Nick Cummins – Coca-cola West   2 comments

The financial problems at Avispa have been quite well publicised over the last 12 months.
I’m guessing that they haven’t fully gone away because we are still playing with a fairly make-shift squad of players who are hoping to scrape into the play-offs by the end of the season.

It is quite embarrassing that a city the size of Fukuoka (1.5M, 7th biggest city in Japan) doesn’t have a top league football team, especially when you look at the alumni of players which have come from this prefecture.

It all comes down to money, and news this week that Australian international rugby player Nick Cummins is coming to play for the Red Sparks next season makes me think there must be something really quite wrong with the club behind the scenes.

Nick Cummins is a bonafide world-class rugby player, a player with a chance of playing on the wing for Australia at the next World Cup and an iconic image which makes him one of the most well known players in Australia.
He has now given up his chance of playing in the World Cup (non-domestic players do not get called up for Australia) to earn money to help with some family problems he is having back home.

It has been suggested that the salary he must be receiving to take this step is probably over double what he was getting in Australia. That would equate to something around $600,000 or about 60M yen.

This is where it all gets a bit mystifying to me. The Red Sparks are majority owned by Coca-cola West, the same company which is also one of the biggest stake-holders in Avispa Fukuoka.
Rugby could be seen as little more than a minority sport in Japan. Fukuoka is one of the cities where it is most popular, but it is still only really within a fairly elite group of people.

Football is the biggest sport in Japan in terms of participation, and here we have what is probably the biggest sponsor of the club putting $600,000 into a single player for a rugby club which even if they won the whole Japan Top League wouldn’t make as much publicity as if Avispa managed to promote to J1.

Some of the money thrown away at Avispa has been terrible. Estimated at 40M a year for Makoto Tanaka, 40M for Ramazotti’s 4 substitute appearances, 20M a year for Koga, but it pales into insignificance when compared to 60M for a single player at a time when the club has gone bankrupt and needed to be saved by Fukuya and the fans just 8 months ago.

If Coca-cola West had put the money for Nick Cummins into Avispa Fukuoka; a club they already have links to as one of the biggest stake-holders, we should be able sort out our central defence and midfield and become one of the favorites for promotion.
For that amount of money I would expect that they could get the short front sponsorship for the remainder of this season and become as well known as a supporter of sports in the area as they are for owning the whole club at Red Sparks.

It all seems so obvious that it suggests that there is something else going on behind the scenes which I don’t know about.
For as long as we run out to the pitch with no sponsorship on our shirts (even Regional League teams in the Emperors Cup had shirt sponsors), it will suggest to me that there is something wrong within the ownership structure at the club.

Posted July 23, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Opinion

vs. Fagiano Okayama (report / youtube)   Leave a comment

Avispa 2 : 3 Fagiano

After losing the Matsumoto game I’d said that we aren’t going to gain or lose a play-off spot in games away from home against teams like Yamaga; this sort of game and result is exactly what is going to cost us a chance to reach the play-offs.

I am feeling a sense of deja-vu to last season where we were placed on the edges of the play-offs heading into summer, but then went about 6 games against decent opposition and lost every one of them.
We have now played Matsumoto and Fagiano (both in the play-offs) and lost them both, and have games against Kyoto, Shonan, Nagasaki and Jubilo coming up in the next month.

This run of games now will decide our season. If we can get 10 points from those games I think we will get a play-off place. We have now gone 2 games with zero points, that leaves 4 games to aim for the 10 points.
If we fail to get the points I think the players will give up like they did last year and we will be faced with another off-season of re-building.

This game had 5 goals, but in reality was very low on entertainment, and even lower on quality.
Fagiano haven’t lost a game in about 3 months, and they showed they are tough to beat, but we would have won this game easily if we had played as we did through July.

Avispa struggled to string together 3 passes in a row through the first half, and with our new philosophy of Kamiyama releasing the ball short and building from the back that was a real issue.
About 8 times in the first half we gave the ball away about 10m inside our own half and invited Fagiano to attack us.

