After building a two-match winning streak, Verdy have earned draws from their previous three matches. As they continue to maintain possession and dominate the play in game after game, the team now hoped to mark the beginning of a cruel streak of five consecutive matches with a win and start their move up the table. The setting for that opportunity would be a home match against FC Ryukyu.
This will be the team’s final match with Kanya Fujimoto as captain, as the young midfielder has recently finalized a transfer abroad. Given that the promising lefty was due to leave the day after the match, a win would prove to be the perfect send off. The squad that lined up to achieve that task featured changes from the previous week. In place of Joel Chima Fujita, Rihito Yamamoto was chosen at the libero position and made his first start of the season. Meanwhile, Yuta Narawa returned at left wide striker in place of Takayuki Fukumura.
The match began with Verdy in control. With their up-tempo pass-work, the players were able to evade the opposition press and stretch the defense, taking advantage of the smallest of spaces to pin Ryukyu in their own half. In the 11th minute, after breaking down the right side of the defense, Verdy used a decoy run at the near post and let the ball run through to the far side where Narawa had space for a first time shot that went over the bar. In the 13th minute, Masashi Wakasa just failed to get his head to a corner kick at the near post, leaving the ball for Yamamoto to make a running header. However, he was unable to make clean contact. In the 29th minute, Verdy developed the play in the wide areas and created space for a cross to the far post from the right side. Narawa met the ball with his head, only to see it fall into the lap of the goalkeeper. From the midpoint of the first half, Verdy began to make careless mistakes that saw them hit on the counter. The players also failed in their counter-pressing, allowing the opposition to push them into their own half. When they did regain possession, the team tried to patiently build their attacking moves once again, but the final ball was lacking and there were no clear chances for a finish. The half ended with a reverse of the momentum up to that point, as Ryukyu were allowed to keep possession.
With their opponents seeing more of the ball then they expected and the team spending longer periods in defense, Verdy took the pitch in the second half after confirming the need to both continue defending well and do better a job of selecting attacking patterns that would exploit the areas left open by the opposition’s movement. Despite this, play resumed with the team unable to stifle Ryukyu’s attacks in high areas of the pitch and Verdy found themselves pinned back as they defended in front of goal. In the 53rd minute, an opposition corner caused havoc in the wide areas of the Verdy defense and a ball was chipped over the head of Matheus, only to be cleared off the line by a covering defender. Moments later, Verdy built from a wide position as well and Fujimoto fired a mid-range shot after receiving a reverse ball from the by-line. The effort was deflected by a defender and Koki Morita responded to the second ball with a direct volley, but Lee, who had played with the Verdy squad before last season, was able to cut down the angle for the shot and the ball failed to find the target. In the 73rd minute, danger came after yet another corner kick. This time, Ryukyu played the ball to the near post, rather than far, and it was met well, only for the shot to cannon off the right post. From that point, neither team was able to find a clear route of attack and it would take until the 85th minute for a major talking point to occur. A long ball was played into the Verdy penalty area and after an opposition attacker seemed to hang over his back, Shohei Takahashi was judged to have clipped the player’s legs, granting Ryukyu a penalty. It was a questionable decision and the referee appeared indecisive for several minutes, leaving the Very players unable to hide their displeasure. The penalty was duly converted by Ryukyu and after several minutes of pause in the play, the referee’s assistant signaled nine minutes of additional time. However, Verdy were unable to penetrate the retreating Ryukyu defense and the match ended with the team losing by a single goal after a dubious decision.
After the match, Manager Hideki Nagai refused to comment directly on the referee’s judgment and instead emphasized that the team needed to raise the quality of their finishing, in order to avoid letting matches be determined by events beyond their control. Had they been able to take the lead after playing with a positive rhythm for long periods of the first half, the match would likely have developed in a completely different way. It was a frustrating way to mark Fujimoto’s final match with the team and the success or failure of the coming period of consecutive matches will be determined by how well the players can convert their frustration into greater strength. Luckily, they will have another chance in just three days to change the mood. For now, they must rest their bodies and build their motivation as they prepare to travel to face Fukuoka.
Your thoughts on the match?
To be honest, it was a match that gave me a lot to think about. I wanted to give my pupil, Kanya Fujimoto, a good send off an I’m sure the players were highly motivated to do the same. We began the match well, but I think our play was a little lacking in intensity. When I think of the potential of our squad, I know that they know can do more. We kept the ball and broke down the defense a number of times, but we can still do more. It’s incredibly frustrating and I, myself, have a lot to look over. As far as the referee’s decision goes, I haven’t seen the video yet, so there’s not much for me to say, but I don’t want us to use that as an excuse. Our lack of intensity is the biggest thing we have to regret. We have another match coming up, so now we will prepare to play well then. It was a very frustrating day, but I want to say to Kanya, on his last match for us, that we wish him great success in Europe.
Was there any reason, other than intensity, that the team lost their rhythm midway through the first half?
Intensity was the biggest reason, but it’s also about understanding the reason why we seek to dominate the ball in the first place. The thing I keep asking the players, and the area where we have to improve, is whether we are playing with passion after securing possession. It’s easy for this sort of thing to happen when you demand the kind of football we play, but the players begin to feel as if having the ball alone is enough. That’s not what we want. Instead, we need to take up the right positions and provide enough support to overcome the opposition pressure. Our football will improve when each of us performs their role. I know the players have been giving a lot and it really is a difference of a mere 1 or 2 meters in spacing, or 1 or 2 seconds of delay in decision making, that combine and lead to these passages of bad momentum. That’s what we have to look at.
What words did you offer to Fujimoto after giving him his flowers at the farewell ceremony?
Kanya will encounter many obstacles overseas, but I know he will remain ambitious and work hard, so I told him that I would do the same. I also told him that I hope we can one day work together again. He also remembered the notes I gave him when he was a senior in high school, and the final words I wrote then, so we talked about that.