Soccer / J. League

FC Tokyo continues superb start to season

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff Writer

A crucial lesson in FC Tokyo’s 12-game unbeaten run to start the 2019 J. League first-division campaign has been that goals don’t need to come from top striker Diego Oliveira, so long as they come from someone.

That was all too true on Saturday at Ajinomoto Stadium as 22-year-old midfielder Ryoya Ogawa scored his first of the season midway through the second half and 17-year-old prodigy Takefusa Kubo made it 2-0 to see the league leaders past a feisty but outmatched Consadole Sapporo.

Sapporo manager Mihailo Petrovic has a knack for building fluid attacking sides, but his players struggled to find purchase against a speedy Tokyo defense that was quick to respond to any incursions into the final third and hardly allowed a shot from the visitors until midway through the first half.

“We had a lot of missed passes in the first half,” said Petrovic. “We needed to be more patient and move the ball around, instead we invited counterattacks.”

The early MVP for Consadole was instead goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun, who denied several key Tokyo chances including Kensuke Nagai’s stunning 1-on-1 effort in the 23rd minute.

Consadole’s first dangerous chance on goal came in the 39th minute when Lucas Fernandes leapt up near the far post for a header, forcing Tokyo ‘keeper Akihiro Hayashi to clear the ball for a corner.

“Even when we led 2-0 (Sapporo) created some dangerous chances,” Hayashi said. “We could have done a better job of controlling the game.”

Before the kick could be taken by Akito Fukumori, a scuffle between a pair of Korean defenders – Sapporo’s Kim Min-tae and Tokyo’s Jang Hyun-soo – was perhaps indicative of two teams frustrated by their lack of progress in the half.

Tokyo could very well have received a penalty kick in the 51st minute when Nagai appeared to be kneed in the stomach by Fernandes while attempting to control the ball in the area, but referee Hirokazu Otsubo declined to point to the spot. Four minutes later on the other end of the pitch, a blistering Fukumori free kick forced a diving save from Hayashi.

“Both teams were attacking well, so it was a question of who would score first,” said Fukumori. “… (Tokyo) just had better finishing than we did today.”

At last Tokyo did find its way through in the 59th minute, when Ogawa pounced on a turnover in the penalty area and punished Sapporo with a left-footed shot that Gu could only watch sail into the back of the net.

“In the second half we were able to move the ball and pressure (Tokyo) … but then when we had possession, they forced a turnover and scored,” reflected Petrovic.

Playing from behind seemed to light a fire under Consadole, and speedy Thai midfielder Chanathip pressured Hayashi with a low shot in the 63rd after displaying the dribbling skills that earned him a spot in last year’s Best XI.

By the 70th minute the result was out of the question however, as Kubo netted his second in as many games with a close-range effort that Gu was unable to parry away.

“The second goal came from a counter that emerged from our mistakes,” noted Petrovic. “Tokyo are an experienced team, and they’re going to take advantage of those mistakes.”

It was yet another demonstration of Kubo’s superb poise on the pitch this season, giving fans a hint of what they can hope for when the former Barcelona academy player makes his expected senior national team debut for Japan at next month’s Copa America.

“We had the ball for longer stretches than we’ve been used to in recent games and we weren’t able to create as many chances as usual,” said Kubo, who will turn 18 on June 4. “I wasn’t focused on the positioning of the goalkeeper, I was just trying to take the shot I’ve always taken in practice.”

The loss halted Consadole’s unbeaten streak at five games and was the third straight competitive match in which the league’s northernmost club failed to score a goal.

“Tokyo created a strong block and they’re a strong team on the ball. It was hard to break them down,” said Consadole striker Musashi Suzuki. “It’s disappointing that we ended the day without scoring. That’s our responsibility as attackers. We had chances to equalize (after Tokyo’s goal), myself included.”

Elsewhere on Saturday, Marcos Junior, Tadanari Lee and Koji Miyoshi (the latter twice) scored for Yokohama F. Marinos in their 4-1 rout of Vissel Kobe at Nissan Stadium, handing the visitors their seventh straight league defeat as captain Andres Iniesta watched from a private box.

At Yamaha Stadium, Jubilo Iwata escaped the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over Vegalta Sendai.

At Kashima Stadium, four Antlers players made the scoresheet in a 5-0 win over Matsumoto Yamaga, with Ryohei Shirasaki scoring twice.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5