Shimizu S-Pulse 4-3 Kashima Antlers
Radončić 31---------------------------------------- Osako 1, 68
Takagi 45, 49, 88 --------------------------------- Yamamura 6
KO 7pm, IAI Stadium Nihondaira
Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture
DF Jong-a-Pin (66)
MF Honda (83)
Takagi on for Kawai (35)
Ito on for Radončić (69)
Murata on for Omae (87)
First things first. There was no update for Cerezo away or Urawa at home (well, Ecopa) because I was away for two weeks. Fortunately I returned in time for today's game with Kashima, which would transpire to become an S-Pulse evening to top most others. Accordingly, I'm going to try and complete a report while it's still fresh in the memory and before I give in to some pressing jet lag issues.
The full time scoreboard doesn't even begin to tell the story
Where to start? Well how about kick off, where after three passes and a shot Kashima had taken the lead. 10 seconds that had taken. Not the fastest ever J1 goal, but definitely top three. OK, time to regroup. Shit happens, and we still have 89 minutes to go. Five minutes later it was 2-0 from a corner. Right, then. From behind me jeers rang out, but to be fair, the vast majority of fans just started singing that bit louder. Credit to J. League fans. We may all be tempted to give the team hell after a disastrous start to a game, but clearly that's when they need the 12th man the most. Japanese fans really do support in the truest sense of the word.
Not only were we 2-0 down, but Iwata were 2-0 up. Away. Looking like, maybe not yet striding out of the relegation zone, but making the first steps towards safety. The night was young, but so far couldn't have been worse. But two down less than ten minutes in, we responded well. Great, in fact. Radončić hit the post with a cracking free kick, and we created goal scoring chances besides that. You know what, though? I've been watching football too long and my optimism has been worn down. I was already feeling like it was too little, too late. Kashima are the last team to surrender a commanding lead.
What do I know, eh? Roll on the half hour mark and an S-Pulse free kick poorly cleared was chipped back into the mix for Radončić to effortlessly control and smash home. 2-1. Sensing the swing in momentum, in what transpired to be a master stroke, Ghotbi threw Takagi on for Yoshida, moving Kawai to left back. As you know, Takagi had been struggling early on in the season, but in the last few games has been showing signs of a return to form. With his old mate Genki back in the team, you can almost see the rise in Toshiyuki's spirits. To add a further burst of wind under those wings, just prior to the break a long ball flicked on by Radončić had Toshi chasing Sogahata for the ball. At this point I was already hovering at the top of the staircase to beat the bathroom rush, but time slowed down as the two ran hard, Toshi beat the keeper to it, and nodded the ball home. Nihondaira exploded, and not for the last time.
With impeccable just-before-haltime timing, a change in impetus saw the second half begin all S-Pulse. It felt only a matter of time before we broke through to complete the comeback. This sentiment was underlined when, after fantastic work from Toshiyuki to capitalise on Kashima's defensive indecisiveness, a shot was turned onto the post by an Antlers defender. A lucky escape? Yes. A short reprieve ? Yes. Moments later a pinpoint ball from Jong-a-Pin was collected by Radončić, taken down and laid it off to an advancing Takagi. With his trademark coolness Toshi stroked it home and the celebrations at 2-2 paled into insignificance as the roof, had he had one, got lifted clean off.
3-2. Given the way we were looking after 6 minutes, a monumental turnaround. A 4th goal to kill it off was required, but instead of that, a Kashima corner floated long beyond the far post was sent back goalwards only to meet Jong-a-Pin's arm. Was it intentional? Unlikely. Did the referee give a penalty? Of course. Few refs wants to explain the intricacies of the handball rule to a packed stadium, and most just give the spot kicks.
In a sleep deprived, mildly hallucinogenic, state I had begun to believe that tonight was had been set up just for me. It was a fairytale comeback arranged for my personal enjoyment, and as such this penalty was destined for Row Z. Nope. Kushibiki was clinically sent the wrong way by Osako, and we were at 3-3. 20 minutes remained, and the momentum had shifted again. Or had it? Just minutes later Sho Ito met a cross on the edge of the six yard box but, thanks to the slightest of deflections by the defender, couldn't keep it down. High over the bar it sailed. What a chance! S-Pulse were the most likely, but time was running out and any little mistake had us all aching with the sense of missed opportunity.
But you know what? I was right. Tonight was a fairytale, conceived just for me. Well, I like to think so, anyway. I may be dreaming for all I know. I haven't had any decent sleep since Monday, eight time zones away. On 88 minutes, Takuya Honda, former S-Pulse favourite and until recently Kashima nearly-man, shoved his marker, and the visiting fan's booing, aside. Moving hard through the centre circle, he threaded it through to the recently introduced Murata.
Murata sped down the right wing, and sold the dummy to end all dummies to his marker. His man on the floor, there were still three white shirts separating the ball from his intended target, but with a level of accuracy you expect from deep inside a Seiko wristwatch, Kazuya chipped it in towards Toshi. The ball arced majestically over the defenders, dropping on a sixpence to our man. You think after netting two he's going to let this one slip? Not a bloody chance. Takagi put it home not only with efficiency, but with style.
If you thought the celebrations at 3-2 were something... Well. :) Bedlam ensued. The stand behind the goal dissolved into one heaving mass of orange. Total strangers bear hugged each other. Tears flowed (I get emotional when overtired ;) ), and as news filtered through that Iwata were now 4-2 down, the despair of 80 minutes previous gave way to delirium. Stoppage time extended unbearably into a sixth minute, but when the ref finally blew up, it marked the conclusion of a truly memorable comeback.
Once I'd calmed down a bit
At two behind, looking down and out, you sometimes just pray for a quick conclusion. A kind of football euthanasia. Perhaps a draw if you're lucky. But ask any of our lads that tonight and they'd have been having none of it. Given what we had to deal with, we were brilliant on the day. You may counter that Kashima let it slip, but I say no. They did have chances, even hit the woodwork, but so did we. The difference was we ultimately converted ours, with an extra edge to make it count. All earned and worked for. A fantastic game of football, straight into my S-Pulse top three. A night up Nihondaira I'll never forget.
Snatched off the TV.
Better quality, but short, and for some reason not including all the goals.