Well, we weren’t the only people here tonight. In fact, there were 23,000 other hardy souls here, that had braved the cold Tokyo night and we were rewarded with… not a bad game, actually, and a 3-0 win for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors that confirms them as the fifth best team in the world. If you have a problem with that, you should probably take the matter up with FIFA rather than with me.
This evening, it was a win for the away side. South Korea may be closer to Tokyo than New Zealand geographically, but a mixture of the usual animosity towards the Japanese towards all things Korean and the opportunistic Auckland signing of former Japanese international Teru Iwamoto ensured that the crowd here were honorary Kiwis for the evening. The win was, in truth, a slightly flattering one for JHM. Had Auckland taken the chances that did fall their way, the result could have been very different. They certainly started the better of the two teams, with Mulrooney shooting just wide after collecting a cross from the impressive Grant Young on five minutes, and Young himself shooting to bring out a decent catch out of JHM goalkeeper Sun Tae Kwoun after twelve minutes.
Soon enough, though, the barometer began to swing in the opposite direction, and on sixteen minutes JHM took the lead. A lovely feint from Hyun Seung Lee enabled a one-two with Hyeung Bum Kim, and he shot low into the corner of the net from the angle of the penalty area. Now settled, JHM pressed forward with the intention of killing the match stone dead. Kim, who was the best player on the pitch, pulled a shot across the face of goal a few minutes later, and just after an hour in, they doubled their advantage when Kim fired a tremendous shot into the corner of the net from twenty-five yards out.
Auckland had chances to get back into the game, but were denied through a mixture of bad luck and poor finishing. Just before half-time, they were denied a penalty when Young seemed to be tripped inside the penalty area, but the key moment came ten minutes into the second half, when Young got passed his man again and sent a perfect low ball across the six yard area. Bryan Little came charging in and should have scored, but made a complete hash of his shot and the ball rolled harmlessly wide. From then on, there was only one team that were going to finish on top, as the differences in fitness and technical ability started to show. Zecarlo had a low shot well saved by the Auckland goalkeeper Nicholson, and then on seventy-two minutes, another excellent run by Kim was ended with a clattering foul. In spite of the best attempts of the crowd (enthusastically egged on by the Auckland players), Zecarlo stepped up to put the result beyond any reasonable doubt. There was still time for for excitement for the Japanese crowd, though, as Iwamoto came off the bench to thunderous applause. A couple of minutes after his introduction, he nearly scored with a long range shot that went just wide.
Of course, it was an entertaining evening of football. I’ve long been a believer that you don’t need the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea (especially not Chelsea) to have a great match. Auckland, to my considerable disappointment, didn’t even manage a goal in their two matches here, but the long term benefits are tangible. Likely to be back next year, they can surely expect increased attention at home – but can they avoid the temptation of increased competition in the Asia-affiliated A-League? For JHM, there are no such quandaries. It’s back to the K-League, and the Asian Nations Cup. Given the somewhat fortuitous way in which they qualified for it in the first place (as you may recall, they were the Korean FA Cup winners rather than K-League champions), we may not be seeing them back here in the immediate future.