大宮アルディージャ (Omiya Ardija) 0 FC東京 (F.C. Tokyo) 1

FC Tokyo striker Lucas is embraced by teammate Aria Hasegawa after scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 victory over Omiya Ardija (Image courtesy of The Japan Times/Kyodo)

FC Tokyo’s return to J.League Division 1 began with an unconvincing victory over the Squirrels, with Ardija left to rue a host of missed chances and a magnificent performance from the Gas Men’s goalkeeper, Shuichi Gonda, and the lamentable run of no victories in Saitama since 2005 against the side from the capital continues. As early as the first minute, Ardija created the first of many opportunities, when lackadaisical defending in Tokyo’s final third allowed Keigo Higashi to dispossess Kenichi Kaga, and only a full length dive from Gonda preventing Higashi from tucking the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

The opening 35 minutes saw Tokyo struggling to deal with the quick pressing of the three advanced Ardija midfielders, leaving Hideto Takahashi isolated on a number of occasions and regularly forcing him to clear long down field, allowing Ardija to build and take control of the game.

With Tokyo struggling to get a foothold in the match and the concern written across the face of coach Ranko Popovic, on ten minutes the effervescent midfielder Daigo Watanabe volleyed narrowly over, connecting beautifully with his less favoured left foot from eighteen yards. Young-Cheol Cho then followed up from the left hand side of the penalty area, the 22 year-old seeing his effort flying narrowly wide after more good work from Watanabe.

Gonda was soon again called into action with a spectacular double save. A lovely cross from the right, swung low across the FC Tokyo penalty area, was met powerfully by Cho from five yards, but moving quickly to narrow the angle, Gonda was equal to the shot. To Cho’s evident disbelief, Gonda cleared his follow-up from three yards with an outstretched leg to prevent Ardija from deservedly opening the scoring.

Rafael’s wastefulness in possession and in front of goal was underlined by two efforts in the first half. On 27 minutes, and with a number of players in open positions calling for the pass, he instead chose to shoot from forty yards, the effort merely striking an opposing player. Just moments later, a superb pass from Takumi Shimohira was pulled back across the penalty box, and Rafael’s attempted sliding finish was sent several feet wide.

Sensing that the advanced midfield trio of Ardija was not providing sufficient defensive cover on the left and right flanks, Tokyo began probing the channels in the latter stages of the first half. The tactical switch was to prove fruitful. Five minutes before the whistle blew to end the period, Tatsuya Yuzawa received a stunning pass on the left-hand side of the penalty area, but under little pressure and bearing down on goal, his attempt drifted several yards wide of Takashi Kitano’s left post.

FC Tokyo’s spell of pressure leading to the half-time whistle was a sign of things to come. Immediately following the restart, Yuhei Tokunaga, operating in an advanced position, fired a shot across the penalty which Kitano saved smartly. Shortly after, Lucas dispossessed Takumi Shimohira, and advanced inside the Ardija penalty area before tamely shooting straight at Kitano.

Rafael then failed to score with the best of Ardija’s chances, and which was to prove costly. A beautifully chipped pass from Carlinhos saw an equally delightful cross from Cho fall to his feet with most of the Tokyo goal gaping, but bewilderingly his effort from just four yards was delivered directly into Gonda’s hands.

Two minutes later Tokyo took the lead. Some wonderfully, one-touch intricate passing on the edge of the Ardija penalty box, with captain Yohei Kajiyama at the heart of it, resulted in Lucas taking one touch before volleying high into the Ardija goal, and only the assistant referee’s flag saw Tokyo fail to double their lead 10 minutes later when Naohiro Ishikawa was judged to be in an offside position while finishing beyond Kitano.

The goal was to prove the last of the significant goalscoring opportunities. While Ardija did eventually find the net, substitute Yu Hasegawa was correctly adjudged to have controlled the ball with his hand, and with Gonda cleverly acting as a sweeper and clearing with his head on two occasions, Ardija’s failure to find the net meant an opening day’s defeat that will leave coach Jun Suzuki regretting the chances missed.

Teams:

Omiya Ardija FC Tokyo
1 Takashi Kitano
Goalkeeper
20 Shuichi Gonda
Goalkeeper
6 Takumi Shimohira
Left Back
22 Kosuke Ota
Left Back
20 Young Gwon-Kim
Centre Back
2 Yuhei Tokunaga
Right Back
2 Kosuke Kikuchi
Centre Back
3 Masato Morishige
Centre Back
26 Kazuhiro Murakami
Right Back (70 Min)
5 Kenichi Kaga
Centre Back
9 Young-Cheol Cho
Left Midfield
39 Tatsuya Yazawa
Left Midfield (56 Min)
5 Carlinhos
Centre Midfield
10 Yohei Kajiyama
Centre Midfield
6 Takuya Aoki
Defensive Midfield
8 Aria Hasegawa
Attacking Midfield (90 Min)
13 Daigo Watanabe
Right Midfield
4 Hideto Takahasi
Defensive Midfield
8 Keigo Higashi
Attacking Midfield
32 Naotake Hanyu
Attacking Midfield (72 Min)
10 Rafael
Striker
49 Lucas
Striker (1 Goal)
Substitutes Substitutes
21 Koji Ezumi
Goalkeeper
1 Hitoshi Shiota
Goalkeeper
14 Shusuke Tsubouchi
Centre Back
33 Kenta Mukuhara
Right Back
3 Yuki Fukaya
Centre Back
27 Sotan Tanabe
Right Midfield (90 Min)
23 Shin Kanazawa
Defensive Midfield
18 Naohiro Ishikawa
Right Midfield (56 Min)
18 Hayato Hashimoto
Attacking Midfield
17 Hiroki Kawano
Left Midfield
7 Kota Ueda
Defensive Midfield
11 Kazuma Watanabe
Striker (72 Min)
32 Yu Hasegawa
Striker (70 Min)
13 Soto Hirayama
Striker
Manager Manager
Jun Suzuki
Ranko Popovic
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