Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Vs Urawa Reds (away) 30/7/22 J League match 23

Urawa Reds 3 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale

Urawa away is always a bit of a mess of contradictions. The journey’s not that far but that walk from the station is right pain in the arse. Away games are fun as we get to visit some places, but the area around the Saitama Stadium remains something of a wasteland. Which in a way, makes it all the more bizarre that given that there’s nothing much there, that the stadium had to be so far from the station. If you’ve never been to Urawa’s ground you might think that it would be pretty easy to get to. Urawa is on plenty of train lines and it’s still very much in the greater Tokyo urban area (or whatever it’s called). However the Saitama stadium is on an handsomely overpriced train line which seems to have been constructed only to serve the stadium and some residential areas that you probably aren’t going to be visiting unless you live there. It’s also a stadium where we have some mixed memories. In recent years, we’ve got knocked out of the ACL there after totally collapsing after a red card and have lost a few cup finals there before we broke our jinx. But there are some good memories too… probably… I can’t really remember many off-hand. Checking our recent games there it seems I wasn’t able to go to the last three league games, all of which we won (COVID stopped away fans attending on two occasions and the previous time we had a game rescheduled to a Tuesday and having to work put the mockers on that for me). In fact the last time I saw a league game there was in 2018, the day after my birthday and we lost, giving me a wholly unwanted late birthday present. This year the game was the day before my birthday and whilst I still got the same present, this time it came with a resigned shrug. I was expecting this game to be called off as COVID cases in our camp grew day by day. Even on the day of the game at lunchtime in Higashi Jujo in a brewery with one shoe having recently self-destructed I was still expecting us to have to turn round and go home as a complete lack of players would probably make it impossible for the fixture to go ahead. I guess I was half right. There was absolutely a complete lack of players, but the game went ahead anyway. I’m sure you’re aware that we had three goalkeepers on the bench, two of whom were wearing outfield shirts, and even then we had two empty spots. So basically 16 players available, four of whom were keepers. If you only looked at the starting line up though, you might not have noticed anything much up. Whilst Oniki hasn’t yet tried out the ‘midfielder at both left AND right back’ thing, I don’t think anyone would have been that surprised to see him give it a go. If we hadn’t loaned out Tanabe (who can play at either left or right back) to JEF the previous week I’m not even sure that he would have made it any further than the bench. You would presume that anyone who wasn’t in the squad must be either COVID positive or injured. However I wouldn’t put it past Oniki leaving Igarashi out of the squad. After all, he was the only player apart from Tanno who didn’t make it on to the pitch against PSG (apparently we played them. I am denying the existence of that game). We had another player test positive the day after the game, so who knows what position we will be in on Wednesday (Cerezo away in the Levain Cup) or next Sunday (YFM at home, when we to all intents and purposes, might hand them the title)? Apparently Chanathip doesn’t have COVID and had a slight injury instead. So maybe he will be back… but then again we have one more COVID case so we’re effectively in the same position, and to be honest, given that the player must have been with the match day squad, I can’t imagine they will be the last person to get infected. Oh joy! But apparently the show must go on…

COVID issues are probably the big talking point about the game. We’ve had two games postponed already due to COVID. On both occasions it was the opposition with the cases and who asked for it to be called off. The Nagoya game is the contentious one. There is some kind of scandal about them lying/getting confused (delete as to your preference) about whether they had been told to cease club activities by the local health authorities. They said that they had been told to shut down the club due to it being a cluster but apparently weren’t. (Don’t quote me on any of this, it’s all second hand information and something may have been lost in translation). So it was a convenient misunderstanding which worked in their favour which was either accidental or intentional. They had a squad of 39 registered players and only nine cases. We have a smaller squad and more cases but still went ahead. Plenty of Oniki’s post match comments have focused on us doing the right thing and following the rules. It’s obvious that Nagoya didn’t do this but you can kind of understand why they didn’t. I’m unsure how I feel about this all. Of course we never would have known if we did end up manufacturing a few extra close contacts and having sufficiently few players to get the game called off. I think it’s a good thing that we didn’t cheat, but at the same time, if we don’t cheat and other teams do, we’re making a great statement and sacrifice but are definitely shooting ourselves in the foot. I’ve said the league is gone plenty of times but YFM stumbling recently has given us a little hope. Us playing and losing this game has destroyed any remaining hopes I’d say. Three games in nine days with not enough fit players to fill up the bench doesn’t exactly suggest that we will be at our best when it comes to the last of those three games against YFM. If you want to moan a bit more, add in the fact that the weather is pretty extreme right now too, so not enough players, and hardly any chance of subs to give anyone a rest. During the game, obviously the lack of subs means we lack the ability to change things round when things aren't working. But I think another big issue is that the fact that with effectively only two subs, you can't use them too early on in case you get an injury and end up having to play a goalie out field for a long time. But of course, if you leave it too late people are going to get even more knackered and the time a sub has to change things is going to be limited. So basically it's an impossible situation, and one which we knew we'd be in from the start. If we’re in the same position on Wednesday and next weekend and go ahead and play the game again, well, I hope everyone appreciates the stance we’ve taken. Certainly YFM and Kevin Muscats will appreciate it. Lots of people have said that us having three keepers on the bench and going ahead with the match will raise questions as to how these things are considered in the future. So even though we’ve shot ourselves in the foot by playing we are apparently doing the right thing and perhaps changing things for the better. Not sure how many bonus points this will get us and whether they’ll just award us a third consecutive league title as a reward for doing the right thing. Most likely there will be a rule change which benefits all of our rivals when they are in a similar situation which will come about thanks to our sacrifice. At least we’ll have the moral high ground to hang on to. Maybe we could put that in the trophy cabinet this year as I’m pretty sure nothing else will be going in there.

