Soccer / J. League

Takefusa Kubo steers FC Tokyo past Oita Trinita

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff Writer

If Saturday turns out to have been Takefusa Kubo’s last game for FC Tokyo, no one can accuse him of failing to make the most of it.

The 17-year-old helped set up Kento Hashimoto’s opener before netting what turned out to be decider on a skillful counterattack and racking up a second for good measure in FC Tokyo’s 3-1 win over Oita Trinita.

Trinita, which began the game in fifth place, has had a remarkable start to this year’s campaign thanks to a rock-solid back line and the scoring efforts of forward Noriaki Fujimoto.

But following a couple promising efforts early in the game, Oita’s notoriously sturdy defense started to bend after encountering the unstoppable force from the capital. Tokyo’s effective high press kept Trinita from venturing far outside its own half, while the host’s spirited counters held plenty of danger.

“This showed that we still have a lot to do before we can compete at the top of the J1 table,” said Trinita boss Takanori Katanosaka. “(Tokyo) did well to shut us down and created a lot of dangerous chances early. We weren’t able to attack in the first half.”

Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa, meanwhile, was impressed with how his team bounced back from its first defeat of the season last week at Cerezo Osaka.

“We lost last week and this week we came back and played very well from start to finish,” said Hasegawa. “If we didn’t create attacks ourselves, Oita weren’t going to move from their defensive positioning.”

Just days ahead of his potential Samurai Blue debut, Kubo showed why he’ll be attending this month’s Copa America as the youngest player on Japan’s squad of mostly Tokyo 2020 hopefuls, setting up several attacks in the final third.

Kubo regularly drew double teams from Trinita defenders, which the youngster took advantage of in the 30th minute to set up the opening score. After receiving a pass from defender Sei Muroya, Kubo held the ball for several seconds as Muroya’s marker drifted over.

As 25,175 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium held their breath, Kubo chose to pass back to a now-unmarked Muroya, who crossed the ball into the area for Hashimoto to head home.

“I was focused on bringing up the ball as far as I could, but at the very end I decided to pass it back,” said Kubo, who will turn 18 on Tuesday and is widely expected to return to Europe this summer.

The former Barcelona academy player — and perhaps future Camp Nou star — made it 2-0 himself in the 39th minute, pouncing on a loose ball after Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi dispossessed an Oita attacker and dribbling it into the area before ripping a left-footed shot in.

“Tokyo doesn’t forgive mistakes,” said Katanosaka. “In recent games we’ve given up a lot of goals after surrendering the ball and we need to improve our decision-making.”

Trinita closed ranks after halftime, playing more physically and attacking with more aggression following a double substitution in the 58th minute. Ado Onaiwu cut the deficit in half moments later, sending the ball inside the opposite post with a grounder despite the best efforts of Tokyo defender Tsuyoshi Watanabe to prevent the shot.

Despite the best efforts of the visitors, they were unable to get past Tokyo’s defense a second time, and Kubo made it 3-1 when he overtook Oita goalkeeper Shun Takagi midway up the pitch and lobbed the ball into the empty net.

“We were nervous against Tokyo’s intensity and as a result we struggled on the ball,” said Onaiwu. “We know that we need to improve individually and as a team if we’re going to play better.”

Elsewhere, Shun Nagasawa scored twice in the second half to give struggling Vegalta Sendai a 3-1 win over Nagoya Grampus.

Consadole Sapporo’s Ryota Hayasaka scored shortly after the hour mark to end his team’s three-game winless streak with a 1-0 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

At Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, Rodrigues’ second effort on a late stoppage-time penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw for Jubilo Iwata against Vissel Kobe, which had taken an early lead through David Villa’s own penalty kick early in the first half.

Elsewhere, visiting Cerezo Osaka defeated Sagan Tosu 1-0, getting a goal from Bruno Mendes.

Matsumoto Yamaga and Shimizu S-Pulse settled for a 1-1 draw. Kawasaki Frontale and Urawa Reds also played to a 1-1 draw. The Gamba Osaka-Kashima Antlers match ended with the same score, too.