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MATCH

2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 1st Sec - Tokushima Vortis vs Tokyo Verdy

Match Report

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.

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Post-match comments

Manager Hideki Nagai

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.

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Post-match comments

FW 13Yoshito Okubo

Tell us about your Verdy debut.
We did well in the opening minutes, but it’s not possible to continue that kind of play for 90 minutes straight and I think the fact that we collapsed after giving up the first goal is reflective of a lack of toughness as a team. As a forward, myself, I know that it’s a big problem when the other team can score that easily. With that said, it’s only one match and I can make my voice heard in training to address our issues. It’s the players that are on the pitch, so I think we have to talk to each other and let each other know how we can make things easier if we want to grow. I will work hard to prepare. Still, I believe that this team is definitely going to improve in the future and if we can get to the point where all these things become second nature, I’m sure that we’ll be playing a brand of football that everyone will enjoy. In that sense, I hope that today’s loss will become a good learning experience that will help us in the future.

Until you began making mistakes in possession and gave up goals in quick succession, the team managed to demonstrate the kind of football that you seek to play.
The momentum was definitely on our side. However, I think that as a team, we haven’t developed good judgment on when to go forward and when not to. That’s something that I felt during our training matches as well. There will be times that you need to slow things down. You have to make your opponents run. If you don’t stretch them in that way, there will be no way through their defense. I will discuss that with the other players in training. I’m sure it’s something we can do. It’s important that we not grow impatient.

You seemed to be giving Fujita some advice after the final whistle.
I was in position to get a shot in, but Joel (Chima Fujita) played the kind of weak ball that a child would. If that happens, the chance will disappear. He was aware of the problem, but he also didn’t make any hard runs. I told him that he was passing the ball with the speed of a child. Those situations are where I am at my natural best and I felt that if I could get a shot in, I would score. I had told Joel many times to pass me the ball and when he finally did, it was that kind of pass, so I was angry. He can hit the ball with the power of a shot there, even if it seems likely to lead to a mistake, and I promise I will trap it. However, a weak ball will allow the defense to close me down. It’s something that happened throughout the match, so when things were over, I decided to send him a strong message. With all that said, Joel is still 18 years old and he will only grow as a player. That’s why I wanted to tell him. I have great expectations for his future, so I’ll continue letting him know what he needs to do.

Do you feel the biggest mistake is backing off from a challenge?
I think that’s right. That can mean not making a run when I intentionally open space or mistakes in judgment that kill a chance that’s in the process of developing. Of course, it’s impossible to succeed 100% of the time, but we should at least be able to do it once out of every five opportunities. That’s the difference between scoring and not scoring. That’s what I’ve been telling the players. Last year, the team were able to dominate possession, but their passing didn’t lead to shots on goal. I felt that problem again, today.

The team has to maintain their poise better after giving up goals.
We have to press hard when the situation calls for it. Several times, we allowed them to pass through our defense way too easily and that’s one of the team’s major defects right now. We have to become the kind of team that other sides don’t want to play against. The style we’re developing is fun and attractive to the fans, so in terms of achieving that as well, we need to do a better job of executing the fundamentals.

You seemed to push a bit too far forward in attack, as well.
I talked earlier about slowing things down, but right now, everyone is rushing things. If we can keep the ball in front of the opposition goal, their defense will tighten up at the center and if you don’t learn to enjoy toying with defenders in those moments, you won’t score any goals. If you instead respond to the opposition pressure by rushing the attack, you definitely won’t score any goals. Even if you do so occasionally, it won’t be much more than coincidence. If we’re going to play with this style, we have to learn to enjoy those situations.

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DF 6Shohei Takahashi

How did it feel to make your return to Verdy?
The goals we gave up were sloppy. We had played well up to that point, but after the first goal, we gave up an easy second right away and started making mistakes in our build up. Those were the problems.

Before the first goal, it seemed like you were trying to beat a defender and lost control of the ball. Is that what happened?
Yes. However, there was no need to take that kind of risk in that situation and I regret it now. The first and second goals produced great changes throughout the team, so I feel like I made trouble for my teammates today.

