¡Sanfrecce Olé!


2009-08-22 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 Urawa Red Diamonds

Posted by stefanole on 2009/09/13

The Sanfrecce faithful at the Big Arch - stefanole

The Sanfrecce faithful at the Big Arch - stefanole

Yes! We are Sanfrecce!

A five-year record crowd of over 27,000 descended on the Big Arch to witness Sanfrecce’s first league victory over Urawa in over ten years (although we did beat them in the Nabisco Cup earlier this year).

KASHIWAGI and MAKINO celebrate the former's goal - stefanole

KASHIWAGI and MAKINO celebrate the former's goal - stefanole

Urawa draw the crowds as the most notorious team in the J-League (though not the most successful, as that distinction belongs to the Kashima Antlers), and their reputation sank further as Reds players threw tantrums at the referees and picked fights. Their coach, Volke Finke, was also publicly rebuked by the head of the Japan Football Association for suggesting that his players should have dived to win penalties.

The game was billed beforehand as a clash of the titans between established enforcer and Japan national team defender Marcus Tulio TANAKA, and Hiroshima’s own national team young-gun Tomoaki MAKINO. Although both players got on the scoresheet, it was not decisive to the outcome of the match. It was entertaining however, and it served as a reminder that however much potential is in Sanfrecce’s young team, they will need to learn to convert that potential into consistent results in the coming seasons.

Sanfrecce went into the game as the form team, having won their last three home games, and were unbeaten in the last five. Urawa on the other had, are in a quite spectacular slump which has seen them slide out of contention for both the title and an Asian Champions League place.

Urawa started as they meant to go on, with Ponte taking out Takayanagi with a flailing elbow in the fifth minute. As the referee blew for the foul, he was immediately surrounded by Urawa’s usual suspects, including Edmilson and Haraguchi.

Ponte was rightly booked, but his childish antics set the tone for the rest of the game by complaining loudly and giving Takayanagi the ‘clear off’ gesture. He appeared to admit to Hisato that he had indeed made contact with Takayanagi’s face but that it was with the flat of his hand, rather than his elbow, as if that is any better. Perhaps rugby would be more up Ponte’s alley.

From the outset, Sanfrecce seemed to be the team most interested in playing football, whereas Urawa seemed to be happy to sit back and attempt to clobber any Sanfrecce attackers.

This policy was most noticibly applied to Stoyanov, who was shadowed by Edmilson every time he received the ball, presumably to try to shut down Sanfrecce’s principal playmaker. This worked reasonably well for the first ten minutes, with Stoyanov being forced into some hurried passes that were mopped-up by the Urawa defenders.

In the fourteenth minute however, Stoyanov saw some space ahead of him and exploited it with a rangy diagonal run across to the right wing. He beat the pursuing Edmilson but was unceremoniously and deliberately body-checked by Escudero for what should have been another yellow card.

MAKINO (right) skips past EDMILSON's tackle on his way to scoring - stefanole

MAKINO (right) skips past EDMILSON's tackle on his way to scoring - stefanole

Sanfrecce’s first goal came about after a period of sustained pressure, and it was as much as we deserved for having dominated the game. It was the culmination of some excellent probing football, as we kept the ball in play for over two minutes before Makino broke through a clumsy Edmilson challenge to lash the ball in from the edge of the penalty area. I count about 42 Sanfrecce touches to about 6 Urawa ones without the ball going out, from a Mikic throw-in (whose technique Finke was shown to take the piss out of, charming fella) to the goal.

Takahagi came close to doubling Sanfrecce’s lead in the 35th minute. Another well-delivered Mikic corner was headed onto the crossbar as Takehagi rose above Urawa’s YAMADA. The referee blew for a free-kick shortly afterwards for Urawa, but I’m not sure what for exactly. Another one of life’s mysteries I guess.

Sanfrecce were denied a pretty obvious free kick a minute later, as I sensed an unfortunate pattern emerging. Hisato was sent scrambling for cover as HOSOGAI aimed what looked like a judo sweep kick at him (and the ball, mochiron), but the referee saw nothing wrong with Urawa players practicing their martial arts on a football pitch. I wonder if this is in part because the referee had already had to speak to Hosogai for an earlier challenge, and then had to speak to him again to ask him to shut up his whining. One more conversation would surely have had to necessitate a yellow card for persistent infringement, which for whatever reasons the referee was unwilling to sanction.

