Chofu, Tokyo – FC Tokyo’s opening home game for the new season pitched them against the same team as last season’s final game. Just over 3 months since the 1-1 draw at Ajinomoto stadium, Yokohama Marinos were looking for their first points of the new campaign. Meanwhile, FC Tokyo had clawed back a point from last season’s treble winners, Gamba Osaka, when its suave young striker Yoshinori Muto completed his brace deep into stoppage time to send the travelling fans into ecstasy.
Tobitakyu station was filled with an expectant home crowd and similarly excited away fans. The away team clearly saw themselves as tricolour, while Tokyo was largely blue tinged with wine red. With both teams sporting similar team colours, the two sets of fans and their gear could only be discerned at close range as they made the mandatory 5-minute trek from the station. Of course, they also parted ways to move to opposite sides of the stadium. Incidentally, the away team were to sport their new gold away kit for this fixture.
Opening home day fanfare lined up special guest, singer and actress Sakurako Ohara to rock the stands before kickoff and the Tokyo Girls Collection’s official Tokyo Girls Run team of runway runners on the pitch at half-time. A group was spotted sitting pitch-side throughout the game. These fans were owners of new special one-day tickets and accompanying authentic design collapsible chairs provided by kit sponsors Umbro. Open only to home supporters and coming with strict viewing conditions, excitement seemed to bubble from that part of the pitch, which was as close to the home goal as you could get.
The stadium concourse was packed with lines of hungry fans eager to grab a bite before the 2pm kickoff. Dorompa, Tokyo’s sporty raccoon dog mascot, could be seen everywhere, but the real one had its usual busy schedule of appearances in various locations. A Tokyo-only menu item taco-rice (rice topped with taco filling) had sold out early. Whether this had anything to do with taco meaning to draw a blank in Japanese, home fans were definitely hoping to see goals to build on last weekend’s result. The game was also to be a surprise first to be watched by Vahid Halilhodzic shortly after his official announcement as the new coach of the Japanese national team. The Bosnian had famously led Algeria to the last 16 round for the first time at the 2014 World Cup.
After the usual team announcements, the stadium aired a familiar tune – You’ll Never Walk Alone. The rendition of one of football’s most famous anthems by a largely Japanese home crowd, where the music tapers off midway, left a sombre and dignified tune filling the space between the two sets of fans – welcome to Tokyo and let the game begin.
The 30,000-strong crowd was slightly short of attendance at last season’s closer, nearly 32,600. Both sets of fans were left hanging on until the closing stages of the game in a solid tactical performance by both teams. Tokyo came nearest to goal twice in the first half while Yokohama were also culpable for failing to finish off clear chances. It was only late in the game that Tokyo seemed to change gears, as the visitors endured waves of attacks that just lacked the final pass. A sense of deflation seemed to linger after referee Yuichi Nishimura (yes, he who attracted worldwide attention in Brazil’s opening World Cup 2014 game against Croatia) blew the final whistle, and fans were left to reflect on lost chances and the dejavu of another draw from the same fixture.
– Result: FC Tokyo 0 Yokohama Marinos 0