Sunday, December 5, 2010

Agony for FC Tokyo, ecstasy for Vissel Kobe

Japan soccer news.
What has numerous stadia, 35 million people and two struggling football teams?

You're wrong if you answered Qatar - it barely has any of those - but closer to the mark if you answered Tokyo; that megalopolis of neon lights, dense alleyways and comic kitsch so often associated with the less serious side of Japan.

In the same week Japan's bid to host the 2022 World Cup ground to a predictable halt, so too did top flight football in the capital, courtesy of a pair of extraordinary results on the final day of the 2010 J. League season.

Going into their last league game of the season away at Kyoto Sanga, FC Tokyo held a one-point advantage over sixteenth placed Vissel Kobe. That meant the capital club needed to win to guarantee themselves a place in J1 next season, or hope Vissel Kobe lost to Urawa Reds.

As fate would have it, neither occurred, with FC Tokyo surrendering meekly to Kyoto in a 2-0 defeat on the road, while Vissel Kobe thumped a lifeless Urawa Reds 4-0 in front of a stunned crowd at Saitama Stadium.

That means both of Tokyo's professional clubs will languish in J2 next season, with FC Tokyo joining Ajinomoto Stadium co-tenants Tokyo Verdy in the second tier of the Japanese game.

FC Tokyo's fall from grace is a surprising one given that some critics tipped them as dark horses for the title this season. In coach Hiroshi Jofuku, they had an attacking tactician not afraid to hand youth a chance, while names like Yasuyuki Konno, Naohiro Ishikawa and the mercurial Sota Hirayama suggested the capital club should have had enough talent to finish in the top half of the table.

But fresh from winning the 2009 League Cup title, FC Tokyo simply never got started in the 2010 league campaign, and with the club struggling in the lower reaches for most of the season, Jofuku was dismissed to make way for Kiyoshi Okuma to steady the ship.

Okuma was in charge when FC Tokyo made its top flight debut in 2000, but the former player failed to steer the Chofu-based outfit to safety, leaving one of Japan's best supported clubs to scrap it out in the second division next season.

FC Tokyo's despair is in stark contrast to Vissel Kobe's joy, as the Kansai side went on a seven-game unbeaten run to salvage their J1 status at the death. Vissel also sacked coach Toshiya Miura late in the campaign, but his replacement Masahiro Wada came up trumps to steer the much-maligned outfit to safety.

Vissel's regional rivals Nagoya Grampus had already wrapped up the title weeks ago, and with Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka edging out Kashima Antlers for the remaining two AFC Champions League places, the balance of power could be shifting west in Japanese football.

The Kanto plain has long been a J. League stronghold, but with Kashima failing to win a fourth straight title and the likes of Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama F. Marinos and Urawa Reds struggling to make much of an impact, it's the traditionally baseball-mad western region currently celebrating football success.

Kashiwa Reysol coast to J2 title

It's not all bad news for Kanto football fans after Kashiwa Reysol coasted to the J2 title, finishing ten points ahead of second placed Ventforet Kofu.

The pair will be joined in the top flight next season by Kyushu side Avispa Fukuoka, who ended a three-year spell in the second tier by comfortably securing a promotion place.

'King Kazu' strikes again
He's almost old enough for a walking stick, but in a land that venerates experience, Kazu Miura shows no signs of slowing down. The ageing veteran broke his own J2 goalscoring record on the final day of the season, scoring for Yokohama FC in a 2-2 draw away at Oita Trinita.


Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com


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