The Sanfrecce defending was competent enough, with Urawa managing a few half-attempts at goal in the first half but not really managing to threaten Nakabayashi in goal. I have decided to christen their defence in this game pickle-jar defending: one defender attempts to tackle a running player and manages to jostle the ball away from him, and the next player(s) manage to prise it away from him as he gets through. It is the obvious consequence of a layered formation such as Sanfrecce’s, but it seemed so comfortable and effective in this game that you wondered if Urawa were ever going to score.

The referee buys PONTE's bullshit - stefanole

The referee buys PONTE's bullshit - stefanole

Ponte’s childishness reemerged in the 40th minute in a challenge with Moriwaki. After intercepting Hosogai, who literally jumped two feet backwards in an attempt to exaggerate the tackle, Moriwaki attempted to counterattack with a dribble up Urawa’s left flank. Ponte cut that short with a heavy raised-arm body check that clearly had no intention of winning the ball, and indeed he completely missed it. The replay also showed Ponte saying something to Moriwaki as he charged into him. The referee blew for a free kick, and Moriwaki responded to the verbal afters that Ponte had added as insult to injury.

As soon as Moriwaki responded (verbally) however, Ponte suddenly switched from antagoniser to “victim”, protesting loudly to the referee about Moriwaki and repeatedly pointing at him, like a toddler desperate for his favourite toy. Unbelievably, the referee accepted a now extremely smug-looking Ponte’s version of events, and despite having given the free-kick to Sanfrecce in the first place, he then booked Moriwaki. Really a totally ridiculous decision that I can only assume was due to Ponte’s having been booked earlier. He should have been given a second yellow for this deliberate, calcluating and disruptive foul, and Urawa should have finished the half with ten men. That they didn’t does not speak well for the fortitude of Japanese referees.

Edmilson should have been booked two minutes later for a comically bad dive in the Sanfrecce penalty area. As the ball dropped, he stuck his arse towards the goal in an attempt to shield the ball (read: an attempt to buy a penalty). This attempt backfired just a little as the challenge came from the side, where the referee could see it, rather than from behind. This mattered not a jot to Edmilson however, who stopped, dropped and rolled as if he were on fire. Again, that he was not cautioned for such antics speaks poorly for the strength of referees in this country. It is probably just as well that we won this game anyway, otherwise these comments would most likely be dismissed as jealousy by some of the more bone-headed Urawa fans. But the fact of the matter is that Urawa’s extremely poor behaviour will only be corrected if referees in this country stop indulging the children of the lesser half of Saitama, and start actively encouraging fair play.

KASHIWAGI strikes for Sanfrecce - stefanole

KASHIWAGI strikes for Sanfrecce - stefanole

Sanfrecce rounded out the half by deservedly stretching their lead. Mikic was again released up the right wing by Stoyanov, and his cross was met by Kashiwagi after being prodded at his feet by an Urawa defender. He and Makino celebrated the goal with a sumo-inspired routine, following on from Makino’s usual archer celebration after his goal.

The most obvious changes for the second half were Tulio and Takehara both coming on for Hirakawa and man-child Ponte respectively. Edmilson and Escudero continued their headless chicken-style attacks, with Edmilson conceding yet another free kick to Stoyanov after he had rescued Makino from Escudero’s attentions.

Urawa also made an interesting tactical change that was noticable from the outset, but difficult to pin down exactly. Tulio lined up as a defensive midfielder, but seemed to be getting forward as much as possible, with the remaining Urawa defenders seeming to play in a back two.

It seemed to matter little to Sanfrecce though, who won a free kick on the 50th minute as Kashiwagi ran at the defensive pairing of Hosogai and Tsuboi. Both demonstrated another version of pickle-jar defending as one barged Kashiwagi before the other one outright tripped him. Again though, the referee seemed reluctant to take the appropriate action, preferring to give only a free kick, which Stoyanov hit at the wall.

Mikic was hacked down again on the edge of the box by Hosogai near the hour, and again the referee remained a spectator. Even if he somehow didn’t think this worthy of a card outright, surely Hosogai was firmly in persistent infringement territory. Stoyanov again chipped the free-kick against the wall.

