Saturday, 13 September 2014

S-Pulse 1-4 Urawa Red Diamonds

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 1-4 Urawa Red Diamonds
Hiraoka 76 ----------------- Moriwaki 22
--------------------------------- Lee 28
--------------------------------- Makino 72
--------------------------------- Own goal 91

Ecopa Stadium, Fukuroi city
Att. 19059

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Yoshida
DF Bueno
DF Hiraoka
DF Mizutani

MF Musaka
MF Honda
MF Takagi T
MF Ishige

FW Omae
FW Novakovic

Subs used

Takagi Y on for Mizutani (69)
Murata on for Honda (80)

Report

With this result Urawa, the only team in Japan I know named after a shape, strode four points clear at the top of J1. On today's evidence, I can't see them relinquishing their lead. They were far from spectacular, but while we were disjointed and, aside from a lively opening 20 minutes, didn't trouble them, what they did they did well. They made fewer mistakes than most J. League teams, broke with pace and purpose, and defended their lead deep and well. Come December, if we don't see them adding to their 2006 J1 title I'll be one very surprised little Englishman.

As mentioned, we started brightly, and Novakovic should have opened the scoring around the 15 minute mark. Within 15 minutes of that chance, the visitors were two up, and we were reeling. The second half saw us all bluster and no end product, with possession generally progressing to the edge of the final third before a black shirt (not the ref, Urawa's bloody gorgeous away kit) intervened.

A 72nd minute Makino header off a corner put the game beyond us. At 3-0 there was still time for Hiraoka to snatch his own headed corner goal four minutes later, but the flurry of Shimizu attacks that followed rarely troubled Nishikawa. In stoppage time Aizawa fluffed a clearance to a black shirt and in the resulting mess the ball rebounded in off an orange shirt, and that really was game over.

Hopefully we'll look back on this game as a pivotal one in the Oenoki era. It lends stark contrast to the last game at Ecopa against Urawa under Hasegawa's charge. Just shy of 39000 were there, 20000 more than today, and we snatched victory in the most exhilarating of circumstances. Oenoki will take time to find his best XI, and there may be more bumps along the way until that happens. Today he was missing Jakovic through suspension and Jong-a-Pin through injury, which is half our defence right there. The 18 year old Mizutani worked hard, but it was a tall order for him to make the step up against the league leaders. What we need to do now is avoid defeat away next week, because another loss could see us in the relegation zone.

The Curious Case of The Perpetually Booing Fans

I mentioned something on Twitter which I'll elaborate on here, and that's Urawa's supporter culture. Until today I've always watched Shimizu Urawa match ups from behind the goal. If you've ever had the pleasure you'll know barely anything is audible over our joyous samba din. I now help with the S-Pulse English Twitter service, so am lucky enough to view matches from the press zone. Today I was located half way towards the away end, and WHAT. A. FUCKING. ROW.

The best thing about Urawa fans in their numbers. They've had the biggest traveling support for many years now. The worst thing is the booing and whistling. When they had the ball, they sang their hearts out. When we had it, and we had it a lot despite the result, a soul destroying caterwaul of jeering and whining oozed from the away end. This held true the full 94 minutes, even when at 4-1 up away from home you'd think they'd be reveling in their successful away day. Is it intended to break the spirit of the opposition? If it is, then it's ineffective. They've not won any domestic silverware since 2006, more than once coming off second best in winner-takes-all situations. Maybe that's precisely why the team with the biggest gates and deepest pockets have been consistently unable to make the most of those enviable resources; the simmering negativity and antagonism which infuses every game they play.

My background as a fan is in the lower leagues of English football, and there is absolutely no shortage of negativity there. But it's all shot through with a self-depreciating sense of humour, and like most any supporter culture, ultimately a premium is placed on supporting your own team over abusing the opposition. With Urawa it comes off, at best, 50/50. If that's what works for them, who am I to judge? What I will say though is upon my arrival in Japan I count my blessings I wasn't stationed in Saitama. Had I been, I might now be stood behind the goal spending as much energy taunting and heckling the visitors than supporting my own team. I don't doubt that would quickly become a pretty dreary way to watch football.

