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Review: FC Ryukyu 0-1 Cerezo Osaka (Levain Cup 1st Round 3rd Leg)

  • TEAM

Yuichi Hirano, who made his first appearance this season, scored the winning goal. Despite an early send-off, the team defended as a whole and advanced to the playoff round.

Three days have passed since the most recent league match, the 15th round of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League against Avispa Fukuoka, which ended a three-game losing streak. The tournament moved to the J.League YBC Levain Cup, and Cerezo Osaka faced FC Ryukyu in the third leg of the first round. The starting lineup was mostly changed from the Fukuoka game, with the exception of Hayato Okuda. Yuichi Hirano made his first appearance after joining the club, and Hiroshi Kiyotake and Tatsuya Yamashita made their first starts of the season.

The rain, which had been falling heavily in Okinawa City since the morning, stopped in the evening, and the pitch was in good condition. The match began in the heat and humidity typical of after-rain conditions, and Cerezo, standing on the windward side of the pitch, attacked from the outset. In the 2nd minute, Satoki Uejo took advantage of a pass from Okuda to get close to scoring, and in the 5th minute, Hiroto Yamada and Reiya Sakata got behind the defense and fired in shots. Both shots were blocked by the defender, but from the resulting corner kick, Cerezo took the lead. Hirano, waiting in the far corner, met Kiyotake's kick with his head. Hirano, who had been "aiming for it" from the preparation stage, got Cerezo off to a good start. Before the match, manager Akio Kogiku had mentioned that the key point was "how we could win the ball with good defense and connect it to the attack against Ryukyu, who attacked with a mixture of long and short passes," and in the 9th minute, Hirotaka Tameda won the ball high up the field, and a short counter attack was launched. Yamada dribbled the ball into the box, creating a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, but was unable to convert. Soon after, Ryukyu's Haruto Shirai slipped through, but goalkeeper Yang Han Been made a good save. Yamashita covered the loose ball and saved the day. Cerezo started well, but in the 17th minute, an accident occurred. Justin Hubner felled Shirai, who had slipped in behind him, and was sent off. Cerezo were forced into an early numerical disadvantage.

In the 23rd minute, manager Kogiku replaced Yamada with Ryuya Nishio. Uejo was placed in the one-top position, and the team played a 4-4-1 system. From this point on, Ryukyu had the ball for longer periods of time, but Cerezo continued to threaten on the counter, with Tameda getting in behind the opposition on several occasions, while also responding defensively without being impatient. Although there were a few goal threats, the first half ended without a decisive breakdown. From the start of the second half, Seiya Maikuma was replaced by Jordy Croux, who was " injured and limited to 45 minutes" (manager Kogiku), and Sakata moved down to right back. Sakata dropped to right back, and the 4-4-1 system continued. In the second half, the game remained the same, with Cerezo holding out defensively and looking for an opening to score an extra goal. In the 47th minute, Uejo set up a chance up front, and Croux followed him up, cut in, and fired home a mid-range shot. In the 55th minute, a breakthrough on the opponent's left side created a decisive moment for the opponents, but a header from a cross was stopped by Yang Han Been. The guardian who had contributed so much to the victory in the second round of the Levain Cup also stood up to his opponents in this match.

In the 58th minute, after a number of attacks on the right side of the pitch, the manager decided to use a back five to fill the space on the flanks. Kakeru Funaki replaced Kiyotake in a 5-3-1 system. However, the team did not only defend hard, but also looked to score an extra goal, as Uejo carefully linked up with his teammates after taking possession, aiming to score behind them. In the 75th minute, Yamashita was replaced by Sota Kitano, and Kitano moved to the top position. Uejo moved to the central midfield position, and Hirano moved to the right of the back three. In the 81st minute, Cerezo had a decisive opportunity. A feed from Sakata put Kitano behind the opposing defense, and he found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he was unable to finish his shot as it hit the goalkeeper. Although Cerezo missed a great chance to add to their lead, they were able to close the game without allowing their opponents to create any big chances after switching to a back five. The players remained unified and focused until the very end, and Hirano's goal in the 6th minute of the first half was enough for a 1-0 win.

"I was struck by the victory while directing the team. It was a great victory," said manager Kogiku after the game. "Today's game was played by players who have not had many chances to play in the league, and players who have had a hard time after being out for a long time due to injury. Many of these players played in the game. Their performance, their mentality of wanting to win, and their attitude of running and fighting to the end were wonderful," he said, complimenting the players who played in the game. Cerezo overcame an unexpected early send-off to win the game, and the team's sense of unity deepened. The next game, the playoff round, will be against FC Machida Zelvia. The entire team will work together to reach the top of the table.

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