The infringements stacked up against Urawa, as Haraguchi (never shy of turning tricks and then protesting loudly about decisions that go against his team) pulled on Kashiwagi’s shirt as he scooted past him on the wing. He delivered a great cross however, which was unfortunately wasted. I suspect though that instead of playing advantage, the referee just ignored the clear foul. He committed a second one minutes later as he barged Stoyanov to win a corner, and again it was ignored.

TULIO rises above MAKINO to score - stefanole

TULIO rises above MAKINO to score - stefanole

Minutes later, Urawa had the ball in the net as Makino fouled Tulio from behind. Tulio stood up, rolled the ball forward and hammered it into the top corner as Nakabayashi was left standing. The ball was rolling as Tulio took the kick however, so the referee correctly disallowed the goal. (From where I was sitting I couldn’t see that the ball was still rolling, and I thought the referee had made another cock-up by cancelling a good goal.) The ball was in the net again from the ceremonial free-kick however, as Tulio lost the ball-watching Makino in the box and rose to head Escudero’s ball in.

Hosogai should probably have seen red minutes later, as he and Yokotake (subbed in for Takahagi) clashed in midfield. The referee allowed what was probably a foul by Yokotake, since he neither sanctioned the foul nor signalled advantage. Yokotake then went in with a sliding challenge on Hosogai and won the ball, but Hosogai paused for a second before falling over and landing squarely on Yokotake’s face. I find it hard to believe that this was accidental since Hosogai looks at Yokotake before falling, but to add insult to injury I saw the referee signalling to Yokotake to get up and stop complaining. Oh, he also gave the free-kick against Sanfrecce. Wtf? I’m srsly.

Hisato had the Urawa keeper worried in the 73rd minute with a cheeky lob from the corner of the penalty area, but unfortunately it drifted over. Meanwhile Urawa were up to their usual tricks, with Tsuboi I think appearing to kick Takayanagi as he was on the ground. I wish I was making this stuff up.

Hisato showed his frustration with the referee on the 77th minute, as he was barged over while nearly through on goal by Abe, but again the referee gave only a free kick. Abe protested that the contact was with his arm, as though that gives you a free pass to charge anyone out of your way. He had no intention of playing the ball and should have been booked.



The same goes for Escudero, who gave what can only be described as a full-blown toddler’s tantrum a minute later. He actually beat the ground with his fists after fouling Ri, but the referee continued to indulge Urawa by allowing the dissent to go unpunished. Perhaps they should have swapped the central referee with his assistant from the Arch side: Mikic left the pitch too slowly for his liking as he was substituted for Morita, so he sidled up to the fourth official specifically to give Mikic a couple of rather comically over-emphasised shakes of the head.

The last ten minutes were scrappy, and punctuated with a couple of very soft free kicks for Urawa in the midfield. Tulio was getting increasingly agitated, with his team-mates feeling the brunt of it. That was until the 88th minute, when he scythed down Hisato with a lunging feet-off-the-ground tackle that would have been an immediate red-card in European leagues. It was the kind of tackle that breaks legs and demands a red card, but in keeping with prior form, the referee issued only a yellow.

A minute later, Edmilson decided to spread the abuse around by picking the ball up and, hands on hips, he mouthed off at the assistant referee. He then threw the ball away in disgust, a clear act of dissent, but the referee again did nothing. He didn’t even back up his assistant by jogging over and politely telling Edmilson to fuck off.

Stoyanov leavened the mood somewhat (amongst the Sanfrecce supporters at least) by delaying the restart. Seeing that the referee had lost all authority and control over the match, he paused to tie his shoelaces right in front of the away section. I cracked up as the Urawa fans were at first taken by surprise at Stoyanov’s audacity, then responded in the only way they knew how: by mooing their little hearts out. It really was comedy gold and I’m sure Stoyanov enjoyed himself, but little did he know that Tulio was preparing to take retribution when they next met.

KASHIWAGI and HOSOGAI clash - stefanole

KASHIWAGI and HOSOGAI clash - stefanole

There was not long to wait. In the 90th minute, Takehara made a break up Sanfrecce’s left that was unfairly halted by a clumsy tackle from Yokotake. The usual pushing in the box resulted prior to the free-kick being taken, but this time with a twist: as Stoyanov was pushing Edmilson backwards into Tulio, Tulio reacted by thrusting a hand into Stoyanov’s face to push him away. Now I didn’t know a country in the World where this was not Violent Conduct prior to this game, but it now appears that Japan is the exception (of course). The referee’s reaction was comically weak, as he drew Tulio and Stoyanov to one side and made a little “no elbows please” gesture to both players, with his head cocked to one side and a bemused expression on his face.