In this game though, we looked predictably out of sorts and we started really badly. I guess this is what happens when you play midfielders as full backs and have a centre back pairing that hasn’t spent any time together for almost a year. It showed. Without a doubt Taniguchi and Jesiel are our best options at centre back, but they were all over the place in this game. I’m not going to blame them though. I’m not going to blame anyone as we were up against it from the start. And then conceding two goals early put us even more up against it (if that makes any kind of sense). This wouldn’t be a post about an Urawa game if I didn’t slag them off a bit would it? Ridiculous time wasting after they went a goal up after four minutes and hoofball for most of the game. Typically my new hate figure Ito scored but didn’t seem to spend the whole game diving and feigning injury like he did in the super cup which is frustrating as that means I can only dislike him for things he’s done in the past. Irritating… It’s interesting to compare this game to the Super Cup actually. In that game we were atrocious and came into the game with one player absent due to COVID which seemed to totally dispirit and destroy our team. In this game we had hardly anyone available but managed to play a bit better. We had plenty of chances but couldn’t put them away, (as admittedly has been the case for most of this year). When you look at how we dominated the stats you’d imagine that the scoreline would have been the other way round. But when you consider one team was ravaged by COVID the scoreline makes sense the way it was. Since that Super Cup game, after which everyone said Urawa would storm the league, (and I said they weren’t that good, it was just that we were crap) they have been pretty poor up until recently. We have continued on in the same crappy way all year, getting a bit of good fortune with results at some stages but never really playing at all well. Attitudes to COVID seem to have changed a bit too! At that stage it was a bit of a shock for us to have a player absent due to COVID. Now it’s par for the course and the prevailing attitude seems to be that we need to get back to normal as soon as possible and just not really think about the effect that kind of thing might have. One of my recent pet hates is people on Twitter, (actually maybe I could stop this sentence here…), outside of Japan telling us all how Japan should be doing things. I’m not saying Japan is doing everything right (or indeed anything right) but what I do know is there are plenty of people who seem obsessed with displaying their ‘knowledge’ on matters that they don’t really know anything about and have no context for. 

A few quick brief observations to maybe lighten things up a little at the end here. Urawa, in addition to their normal disco heavy and perhaps inadvertently camp music selections which always make me think the stadium DJ went on a year abroad to the UK sometime in the 90’s, went with the previously unheard at their ground Beastie Boys track ‘You’ve Got To Fight For Your Right To Party’. There’s no way that this was a coincidence is there? After an element of their fanbases recent run in with the J League over their right to sing and generally be wannabe hooligans they seem to be a bit sulky and are sticking it to the man with this sly dig. Ooooooohhhh, those cheeky rebels. The ball boys in this game seemed to all have come in fancy dress and had all chosen to go with the same costume theme, which was match day Ricardo Rodriguez. They also seemed to get word, perhaps from the man himself, halfway through the second half, to not go so crazy and exert themselves and instead just take their time when it came to returning the ball. To be honest though, the ref wasn’t worried about the Urawa players’ time wasting though, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t notice the ball boys doing it. Oh and finally, we now know which kind of players are most serious about COVID prevention and are perhaps therefore the most responsible figures our squad. All the Brazilians and all the goalies were COVID free. Draw your own conclusions about this.

That’ll do. Not much talk about the game again, but you’ve probably come to expect that. This was a match in which we were doomed from the start and then got even more doomed shortly after the start. As I said above, I don’t know what I think about the whole COVID postponement thing. Instead I’m just letting the whole issue just hang around somewhere in my periphery like the fog of something I don’t want to deal with and am hoping will just go away before I get round to having to think about. I’d like to think that the issue won’t come up again, but I’m pretty sure that we’ll be in pretty much the same position on Wednesday and next weekend and also that other clubs will be in similar positions with perhaps different outcomes. So basically, we’ll all have something to moan about forever. I hope no-one uses it as an excuse for why we won’t win the league as the title was already long gone before this match. It’s a bit of a bummer to have any lingering hopes killed quite so dead by matters out of our control though. Oh well! Next up Cerezo Osaka, (who recently beat is when we had almost a full squad to choose from), away in the Levain Cup. The blog post for that hame will be perfunctory at best. I’m away in Tohoku so probably won’t even be able to watch the game. Probably for the best! Hopefully the next week of games won’t be quite as disheartening as this match was, but I suspect it will be. 

GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 16. SEKO Tatsuki
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Yellow card 51')
MF 19. TONO Daiya
MF 14. WAKIZAKA Yasuto
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro

GK 27. TANNO Kenta
GK 21. ANDO Shunsuke
FW 24. MIYAGI Ten (on for MARCINHO 73')
DF 31. YAMAMURA Kazuya (on for TONO 78')

My Frontale Man Of The Match

EVERYONE IN THE MATCH DAY SQUAD - There's no way you could fault the effort of anyone involved. I probably haven't praised the players enough, so consider this some effort to do that.
ITO (Urawa) 4' 1-0
MATSUO (Urawa) 17' 2-0
IENAGA (Frontale) PEN 82' 2-1
IWAO (Urawa) 85' 3-1


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