2020 MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE 15th Sec - Tokyo Verdy vs Kyoto Sanga F.C.

Match Report

Last week, Verdy took part in the last match of their mid-summer series of five consecutive games and saw their recent streak of wins cut short after a 1-2 loss to the league’s second place team, Giravanz Kitakyushu, in a highly competitive encounter. Afterward, the team were given a rare week-long break before the first game of yet another series of five consecutive matches. Their opponent was Kyoto Sanga F.C., a team that had inflicted heavy losses to Verdy at home and away in the previous season. The players thus took the pitch on home turf looking for revenge and the start of a new winning streak.


The key man on this day was Yoshito Okubo, making his first appearance in the squad for a home game. Okubo took his place at the free man position and played the important role of helping the team dominate the flow of play. Meanwhile, Koki Morita and Rihito Yamamoto lined up at the front of central midfield, along with Joel Chima Fujita at libero. Together, the three academy graduates formed a young midfield core that would look to establish control. At the back, Masashi Wakasa started on the bench out of concern for his condition and in his place, Naoya Kondo was given his first start of the season.


In the opening minutes, the opposition pressed from the front with great intensity and Verdy responded by first playing the ball to the front before trying to connect passes in midfield. This enabled the back line to gradually push up as the team attempted to establish control of the momentum. As soon as they pushed up, however, the opposition played simple passes behind the defense and Verdy were pinned back several times in their own third. The players thus found themselves unable to escape the pressure with passing alone and struggled to develop a good rhythm. In the 9th minute, the team suffered a scare when a corner kick from the left was met with a header at the near post, only to drift just wide of the right post. Despite the difficult start, however, the team’s struggles were only temporary. With the Kyoto players already starting to show signs of fatigue, their pressing became less coordinated and Verdy’s patient pass work began to push them back, first by moving the ball into the wide areas and then, when the opportunity was right, by finding space to receive the ball in the middle. The improved tempo of Verdy’s passing would soon create an opportunity when Okubo received the ball on the right side and drew a foul from the defense for a free kick. The set piece was taken by Takayuki Fukumura and the position was reminiscent of his successful kick against Avispa Fukuoka. As Fukumura’s in-swinging ball made its way into the box, Kondo just failed to get a touch in front of goal but Junki Koike had also made a run behind him and met the pass first time to send it into the back of the net. It was indeed a replica of the previous goal against Avispa Fukuoka.


In the 33rd minute, the ball was played into the Verdy penalty area, to the diagonal right of goal, and headed down for a first-time volley. However, Matheus responded to the tricky effort with impeccable timing and rescued the team with a good diving save. Verdy struck back in the 34th minute and a corner kick from the left was played short and then returned to the kicker, Fukumura, who turned to face forward and carried the ball in on goal before hitting a fierce shot with his left foot that struck the post. The team now had complete control of the momentum and in the third minute of additional time before the break, Fujita played the ball into space behind the defense on the wide right and Koike made a  perfectly-timed run to beat his defender and receive the pass, working his way into the penalty area right of goal. When an additional defender came to close him down, Koike laid the ball off with a reverse pass and the supporting Yamamoto controlled with his first touch and then curled a shot into the top left corner with his left foot, earning his first goal as a pro and giving the team a two-goal lead.


At half time, the manager challenged the players to earn a third goal and ensure full control of the match. In response, the players attacked from the opening whistle. Just after kick-off, Verdy broke down the left side of the defense and Okubo called for the ball in space. However, the pass was late in arriving and a closing defender was able to block the shot. In the 60th minute, Okubo was taken off for Yamashita and the latter would respond minutes later in the 66th minute by breaking on to a 25 meter through-pass from Fujita to the left side and continuing his run in on goal. Despite earning a 1 v 1 with the goalkeeper, his shot would ultimately go wide of the right post. Afterward, Kyoto would earn control of the possession for an extended period, but Verdy maintained a tight shape with no gaps in defense. On the contrary, the team had several chances on the counter and were poised to set up the finish, only to see their final balls escape a touch in the box. Shion Inoue also had an opportunity before the final whistle but his shot was a hair off target. Even so, the team’s combative approach in attack and defense enabled them to control the play and earn the full three points from the match.


