In their last encounter, Verdy lit the fuse on a cruel streak of five consecutive mid-summer matches, the first of which ended with a bitter 0-1 defeat. In order to shake off the feeling of stagnation that hung over them, the players traveled this week to face Avispa Fukuoka.
Whether out of consideration for the packed schedule or to rest players nursing injuries, Verdy took the pitch on this day with a re-worked squad. Shohei Takahashi did not travel with the team, leaving Masashi Wakasa to combine with Tomohiro Taira at center back, along with Yuta Narawa and Takayuki Fukumura as attacking fullbacks on the right and left, respectively. Junki Koike also started as a right wide striker, while Naoya Kondo made the bench for the first time this season, along with Naoto Sawai, who returned to the squad for the first time since the restart of league play.
From the opening whistle, Verdy dominated Fukuoka with their pass work and attacked from areas high up the pitch. In the 5th minute, Shion Inoue was brought down near the penalty area for a free kick on the left side. Yuhei Sato played a sharp ball to the near post from the place kick and Wakasa just managed a glancing header that looked on target to find the right corner of the net but was kept out by a fine save from the goalkeeper. In the 8th minute, Verdy pinned the opposition in their area after a set piece opportunity but the move ended with Ide’s shot on goal drifting wide of the left post. In the 9th minute, Verdy were hit on the counter and an early cross was met in the box first time. However, the team escaped when the shot went wide left. Moments later, the match would have its first turning point. It was the 11th minute and an attacking move had broken down after the players failed to combine and lost the ball. A well-organized high press cut off the opposition passing lanes, however, and allowed Joel Chima Fujita to intercept and initiate the counter. Fujita continued his run into space and finally played a pass to Koike, who had taken up point blank position in the center of the box. With Koike drawing markers away, the Verdy attacker hit a backheel pass that kept the ball moving for Sato to run onto and score by placing his shot into the left corner of the net to give Verdy the lead. After the goal, Verdy were pushed back by the home team for an extended period, but in the 30th minute, they regained possession and began patiently evading the opposition press. With their poise regained and play unfolding largely in the opposition half, the team kept the ball moving and used up the clock. The players seemed able to exploit the channels, space behind the defense, gaps between defenders, and passing lanes at will, combining well and playing the team’s ideal brand of football. As a result, a big chance would arrive at the end of the first half. In the 44th minute, the team won a free kick near the right corner of the penalty area and Fukumura sent a sharp, curling ball in front of goal. There, Koike had beat his markers with a run and got his head to the ball to send the team to the locker room up two goals at half time.
Down by two goals, it was inevitable that the opposition would begin the second half with greater intent and Verdy were forced to retreat into their own final third to defend for an extended period. The players would find themselves in a pinch when an opposition effort hit the post, but after a desperate clearance, they would be granted a chance of their own. It was the 57th minute and Inoue received the ball in the left corner of the penalty area before turning his defender to create space for a run by Fukumura. The latter got his head up as he received the ball and drilled a low, shallow cross with his first touch. The pinpoint ball found its way to Sato, who had waited without verging too deep into the penalty area, and his first time shot found the net to quickly extend the Verdy lead once more. In the 64th minute, Jin Hanato secured the ball in the channel and spotted Inoue making a run into space on the left side. Although the team had a numerical advantage in front of goal, Inoue’s shot would rise over the bar. In the 74th minute, a mistake led to an opposition counter and Fukuoka were able to claw a goal back. However, Verdy responded with several substitutions that brought on fresh legs, enabling them to stifle the opposition momentum by maintaining possession and continuing the attack, rather than sitting back and defending. In the 88th minute, Mahiro Ano was handed his pro debut at age 16 and given permission to attack the defense again and again with direct runs, pushing the Fukuoka players deep into their own area. As the match came to a close, Verdy maintained their compact shape and prevented any gaps from opening as they stifled opposition efforts and achieved their first win in five matches with a score line of 3-1.
With today’s victory, Verdy took a major step forward by achieving beautiful goals, executed buildup play that unfolded as designed, maintained possession, and created chances. As a team that dominates the ball, Verdy’s competitive spirt will always be contested, but on this day, they had more than enough aggression to threaten the goal. The players also found themselves on the same page as they envisioned how to break down the defense and were able to toy with the opposition inside their own final third. With all that said, the cruel schedule facing the club continues it three more matches at intervals of three, two, and three days. The first of these will be their second on the road, as they travel to Mito looking to further polish their brand of attractive football.
Your thoughts on the match?
For me, Kyushu is familiar territory and Avispa Fukuoka were a familiar team where I spent a year as a player. On top of that, Avispa have been very stable with their play and maintained a higher position than us in the table. We didn’t have much time to prepare, but we did our work and today, they players executed the plan perfectly by doing exactly what we had worked on in training. That makes me very happy and I think it was the reason that we won. Even so, I still think the team have a lot of room to grow and when I think about their potential, I have no intention of being satisfied with this and will work hard with the players from tomorrow to raise the level of our play even further. You can see it in the score line, but we came into this match with a lot of frustration after the game against Ryukyu, and it was up to the players to rid themselves of that stress on the pitch. I thought they did a great job of starting the match well.
As exemplified by Fujita’s run before the first goal, there was an effort by the whole team today to run with the ball at their feet and move up the pitch. Is that something that you told them to focus on?
I did tell them that and in particular, I remember the days when the players in Verdy’s 1970 gang (former players born in 1970) like Nagai, Fujiyoshi, and Hosaka were considered the three most active dribblers in all of Japan. All three of us are now working as coaches for this team and yet we haven’t had many players running with the ball. We discussed that and realized that our current squad are extremely sincere about their duties and doing what we ask of them. So, I told the squad that as long as we play with such a clear plan of attack, that will require individuals to occasionally make decisions on their own and try to run at the defense themselves in order to break out of our shell. Today, the players showed the will to run with the ball in the square zone or the finishing zone. I thought that was excellent.
Can you tell us why you named Sato as captain for today’s match?
Kanya (Fujimoto) has left the team and Shohei Takahashi, the foundation of our defense, was also absent. In addition, I had felt that we were tentative in our physical play on the ball last week, so I wanted them to hit the accelerator today from the opening whistle. In those circumstances, I thought that Yuhei (Sato) would be someone capable of standing at the head of the line and setting the pace for everyone else. That’s why I named him captain, today. I think he responded well to my expectations and I was reminded of how good a player he is.
Can you tell us why Takahashi was absent, today? Was he injured or were their other factors in your decision?
There were a lot of things. Let’s just consider it a company secret (laugh).