There seemed to be a problem of defence linking with attack, and a large space in the middle of the pitch; a problem we have had for a long time but has seemed much better recently with Nakahara and Takeda providing a platform between the boxes.

Fagiano were playing balls straight through the middle where the defence were not working as well as a unit as they have done. Park Gun playing everybody on side on one attack, but a combination of Kamiyama coming out and making himself big, and Fagiano’s attackers not looking that dangerous meant the scores stayed level.

It was another mistake from Park which saw Fagiano take the lead.
Their run of not being beaten has come having brought Ueda to the club from Omiya Ardija. It is really no surprise, and is exactly the sort of player we really need right now.
It sums up the state of our finances that a player of that quality could go to Fagiano Okayama when it is exactly the player we have needed for about 4 years.
He had a part to play in the goal sending in a decent set-piece from the left which caused Park to get caught between heading and kicking away and end up heading stright down into the danger area.
It bounced off Tsutsumi’s back and was converted easily.

Avispa had not created anything, and it looked like a miracle would be needed to get us back into the game as Fagiano defended very deep with 9 men behind the ball.

We then equalised with our most dangerous form of attack for this season; a corner kick.
I had hoped that Lee Kwang Seon would score more this season, and he did so here jumping highest to head down and in for an equaliser.

Things then got very strange for Avispa as the referee started blowing for flouls from corners when no-one had any idea what he was blowing for.
We even scored from one of these as Hirai got the goal he really badly needs, but the whistle had already been blown. I have no idea why, and neither did the commentators. When Japanese commentators start saying the referee is a bit odd then you know something is wrong.

Avispa then did take the lead with a goal which looked a lot like the sort of thing we usually concede from.
A long ball forward from Jogo at right back was aimed at Takeda running forward, the back-tracking defender tried to head away towards the keeper but the keeper had come to collect and the ball bounced into the empty net.

It was a lead we didn’t really deserve, but if we are going to get a play-off place then we need some wins like that.

Fagiano had to start attacking again and faced with a 4 man defence (The off-form Park had gone off at half-time) used a concerted effort to target Jogo.

They equalised with a ball which bounced around on the left side of the box and teed up nicely for one of their players to smash towards the top corner from outside the box.
It was a good strike, but was from distanec and hit at the near post. I would expect most professional goal-keepers to be disappointed to be beaten at the near post from there.

At that point I was hoping mainly that we could hold on for what would be a decent point, but with the attack failing to really test the Okayama defence we looked more and more like conceding.

The goal came with just 5 monutes left to play. Again with an attack down the left against a visibly tired Jogo. Okayama had loaded the left with 3 players and played a ball inside Jogo at right back for a runner to shoot at the far post.
Again you can’t really fault the finish, but it all looked a bit easy for the striker.

I think this could be a bit of a tide-change in the team for a few games now. For all his limitations I think the team would appreciate Koga coming back into the back-3, and as much as I want him to succeed there I think that this game will have dented Jogo’s confidence to play right-back for a while.

Posted July 22, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match highlights, Match Reports

vs. Mito Hollyhock – Cup (youtube)   Leave a comment

I was wondering how Pusnik would approach this game.

Personally I’d like to let the first team players get the chance to test themselves against J1 opposition and hopefully learn something, and I also believe that winning can become a habit, but the Emperor’s Cup is set up as possibly the wrost Cup competition in world football.

Cup competitions around the world are suffering as teams take league position as more important, but in Japan we have a cup where J1 clubs are guaranteed to play at home every round meaning the chance for a lower league club to get a result is very small.
Even if they do manage a giant killing their only reward is another expensive away trip to another J1 club at home in the next round.
Ginat killings do happen becsue the J1 clubs almost always play an under-strength side, so even if you do get to play a top team you won’t be watching any of the better players. It’s a total farce.

