Tokyo, April 16 – The match between FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale was set to be a mouth-watering matchup between the Japanese national team’s first choice center back pairing of Morishige and Maruyama against a free-flowing attacking side led by the league’s record scorer Yoshito Okubo. Okubo had rewritten the history books by overtaking Gon Nakayama’s record haul of 158 goals in the Japanese league and seemed ready to oblige with some more.
The atmosphere was electric with almost 30,000 cheering on their teams in the Tamagawa Classico, named after the river that flows alongside their fan bases.
FC Tokyo was set up to counter with Nathan Burns to drive directly at and exploit the space behind a notoriously porous Kawasaki backline. The tactic paid off quickly. Sotan Tanabe capitalized on some unsettled defending, and the ball bounced nicely toward Burns who sped away and drove it in for an early Tokyo lead.
The early goal sent the home supporters bouncing, but it didn’t last. Kawasaki struck seven minutes later, in the 11th minute, with two team stalwarts linking up. Kengo Nakamura directed a looping pass behind the Tokyo backline for Okubo to run onto. He shrugged off sideback Ogawa’s challenge, and blasted it in to take his tally to 160.
However, Kawasaki were unable to find any fluidity in their game and their attacks were constantly repelled before they could really threaten the goal by a combination of solid defending and good midfield cover. The on-looking national coach would have been pleased to see the quality of play at both ends of the pitch.
FC Tokyo were asking the questions. Burns had a hatful of chances to put FC Tokyo back ahead. He slid the ball wide from a carbon copy opening, and when Maeda teed him up in a central position in the penalty area, he ended up shooting wide. Kawasaki rode their luck when he headed a Ha Dae Sung cross just over, and the teams ended the half level.
Kawasaki started the second half brightly, Okubo driving a long-range shot onto the crossbar. As the half wore on, World Cup final referee Nishmura exercised more control as tired legs made for more fouls and openings. FC Tokyo was let off the hook when Moritani seemed caught in two minds all alone after rounding the keeper. FC Tokyo then won a freekick near the Kawasaki penalty area. Ogawa drove in a dangerous low cross in behind the defensive line toward an onrushing Maeda who pounced from close range.
2-1, and FC Tokyo was ready to wrap up the game with half an hour to go. Burns linked up well with Maeda and Yonemoto but failed to create a 2-goal cushion. The crowd was instead treated to the guile of the master goalgetter. Okubo ran into the box and seemed ready to pull the trigger in front of a mass of bodies. But he faked a shot with his right foot, then as he repositioned the ball onto his left foot, he got caught by Yonemoto’s trailing leg. FC Tokyo fumed at the decision, but he had been caught in the box, and Nishimura chose to apply the rules to the letter. A soft award but a strong penalty driven gleefully down the center for no.161. The home fans were somewhat deflated but picked themselves up to sing “We can’t lose” in a bid to remind the players that the scores were still even.
With 15 minutes to play, FC Tokyo coach Jofuku sent on Muriki for a tiring Maeda to bring some trickery to the frontline. The change did little to stem the newfound Kawasaki rhythm, and the waves of attacks soon found an opening. Elsinho threaded a pinpoint pass through to Yu Kobayashi just beyond Tokunaga, who could not stop him or his rocket into the top corner. Kawasaki had fought back to lead 3-2.
Muriki could have tied the game, but his rushed shot went just wide. Tension crept into Tokyo’s game and it made them dally on good positions so half-openings slipped away.
Kawasaki were not done. Right to the end, they showed greater verve and made possession count. Kengo Nakamura raced down the flank and cut into the box and down the byline before finding Elsinho unmarked at the far post, who made no mistake. Record scorer Okubo lay on the ground at the final whistle and he ended up leaving the pitch on a stretcher, but FC Tokyo will have rued missed chances and a penalty that changed the complexion of the game.
Result: FC Tokyo 2-4 Kawasaki Frontale