Having returned to the starting lineup and made his home debut, Okubo aided the team today by dropping into midfield and providing extra poise to an attack that had been in too great a hurry to get forward. These efforts enlivened the team’s pass work and gave rhythm to the attack. Before the opening goal as well, it was his physical play that earned the free kick and provided an opportunity at a moment when the team needed it most. The forward’s vast experience combined well with the talent of Verdy’s young midfield and the signs are brewing for a positive chemical reaction. Now, we will hope to see this process develop with even greater quality as the team prepare to face Jubilo Iwata.

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Post-match comments

Manager Hideki Nagai

Your thoughts on the match?
As the first of another series of five consecutive matches, this game was, in our minds, the start of the fourth quarter of our season. From that perspective, I am happy to say that the players made a promising start with a brilliant performance and hard work. This was a good victory for us and I felt strongly, once again, that we have a brilliant squad of players. We did a lot of analysis of the way Kyoto play and determined the areas where we needed to get forward, where to make passes from, and which players to target as we tried to break them down. With only a short amount of time, we worked on these things in training and I am very happy to see the way the players executed according to plan and achieved an excellent result. After I was named manager of the top team last year, we suffered a very bitter loss to Kyoto on their turf and I’m someone who never forgets the taste of that kind of defeat, so I’m grateful to the players for allowing me the chance to make up for that. With that said, we have another match to prepare for, against Jubilo, and we must work hard to continue elevating the quality of our football. Next, I’d like to say congratulations to Rihito (Yamamoto) for scoring his first goal. Today, the entire squad, including those on the bench, performed very well and I think that comes down to the work hard work that is put in during training by every player, even those who don’t make the squad, as well as our ability to share a consistent image of how we want to play. I would like to express my gratitude to all the players and to our entire staff, who have also been working hard. Finally, since this was a home game, I’d like to say thank you to our fans who continue to offer us support and encouragement, even in hard times and under the current limitations placed on them in the stadium. We will continue to do our best.

Can you tell us why you decided to grant Okubo his first start since play resumed and Kondo his first start of the season?
First off, I’m genuinely happy that (Kon)Do has completed his long period of rehabilitation and returned to the pitch after his injury. In terms of what he brings to the team, he has been the leader of our defense since last season and I had no hesitation or worry about naming him to the squad. I also note that Kyoto’s forwards had great physical strength and I felt that Kondo would be the best suited for that matchup. He more than met my expectations and contributed greatly to the win, today. As far as Yoshito (Okubo) is concerned, we all know what a great player he is and I wanted everyone to get a chance to see his ability and brilliance in action. In particular, since the opposition played with five at the back, it was necessary for him to target the middle of their three center backs, what we call the number three position, and force their line to drop deep. He also needed to aim for space behind or drop into space himself in front of the defense. He did all of that as well as one expects from a player of his caliber. Since we field a lot of young players in our squad, it makes me happy to have veterans like Do and Yoshito, who I can trust to perform well. I am grateful to them.

Can you explain why you substituted for Narawa midway through the first half?
It was a bit unexpected, but we always have a lot of plans at the ready and I’m glad we were still able to proceed with the game smoothly.

It seems like Fujita is making more key passes at the midpoint of moves, setting up his teammates to play a final ball.
Since early spring, we have been working with him in training on new passing lanes and demanding that he try and play the ball forward more. One of his strengths as a player is his ability to absorb knowledge and grow at a fast pace. His growth recently has exceeded our expectations and I am very satisfied with his performances, not only today but in other matches as well.

In the first half, Kyoto were able to pull the defense from left to right and create numerical advantages on the open side. Is that part of the reason you inserted Wakasa into the match?
There was just a bit of trouble and while it was half an accident, it was also one of the plans we had at the ready and I think he did a great job of responding to our needs. I think the fact that we never had any big seams open up is proof that the players did very well.

