After tearing through the Second Division of the J.League last year, Kyoto Purple Sanga was promoted to the big time. And after two matches in J1, it looks as though it may be a brief stay.
Sanga lost its opener away to Yokohama F Marinos 4-1. The faithful shrugged it off: first game, away, tough team full of national team players, nerves.
Last Saturday saw Sanga back at home, its first J1 match in Kyoto in three years. Played under blue skies and relatively mild temperatures, expectations were high. Visiting Kawasaki finished in the middle of the table in J1 and, with the exception of its prolific striker Joninho, did not boast great talent.
On the first possession Kawasaki scored. It happened so quickly that many of us in the press box missed it. Sanga held its own in midfield, but defensively looked slow and exposed. Up front, Sanga’s pint-sized Brazilian forward Paulinho was repeatedly called for offsides and began diving all over the field in an attempt at getting a free kick. The ref would have none of it.
In the second half, the floodgates opened. Joninho nailed a hat trick, literally running around or past Kyoto’s hapless back line. His second goal came so quickly after the first, and in near identical fashion, that a giant groan emanated from the normally dormant press box. The final score was 7-2, but could easily have been worse. Joninho missed what should have been his fourth goal when his open-net shot banged off the cross bar.
At the press conference, the media ever so delicately broached the possibility that maybe, perhaps, after losing two matches by a total of 11-3 either personnel or the system itself would have to be rethought.
But Kyoto coach Koichi Hashiratani—a local boy and former national team player, pictured above—appeared defiant. Subdued but glib, the former tough guy midfielder said, no, we followed our game plan. Long, profound silence. The coach filled it by arguing that Kyoto is a team that counters well—but that down 2-0 early on, you can’t counter. More silence. More practice, hard practice, vowed Hashiratani.
Aside from a large purple banner that read “Hardcore Naked,” there was little to amuse. Short of a 2-3 quality players and better organization at the back, Kyoto is in for a long year.
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Monday, March 13, 2006