrecce have perhaps started the season running much like we did last year. Fitness, conditioning and execution are still wanting, which ordinarly one might forgive when still a week from the season’s start, add to which a few days training lost (and a cancelled practice match against Tochigi) due to unusually heavy snowfalls this month. But with the first match day of the Asian Champions League only four days after the end of play at Kokoritsu – and it being a tricky away match in South Korea against Jeonbuk Hyundai at that – there is cause for some concern.

It is also difficult to see if Higuchi has addressed a problem that has emerged over the past six months: that of our slowing tempo and increased possession at the cost of goal scoring. To the end of August last season we scored at a rate of almost two goals per game (43 in 23 games), with our style very much based on ‘strong defence, swift attack’. Yet in the remaining eleven fixtures we only put the ball in the back of the net six more times. The philosophy may well be that by keeping the ball you both deny the opposition the opportunity to score and have a greater chance to score yourself, but as we have (heartbreakingly) seen it is by no means a given that the goals will come. This is particularly so when the opposition is happy to let us have the ball, get numbers back and press the ball carrier energetically, as became the pattern in the latter part of last year. Even ‘lowly’ Oita Trinita and the JFL’s AC Nagano Parceiro employed this tactic to good effect, the latter almost knocking us out of the Emperor’s Cup by doing so, the former broken open only by a piece of Shunsuke magic. Sanfrecce are a far superior team than both and executed this plan to a much higher standard, deservedly taking the first piece of silverware for the season.

The question on F.Marinos supporters’ lips is ‘how will we bounce back?’

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Yokohama F. Marinos 2 – S.C. Sagamihara 0

Yokohama F. Marinos 2 - S.C. Sagamihara -0

A good warm up game for the upcoming Fuji Xerox Cup match at the weekend. Some very nice combination play from Manabu and Hananto with Shunsuke playing an attacking role on many occasions. It was nice to see the new players integrated into the team. Fujita didn’t play today and was doing pitch-side light running throughout the first half of the match.

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