In the second half, you switched to a back three as you tried to push further up the pitch, but instead, you gave up a third goal on the counter.
When we are forced to take risks and get further forward, I think the defense has to do a better job of preparing. Something’s definitely wrong when you give up three goals on the counter, so we first have to address the mistakes that we’re making that lead to the counter.

Why do you think the team struggled so much with your buildup?
They didn’t press us as much as we expected them to and instead kept numbers in front of us in midfield, so it felt like we were struggling to find players to pass to. I think we gradually began to lose confidence. I think the players have to use our heads more and if we can master this style of football, we’ll be able to attack teams constantly without turning the ball over. Everyone, including the players at the back, needs to think and concentrate more on our football.

Even if it did contribute to conceding a goal, your willingness to be aggressive and challenge the opposition stood out today.
Playing in defense, I have time to think, so I need to contribute more ideas for how we can make passes from the back and make my presence felt more in that way.

In trying to play a difficult style of football, the fact that you’ve been giving up so many goals from pre-season on is surely a concern.
It’s a bad trend. When you concede goals, there is always a reason, so all of us need to talk to each other more and address our mistakes.

After losing the opener, how important will it be to have three straight matches at home?
As a team, we need to get our first win, so I definitely want us to win our home opener and build some momentum.

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MF 11Haruya Ide

Tell us about your Verdy debut.
Today, I played on the left side of a back three. We were losing at that point, so it was an asymmetrical back three and I had opportunities to carry the ball forward. I felt that our positioning was too deep, overall, and I wanted us to push them back a little more as we moved the ball, so I concentrated on finding ways to get forward. I only just returned to the squad and there’s a lot I have to learn about the team’s tactics, but right now, I have to prioritize improving my conditioning, so I will focus on that in training.

Up until the team began making mistakes and gave up consecutive goals, you seemed to be achieving your preferred style of football.
Our goal was to express all the things we’d been working on in the opener, but after conceding the first goal, the match developed into one where we gave up the ball too easily and lost possession in bad positions that set up the counter attack. However, we created the kind of chances we’re aiming for in attack several times and I think we know what areas need to be improved before our next game. We changed formation in the second half, too, so there is a lot that we need to review over the next week in order to play better football.

Was poor positioning the main reason that you lost the ball in bad places?
There were some tactical problems, but I think it was a combination of several things, including the fact that we didn’t have players in the spots we needed them to be to play our style. We always try to control the game in opposition territory and if we lose the ball too easily, it makes it easy for the opposition to aim for the counterattack. I think we can improve, and we only need to do what we’ve already been working on. I’m disappointed that we lost the opener, but there’s only one thing we can do now and that’s prepare hard to play better in the next match.

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FW 48Ryoya Yamashita

Tell us about your Verdy debut.
I was brought on at a difficult point in the match, but my role was clear. I only had to think about how I could show my strengths in those circumstances.

You showed intent to get behind their back line on the right wing.
I’ve been played at wide striker and a lot of other positions in training, but the one thing that I’m always told to do is to try and make runs behind the defense. I still have to work on my timing and quality of movement, but I have a clear focus and I want to continue being aggressive at making runs.

You were more than a match for your opponents in 1 v 1 situations and managed to put in a good cross in the final minutes.
That’ my strength as a player, so if I lose in those situations, I won’t be able to cut it as a pro. I want to continue being aggressive at expressing myself in that way.

I’m sure you had a vision for how your debut would go. How did it match up with how things developed, today?
I wasn’t really thinking too much about my debut, alone. What’s important for me is how much playing time I can get as a member of the Verdy squad. I made my debut today, but I want to keep fighting for the team.

In pre-season, you matched up with several strong teams from J1. Did that enable you to play without fear against your opponents, today?
Through my experiences in training camp, I felt that I could compete at this level and I took the pitch with confidence.

You were only on the pitch for a short time, but what did you feel you need to work on as a player?
I came on as a substitute, today, but I want to build an understanding of how the team plays so that I can play well if given the chance to start, as well.

Up until the team began making mistakes and gave up consecutive goals, you seemed to be achieving your preferred style of football.
Every player is highly focused in training and while that didn’t lead to a result today, we believe that we are on the right path. I hope we can continue down that road without doubting ourselves.

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