Which begs the question, why is a supporter culture so focused on the negative able to boast the biggest crowds in the country? The reasons for being the best supported club go way beyond this one particular custom, but in a country where every other team has fans which spend their effort supporting over haranguing, could it be that Urawa's uniquely toxic atmosphere actively attracts fans? Simply because it's the only club in the country, perhaps one of the only opportunities in Japan full stop, to encourage and revel in abusive behaviour? Urawa may be cannily tapping into a human instinct oft suppressed in Japan - the occasional requirement to blow off some vitriolic steam.

Well, that's a whole sociological and psychological study right there, and maybe I'm just talking bollocks. After all, every Urawa fan I've spoken to has been a thoroughly nice chap/chappet. I stand by what I said, though. No amount of silverware (not that much in Urawa's case, anyway) could make up for stripping away the joy of singing and cheering and replacing it with bile and disdain game in, game out. I'd rather samba any day.

Videos

Highlights.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Barry's Round Up!

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

We're back - and it feels good! Sometimes a break's required to recharge the batteries and assess what's really important. And what's that? Watching your team win football matches, having a laugh while you're at it. The two games I got to last month at Brighton's beautiful shrine to soccer the AMEX were both a good laugh, and ended in the right result. But what of S-Pulse during my four month enforced lay off (lazy spell)?

Well, following the master class in bad timing that was the sacking of Afshin, we unsurprisingly took a nosedive. In the immediate aftermath we lost three of four, conceded 10, and only managed a narrow win against the spectacularly rubbish Tokushima. None too inspiring, then. To be honest, you could have shipped Alex Ferguson over and he'd have struggled to steady a team reeling having seen its leader so abruptly axed.

We can't afford David Moyes let alone Fergie, so instead we've installed Katsumi Oenoki at the helm. In Oenoki we have, following footsteps made by former team mate and fellow Shimizu lad Kenta Hasegawa, another old boy in charge. He's been promoted from youth team boss where he'd been honing the skills required in management since 2008. This might be his debut as a first team coach, but given his years experience at Miho, the new environs of Nihondaira's technical area should take minimal acclimatisation.

While our starting elevens have so far largely been tweakings of Ghotbi's side (one big exception being the return of Lee KiJe), Oenoki of course brings intricate knowledge of our former youth players. He's been happy to call upon these and other youngsters, meaning we've seen the likes of Mizutani, Genta Miura, Kagami and Ibuki run out in orange the last few weeks.

So while we're still hovering too close to the drop zone for comfort, if you squint, the green shoots of recovery are visible. Ever the blind optimist (simpering idiot), I'm willing to believe things are about to take an upturn. They pretty much have to, because while Tokushima are to all Is and Ps already a J2 team, of those below us, Sendai and Nagoya ain't going down, and Cerezo will keep throwing money around like maniacs until they move out the bottom three. That just leaves one of Omiya or Kofu to put a run together, and we're right down in the mire.

The green shoots to which I tenuously refer are a 2-2 draw away at second placed Tosu who before that game had the stingiest defence in the league (should have won it, but conceded in stoppage time), and a 2-1 away cup win at FC Tokyo, ground out with zero height up front. We've signed defender Bueno who looked a decent prospect against Tokyo. Strong, persistent and good in the air. With a fit Jong-a-Pin our defence shapes up nicely. Crucially, we're still in the cup, so have something to aim for this year.

So that's pretty much the shape of things as we head into our annual Ecopa fixture against Urawa. It's the only time we use the 50000 seater bowl situated an hour from Shimizu. This is in part due to problems of safety we've experienced when welcoming the Saitamians(?) to town. The last few years they've habitually misbehaved, whether at Nihondaira (pulling down S-Pulse banners. #sigh) or Ecopa (aiming fireworks at our team bus. #rolleyes), but Ecopa undeniably offers greater security and easier in-stand segregation (rarely required at Nihondaira where fans can normally mingle freely). As much as anything though, the yearly jaunt to Fukuroi in an invaluable exercise in marketing.

