Just when you thought that all the possible Nippon jokes had been exhausted, the Lions go and pull another cracker out the hat. This has not, by any stretch of the imagination, been a successful season for the team that was runners up in last year’s CPL. And the play-offs have seen some especially harsh results, none more so than against JFC, in Tayu San’s final game for the team.
5 minutes before kick off, the Lions had but 6 players at the pitch. With 3 minutes to go though, that princely figure had risen to 8, and so it was game on. Chancy “Oh Captain My Captain” Cooke played a 4-3-0 formation, the Lions looking to take any scraps on the break. For the record, the 8 players were:
Mao in goal, Ant, Jaime, Clovis, Fred, Thomas, Christian and Volker.
To counter, JFC had pretty much half of the entire Tokyo metropolis at their disposal.
Strangely enough, in the opening 15 minutes, JFC was not able to muster a shot on goal although they had one or two long shots which were desperately off target. Mao in goal took a considerable amount of time collecting the ball, deliberately walking to the other side of the 6 yard box, meticulously placing the ball for any goal kicks, and there were several.
JFC seemed not to be able to play against a mere 8 Lions, and for once did not seem to have the patience to work an opening against some extremely resolute defending by the entire team.
After 20 minutes, Charles turned up and so the Lions changed to an attacking 4-3-1 formation. Strangely enough, the more players the Lions had, the less space they found.
Not long after that, Panda arrived, and still JFC were not putting a considerable amount of pressure on the Lions defence, despite changing out their entire team, with the exception of the keeper.
In the Lions centre, Thomas, Fred and Christian were combining well, although the crosses coming in from Christian lacked precision, power, well essentially everything you need from a cross to make it dangerous. Clovis was also making some forward runs, but tried too often to cut on to his right foot for a cross when using the left foot would have been probably the more sensible option.
The Red Lions had a blatant handball in the penalty area denied – not for the first time this season – which even Nobuyuki Tsujii could see. The referee was not interested in the Lions protests, instead waving play on as though nothing had happened, in much the same way as the Russians did in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl.
Ant and Christian on the right found some good touches, and made use of the wing, occasionally also finding some misunderstandings but always clearing the ball. All Lions – it must be said – were fighting for this game.
With a few minutes left to play in the first half, Nestor also turned up, got changed despite still being injured, and with that, the Lions were up to a full complement of players. Just… no subs.
The swirling wind was not helping the standard and quality of play, and one clearance from Ant went high in the air before spinning back behind where Ant had actually kicked it. Thankfully the defence had worked this one out, and were able to clear to safety. But the writing was on the wall, and in the very last minute of the half, it was Jaime who scored with an absolutely stunning diving header.
Unfortunately for Jaime, the goalkeeper he scored past was Mao, and not the Japanese counterpart. 1-0 JFC, and from the kick off, the ref blew immediately for half time.
The Lions had fought valiantly, held their own even with 8, then 9 and then 10 men, and held a lot of hope for the second half, with all the play being at JFC’s end. Fred and Thomas fought for every ball, but Panda was once more not able to get shots on target.
One shot did get fired in though, which the keeper did well to save, and Christian was also sent through with a delightfully weighted ball from Ant, the keeper coming out well to save an almost certain equalizer. As Christian tried to take it round him, the keeper made the save despite looking to have been outside of his area.
However the Lions were still open at the back, and JFC exploited this to make it 2-0 on one counter-attack. This spurred on the Lions to change to a seriously attacking 3-4-3 formation, pushing forward, Jaime leaving the defence and heading up to support the attacking players. From one rasping shot, the keeper tipped it around the post, the referee and linesman both called goal kick. Christian and Jaime were livid at this and pointed out that even Ayumi Hamasaki could hear the keeper get a touch. No pun intended, but these protests too fell on deaf ears.
With the Lions pushing forwards, JFC were still dangerous on the break, the Lions a little slow getting back, with Nestor tiring rapidly having not played for some time. However he still fought valiantly, getting in some tackles when they were needed most.
Up front Christian was having a torrid time with his crosses, none of which met their intended recipient, none of them going even remotely close to where they ideally should have. Mao has hereby decided that he is no longer Minister of Diplomatic Affairs, and has been moved to a new position which has been created solely for him, as Minister of Shite Crosses.
Down the other end, JFC’s crosses were a lot more dangerous, Mao having to stay alert to collect them. He even caught them. Chancy was observed peeking through his fingers, not able to watch, as he of Teflon Glove fame called for the first cross, came out and – despite the wind holding the ball up – managed a clean catch.
But another goal was to come, as the Lions pushed perhaps too hard in search of getting something out of this game, the JFC attacker getting past Nestor and then Charles, as he came over to cover, before passing to the far post for a simple tap in, Ant a couple of metres off the pace of his attacker. The score now 3-0.
And JFC weren’t finished there. Shortly after that, they broke down their right wing, and as Mao bravely made the initial save, taking it in the meat and two veg for the team, the ball rebounded nicely for a JFC attacker to tuck the ball away, despite Charles’ best efforts, for 4-0.
The Lions were now out for the count, having put in 100% effort the whole game, but with the final nail firmly in that coffin, the referee decided it was time to say sayonara to Tayu San, and the game was over.
With next weekend being a rest week, and the weekend after that the Taipei Tournament, the second half of the play-offs mean there is no pressure any more on the Lions, any hopes of equaling or bettering last season’s final position all but gone. But brave and valiant performances from all 11 players who turned up. And our thanks also to Kevin who also came to watch as the Lions went in to meltdown, like the Fukushima nuclear plant.