Sato has started the last two matches on the bench. Is your intention to save him so that he can change the momentum of the match mid-way?
We prepare a lot of different plans and I’m grateful to say that in midfield, we have a wealth of players who can express my football vision on the pitch. In a sense, I am confident no matter who I insert into the lineup. That means that I am able to consider different ideas for when to use Yuhei (Sato) and at what position by thinking about how we match up with the other side or who will perform best where. That goes not only for him but for all the players. I compose my plans while imagining what the opposition will do and as the manager, having so many excellent midfield players to choose from and so many things to think about before each match is something to be grateful for. I know that no matter who I send out, they will meet our demands.

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Post-match comments

FW13Yoshito Okubo

Your thoughts on the match?
In the early minutes, I felt like the match could go either way and I think the fact that we got a goal from a set piece made the difference.

Can you tell us what you focused on, individually?
If the forward players don’t keep hold of the ball, then everyone gets tired. Our job is to bring composure to the team from there and then develop the play into open spaces where the wide players can make runs. That’s what I tried to do.

You had a fierce battle with Jordy Buijs?
Whenever I tried to win the ball up front, he would close me down immediately and when that happens, it not only opens space, but if we can keep the ball despite that, it will tire out the defense. I think we were able to win that battle today.

You didn’t get a goal yourself, but the free kick you earned led to the opening goal, so your presence was definitely felt.
Playing up front for Verdy means not only grabbing goals, but more importantly, it also involves securing the ball and building moves from there. I think I and the team were able to do that.

How is your condition, including the areas where you were injured?
I’m fine. The best way for me to improve my condition is to get match time, so it meant a lot to get the start today. It was my first time playing up front for Verdy, but I had a lot of fun. The more I’m able to keep hold of the ball, the more the team will improve. Of course, I was a bit worried if my body would hold up, but I think I was able to take the pressure of the defense, today. I still have to get my feel for the game back, but I think I did okay.

Are there any individual adjustments you made to fit with Verdy’s style or the style of J2?
Nothing in particular. As far as keeping the ball at the front is concerned, I did the same things that I did when I was at Frontale. However, I also tried to keep Coach Nagai’s words in mind and observe the opposition as I play, which means being flexible and continuing with whatever is uncomfortable for the defense. The instructions from coach Nagai are the first priority and with those as a foundation, I just try to concentrate on running hard.

What new things have you found to enjoy while playing Verdy football?
I get the most enjoyment out of the way we get lots of touches on the ball.

How do you feel about the team now, compared to the start you made in the season opener?
Everyone is achieving what’s asked of them, such as making the defense run and getting into the right positions. I imagine that we’re a threat to every team we face right now and the level of our play is much different from the start of the season. Even so, we’re still running away into the wide areas at times when we have the chance to play the ball forward. If we play the ball direct in those situations, I think we’ll create more chances and we’ll be able to carry out games at our own pace. That’s something we’ll discuss more as we go along.

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MF21Rihito Yamamoto

You said that you were getting a bit desperate about scoring your first goal?
I wanted to get my first goal before the other youth team graduates like Yuan (Matsuhashi) and Joel (Chima Fujita). I’m glad I was able to do that.

Tell us about the build-up to the goal.
Junki (Koike) knew that I would be free there, so after that, it was up to his judgment. He could have taken the shot himself, or if he passed it to me, I was ready to score. I just needed to get my first touch right and after that, it was easy and I kept my poise. The minute it left my foot, I knew it was going in.

What elements of the team’s play are working well when you are able to play in a direct manner like today?
The first thing is that our positioning was excellent. Coach Nagai often tells us that the best position for us to take is one where we can receive a direct pass with a single touch. In other words, when you can receive a forward pass with a single touch, that means you are standing in the right place and if all the players are doing that, we’ll be able to recycle possession well.

Your thoughts on the match?
In the first half, we secured a certain amount of the possession and were able to close with two goals and positive momentum. In the second half, we grew a bit relaxed and our spacing loosened, which caused our cycle of possession to worsen. That’s an area where I feel we still need improvement. We need to keep the ball moving, even when we’re winning. Our identity as a team is to win by dominating our opponents.

Individually, what was your focus while playing at front central midfield?
I was instructed to take up a position near Yoshito (Okubo) and play through-passes from there. That meant staying close enough that he could play the ball down to me with his first touch and I looked to develop that relationship as we played.

