2009-10-03 Vissel Kobe 1-1 Kyoto Sanga
Posted by stefanole on 2009/11/05
The first weekend of October saw me and Claire make our second sporting trip to Kansai. Our destination was Kobe, the stage for a match billed as the “Kansai Derby” as the home side took on neighbours Kyoto.
As happened in September, when we travelled to Cerezo Osaka’s Nagai Stadium, we took the JR Rapid Service from Banshu-Ako and then the subway. After having lunch in Kobe’s Chinatown, we took the Kaigan underground line to Misaki-koen. The journey was quite easy since the ticket barriers accepted our ICOCA radio cards. (The Osaka subway turnstiles refused to accept our ICOCAs, but that wasn’t really surprising since, after all, we were in Osaka.)
Home’s Stadium Kobe, otherwise known as Kobe Wing Stadium, is (I think) the newest football stadium I’ve been to. (I haven’t been to the “new” Wembley yet.) It is also the second stadium I’ve visited in Japan that hosted World Cup matches in 2002: the Nagai hosted Nigeria 0-0 England and two others, and Kobe Wing also hosted three games. The stadium itself was opened in 2001, albeit with an increased capacity of 42,600, which was achieved by building temporary seating that extended behind the goals. When these extra seats were removed after the World Cup, the capacity was reduced to its current level of 30,132. But, the stadium was designed in such a way that, with the reduced capacity, a sliding roof could be installed that can close in inclement weather. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the weather was fine and the roof remained open for the game.
Having learned from the problems I had in Osaka in getting seats where I wanted (i.e. as close as possible without actually scoring a press pass), I made sure to order seats in the SS section (‘SS’ seats usually being the best you can get at Japanese grounds without having personal connections or season tickets, although I’ve no idea what the letters actually stand for). I probably needn’t have bothered, since the attendance was surprisingly poor for a “derby” (only 11,127), but the absence of a running track separating the crowd from the action meant that being seated in the ninth row didn’t frustrate me as much as it might in my photography. Incidentally, Kobe’s is the first stadium in Japan I’ve visited that wasn’t cursed with an infernal ring of clay and covered-up sandpits and the like, and the atmosphere definitely benefited from it despite the low turnout.
Indeed, both the home and away fans contributed to generating an atmosphere that belied the paltry official attendance. The Kobe players came out onto the pitch to the theme tune from Pirates of the Caribbean, and their Ultras sang a couple of nautical-themed tunes backed up with what sounded like a military snare drum. The nautical motif is an obvious result of the team’s heritage, since Kobe’s was the busiest port in Japan before the 1995 earthquake that destroyed most of it. “Vissel” is supposed to be a portmanteau of “victory” and “vessel”. Victory in any meaningful sense has proved elusive though, with Vissel failing to finish any higher than 10th since the club was taken over by the ‘Crimson Group’, whose president is Kobe native Hiroshi Mikitani. Mikitani’s most notable contribution has been to change the club’s colours from black and white stripes to crimson, after his alma-mater the Harvard Business School. Financial acumen obviously doesn’t translate to footballing acumen though, and it’s most likely that Mikitani is ultimately to blame for the fact that a souvenir t-shirt I bought (with the 2009 season Kobe squad listed on the back) is twice out of date, with departed manager Caio Júnior having been replaced by Masahiro Wada and then Toshiya Miura.
The Kyoto Sanga fans refused to be outdone by Kobe’s worthy show of support though, as they staged a card tifo to spell out K heart S. Success on the pitch has been even more elusive for Sanga though, as in recent years they have failed to finish above fourteenth in J1. This season is likely to be the first ever that they have been able to survive two consecutive seasons in the top division, and Kyoto hold the dubious distinction of being the only team to have been relegated three times from J1.
At the time, the game looked like an important opportunity for both sides to claim a valuable win that would go a long way to guaranteeing their survival in J1. Sanga and Vissel lay 12th and 13th respectively (of 18 teams), nine and seven points clear of the third relegation place, with eight games remaining. In the end the result was inconclusive, and with half of those eight remaining games now gone, both sides have barely moved in the table. What has changed though, is that both sides are now virtually guaranteed to be playing their football in Japan’s top flight next season. A point in their next league game will be enough to see Kyoto stay up if 16th-placed Kashiwa Reysol fail to win, and a win for Kobe in any of their four remaining games will see them stay up whatever happens.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the match was not the most interesting we’ve seen in the J-League. Kobe were the better team for the most part, and they seemed to have more ideas when it came to creating chances. Kyoto on the other hand seemed to be well versed in breaking down Kobe’s attacks, by fair means or foul (and mostly somewhere in between), and earned four yellow cards in the process.
The Kyoto attack was spearheaded by the cheeky YANAGISAWA Atsushi, who returned to Japan in 2006 after spending three unsuccessful seasons in Italy’s Serie A. It was a through-ball that put Yanagisawa through on goal, and he was fouled just inside the penalty area by Kobe’s UCHIYAMA Toshihiku. Uchiyama recieved just a yellow for his efforts (the right decision maybe, since it was unclear if the ball was fully under Yanagisawa’s control, and so it couldn’t have been an “obvious” goalscoring opportunity). The penalty was gleefully put away by Yanagisawa, to end the half with Kyoto sitting on an unlikely 0-1 lead.
The second half saw Vissel’s Brazilian midfielder Botti create (and squander) a few chances. Less inspiring was the performance of OKUBO Yoshito, Vissel’s recent reacquisition from German champions Wolfsburg. The Japanese Tim Cahill, as I christened him (something I did not mean as a compliment) spent most of his time falling over and shooting from ridiculously long range. The equaliser seemed a little inevitable due to the amount of pressure Kobe were exerting, and it eventually came from a Botti free kick. KITAMOTO Kunie skilfully redirected his diagonal cross across the face of the goal and into the opposite corner of the net.
Botti came close to closing the game out for Vissel in the 75th minute, but his improvised shot was saved off the line. Okubo’s search for a dramatic long-range winner almost bore unlikely fruit also, as he had a shot rebound off the crossbar, but it was helped by a deflection off a crimson shirt.
Fulltime brought the majority opinion that Kyoto were lucky to escape with a point. We met with Goru from the English-language Kyoto blog (and japanesesoccer.net blog), as well as some other J-League bloggers and friends. It was an interesting prelude to the ‘Bloggers’ Summit’ that should be held next year.
Yanagisawa 45′ (0-1)
Kitamoto 65′ (1-1)