The one man wave of destruction swept onwards into time added on, as Tulio jumped into Sanfrecce keeper Nakabayashi as he made a very good catch. Tulio was the enraged party however (of course) as he complained to the referee that Nakabayashi was taking too long to clear his lines, despite the fact that there were four minutes of time added on for little reason other than the fact that Urawa were behind.

Sanfrecce responded with a swift counterattack, Ri hitting the post from a Nakajima cut-back. Hisato picked up the loose ball but conceded a throw-in after being pushed over by an Urawa defender (of course). It was a shame to not put that one away and silence the inevitable Urawa grumblings about being the better team and losing (which did indeed appear, despite all the evidence to the contrary). Still, the remaining minute was played out without further incident.

That is not the end of the story, however. There was still time for Tulio and his crazy gang to spew their particular brand of Fail all over the procedings. The problem in this case was that the post-game handshakes brought Tulio back into close proximity to Stoyanov, a man who refuses to be intimidated even in the face of such World-class asshattery. Tulio clearly interprets this as an affront to his manhood, and he had to be physically dragged away by Hisato and stuck into place so that the two teams could actually conduct the post-match bow and handshakes.

TSUZUKI: Neener neener! - stefanole

TSUZUKI: 'Neener neener!' - stefanole

With Ponte substituted, Urawa’s goalkeeper Tsuzuki took it upon himself to deputise himself under Asshat-In-Chief Tulio, as he took the lead in the Urawa handshaking queue. These he conducted with a slightly-higher-than-absolutely-necessary amount of enthusiasm; that is until he reached Stoyanov. At this point he raised his gloved hands in the universal “Fuck, no!” gesture, and carried on down the line. It couldn’t have been more childish if he had actually raised his thumb to his nose and blown a raspberry at him. Infuriated by the implacable Bulgarian, who refused to be baited, Tsuboi took his frustration out on Makino by shoulder charging him in the chest. Real tough guy, that one.

This was probably the most satisfying three points we have won since I have been watching Sanfrecce, which is for over a year now. As a trained referee, it really irks me to see a team play so negatively, and with such disrespect for the other team, the referee, and the Laws. I think that Urawa’s freefall is simply justice being served. Perhaps their bellyflop down the J1 table will be motivation enough to encourage the Urawa board to take action and try to reverse the steady decline in performances and reputation that the club is suffering. Perhaps they and other teams would be further discouraged from resorting to these tactics if referees in Japan learned how to assert themselves properly. Maybe it will be a combination of both, and perhaps a willingness from the JFA to apply retrospective punishment as is the case with UEFA would stamp-out the more extreme stupidity.

As for the Marshal of Urawa’s Madness, their manager Volke Finke, his comments encouraging diving caused his club such embarrassment that their President was forced to put out a press release. Finke had mused that if Escudero had gone down when “fouled” in the box, then maybe they would have gotten a penalty. The JFA immediately seized on these stupid comments and declared that Finke is “not fit to be a manager”. Urawa’s president responded by making the bizarre claim that Finke’s comments were “misleading, and that “these comments were meant to be interpreted in-line with what the Japan Soccer is aiming to achieve.” Really it brings to mind Hilary Clinton and her “mis-speaking”, and one joke that a comedian made that Clinton’s explanation implied that she had lost all control over what she was saying. I will be surprised if Finke is still managing Urawa for the 2010 season.

As for Sanfrecce, we go into the final stretch of the season gunning for a Champions’ League place, something that few would have predicted at the start of the season.


27,113 (previous average: 14,378*, J-League average 19,278**)


Makino 22′ (1-0)
Kashiwagi (2-0)
Tulio (2-1)


……………………………………..HISATO (FW)
….HATTORI…………………………………….MIKIC (MF)
…………………………….NAKABAYASHI (GK)

Used Substitutes:



MORIWAKI (YC #5, 70′)


MORIWAKI is suspended for the next match against Montedio Yamagata after collecting five yellow cards


*Average home attendance for Sanfrecce for total of preceding games in J1 in 2009.
**Average attendance for J1 in the 2008 season.


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