2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 11th Sec - Avispa Fukuoka vs Tokyo Verdy

Match Report

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.

Read more

Post-match comments

Manager Hideki Nagai

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).

Read more

Post-match comments

MF9Yuhei Sato

Your thoughts on the match?
The last match, we played for Kanya (Fujimoto) and this time, I thought it was important that we play for Shohei (Takahashi), who has contributed so much to the club but couldn’t travel with the team. This is especially true because he had been appearing consistently, despite the packed schedule we have, and he was punished with a penalty in the last match, so I thought it would give us even more strength if we could create a situation where he could come back without that burden on his shoulders. I’m happy that we accomplished that today by winning.

Despite your opponents’ tactics, you were able to evade their pressing today. Why do you think things went well?
Since we didn’t have Shohei today, we played with two center backs instead of three. That meant passing with four at the back or three in an asymmetric fashion. As we did so, we realized that the opposition were having trouble controlling the right side of our attack. The manager had pointed out that potential before the match and he was right, so that helped propel the team forward. As a player making the passes, it was also a big help for me that I had two outlets in front of me in Eiko (Koike) and Narawa.

Tell us what happened with the opening goal.
Joel (Fujita) won the ball and the manager had told us to be more aggressive about running with the ball at our feet, which is something Joel is very good at. Eiko is also asked to make a lot of runs and when it works well, the opposition’s defensive line will fall apart. That happened and I found myself unmarked.

Tell us about the second goal, too.
The manager always demands that someone make runs on the side opposite of the ball holder. I was unmarked at the time, so it was easy for me to get into that position, and Fuku(mura) stayed calm and played the pass to my feet, so it was very easy to take the shot.

As the captain, did you have any words for the 16 year-old Ano, who was making his pro debut?
I didn’t say anything to him. It was hot and I was too busy trying to handle things for myself (laugh). Mahi (Ano) has been on the bench for a while and I had the feeling he might come on as a substitute eventually. So, it didn’t really occur to me that this was his debut. I guess I should have been more aware of that (laugh). He’s a wonderful player for someone of the young age of 16 and he won his spot on the bench by competing with the more experienced players. I wish I had shown a bit more awareness, but I was too focused on my own play.

What was your focus after the score was 3-1?
Conceding the goal made things a little difficult for us. Even if we had continued winning 3-0, I think we needed to raise our play a gear. In particular, we needed to raise the speed at which we support each other. Had we done so, we could have continued to move the ball at a somewhat quicker tempo. When we get too focused on our positioning, we spend all our energy trying to get to the right spots and there are times when our tempo rises and falls, so when the momentum is against us, those are the times when we need to tighten our spacing.

Finding the will to take shots on goal has been an issue. Did you feel some improvement there?
That’s something we’ve been talking about not only in this match, but in every other one as well and whenever we talk about shots, it’s accompanied by discussion of the final ball. Still, if we’re too focused on the final ball, the shots we take lack a certain boldness. That’s something the manager pointed out. For that reason, we’ve gradually shifted to prioritizing more shots first and are in the process of working on our final ball to accompany that.

What did it mean to you to wear the captain’s armband?
It was nothing special (laugh). We have seven vice captains, so for me personally, it could have been any one of us. More than who is wearing the armband, I’m focused on winning matches. Last season, Kota (Watanabe) left the team and this year it was Kanya, so I really don’t think we need a set captain. With that said, the next official captain hasn’t yet been named. It changes game by game and we’ve always let the manager decide when Kanya has been gone. When Yoshito (Okubo) returns, I imagine it will be him.

Read more

MF19Junki Koike

Your thoughts on the match?
We never really got going in our last game and we ended it in a bad way, so this time, we all wanted to take out our frustration on our opponents. In the first half, I think we accomplished most of what we set out to and while we suffered a bit later on, I’m glad that we ended things with a win.

What improvements do you think were made, compared to the match against Ryukyu?
It felt like we had a better understanding of which players would try to close us down and win the ball, as well as who from our side should make runs in those situations. We were also able to observe our opponents well as we played. In the last match, I only played during additional time, at the end, but that’s how it felt to me this week.

Tell us about your goal.
It was from a freekick, but in my fifteen years as a player, I think that was the first time I ever scored off a header from a set piece. I have a lot of good balls being supplied for me at all times and this time, I was able to time my run right. I almost never score goals with my head. I think this is only my third time. I’m glad it happened today.

When did your eye start swelling?
I butted heads with another player at the start of the match. It started swelling after that. On the goal I scored, my eye must have been the first thing to make contact with the ball, but I think it actually helped me produce a better header (laugh)

Tell us about your assist on the first goal. You seemed to be trying to set it up for Sato the whole time.
I was ready to make the run into that space and we’d been working in training on how to carry out moves in 3 on 2 situations. I could feel that Sato was making the run behind me and depending on the ball I was supplied, I had it in mind to shoot myself, but the defense closed me down, so I elected to flick it to him.

Read more

DF16Takayuki Fukumura

Your thoughts on the match?
In the run up to the first goal, Joel (Fujita) won the ball and played it to Junki (Koike) up front. Junki did a great job of laying it off and setting up the goal. That was a pretty early moment to score, especially for us, and it made things a lot easier.

Individually, the way you switched between defense and attack seemed very effective.
My goal is to be involved in the match for the full 90 minutes, but I still am not able to run hard enough and there are more things I have to do. I’m glad that we won, but I don’t want us to settle for what we accomplished today.

That was a perfect place kick to set up the team’s second goal.
It went exactly as planned. I tried not put too much power into the kick and just kept my eye on the ball, matching the point of impact to the angle of my kick. I already knew where I wanted to place it, so I just looked straight at the ball and it flew into a good spot. I even thought it might find the net without a touch. In the end, Junki got his head to it and there were other players who could have gotten a touch as well. I think it was important that everyone believed in me and made those runs into the box. But getting a result from the match is what makes me the most happy.

Tell us about your assist for the third goal?
At a bare minimum, I’m focused on putting the ball in reach of my teammates. If I don’t do a good job of getting them the ball, we won’t score and if the person who makes contact does score, then I get an assist. So, in trying to do that bare minimum, I’m glad that someone met the pass today.

In the second half, the team’s passing was at its best as you evaded the opposition pressure.
There are a lot of skilled players other than me and the better we can complete our passes in those situations, the more it will enable us to maintain possession in general. We did a good job of observing our opponents as we played, today.

I’m sure you want to carry the positive momentum from this match into the next game.
We have to reach the level where we are capable of performing well no matter who is on the pitch. We made five substitutions today and all of them contributed for the team. I hope that each of us will perform the role assigned to them and that we will come together three days from now to fight again.

Read more

MF30Mahiro Ano

Tell us about your J-League debut.
I had fun. I enjoyed it, but it was also a bit frustrating.

What went through your mind when the manager called your name?
I had prepared to come on, so I just wanted to do my best.

You had some touches on the ball. Do you feel you showed your potential?
Coach Nagai told me to “run with everything I had when I got the ball”, so I tried to do just that. The first time, I lost the ball right away, but I think that was better than being too scared to try.

You’ve now made your start as a pro.
Yes. I will try hard next time, too.

Read more


Share The Match!


Translated by