How do you feel, condition wise?
My quality still drops off in the second half and I remain frustrated. I will keep working to raise the quality of my play from now on.

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MF19Junki Koike

Tell us about your goal.
I guess I could still taste the goals from the match against Fukuoka. I got myself into a good position and was able to meet it with good timing.

Having claimed your third goal, it seems like your engine is revving now.
I suppose. However, I had other chances to score in the second half and if I had finished things myself there, we could have made things easier for ourselves. I still have a lot that I want to achieve.

You showed your ability to get behind the defense and make good decisions in the buildup to your assist.
Getting behind the defense is something that I try to do every match and I consider it my strong point. Today, Joel (Chima Fujita) did a good job of finding me with a pass. In truth, I had spoken to Rihito (Yamamoto) just before the match and told him that he was due for his first goal, so I’m glad that he got it. It was also good for the team, as it made things easier for us at 2-0.

In terms of game control, you were able to create chances on the short counter in the second half, but you weren’t able to create many chances to finish. Do you think that is the reason that things became a bit awkward?
As a team, one of our objectives is to be able to score goals in different ways, from our standard attacking moves to set pieces and counter attacks. In terms of attacking on the counter, I myself failed to convert some chances last week and I hope that we can build the strength to score from those situations.

You lost twice to Kyoto last year, so it must feel good to get the win today after some good play.
We were frustrated after losing last year and I believe that the things we’ve been working on have been visible to everyone in our play. There is still a lot more that we can do if we raise the precision of our play and all of us are working on that. I hope we continue to secure more points from now on.

In terms of intensity, you did well to learn the lessons from your loss in the previous match.
We didn’t do enough in defense last week. There was hesitation regarding who would be the first defender and other areas where we lacked organization. We focused on that a lot this week and I think we did much better in today’s match.

The team now has a foundation of reliable young players and you are on the way to achieving the concept of playing the same football no matter who is on the pitch.
I do feel that we are beginning to achieve that and we had the young players line up together in the match against Matsumoto as well. Everyone is building their understanding of how we play and experiencing tremendous growth. With that said, I still think we can do even more.

You made a positive start to another series of five consecutive matches.
More than who our opponents are, it really does come down to how well we play our game. We will focus now on the four matches ahead and do our best to win.

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DF16Takayuki Fukumura

Your thoughts on the match?
We didn’t know whether they would press from the front or try to leave numbers in defense. Once we saw that they were organizing into a defensive block, our first job was to start pulling away defenders. With that said, their block wasn’t all that tight and there were open spaces, so our ability to make runs into areas that lead to chances proved important in the first half. I’m glad that we got the goals we needed from the set piece and at the end of the half. They pressed more from the front in the second half, so that meant that we had more chances on the short counter, but our precision with those moves was off and I think that was the reason we didn’t build on our lead.

You produced a replica of your assist from the match against Fukuoka. Tell us about the buildup to that play.
The areas where I kick the ball and even, to some degree, the height of the kick are pre-determined, so it really is more about the quality of my touch and making sure that it’s a ball that my teammates can get on the end of. I think it played out as I imagined.

How did it feel to play against your old team?
It was a match against my old team, but once the whistle sounded, it wasn’t on my mind.

In the first half, it seemed like you struggled to deal with the opposition’s attempts to attack the space behind the side backs.
They caused me problems with their balls behind me, but I had Taira covering those spaces at the back and the defense line did a good job of being physically tough. I’m grateful to my teammates.

In the second half, the opposition tried a more brute-force approach by emphasizing their height and strength, but it seemed like you dealt with that well.
I think our center backs are physically strong, even compared to other sides, and they won’t allow the opposition much freedom. In terms of teams that put physical pressure on us, we lost out to Kitakyushu in those situations, but today, I think we won the battles.

Different teams have different styles, but compared to the match against Kitakyushu, your counter-pressing and defending from the front seemed to work well.
I think we made the necessary revisions there and I think there was also a gap in quality between the two sides today. Even so, when we lost in the previous match, I didn’t particularly think that our pressing was less effective than the opposition and today, I’m glad that we were able to stifle their attack.

