Avispa Fukuoka 1 : 0 FC Gifu
The three points we gained today will be worth exactly the same as the 3 points we got with an incredible performance against Jubilo 2 weeks ago, but the reality is that we have played better than we did today and lost this season.
What the team did do today was grit their teeth a bit and fight throughout the match, in the process achieving something which might be even more important than the victory against Jubilo; proof to themselves that they can grind out results. We have players who can beat anyone in the division when they are playing well, today they found that they can get 3 points without a stellar performance.
Before the match both myself and We Are Gifu had predicted goals, and those predictions should have been correct. I think a 3-3 draw probably would have been a fairer reflection of the action but strikers from both missed several 1-on-1 chances through a combination of poor finishing and bad decision making (and 2 good saves from Kamiyama).
The game certainly started quickly with Kanamori back in the team and doing what he does best; closing everything down and showing no fear to defenders to get between them and the ball. Pushing his way onto the ball after a defender had let the ball bounce his shot went out for a corner which Avispa scored from.
Another training ground set-piece was hit low and to the near post for Sakata to tee-up Kanamori to hit at goal. His initial shot was blocked, but he somehow managed to get back to his feet, get to the ball first and shoot into the bottom corner before anyone else reacted.
Kanamori is still young, but has enormous potential rewarded by a call-up to the U-21 team which means he’ll miss almost all our games in September. What he really needs to do is study this goal and see what he did to make it happen. Playing aggressive and chasing down balls.
With an amazing start he then drifted out of this game, seemingly believing the hype a little. he has the potential to make it as a fearless, battling forward full of running. If he sits back and hopes others will do his work and get the ball for him to try and score he will remain unfulfilled potential.
Avispa nearly doubled their lead as Abe went on a good run down the left and pulled a cross back for Sakata. Sakata would be somewhat relieved to see the offside flag go up as he guided his shot onto the post, but it seemed an odd decision from where I was sitting. It looked like Abe had pulled the ball backwards, and that Sakata came from behind a defender in the middle.
Nazarit was being marshalled quite well by Avispa, with Park playing well on his return to centre-back and Koga managing to stay goal-side of the powerful forward. Gifu did have 2 good chances to score though. Firstly through a cross from the left which was missed by Tsutsumi as it went across goal, but was also sliced by the Gifu #30 when he really should have at least got the ball on target.
The second chance came as a ball was played between Koga and Tsutsumi for Nazarit to chase onto. No defenders like to be turned around and run back at goal, but Koga must enjoy it even less than most with the young Colombian coming close to embarrassing him and Tsutsumi by using his strength and pace to run through them both and through on goal. He was left with a lot to do from the corner of the box and snatched his shot off target.
Going into the 2nd half Gifu had taken a prompt from this move to go a lot more direct, sending balls forward for Nazarit in the knowledge he had the physical advantage on our defenders. He was played through the middle himself a couple of times, and was winning balls in the air to flick onto others.
Fortunately for Avispa he seemed to have left his shooting boots at home sending 2 shots off-target, and having his third attempt well saved by a dive to his left by Kamiyama when it was heading into the bottom corner.
Gifu were helped by a change to formation as Henik went back to centre-back where he actually did very well having been a bit off the pace as a midfielder in the first half. There were times he was left as almost the only defender, but was able to clear up quite well.
Avispa chances to kill the game off with the space being left at the back, and I was celebrating a Sakata goal only to turn around and find that actually he had missed and it was a goal kick. Given a ball to run onto behind the defence, and with Jogo alongside him he chipped over Kawaguchi in the Gifu goal, but the ball somehow swerved outside the post when it look a certain goal.
Kawaguchi deserves a special mention from what I saw in this game. As one of the most decorated Japanese goal-keepers, it is mystifying how as a player in his late 30s and with experience at the top levels of the game can be quite so bad at kicking the ball.
Pusnik sent on Sakai and Hirai to try and add some fresh legs against the Gifu defence as it looked like Gifu might be taking the upper hand. Sakai then had one good chance with another ball played over the top but tried to cut back onto his left foot and gave Henik the chance to get across and sweep the ball out for a throw-in.
He made amends somewhat with some good play in the last 5 minutes as he helped to protect the ball in the corner and see the clock run out. Mishima also did very well in the last 10 minutes again. He certainly lacks in bulk, and was quite embarrassingly pushed off the ball after 20 minutes, but can keep running for the full 90 minutes and comes into his own at the end of matches.
The win was secured, and Nakahara picked up the Man of the Match award for a battling performance in the middle where he showed good control of the ball and good distribution. I thought he had competition from Kamiyama and Sakata, and perhaps Mishima for the last 15 minutes, and Park for the first half, but fully deserved to pick up the accolade.