Situated deep in the traditionally sky blue half of Shizuoka prefecture, Ecopa (an amalgam of Ecology, Pal and Park, if you were wondering) offers a chance to dangle a bright orange carrot in front of the region's school children. Thousands of free tickets are dispersed around the surrounding towns' elementary schools in the hope kids bring their parents, have a gay (old meaning) old time, and everyone heads home at 5pm with a burning love ignited for all things Shimizu. Out of respect for regional boundaries the free ticket generosity stops at the border of Fukuroi and Iwata, which is a shame really. God knows those poor kids could do with some top flight football.

Saturday then will be against the best Urawa team for a while, currently perched above Tosu atop the table. A tough old game for sure, but an ideal opportunity for Oenoki to show us what he's got, and to maybe steal a few wavering Iwata fans in the process. I'll be throwing a match report up here Saturday evening or Sunday lunchtime, but my Twitter (@spulseukultras) and the official S-Pulse account (@spulse_eng) will be the best places to keep right up to date.

Right, I think that's everything. Now time for another four month break (joke).

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

With Thanks - Come Back Anytime, Afshin!

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

With apologies for the four month hiatus - it wasn't intentional, but you know how things go. One post gets missed, then another, then the World Cup comes along, a change of job, a three week trip to Europe, a week trying to get over jet lag... I could go on making excuses but the important thing is we're back. This was the first time we've neglected our service in six years, so I hope you'll forgive us. Six years?! Has it really been that long? Apparently so.

In the world of S-Pulse it's been an eventful four months. Too much has happened to recount it all, but to hit the most major point, our boss, my friend and gentleman, Afshin Ghotbi parted company with Shimizu.

I know how hard he worked over to revolutionise and globalise our club. He poured in effort, attracted some fantastic players (Freddie Ljungberg joining Shinji Ono in midfield for goodness sake!), and lived and breathed S-Pulse for three and a half years. Sometimes in the the face of opposition, everything he did he did for the good of Shimizu.

His exit leaves a certain emptiness around the club, and while we never reached the heights we, and he, longed for, I take too many unforgettable moments from his reign to count. A look at last season's most memorable games scratches the surface, but then there's the Miracle at Mizuho, and the Nine Man Madness at Ajinomoto to name but two. The Lionheart spirit Ghotbi instilled in his team came to the fore especially on those backs-against-the-wall occasions.

If there's one thing which exemplifies his motivational skills on the big occasion, it's this video made for that incredible day at Yamaha Stadium.



It worked, of course. We beat a fiercely motivated home team fighting for their J1 survival. No mean feat.

So, gone from Shizuoka, but very much not forgotten. Afshin, you transformed our club. Thanks for the memories and the opportunities. All the very the best for the future. We'll be following and supporting you!!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

S-Pulse 1-2 Kobe (Nab Cup Group Stage)

Barry BARRY WRITES...  

S-Pulse 1-2 Kobe
Novakovic 63 -------------- Jung 33
---------------------------------- Iwanami 87

Att 11815
May 24th, 2pm
IAI Stadium Nihondaira, Shizuoka

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Jakovic
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong a Pin
DF Yoshida

MF Sugiyama
MF Musaka
MF Takeuchi

FW Omae
FW Kawai
FW Takagi T

Subs Used

Novakovic on for Sugiyama (HT)
Murata on for Kawai (HT)
Takagi Y on for Takagi T (85)

Report

Not a great first half, but we really should have won it in the second. After Novakovic's penalty, his 10th goal of the season and which he took rather than Genki given Omae and Yamamoto's relationship, we pummeled the Kobe goal relentlessly. Murata and Hiraoka in particular went close. Murata collected a Toshiyuki Takagi cross only to be denied by Yamamoto, while Hiraoka headed against the post. The day after turning 28, a birthday goal would have been pretty sweet, but it wasn't to be.

