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ACL Round 3 Opposition Research: FC Tokyo

On this year’s Qingming holiday, or Tomb Sweeping day (a holiday to honor the dead), Beijing Guoan goes up against FC Tokyo at Worker’ Stadium. No doubt tensions will be even higher in the stadium for this reason. Guoan absolutely needs a result out of this match if their ACL hopes are to continue.

For tonight’s season preview, we sit down with Ben and Dan of the excellent On the Gas Tokyo FC blog and podcast.  Let’s see what they have to say about their side.

: Tokyo’s currently in 3rd in the J-League and doing well in the AFC, its still early days, but what happened with being in the lower league last season?
Dan: Everything that could have gone wrong in 2010 did, from general stagnation under then-manager Hiroshi Jofuku to the departure of Yuto Nagatomo to Italy and Takuji Yonemoto’s season-long ACL injury. Kiyoshi Okuma did well as a replacement manager, but then there was the epic last-day collapse and we dropped.

: What are FC Tokyo’s AFC expectations this season?
Dan: If you ask me what my expectations are as a supporter, I would say that making it to R16 or even the quarter-finals would be a huge accomplishment.

As far as the team and its goals, I think that Tokyo has long been overshadowed by more longstanding clubs in the region such as Yokohama FM and Urawa Reds; a good showing on an international stage would do a lot in terms of helping the club’s image globally.

: Can you give a brief introduction to the club? How would you describe them to someone who knows nothing about the J-League?
Officially founded in 1999 after years and years as Tokyo Gas FC, FC Tokyo shot up to the J1 in its first year and proceeded to do little more than win a couple J-League cups until their relegation, at which point they went ahead and not only won J2 somewhat easily but also won the Emperor’s cup.

The club tends to have a somewhat misfit vibe… lots of players who were castaways from other teams but found their way here. The team also has a surprising number of NT players for a club that’s never truly challenged for the league title…

: What are the team’s strongest points and star player(s)?
Dan:It’s a much different team than last year so I think I’ll let Ben discuss our strong points, but as far as star players undoubtedly Naohiro Ishikawa and Lucas; both are long-time veterans who have put in many years with Tokyo. Tatsuya Yazawa is sort of a bizarre fan favorite, and Aria Jasuru Hasegawa is gaining quite a following (probably because his song is so catchy to sing). Then of course there’s Shuichi Gonda, who’s likely first in line to follow Kawashima on the JNT.

Ben: We are at our best on the counter attack (as Brisbane can certainly attest to), and we often fare better in away J.League games, as all but the best teams will sit back with 10 men behind the ball and dare us to pass through them when we are at home.

While losing Konno was a severe blow our defence is still a major strength and provides the platform for us to play on the break.

As far as star players go you can’t look past Ishikawa, he’s a gem and so important to the way we play.
Agree on Gonda too, but the man who is perhaps not a star but has become our most important player is Hideto Takahashi, a converted centre back who has been a revelation in a holding midfield role. The best thing that came out of us being in J2 was that he got a chance to play, and he became a permanent fixture in the XI. Dogged defensively, he’s also really worked on his overall game, and has a good eye for a pass.

: What are the team’s weaknesses?
Dan: Our back line is a lot shakier than it’s been in previous years, mostly owing to the departure of Yasuyuki Konno. Other than that, an occasionally frustrating inability to take a damned shot inside the box.

Ben: One glaring weakness is that when space is cut off in midfield we don’t have a playmaker who can carve an opposing defence open, Yohei Kajiyama is the closest we have to that type of player but he’s not made the trip.

If Beijing have done their homework and clog the midfield we’ll struggle.

: What are fan’s expecting the Worker’s Stadium experience to be like?
Dan: No picnic, that’s for certain! Our ultras leader is also the leader of Nippon Ultras so he’s seen it all… a few from that crowd have basically been warning people that this is as close to going to war as we’ll get. I’ve heard stories of vandalized cars, buses having stuff thrown at them, supporters being held in the stadium for 4 hours after the match… and of course I don’t think it will get that bad. I’m looking forward to it as someone who’s never done the whole “going to another country for purposes of a sporting event” thing, and I’m sure we’ll all enjoy Beijing as well!

: Finally, any predictions for the match?
Dan: The pessimist in me says that we’ll lose 2-1; Kajiyama not being included is a big blow. But realistically I think it will be a very even game, and if FCT can survive the hostile atmosphere a draw or win aren’t out of the question by any means.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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