In 6 years of watching AVispa I have only seen 1 home cup game, and that includes the year we got to the semi-final but didn’t play a home game during the entire competition.

With that in mind I wasn’t too surprised when Pusnik named a clearly 2nd string side to play away to Mito.
It was a chance for the squad players to prove they were worth a contract, and demand to get into the first team. After a 2-0 defeat I guess it is clear that none of them make the grade, and will probably be looking for a new club in December.

The other problem with the Emperor’s Cup is that it is very difficult to keep track of what is happening because apart from Urawa vs Somebody, and Gambe vs. Somebody they don’t show any games on TV.

Thankfully the internet has improved in recent years so I know that the team was something like:
……………Shimizu………..
Nozaki…..Koga…..Yamaguchi…Abe
………Chris…….Morimura…..
Hirai……..Ishizu…………Ushinohama
…………..Sakata………………

With Chris seeming to have been particularly bad as he was substituted for Oh Chang Hyon at half-time, with Nozaki presumably moving to midfield.

Kanemori and Sakai also came on late showing that there was at least some inclination to try and take the game to penalties, but basically after failing to get a result to a below strength Mito team none of the players in this game should be thinking they are in competition with Messi for Golden Ball at the next World Cup.

First goal for Mito comes from the simplest corner you could imagine. Known target man Suzuki comes to the near post for a free header. Don’t know who his tracker was, but whoever it is should be embarrassed.

Second goal was late on.
Check out the amount of space given to Mito to pass the ball around on the dge of the box for this one.

Kihara is in Cambodia, Funeyama is playing for the Army in Thailand, Miyamoto is a PE teacher in Osaka; who is next?

Posted July 14, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match highlights

vs. Matsumoto Yamaga (report / youtube)   Leave a comment

I’m very late writing a report on this one, but have been very busy with various things.

Heading up to Yamaga isn’t an easy trip, there is a reason they are 3rd in the table just goal difference behind automatic promotion, they have players and a style of playing almost ideally suited to getting out of second division football.

Having said that under Pusnik we are getting closer towards that target, and should have come back home with at least a draw, and could easily have had a massive away win.

The team was almost unchanged from our recent run of good form, with the only notable change being Mishima coming back in and Jogo moving further forward.
It isn’t a change which I like. I think that at right-back Jogo is forced to play for the team and get involved (he is a quality player and should be a big player for us), when he moves higher up the pitch it allows him to drift out of the game at times and become the sort of luxury player which exists in top divisions but not the scrap and tussle of 2nd tier football.

The game was fairly disjointed at the start as both clubs looked to stay solid at the back and break forward when they could.

Avispa took the lead from another free-kick straight from the training ground. If anyone is under any illusions about how much work Pusnik has done for the club they should go back through our games this year and see how many have been scored through set pieces and fast counters. These are goals we never used to score (just relying on individual skill), and would be somewhere close to Tokyo Verdy at the bottom of the table if we hadn’t had them this year.

This free-kick was our short pass round the wall to Tsutsumi who possesses a touch belying a central defender and finished well in a crowded box after 35 minutes.

We needed to hold on until half-time to get a quick re-organisation, but just as it looked like we could withstand the Yamaga attacks we conceded.
A cross from the left was flicked towards goal by Savio’s head and parried by Kamiyama back into the danger zone for right-back Tanaka to cooly finish.
Japanese commentators are awful. This was an example of that as the TV commentator lauded Kamiyama’s first ‘save’. This was a flicked header with no pace which Kamiyama reached with both hands, and not at full extension of his body. He should be catching this ball easily, or at the least punching it outside the box. It looked a lot like a diving save for the cameras, and cost us a goal. Rather than pointing this out the commentators fell for the dive and exclaimed ‘Subarashii Save!!’. Garbage.

