East Asia Japan

Tosu Retains Unbeaten Record with Kyushu Clasico Stalemate

At the end of Matchweek 6 of the 2021 J.League 1 season, there’s only four teams who have yet to taste defeat – defending champions Kawasaki Frontale, last year’s 3rd placers Nagoya Grampus, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and most surprisingly of all, Sagan Tosu, who struggled massively during the 2020 season. Kim Myung-hwi’s Tosu continued their superb run in their Matchweek 6 game on Sunday, taking on Avispa Fukuoka in the first Kyushu Clasico of the season at the Ekimae Real Estate Stadium. The two arch-rivals played out a 0-0 draw, a result that ensured not only the safety of Tosu’s unbeaten record so far, but at the same time also ensuring that they are the only J1 team so far who have yet to concede a goal.

The cities of Fukuoka and Tosu are only separated by a mere distance of 40 kilometers, easily accessible by train on the Kagoshima Main Line and either car or bus on the Kyushu Expressway. This close distance meant that the animosity between Tosu and Avispa were further amplified, as Tosu had established themselves as a J1 mainstay for the past 9 years whilst Avispa had to go up and down the Japanese football pyramid throughout their history, despite being Kyushu’s longest-serving J.League side. Matches against Tosu are hotly anticipated by Avispa fans, who consider them as their biggest rivals alongside fellow Fukuoka Prefecture-based side Giravanz Kitakyushu, however unlike the Giravanz rivalry that has a sense of cordialness in it, the Kyushu Clasico between Tosu and Avispa has a hostile, yet tasty atmosphere in it with the two sets of fans often trading psychological warfare on social media in the buildup towards the match.

Despite the current restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the atmosphere at the Ekimae Real Estate Stadium on Sunday was electric as both Tosu and Avispa players walked out onto the pitch for the first J1 Kyushu Clasico in five years. Avispa had won both of their previous two games against Tokushima Vortis and Kashima Antlers respectively and the Wasps are looking to make it three wins in a row, while Tosu are looking to extend their unbeaten run into six matches, a strong start to the season that saw them hanging around the top three spots in the league table.

Avispa got their first chance of the game with just one minute being registered on the clock. Emil Salomonsson swung in a corner from the left side of the pitch, which was headed away from the Tosu penalty area by a home defender. The ball then fell into the possession of Daisuke Ishizu, who attempted a long-ranged screamer from outside the area, however the ball skyrocketed above Park Iru-gyu’s goal and into the stands behind.

Tosu then got their very own chance to open the scoring in the 15th minute. Brazilian defender Dudu rifled in a free-kick from outside the area that went beyond the Avispa wall, however goalkeeper Masaaki Murakami was alert to the incoming threat and punched the ball away with his gloves. The hosts then had another crack at Murakami’s goal in the 17th minute, this time Keita Yamashita saw his shot going agonizingly wide and striking the water bottles lined up next to the goal.

Determined to draw first blood, Tosu kept on pressing and pressing and they were granted another chance to break the deadlock in the 35th minute. Receving the ball on the right flank, Nanasei Iino did well to deceive some Avispa defenders before firing an angled shot towards the goal with his left foot, however Murakami managed to act quickly and deflect the ball back into an Avispa defender.

The second half saw Tosu managing to land the first blow in the Clasico in the 67th minute, with Iino angling a sublime cross from the right towards Fuchi Honda, who bundled home past Murakami with a header. However, much to the confusion and anger of everyone associated with Tosu as well as the bewilderment of audiences everywhere, the goal was ruled out due to Iino being adjudged to be offside by a hair’s breadth when he delivered the cross to Honda.

With Avispa given a reprieve from the offside call and Tosu understandably being sent into a flying rage by the decision, the home side had a premium chance to kill off their neighboring rivals in the third minute of injury time. Keiya Sento launched a free-kick from the left side of Avispa’s penalty area, intending to send a cross towards a teammate within it. However much to Sento and his teammates’ dismay, the ball arched over Murakami’s goal and went behind for a goal-kick.

In the end, the first Kyushu Clasico of the season ends in a goalless stalemate. Avispa showed enough grit and character to defend themselves against the onslaught of Tosu attacks and the Wasps managed to make it three unbeaten games in a row. Tosu, on the other hand, managed to extend their own unbeaten record to six games and retain their impervious clean sheet record, however they will be fuming that the referee’s controversial offside call had robbed them of their fifth win of the season.

Elsewhere in Matchweek 6, Tosu and Avispa’s fellow Kyushu-based side Oita Trinita succumbed to a comeback defeat as Sanfrecce Hiroshima emerged out as 3-1 winners at the Showa Denko Dome. Former Vegalta Sendai man Shun Nagasawa had given the Turtles the lead in the 52nd minute, however Sanfrecce roared back through Toshihiro Aoyama, Hayao Kawabe, and Shun Ayukawa to seal the three points.

FC Tokyo managed to edge out Vegalta 2-1 at the Ajinomoto Stadium, while defending champions Kawasaki Frontale did what they do best – winning. Kawasaki turned the Saitama Stadium 2002 into their personal training ground as Urawa Red Diamonds were trounced 5-0, with veteran striker Yu Kobayashi scoring a brace.

Shonan Bellmare and Cerezo Osaka played out a 0-0 draw at the Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka, while Shimizu S-Pulse’s 2-1 win away at Kashiwa Reysol meant that Kashiwa will be finishing Matchweek 6 in the 4-team relegation zone. Nagoya Grampus managed to work out a gritty 1-0 win away at 10-man Kashima Antlers, while Tokushima Vortis managed to notch their first J1 win of the season with a 2-1 victory over bottom side Yokohama FC at the Pocari Sweat Stadium.