Just when it started to look like the game would end all square, Kobe's young defender Iwanami (who I happened to see in Starbucks last night) popped up to head past Kushibiki and steal all three points.  Kushi should have done better and he knows it, but today's game is gone. We're still 2nd in Group A, with a game in hand over 1st placed G. Osaka and 3rd placed FC Tokyo. A win away at Tosu on Wednesday could as good as put us through to the quarter finals, and even then we have another game still to play, so this one defeat has to be kept in perspective.

A personal shout out for Yoshida. In the second half especially he didn't stop running, and his charging down the left wing was the genesis of many goal scoring chances. Really impressed with his work rate and productivity today. Well played Yutaka!

GROUP A



Pts P W D LF A Gd
1 G. Osaka 12 5 4 0 1 9 3 +6
2 S-PULSE 9 4 3 0 1 9 4 +5
-
3 FC Tokyo 7 5 2 1 2 10 8 +2
-
4 Kashima 6 4 2 0 2 7 7 +0
-
5 Kobe 6 4 2 0 2 5 8 -3
6 Tosu 3 4 1 0 3 5 8 -3
7 Sendai 1 4 0 1 3 2 9 -7

Videos

The goals.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

FC Tokyo 2-3 S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES...  

FC Tokyo 2-3 S-Pulse
Edu 18, 87 --------------------- Takagi 8
-------------------------------------  Omae 21
-------------------------------------- Novakovic 57

Att 8749
May 21st, 7pm
Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Jakovic
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong a Pin
DF Yoshida

MF Takeuchi
MF Kawai
MF Musaka

FW Omae
FW Takaki T
FW Novakovic (10)

Subs Used

Sugiyama on for Novakovic (78)
Takagi Y on for Takagi T (86)
Hiroi on for Tekuchi (90)

Report

A great cup tie, well fought and a win well deserved. We played some lovely stuff tonight, and while when the home team got into a bit of stride they did threaten, I thought we pretty much bossed this and were very good value for the three points. 

Takagi T can be especially pleased with his contribution, scoring one, setting up two, and curling a gorgeous shot around the keeper only to be denied by the post. He had a cracking game. His second assist was part of the highlight of the night. Kawai advanced on the FC Tokyo defense, laid the ball off to Takagi who took it to the touchline before playing the ball in for Novkovic to tap home. it was a gorgeous bit of football, and a goal worthy of winning the game.

Edu pulled a goal back to make it 2-3 going into the final srages, but we held strong and made it three out of three in Group A. You can checkout the goals below. What this win means is that with a victory at home to Kobe on Saturday we can move within touching distance of the the quarter finals.

Videos

The goals.



Monday, 19 May 2014

S-Pulse 1-1 Kobe

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

S-Pulse 1-1 Kobe
Sugiyama 66 ------------ Ogawa 61

Att 12960
May 17th, 2pm
IAI Nihondaira Stadium

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Jakovic
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin (44)
DF Yoshida

MF Sugiyama (67)
MF Musaka
MF Takeuchi

FW Omae
FW Takagi T
FW Novakovic

Subs Used

Kawai on for Takeuchi (78)
Murata (93) on for Omae (88)
Hiroi on for Yakaki T (91)

Report

To come.

Videos

The goals.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hiroshima 1-1 S-Pulse

Barry BARRY WRITES... 

Hiroshima 1-1 S-Pulse 
Shiotani 14 ----------------------- Novakovic 52

Att 12960
May 10th 2pm, Edion Stadium Hiroshima
Hiroshima city, Hiroshima prefecture

Line Up

GK Kushibiki

DF Jakovoc
DF Hiraoka
DF Jong-a-Pin
DF Yoshida (82)

MF Sugiyama
MF Musaka
MF Takeuchi

FW Kawai
FW Omae
FW Novakovic

Subs Used

Takagi T on for Kawai (HT)
Ishige on for Takeuchi (88)
Murata on for Omae (92)

Report

Could easily have won this one! After struggling to break down Hiroshima in the first half, it was a different story after the break. We had them back peddling for long periods, and but for the woodwork and a couple of desperate goal line stops, we would have had a second. Can't be disappointed with a point away at the champions, especially coming back from behind.

Videos

Highlights.