Coming into the 2nd half I was glad to see Jogo go back to right-back where we immediately started to look more balanced.
Again the commentators showed their lack of understanding of the game by saying Jogo should be playing higher up the pitch; it is like a commentary by numbers rather than according to what is going on on the pitch.

Both teams looked equally likely to score.

Avispa had the clearest chance as Ishizu broke free in the box but saw his shot saved by the keeper as he moved in on goal with a 1-on-1 from the right.
Hirai came on, and should have seen this as an ideal chance to show his ability to change a game and win the points, but was again fairly ineffective. He had 1 half-decent chance but couldn’t show he deserves his money.

As Avispa pushed for their goal they lost possession in midfield and Yamaga quickly passed forward to a striker played onside by Tsutsumi who was furthest back.
Kamiyama made a decent parry for the initial shot, but again sent the ball straight back into the danger zone where it was finished unchallenged by a forward in the box.

Avispa pushed forwward for a deserved equaliser, but the Yamaga keeper was having the best performance of his life, pulling off save after save as Lee Kwang Seon went forward as a desperation striker.

We lost, it broke our winning streak, but securing a play-off position isn’t going to be decided on away days at Yamaga.
We play Okayama at home this weekend, a win there and we are straight back into the play-off picture, few clubs are going to go to Yamaga and do better than we did here.

Posted July 14, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match highlights, Match Reports

vs. Tochigi SC (youtube / ratings)   Leave a comment

The stadium is starting to fee a very optimistic place. The team look like they know what they are supposed to be doing, and believe in the plan.
Having a settled team and formation helps, but we can now be looked at as one of the form teams in the division.

It will all count for zero if we can’t maintain this form until the end of the year.

Kamiyama: 8.5
Goalkeeper is a position where confidence plays such a huge role. Kamiyama is now playing full of it after a month of good displays, standing 4-5m further forward than he has, and meeting balls with his size. The save to his right in the last 10 minutes was as good as it gets in the J-League.

Abe : 8
His crossing has got much better in recent weeks. The ball along the 6-yard box for the first goal was exactly the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ which he should be aiming for.

Jogo : 8
A good day for the full-backs. I really want Jogo to fall in love with being a right-back, he could be amazing there. He has now scored as many goals from right-back as playing as a forward, he gets the space he wants and can drift in unmarked.

Tsutsumi : 7
Solid, no nonsense performance. I still feel he has more to offer by stepping into midfield at times, but if he feels more comfortable concentrating on defence then the clean sheet is more important.

Lee : 8
There might be more noticeable people on the pitch this season, but he is probably the Player of the Season so far for me. So important for our defence, and has managed to stay fit.

Park : 7.5
Whether he is in midfield or central defence he has become undroppable. Does a lot of ‘quiet’ work. Seeing him put in a big ‘moderating’ tackle on an opposition forward is still my favorite moment of any match. One day he will get sent off by an over-zealous referee, but he’ll get no complaints from anyone because we’ll get so much from him in the games before that point.

Takeda : 7.5
Similar to Park, I think one of the big ‘unseen’ reasons for our recent run of form is the tackling and fight of Takeda in midfield. He does the running and tackling for Nakahara, and like all good midfield terriers knows exactly how to walk the line between hard tackles and picking up yellow or red cards.

Nakahara : 7.5
Having Takeda alongside him has opened up his game. He can now concentrate on his forward passing, and has also been encouraged in the tackling side of his game.

Kanemori : 7
Really wanted to get his 4th goal in 4 games, and came very close with a placed shot against the bar. Idolises Neymar, and it may be his similarity in attitude around the other players which is his biggest asset.

Ishizu : 7
Got a start after scoring last week and did ok without ever really showing he should be in the team every week. He could be our biggest star, but isn’t right now.

Sakai : 7.5
Not sure if he ever envisioned himself as a striker leading the line, but by adding energy and physique to his game he has become a much better player. The best think he could do is try and sign for Avispa and keep getting starts.

