Yokohama set to oust FC Tokyo on the J.League's final day
Background image: Warren Smith
FC Tokyo hoped to coincide the city’s Olympic Games with a gold medal of their own. It appears they must settle for silver. Citizens of neighbouring, Yokohama, Hamako as they call themselves, hold specific opinions on Tokyo, none of which are pleasant. Any Hamako will tell you everything to be had in Tokyo is available in their city without the fuss or congestion and with far more beauty. To drive the point home, their football side crowded FC Tokyo out of the desperately desired J.League title
The sides meet on the final Saturday of the season, three points separating them. That isn't enough to give Tokyo much hope, however. They must win the away match by at least four goals to be champions.
Yokohama F. Marinos are back at their standard home stadium after being evicted by the owners to facilitate Rugby World Cup games. With the NISSAN sponsorship boards fully restored, a capacity crowd is set to flood the ground for the final J.League weekend to watch the game and revel in the subsequent trophy ceremony.
The game obtained marketing strategies, proclaiming it the BIG FINAL. Posters around Yokohama ensured everyone knew with weeks to spare that the season would culminate at the NISSAN, possibly with everything on the line. Instead, it's expected to be a happy party.
FC Tokyo failed to turn up to their last two matches reducing an enthralling showdown to a formality. Drawing 1-1 on both occasions with teams well down the table, the capital side’s inability to win turned a one-point advantage into a three-point deficit. After 19 weeks on top, they suddenly face a last-minute climb up Mount Fuji.
Australian Ange Postecoglou’s front-foot playing style may have landed him in hot water last season. The Yokohama board had reason to worry over the side's defensive prowess. Instead, the former Socceroos boss doubled down on his side's attacking intent. In addition to their superior goal difference, Marinos outscored their rivals by 19 goals. In fact, their 65 strikes are eight more than the nearest competitor, Vissel Kobe.
Despite Yokohama's 38 goals shipped ranking seventh in the league, Tokyo have few reasons to hope for a four-star upset. Marinos lost only two home matches this season, each by a single goal. Their own attack is the J.League's seventh-best. They've only scored four goals once. Ironically, that was in the home fixture against Marinos, who scored two in defeat. That is the only result on which they can pin their title hopes. Last time FC Tokyo visited the NISSAN, Hasegawa stirred a slender 1-0 victory.
City Football Group's investment in Yokohama is perhaps the key benefit to the club. When Edigar Junio went down to injury, he was club and league's top scorer. In addition, Amano Jun went to play in Belgium. In previous campaigns, those losses would have crippled Marinos title chances. Instead, the resources are available to compensate. Postecoglou brought in Erik, a striker who’s scored seven goals in nine games and Mateus a winger who added a goal and two assists in ten. The two 25-year-old Brazilians were acquired on loan from Campeonato Brasileiro side Palmeiras and JLeague rivals Nagoya Grampus respectively.
The finale possesses all the potential to set scoring records ablaze. Tokyo must abandon their standard defensive setup to score early and often. Meanwhile, Postecoglou isn't one to retreat into a shell. Why would he with his prolific attack extended an open invitation to hit Tokyo on the counter. They've assumed the front foot in every match this season and feature two of the league's top three finishers. Marcos Junior and Teruhito Nakagawa stand on 15 goals apiece. In addition to the J.League trophy, there is a Golden Boot in the offing.
The third player in the scoring race, Diego Oliveira, celebrated 14 times for FC Tokyo. What little emphasis Postecoglou places on defending will focus on the Brazilian. Oliveira boasts the most match-winning goals across the campaign. He'll need at least a hattrick to claim a title-winner for his side. If he manages it, they'll erect a monument to him outside the Ajinomoto. Otherwise, Tokyo must wait on the Olympics for their glory.
UK J.League fans can watch the game on either subscription-based Rakuten Sports or betting industry streams like Bet365 with the match kicking off at 5:00 AM GMT.