Vegalta Sendai sustained their remarkable sequence of results with a combative performance at the Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium, but they have referee Futoshi Nakamura to thank for the very dubious decision to award a penalty which culminated in Wilson scoring the solitary goal of the contest, a ruling which was bitterly opposed by a number of players, most notably Bruno Lopes who was sent off in the aftermath. The repercussions of Lopes’s furious and sarcastic outburst towards Nakamura may yet be felt more strongly by Albirex, with an automatic one-match ban triggered by his two yellow cards at risk of being extended should the incident feature in the official’s match report.
The scoreline poorly reflected the balance of the match, Albi’s performance being wholly at odds with their recent exploits and one which belied their position in the Division 1 table, and until the 89th minute an impressive and dominant midfield led by Issao Homma and Naoya Kikuchi and a sound defence had contained a Vegalta attack that had previously scored an average of three goals per game. While the statistics of the match may try to convince otherwise, the home side recording just four shots compared to the nine for the visitors over the course of the ninety minutes, Albi may rue squandering a couple of excellent opportunities in the match which could have determined a happier outcome and sent a very vocal crowd home in good spirits.
After only six minutes had been played, Albirex were left to question another of Nakamura’s decisions, when Naoki Ishikawa had volleyed high into the Vegalta net and seemingly given his side the lead. Atomu Tanaka curled a free-kick from the left touchline, flicked on to the edge of the six-yard area by the excellent Kisho Yano, and as Ju-Sung Park failed to gain any distance on his diving clearance, Ishikawa controlled before swivelling and found the top right hand corner with his shot. However, after a period of consultation with his assistant, Daisuke Suzuki would be rightly deemed offside, clearly interfering with an opponent by obstructing goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi’s line of vision.
Twelve minutes had been played when Michael dispossessed Shingto Tomita twenty yards inside the Vegalta half, Isao Homma picking up the loose ball and turning to play a long pass to Yano on the right-hand side. Yano’s low cross into the penalty area was well-directed, flighted just inside the six-yard box, but Bruno Lopes tumbled to try and earn his side a penalty when he would have been better advised to attempt a header.
From the resulting corner, a Homma effort from 25 yards was blocked, but from the ensuing rebound a very narrowly offside Yano found the assistant referee’s flag raised, his shot blocked by Masaaki Higashiguchi but which fell to Bruno Lopes with an open goal at his mercy. Albirex had clearly identified a weakness in the Vegalta defence, who frequently struggled to deal with corners swung to the near post, together with the clever movement of Yano, Tanaka, Michael and Bruno Lopes. While chances were at a premium in both periods, a Tanaka corner shortly before the interval again delivered to the edge of the six-yard box was glanced goalwards by Yano, where more forceful contact may well have seen Higashiguchi beaten.
The half ended with Albirex in control of the match, if not the scoreline, and the second period began in the same manner, despite the early appearance of Vegalta in the tunnel, doubtless with a stinging rebuke from Makoto Teguramori ringing in their ears. It was nearly the third quarter of the match before Vegalta fashioned something akin to an opening. Yoshiaki Ota, the outstanding performer for the away team by some distance, dropped a long free-kick to the far post which Makota Kakuda directed across goal. Atsushi Yanagisawa, replacing the injured Shingo Akamine, couldn’t find the barest of headed touches which would have opened the scoring, marginally too slow to adjust to the strength of Kakuda’s pull-back. Then, with a quarter of an hour left to play, a long pass out of defence was collected by Wilson just over halfway, and he turned inside Ishikawa before arcing the ball through to substitute Toshihiro Matsushita on the overlap. A delicate, hanging cross to the back post was attacked by Ota, but he could only find the side-netting.
Sixty seconds later, and Albi could have taken the lead. An attempted Taikai Uemoto cross-field pass was dreadfully misplaced, Bruno Lopes pouncing on a ball intended for Ju-Sung Park on halfway. Lopes drove at the defender, carrying the ball to the edge of the penalty area before cutting inside and lashing a left-footed shot narrowly wide of Higashiguchi’s right upright, when a short pass to Michael may have been a better option.
The final word of this match would be left to Wilson, who had largely cut a disinterested and anonymous figure for duration of the game. A dinked Matsushita ball into the penalty area was first headed upwards by the Brazilian forward before he collapsed to the floor, leaving a bewildered Daisuke Suzuki to protest his innocence, before referee Nakamura added insult to injury by showing the centre-back a yellow card. Wilson stepped up to fire home, the ball sent into the bottom right-hand corner, Higashiguchi diving incorrectly to his right.
Albirex boss Hisashi Kurosaki can certainly take some satisfaction from the performance, if not the outcome, and should they continue to show the same spirit, determination and organisation in the weeks ahead, there is no reason why they should not find themselves clear of a relegation battle at the end of the 2012 season. Vegalta, meanwhile, stretched their lead at the top of the table to six points from closest challengers Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Urawa Red Diamonds, as they head into a tough test of their title credentials on Matchday Nine, away to a Sagan Tosu side unbeaten at the Best Amenity Stadium in any competition in 2012.
|Albirex Niigata||Vegalta Sendai|
|Kisho Yano||45+1||Ju-Sung Park||44|
|Sent Off||Min||Sent Off||Min|