Hirai : 6.5
Should be our best player, but there is something still missing. Needs confidence.

Sakata : 7
Very good to see him back, he will certainly make the team better. Now has serious competition for his place.

Morimura : 6
Needs to do something to show why he should be in the team. Getting lots of chances, and looks like he has all the attributes to do well, but needs to start putting it together.

Posted July 3, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match Reports, Opinion

vs. Tochigi SC (report)   2 comments

Avispa 2 : 0 Tochigi

Avispa went into their first home game for 3 weeks knowing that a win here would mean they had won all their games for the month of June, and would leap-frog their opponents and likely end the day in the play-off positions.

There have been times watching Avispa when the team have appeared very fragile emotionally, but here today they looked relaxed and confident; like a team who believed they were going to win the match.
I think this confidence has been helped by keeping a consistency to the team line-up and personnel with the team playing almost the same 352 formation since the game we should have won against Sapporo. It was the same here, with the only change being Jogo at right-back (where he had finished against Mito).

The first 10 minutes of the game were a little shaky, with Tochigi able to hold the ball and move it forward to attack, but their attack wasn’t really very high quality with Jumbo doing what Jumbo generally does and Hirose coming from a little deeper and wasting opportunities which came his way.

Rather than panic and lose the game-plan Avispa weathered the storm, with our central defensive 3 throwing themselves at attacks, and Kamiyama being well-placed to make blocks behind them.
The key to our recent run of form has been defensive solidity; we have only conceded 1 goal in June while scoring 10.

The attackers we have at the club mean that we are always going to score goals if it is kept tight at the back (Only Shonan, Jubilo and Matsumoto have scored more than us), and with the team playing with confidence it wasn’t long before chances started to fall our way.

I am always very happy to see Jogo at right-back. I think he is good defensively (something you might not expect), has height, and is still able to offer an attacking threat if he knows he is able to get forward.
He loves scoring goals, but if he gets to know the position he will see that it can actually allow him to drift into the box unmarked by coming from deeper.
He did so after about 15 minutes here and probably should have done a bit better with a shot across goal which looked a little bit like a shot for the far corner and a little bit like a cross. He had more time than he realised, and may have even been able to take a touch.

It didn’t matter in the end as he did score from a similar route 5 minutes later. Again a cross from the left, this time from Abe was sent into the box. There have been times when the crossing from the full-backs has been poor, but Abe has put some good crosses in in the last couple of games. This one bounced along the 6 yard box and evaded everyone until it reached a totally unmarked Jogo at the back post who scored easily from about 2m out.

Avispa doubled their lead 5 minutes later from our new offensive weapon, a corner. Having gone about 4 years with no threat from corners (since Nakamachi left the club) we are now a real danger at corners.
It is obvious the team has been working hard on them, but it is also so simple. I used to write that our corners were so poor, with Suzuki Jun sending every corner to Koga at the back post where he would fail to head the ball. Now we are whipping crosses to the near post with Sakai and Park attacking the ball while Lee and Tsutsumi occupy defenders in the middle.
As has happened quite a few times it was Sakai who met the ball, with the ball coming off the back of his head and into the goal to double the score.

At the other end Tochigi were also winning corners, but they were doing what we used to do. Sending corners deep, where they were able to be dealt with quite easily.

Tochigi continued to try and get a goal back but Kamiyama was having one of his days where he is able to use his size to get something behind the ball.
He did also make one excellent diving save where a well hit shot was going inside his near post but he was able to get a strong hand to it and turn it round the post.
He is proving that he is a good shot-stopping keeper at this level. There have been a lot of keepers at the club who are at a similar sort of level to him (Rokutan, Kawata, Kasegawa, Mizutani and now Shimizu) but they have all left with Kamiyama staying as keeper. He has some clear faults, but I think the club needs to stop bringing similar level keepers as competition for him, and either have faith in him as our keeper (and save money on someone similar), or get someone who is clearly of a much higher standard (which will cost a lot of money, and/or come from overseas).

