2009-09-26 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Albirex Niigata
Posted by stefanole on 2009/10/01
Sanfrecce saw their hopes of a first J1 title dealt another blow as their historic unbeaten streak was halted by Albirex Niigata. The nine game streak was the longest Sanfrecce have gone unbeaten in J1 since the genesis of the J-League in 1993.
This was a very disappointing game to watch, not least because teams around us also dropped points. This includes the leaders Kashima Antlers, whose hopes of retaining the title are looking more and more difficult with each loss. There are reports that there is disharmony in the dressing room and disquiet on the terraces, with in-fighting marring Kashima’s ability to play football and spoiled Antlers fans stirring trouble at the smallest sign of difficulty.
If we look a little deeper at the situation at Hiroshima however, it may seem that the reason for Sanfrecce’s stuttering end to the campaign is quite clear. After having to come off for a head injury against the Yokohama F. Marinos, Ilyan STOYANOV has missed the last two games, from which Sanfrecce have won a point out of a possible six. His absence has coincided with a worryingly perceptible shift in attitude on the pitch, which could possibly be described as overconfidence bordering on arrogance. Someone needs to grab the team by the scruff of the neck and remind them that there is a J1 title going begging, and the best way to go about getting their hands on it would be for Sanfrecce to up their game against fellow contenders Shimizu S-Pulse this weekend.
Apart from this shift in the comportment of the players, there is also the matter of some dreadful defending and aimless attacks. I had a bad feeling about this game and was very close to just not going. As it was, we arrived about ten minutes late, and had enough time to settle into my seat before Yano was gifted a goal for Niigata. Poor defensive discipline, probably as a consequence of Stoyanov’s absence, allowed Albirex to pull the Sanfrecce defence out of position in such a way that a goal became inevitable. Moriwaki, covering in central defence, was sucked into a tackle and taken out of the game with a clever one-two. The positional error was compounded as the ball was crossed, and both Makino and Hattori were sucked into trying to clear it (and missed). Hattori’s failed defensive instincts, which led him to chase the ball instead of watching Yano, left him in enough space to blast the ball in from close range. I am tempted to lay some blame at Makino’s feet also: although he had the instincts to be in the right place when the ball was crossed (ignoring the fact that he narrowly failed to clear it), he should have shown the leadership necessary to tell Hattori to back off and watch Yano. Nakajima is also partly to blame for not tracking back dillgently enough from defensive midfield after failing to prevent the wall-pass that began the move.
Moriwaki was again at fault for the second Niigata goal, which was created through the vision and tenacity of their Brazilian left-back Gilton. Played up the left after taking a quick throw-in, Gilton took advantage of some extremely lackadaisical Sanfrecce defending to control a bouncing ball, taking out Moriwaki (and Nakajima, again), and poking a shot at Nakabayashi. That should have been the end of it, were it not for the layer of Teflon that appears to have been added to Nakabayashi’s gloves in recent weeks. Nakabayashi palmed the ball down, and instead of showing some bravery and smothering the ball with his body, Nakabayashi attempted to poke the ball away with his legs. Just as against Kashiwa Reysol last week though, Nakabayashi only succeeded on pushing the ball right at the feet of an attacker for him to prod it into the goal, which Gilton gratefully did. Without the steadying influence of Stoyanov, the Sanfrecce defence really does look quite thin and immature.
The Hiroshima attack was equally unimpressive. Stoyanov again is one reason for this, as many of Sanfrecce’s attacks are started and run from the Bulgarian rock in defence, a fact I’ve noted on numerous occasions in the past. The home attack was further weakened by the absence of KASHIWAGI Yosuke, probably suspended after his yellow card last week (I say probably because I can’t find accurate records. I think I will try to keep accurate records for myself next season).
Mihael MIKIC, Sanfrecce’s cavalier Croatian, attempted gamely to address the imbalance in the team with a strong (if slightly desperate) performace. Really, Mikic was the only player who visibly wanted this game, and his mounting frustration at the scoreline and his lack of opportunities to run at Niigata prompted some young fans around us to comment (in broken English) on Mikic’s “guddo fighto” and “beautifaru hairu”, among other things.
It was no surprise then that one of Mikic’s searching runs led to Sanfrecce’s goal. He managed to pick out Takayanagi almost perfectly, and his miscued shot was picked up by Aoyama. Some good control brought Aoyama to within a couple of yards of the goal, where he calmly nutmegged the keeper for Sanfrecce’s 400th home goal in J1. The Niigata defenders were adamant that Takahagi was offside, but since he was not passed the ball (Aoyama kept the ball from Takayanagi’s miscontrolled shot to the goal) he could not have interfered with play. It was an interesting decision from the linesman because a defender ran into Takahagi as he tried to intercept Aoyama, but I believe that the FIFA instruction that the referees should encourage attacking football by not punishing players for offside unless they are interfering with play was followed. (Nowadays, ‘interfering with play’ is mainly interpreted as having touched the ball.) So, it’s a decision that may well be debated among the J-League’s officials, and possibly in refereeing classrooms, but I believe it was a correct one. So, well done to the refereeing team on this occasion. (And to make a stab at trying to sound impartial, the officials appeared to make the correct decision when they ruled out a Hisato goal for offside. Replays suggest that Hisato was probably half a yard offside in what was a very difficult decision.)
Hisato came close to tying the game at the death from another accurate Mikic cross, but it was not to be. Hisato has looked dangerous for the past couple of games without scoring, and he is losing ground in the race for the golden boot. If Hisato were to find his form again though, it would almost certainly help propel the team as we go into the stretch.
14,690 (Previous average 15,177*, J-League average 19,278**)
Yano 21′ (0-1)
Gilton 38′ (0-2)
Aoyama 52′ (1-2)
LEE (HATTORI 61′)
RAKUYAMA (YOKOTAKE 76′)
HIRASHIGE (TAKAYANAGI 90′)
NAKAJIMA (YC, 90′)
Stoyanov misses his second game with a head injury. Moriwaki moves to centre back from right back, Aoyama moves to right back from defensive midfield, Yokotake moves into defensive midfield from the bench. Takahagi comes in for the suspended Kashiwagi. Aoyama scores the 400th home goal for Sanfrecce in J1.
*Average home attendance for Sanfrecce for total of preceding games in J1 in 2009.
**Average attendance for J1 in the 2008 season.