The curtain has finally drawn on the new season. Following two straight campaigns in which they reached the promotional playoffs, the 2019 season was expected to be the moment when Verdy would claim promotion to J1, especially after seeing the chance slip from their grasp at the last moment of the previous year. In the end, however, the team suffered a difficult campaign that also saw a change in manager half-way through the season.
To avenge the failure of the previous year, the club has entrusted care of the team to Hideki Nagai, who served as manager during the final four months of 2019, and given him the chance to fully instill his style from the opening moments of training camp. After a lot of hard work, it was finally time for the opener. The opposition on this day would fall Tokushima Vortis, a team that now include two players who were core members of the Verdy first team last year, goalkeeper Naoto Kamifukumoto and Ryota Kajikawa, both of whom left on a full transfer. Tokushima came in with the pride of having fought in the final of the previous year’s promotional playoff and would surely prove to be a difficult opponent.
Today’s match would be a struggle between two sides who want to control possession and play with an attacking style. Both teams seemed tentative at first, looking to take the measure of their opponents, but gradually Verdy began to control the flow of play. While their opponents found themselves with several counter attacking opportunities after winning the ball and came close to setting up the finish, Verdy would create chances of their own through the interplay of Leandro and Yoshito Okubo in the 13th minute. However, Okubo’s powerful effort on goal would be blocked by a fine save from the goalkeeper. With Verdy attacking in waves, Tokushima would claim the second ball, only for Okubo to chase hard and win it back right away, sending a cross into the box. Leandro just missed getting on the end of the ball, but another cross was soon put in from the opposite side and Klebinho made a run on goal to set himself up for a point-blank header. However, this too was saved by the goalkeeper.
Just as Verdy hoped to build on their early momentum and continue creating chances, the match took a sudden turn for the worse. It was the 33rd minute and as the team sought to stretch their opponents and build numerical advantages, they lost the ball and endured a counterattack. The danger was initially averted by a save from Takahiro Shibasaki in a 1 v1 position, but the opposition were able to claim the loose ball and tap it home for the opening goal. In the 37th minute, another mistake put the team on the backfoot and once again, Shibasaki answered the call by making the initial save, only for the loose ball to be easily dispatched into the back of the net for a second goal. Just on the verge of half time, Verdy would once again see their back line breached, but this time Shibasaki held his nerve by staying on his line and was able to make the stop, sending the team into the locker room only two goals down.
The Verdy players were in need of a quick answer as the second half began, but though they moved the ball in positions high up the pitch and penetrated deep into the opposition half, opportunities for the finish were few and far between. In the 56th minute, a chance from a corner kick was cleared by the opposition and retrieved for yet another counterattack, leading to an easy third goal. The players refused to give up on the hope of pushing back, however, and began moving the ball through substitute Hiroyuki Kawano, launching attacks with high tempo passing play. Later, Haruya Ide also took the pitch to strengthen the midfield. In the 79th minute, Kawano ran with the ball at his feet and won a free kick in a promising position. Klebinho stepped up with a fierce shot that was on target but batted away by the goalkeeper.
The final minutes of the match saw speedster Ryoya Yamashita come on to make his pro debut and Verdy continued trying to put the now-retreating Tokushima under pressure. However, their possession did not create avenues toward goal, and moves ended with crosses unmet in the box. The whistle then sounded with the team held scoreless.
There are no “what-ifs” when it comes to competition, but even so, it is easy to imagine how this match would have played out differently if Verdy had converted from the successive chances they had in the first half. However, the team’s collapse after that point also clouds any optimism that might stem from the chances they created in the final minutes. In looking at the numbers, the fact that Verdy far exceeded their opponents in terms of possession and number of passes indicates the necessity of playing the full 90 minutes without lapses in concentration and the need to increase the quality of their attack, in order to create sustained opportunities on goal.
For the sake of those who support the club, the team will use their frustration at today’s loss to Tokushima as fuel for the home opener on March 1st, when they hope to create cause for celebration.
Your thoughts on the match?
I think we accomplished a bit of what we worked on in camp for the first 20 minutes. In the midst of trying to build momentum, however, I feel we ended up taking positions that put us far away from the style we want to play. Despite the feeling of anticipation that accompanies the home opener and the fact that so many fans and supporters traveled to Tokushima to cheer us on, I regret that we were unable to give them reason to smile. With that said, we will put in the time to improve before our home opener, including addressing the problems with our positioning.
After going down by two goals, you took off Sawai for Kawano. Can you tell us your tactical reasons for doing so?
In order for us to get further forward in search of goals, I felt it would be better to have a clear back three. Hiroki (Kawano) is someone who can add extra dimension to the attack as a forward, so I wanted to him to form a tight front three with Okubo and Leandro in the middle.
While the goals today came after mistakes in possession, the team seemed to fall apart after the opener. What do you think are your main problems in defense?
It’s important for us to get over the halfway line as quickly as possible, but in doing so, I think we can be a bit smoother in our buildup and that will have the biggest benefit. There are, of course, problems that we can identify in our defense when it comes to keeping the ball out of the net, but more than that, the poor way that we lost the ball in possession is a great concern and something that I think we must address. When we lose the ball in poor positions, it becomes difficult to track back and put pressure on the ball immediately. When you have two or three positions that you have to mark at a moment’s notice, it becomes difficult for a team like us who are trying to create numerical advantages and move the ball. When we lose possession easily, this is what happens. The first thing I want to address is making sure we don’t give up the ball.