Friendlies are, and always have been fairly pointless games to watch. I have known this for a long, long time but that hasn’t usually stopped me from going to watch these games but an absence of football in the Summer can do strange things to the mind! The big game this weekend is of course Leicester City against big-spending Monaco but as that match was taking place nearly 6000 miles away I decided to plump for a closer one.
With Arsenal in town for the Saitama Challenge Cup Final against Urawa Reds, myself and Yuji got tickets for this one as I thought it would be a rare opportunity for Arsene Wenger’s men to actually win a bit of silverware for once, however meaningless it was!! Whilst there I also met up with ex-student Toru and his wife Rie which sounds easy but in a crowd of 41,000 people it wasn’t so!
After watching a fair few J-League games many years ago I lost my appetite for the beautiful game over here but with the right match and the right time I knew I’d return one day. That time was tonight and the place was the same as my last match. Saitama Stadium 2002 featured in my top 10 Saitama sights blog earlier this year and was built especially for the 2002 World Cup where the 63,700 capacity stadium was host for four World cup games including the Semi Final between Brazil and Turkey (featuring then-Leicester player Muzzy Izzet), the 2-2 draw between Japan and Belgium and England’s 1-1 draw with Sweden.
Its soaring triangular sails are aesthetically pleasing and this state of the art stadium even includes seats with armrests and a big screen TV which can be distracting as you watch something on replay and before you know it you’ve been watching the actual live action on it!
The main interest for me was to see Yuki Abe in action for the Reds. This defensive midfielder played just over 50 games for Leicester City (scoring two goals) but his contract was quite suddenly cancelled by mutual consent in January 2012 due to homesickness. Very annoying for me as less than a month earlier I had just been given a City shirt with his name and number on the back! Well what do you know but the guy only went and scored an equaliser tonight early on in the second half which overall was far superior than the first one.
His reward for that was to instantly be pulled off by the Reds manager in a match where there were a countless number of substitutions made. Sadly his effort meant nothing much (in a game which meant nothing much!) with only five minutes left when a mix-up between defender and goalkeeper allowed a soft Arsenal winner.
Final score: Urawa Reds 1 Arsenal 2