On Saturday I went to Niigata to watch Albirex vs. Kashima Antlers and then I stayed in the city to watch the FA Cup live at Café Milan. Did it live up to its potential as a goal-fest?
Well, first off, my first Albirex match in about a year. Keiko and I drove down the Big Swan, parked up and met James in the North Stand. With just the three of use we managed to find seats close to the choir so we got to soak up the massive Orangista atmosphere. The action on the pitch was as unpredictable as J-league normally gets. The players are obviously skilful, but prone to making mistakes; passes to short, passes too long, trying to turn one too many players, taking a shot when they could have played in a team-mate. It can get quite frustrating at times. But the number 9 for Albirex, Fukai, was easily the best player on the day. He battled for the ball and was involved in most of Albirex’s moves. Fukai is also really quick and his mazy run in the first half resulted in Albirex’s equaliser. The game got more interesting towards the end as both teams pushed for the deciding goal. In the last minute Albirex had five players against three in the Antlers box, only for the number 11 to take a shot instead of cutting back, ending the move and Niigata’s hope for three points. The final whistle blew and it felt like we had lost! Still, we enjoyed it (mainly cos of the crowd but also the comedy mistakes on the pitch) so we’ll be looking to go back before the Summer Break.
After the match, we left James, checked into our hotel, went out for food at an izakaiya and then on to Café Milan. Rich had already got a table with some of his mates and we joined them, Sam arriving a little later, and got the beers in ready for the first FA Cup at the New Wembley. The coverage started only ten minutes before kick-off, so we missed the big opening ceremony. We did see the teams come on the pitch and shake Prince Will’s hand. And then, Kick-off! The new Wembley certainly looks nice, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite right. You could blame the acoustics for now carrying the crowd’s chants. But then the crowds weren’t singing. So you could blame the crowds for not singing, but then the action on the pitch was nothing to shout about. Both team looked tired and neither Man Utd or Chelsea pushed for a goal. You could argue that neither team wanted to concede a goal, but this is the FA Cup!! It’s supposed to be the showcase match! You’re meant come out a try and score, not go home with a nil-nil draw!
Eventually the game went to extra time, and a one-two between Drogba and Lampard resulted in the winning goal for Chelsea. Man Utd could argue that they should have had a goal after bundling Chelsea’s keeper over the goal-line with the ball, but if they claim that was their best chance of scoring, they don’t deserve to win.
We stayed a little while after to see how the Cup is awarded in the new stadium. In most competitions, a stage is brought onto the pitch and the teams are given their medals and trophies in the centre-circle. But one of the traditions of Wembley has been for teams to climb stairs up to the Royal Box to be awarded, and I was happy to see the new stadium preserves this tradition.
Here’s hoping future matches at Wembley are more exciting.