After months of anticipation, last weekend finally saw the 2012 season of the J-League kick off as Yokohama traveled away to reigning J-league champions, Kashiwa Reysol, in what was to be a hotly contested afternoon of football filled with goals and some good ol’ officiating blunders…
In the build up to the start of the season, Coach Higuchi was certainly quite clear in stating what direction he wants to take the club and if Sunday’s performance is anything to go by, it would be pretty safe to assume that his “concept” of playing a more aggressive style of football further upfield may already have begun taking root throughout the squad.
Anybody who has followed the F.Marinos for a decent length of time can tell you that a “typical” Yokohama team would hesitate in going forward once equalizing or capitulate entirely should the opposing team take the lead more than on one occasion during a game. It’s not that we deliberately play negatively but more a case, I feel, of becoming a team that wants to maintain its reputation for having a strong defence and not take unnecessary risks. Coach Higuchi however seems to have other ideas and, as he indicated in last week’s interview, he wants to radically change the style of football we play all together.
Which is good.
Sunday’s game saw Kashiwa come straight at us with all cannons blazing as Hiroki Sakai scored his team’s first J-league goal of the season after finishing a beautifully executed play that started as a free-kick from Leandro Domingues, to a bicycle-kick across the goal from Jorge Wagner before being met with a blistering volley back the other way across goal into the back of the net from Sakai. Iikura didn’t have a chance and with only 3 minutes on the clock, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself “Here we go, they’re gonna spank us…”
Fortunately, I was completely wrong in my initial gut-reaction to the goal as Yokohama appeared to be completely unfazed by what had just happened and set about grabbing a goal of their own a mere 4 minutes later when Kurihara, getting a head to the ball from a Shunsuke corner kick, nodded the ball into space for Oguro to come surging forward with a heroic leaping toe-punt to literally stab the ball home. Yokohama meant business and if the new strategy of pushing the entire team forward was going to result in goals likes this, I don’t think we’ll have much to grumble about this season except for… oh right, our defence is now in midfield… eek!
Ok, that may sound a bit dramatic but it’s not a million miles away from the truth. Our backline was certainly a fair bit higher than normal but they maintained their formation quite admirably considering it was the first real competitive game they used it in not to mention that our opponents are the current champions. The problem was getting back quickly enough to cope with the inevitable counters Kashiwa were going to throw at us. We had a few glaring holes in defence as we doubled back to stop the ball and though Nakazawa’s best efforts to keep his marker were largely good, he slipped up allowing Tanaka free to collect another cross goal pass before slotting it home in the opposite direction again in the 12th minute. Poor Iikura was having a tough game keeping up with all the cross passing from Kashiwa as they zig-zagged up the pitch. One can only wonder how much of an effect he can have his on his defence if they are potentially out of earshot…
After going a goal down the F.Marinos increased their attacks on goal with each effort looking more deadlier than the last. It was during this stretch of the game that Ono became the victim of what appeared to be a legitimate penalty call when he was lightly hustled off the ball just inside the area, causing him to fall to the ground. The ref however, was convinced that he was diving and instead of pointing to the penalty spot, reached for his top pocket and pulled out a yellow card instead. Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be the first time in the game that the ref would impress us all with his baffling officiating.
The last real chance on goal came in the 30th minute when Shunsuke Nakamura stepped up to take one of his trademark freekicks and sent the ball rocketing towards the inside post from 30 meters out. Kashiwa keeper, Sugeno was just able to react in time as he dived to his left to push the ball wide in what must have been a wrist-jarringly powerful shot on goal.
With a few more half-chances from either side, neither team could change the scoreboard again in the first half as the ref blew he whistle to signify half-time with the visitors exiting the pitch a goal down at 2-1.
The second half brought a slight change of pace with Kashiwa opting for a slower style of play and making lots of long passes across the field. The F.Marinos still stuck to their midfield containment strategy which seemed to work quite well if not for the slightly increasing number of failed passes being made on our part. Fortunately a nicely intercepted ball by Kobayashi and subsequent through pass to an unmarked Saito on the right wing, saw the young striker run unchallenged to the edge of the box before neatly cutting past three defenders and slamming the ball into the back of the net for his debut J1 goal and a much needed equalizer to make it 2-2.
Manabu’s goal was to be short-lived though as Kashiwa caught us off-guard on the counter minutes later when Domingues, who had been largely contained until now, found himself wide open in the middle of the pitch and all the time in the world to calmly crack the ball with the outside of his foot, floating it over Iikura and into the top left corner to once again give Kashiwa the lead. 3-2
The final 20 minutes of the contest saw Kashiwa defending more solidly but a real breakthrough came 15 minutes from the end when Matsumoto Rei penetrated the right wing before crossing the ball to Oguro who headed straight it onto the crossbar causing the ball to riccochet straight down and behind the line for what appeared to be a goal but the linesman waved play-on as the clearly vexed Oguro’s comments fell upon deaf ears.
As the clock ticked down, hopes of a point were looking increasingly grim until the 90th minute when Kobayashi sailed in a beautiful cross from the right flank to find the head of Taniguchi who made absolutely sure the ball was going in as he thundered the ball into the back of the net to send the visitors end into an elated frenzy. Three more minutes of extra-time remained but neither team could create any clear-cut chances as the game ended in a much deserved draw.
Here’s the highlights:
F.Marinos Starting XI: Iikura, Kobayashi, Kurihara, Nakazawa, Kanai, Hyodo, Ogura, Nakamura, Saito, Ono, and Oguro.
F.Marinos substitions: Ono → Matsumoto Rei (67), Kanai → Taniguchi (82)
Goals: Sakai (3), Oguro (7), Tanaka (12), Saito (60), Domingues (64), Taniguchi (90+1)