A comprehensive and comfortable 3-0 victory versus Beijing Guoan for the Gas has almost certainly assured them of progress to the round of 16 in the 2012 AFC Champions League. Manager Ranko Popović made several changes to the side which suffered a surprise defeat to Kashima Antlers at the weekend, one enforced owing to the absence through injury of Shuichi Gonda, and a youthful line-up with an average age of just 24 produced an accomplished display of controlled, attacking football.
Together with the evergreen Naohiro Ishikawa, several players caught the eye, but none more so than the midfield contingent of Aria Hasegawa, Yohei Otake, Sotan Tanabe and Kazuma Watanabe, and it was the 23 year old forward who gave the Gas the lead after just seven minutes when he nodded home an Ishikawa set piece. There were question marks over how much room Watanabe was given in the penalty area by Zhou Ting, but that should not diminish the accuracy of his finish, finding the inside of the right post from 14 yards with a deft flick of his head. The opening goal arrived moments after Watanabe had narrowly failed to score, clever interplay between Ishikawa and Tanabe releasing the striker inside the penalty area, but his shot across the angle from the right was too close to Hou Sen in the Guoan goal, who saved easily.
The FC Tokyo defence was rarely troubled in the first period, the visitors coming closest to an equaliser almost immediately after Watanabe’s goal. Xu Liang lobbed a ball into the 18-yard box, Wang Xiaolong directing a header to a waiting Reinaldo, but Masato Morishige placed enough pressure on the Brazilian forward to ensure he couldn’t get his shot away. The action was otherwise largely limited to the Guoan half, although Hitoshi Shiota was nearly embarrassed when his attempted clearance found only air rather than ball, the second-string goalkeeper fortunate that the back pass had been played to the right of his net.
Several chances passed the Gas’s way, Ishikawa finding the side netting midway through the first period and which deserved better after a wonderful turn and pass from Yohei Otake allowed Sotan Tanabe to deliver a low cross along the six yard box, and then a superb long ball from Aria Hasegawa to Kosuke Ota on the left edge of the penalty area saw the left-back whip an inviting cross into the penalty area which Watanabe headed narrowly wide under pressure from Yu Yang.
It appeared that for all their possession and pressure FC Tokyo would have only the one goal to show for the efforts going in to half-time, but the final action of the first half found Hou Sen retrieving the ball from his net. Hasegawa bent a delightful pass along the right touchline to Watanabe, who advanced to the touchline. Sensing a lack of support from his teammates, he turned all too easily inside Yu Yang, and he chipped across the face of goal with Yohei Otake heading home from close range.
It was an entirely fitting scoreline for the domination shown in the first 45 minutes, and the match was all but ended 12 minutes after the re-start when an extraordinary pass from an off-balance and falling Ishikawa reached substitute Tatsuya Yazawa in the left channel. He stepped inside defender Zhang Xinxin, and although his touch was slightly too strong, a missed interception by Mao Jianqing allowed him to retrieve the ball running parallel to the penalty area, and he calmly dinked the ball over the advancing Sen to give the home team a 3-0 lead.
A sign of FC Tokyo’s complete control in this match was that it took until 13 minutes from the end of play for Hitoshi Shiota to make his first save, diving to his left to parry a Kaluderovic header, and Hasegawa just failed to provide his team with a fourth and the goal his performance deserved into stoppage time. Most importantly for the Gas, they retained their lead at the top of Group F on goal difference from Ulsan Hyundai, and they are guaranteed to advance to the next round on Matchday Five if they are not defeated by a margin of two goals or more by Brisbane Roar. The onus is now on the Gas to secure top spot in Group F and to try to ensure an easier draw in the round of 16.