Opinion

Cklamovski, Postecoglou deliver thrilling advert for Japanese football, Australian coaches

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Almost exactly a decade ago, in a nondescript Bangkok hotel, a press conference took place ahead of a friendly between Thailand and India.

With the two teams managed by Englishmen Bryan Robson and Bob Houghton, the questions were, to the growing annoyance of both coaches, all about whether fans would see 4-4-2 formations, long balls and strong tackles.

The next time two Australian coaches meet, perhaps the questions will be about whether fans will be in for a 4-2-3-1 fest, a feast of goals, excitement and fluid football with not that much emphasis on defence. 

Yokohama F. Marinos went to Shimizu S-Pulse to win 4-3 in what was, according to Soccer Digest in Japan, a ‘spectacular meeting of student and master.’ 

This time the master won but only just.

Ange Postecoglou took the Marinos to the J1 League title last December, doing so with an emphasis on attacking.

This year has been trickier, with Wednesday’s (AEST) win much needed and allowing the champions to squeeze into the top half of the 18-team league.

Perhaps the former Socceroos boss is missing his assistant from last season.

Peter Cklamovski left Postecoglou’s side for Shimizu just days after Yokohama clinched the crown.

Both teams have been scrambling about for points but fans, those who had been allowed in, would barely have noticed.

The excitement was there from the beginning as Junior Santos went on a 50-yard run in the second minute to put Yokohama ahead.

Kenta Nishizawa levelled ten minutes later with a fine curled shot from the corner of the area but Daizen Maeda soon headed the champions back into the lead.

It lasted until a minute before the break when a stretching Thiago Martins diverted a cross into his own net to send the two teams in level.

Both coaches continued to press forward but a draw was looking the likeliest result when, six minutes from time, Santos added his second and Yokohama’s third, and when Kota Watanabe made it 4-2 seconds later with a fine diving header, it looked all but over.

But then Takashi Kanai pulled a goal back for S-Pulse to ensure a thrilling finale which ended with the visitors hanging on for a much-needed three points.

It was a triumph for Postecoglou, who made six changes to his team from the previous game.

With the game evenly poised and starting to slow down midway through the second half, his three-man substitution tipped the game Yokohama’s way and the visitors started to take the upper hand.

The sides were set up in a similar way but there was never a hint of them cancelling the other out.

There was a lot of space in midfield but it was Yokohama who took advantage.

Both teams moved the ball around nicely though, constantly pushing and probing, always looking to create openings or looking for a teammate in a better position. 

There could have been more goals in this open encounter. It was thrilling stuff with both teams having only attack on their minds and perhaps that is because, defensively, neither looked great and it is no surprise that only four teams have conceded more than Yokohama and only two more than Shimizu. 

But with no relegation this season, a decision made by authorities after the coronavirus caused the league’s suspension, there is no reason to keep things tight - especially with Cklamovski asking his player to play a different, more aggressive, attacking game. 

Even so, Shimizu are now two places off the bottom.

The J1 League often has a team that performs abysmally and this season it is Shonan Bellmare. But if Sagan Tosu win one of their two games in hand, they will move above Shimizu, sending Cklamovski down next to bottom. 

Playing like this however, starting against the struggling Yokohama FC, and Shimizu, whose results have improved of late, should start to collect the points to move up the standings.

There may be no relegation but the title will still be given out - though it won’t go to Yokohama given that Kawasaki Frontale have dropped just two points thus far.

If Marinos can somehow drag themselves to finish in the AFC Champions League places, then that would be a fine achievement.

After the game Cklamovski said he was proud of his players and so he should be given that he helped give the world a fantastic advert for Japanese football and Australian coaching.