Avispa also made chances and Kanemori was eager to score to make it 4 goals in 4 games. He came very close with a placed shot which rebounded off the inside of the post, but was substituted for Hirai after 60 minutes without getting his goal.

As the game went on Avispa tucked their full-backs in a little and brought Sakata on coming back from injury to try and hold the ball up a bit in attack and protect their clean sheet.

Ishizu was doing ok on his return to the starting line-up, but he does still appear to me to have favorites on the pitch and can sometimes try to pick out more difficult passes or run with the ball himself when there are better options available.
When it works it is great, but when it doesn’t then his decision making looks like it might stop him from becoming a really good player.

My only other observation of the day was that I nearly stopped watching when I found out that we were going to have Noda (野田 祐樹) as referee, I’ve never watched a game with him that he hasn’t spoiled, but today he didn’t ruin the game.
He got things wrong; mostly good tackles in midfield which he called as fouls, but for the first time didn’t seem to actively change the result of a game.

Posted June 28, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match Reports

vs. Mito Hollyhock (youtube / ratings)   Leave a comment

June will be remembered for the 5 – 0 away win over Tokyo Verdy in the middle of a good run of form which took us to the edge of the play-offs, but for me this win in the rain against Mito was much more impressive in many ways.

It may have taken a late winner to take all 3 points, but for many of the players I thought they did better here than they had in a blow-out win the week before.

Kamiyama – 8
Was partly at fault for the Mito goal by coming off his line and not getting to the ball, but before and after that had made 3-4 saves which looked sure goals until he managed to get something behind it.

Abe – 6.5
One good cross which Kanemori backheel volleyed onto the bar, but otherwise I thought he had a quiet game.

Mishima – 6
Picked up a soft booking and was substituted. Did nothing wrong.

Lee – 7.5
Showed he can pick a pass to set Jogo free for the first goal. Played Yoshida onside for the Mito goal.

Tsutsumi – 7
He is a player we need to step up if we are to try and get 4th or 5th spot. Hasn’t yet got back to his perfromance level from the start of last season.

Park – 7.5
Solid at the back again.

Nakahara – 7.5
Difficult day for passing, but continued to run and aim for interceptions. He plays as the furthest back at times which means he needs to put his foot in a little more than he does at the moment.

Takeda – 7.5
Turning into my favorite player of the first half of the season. Very good at treading the line between tackling hard and getting a booking. Never gets booked for nothing, and does the most running on the team.

Jogo – 7.5
Good in midfield again, and showed that he is able to play right back with no issues. I still think right-back is his position, the big chance he had to score showing him how coming from deep allows him to drift in unmarked and be very dangerous.

Kanemori – 8
Another goal, 3 in 3 since return from injury and we haven’t lost a game. Hit the bar with a very well improvised volley, and showed his instincts to follow the shot up to score the first goal.

Sakai – 7.5
Glad he could get back from his injury. He is important to the team to make defenders work for their money in the first half and have tiredness a factor for when Ishizu and Hirai come on. I don’t think he is playing a role he ever thought he would, but he is doing it well and getting much better as a footballer as a result. Niigata must be very pleased.

Ishizu – 7.5
Got the winning goal and an interview after the match to show for it. He likes to see himself on TV, and if he understands that being a substitute isn’t a negative but rather a chance to come on and explode he can win us enough games to get us into the play-offs.

Hirai – 7
Doesn’t have the same impact as Ishizu, odd as he looked the man to score goals at the start of the season. Did better than he has and got a good assist.

Morimura – 6.5
Better than he has been, but he needs to work out his future. Is he an attacking midfielder? (in which case he is definitely second best to many players at the club) Is he a midfielder? (In which case he needs to be a lot braver and start going toe-to-toe with opposition and never stop running.

Posted June 24, 2014 by avispafukuoka in Match highlights, Opinion

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