In terms of game control, you were able to create chances on the short counter in the second half, but you weren’t able to create many chances to finish. Do you think that is the reason that things became a bit awkward?
If we had gotten a third goal on the counter, it would have made things a lot easier for us. We have to be clear about whether we’re going to entrust the attack to the front three or whether we’re going to push up from the back and build the game from midfield. It’s a difficult question, but today, we relied on the front three a lot and I did feel that it would be easier if we left things to them. However, if we had gotten more involved in the buildup, we could have attacked with greater numbers and I think we may have created more chances.

When they switched to two at the front, did you have a greater feeling that you needed to end the game as is?
The best thing would have been for us to get a third goal, but we were lacking in quality at the end of moves and that’s something we need to work on before the next match. Making things easier for us is It’s going to get ever more important to make things easier for us.

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DF3Naoya Kondo

Your first match of the season was against a team that has a fairly distinctive brand of attack. Individually, you seemed to prepare and perform well.
It was my first match appearance of the season, but I had prepared well in training to be ready for any situation. When I take the pitch, the first order of business is for me to make sure the team is functioning correctly. I always prepare hard so that I won’t have a negative impact when I’m chosen.

In terms of the team’s objective of observing the opposition as you play, things seemed to go comparably smooth in this game.
(Peter) Utaka seemed to stay up top at all times and was always targeting me, so by dropping back, I was actually able to show myself to him and keep him in front of me. In buildup, things went comparably smooth and when they pressed us from the front, we were able to evade them with our passing. In the second half, we created several chances on the short counter and if we had scored, the result would have been completely out of reach, so we need to finish in those situations. If we can achieve the smaller things like that, I think we’ll be able to move up the table. Each of us needs to take responsibility and continue improving our play.

You weren’t given much notice before appearing today, but you didn’t seem to be lacking in sharpness.
It was my first match in months, so to be honest, I was completely lacking in match sharpness. However, Nara(wa) on my right and Taira on my left, along with Joel (Chima Fujita), provided plenty of support. They were a big help. Nara was taken off midway through, but afterward, Waka (Masashi Wakasa) helped cover for me. Everyone has been doing more than their individual role in order to support their teammates and I felt that support for the full 90 minutes.

In the second half, when the opposition played with two target men and took a more brute-force approach, you did a good job of fending them off at center back.
In terms of the simplicity of their attack, it’s not that we’re weak to that sort of approach, but when our opponents push hard from the front, it’s difficult for us at the back to deal with them if they beat the first defender. However, Taira is strong in the air and I support him in those efforts. Matheus is also good at handling balls in the air, so he was quite reliable.

The team did a brilliant job of dealing with the threat of Peter Utaka, rarely allowing him a clear chance.
In the first half, Taira and I both felt that our line was a bit too high. We dealt with the threat well in some ways, but if we simply keep a high line, we have to drop back quickly to react to balls behind us by dropping back the moment the ball is kicked. If we don’t make the fine adjustments necessary, we’ll be hurt next time, so we need to look back over this game in detail.

In terms of game control, you were able to create chances on the short counter in the second half, but you weren’t able to create many chances to finish. Do you think that is the reason that things became a bit awkward?
We can’t lose the ball too easily during difficult periods of the match. Our opponents had two powerful forwards up front and Utaka was trying a lot of simple runs into space behind us. We have to finish our moves by at least getting a shot or forcing an opposition goal kick. If we do that, it allows us to reset in defense. As long as we have a lot of numbers going forward, we’re going to have less in the back, so I spoke with Taira about having Joel stay back in the middle, but at times, Joel went forward as well and when that happens, we have to end the move with a finish. That’s where we need to improve.

This match was a great way to erase the bad taste from the previous game and start the new streak of five consecutive matches with a win.
I’m glad that we were able to win at home and keep the clean sheet. Next, we’ll be on the road, so we have to maintain the momentum from this win. With so many matches coming up, we don’t know who will appear when, but Coach Nagai has trained us so that we can play the same football no matter who is on the pitch. We’ll prepare hard so that our whole squad can play well.

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