Sunshine Coast Fire v Japan Under-21 National Universities – Wednesday March 23

Kane Framton

Staff Reporter

The Sunshine Coast Fire’s preseason has concluded with a gallant defeat at the hands of the Japan Under-21 National Universities side, after going down 3 – 1 in a quality encounter at One Mile Oval.

After the Japanese side disposed of the Brisbane Strikers in an 8-0 victory on Monday night, their quality could not be denied. However, the Fire were not overawed by their opponents.

The opening minutes were played at a frenzied pace, with both teams keen to assert themselves early. Although Japan dominated early possession, the Fire looked dangerous with the ball and were able to consistently penetrate Japan’s defences, a feat which the Brisbane Strikers struggled to achieve on Monday night.

Japan’s silky ball movement and accurate passing earned them most of the early shots on goal, with Yudai Tanaka firing wide from long distance after six minutes.

The Fire did not relent in the face of early attacking pressure from the Japanese, maintaining a compact defensive line and coping well as Japan launched long balls toward their forwards. Anthony Hall looked assured in goal, controlling his penalty area well.

After earning a corner, the Fire were unlucky not to be ahead after fifteen minutes. Tyson Holmes connected well with a header from six yards, although keeper Matsumoto moved well to make the save.

Moments later, Holmes split the defence with a well timed through-ball, finding James Stinson on the right wing. Stinson’s cross was a little too high for Shaun Blackman on the edge of the area.

As the Japanese continued to gain most of the possession, the Fire tackled hard and defended with intent. Frustrated by the early pressure, Ishihara fired well wide from 25 yards.

The stalemate was broken on 26 minutes, after Japan earned a free kick 30 yards out. Ishihara shot for goal with a well-placed, swerving free kick which wrong-footed Hall.

The Fire maintained their impressive work ethic and organisation after conceding the first goal, with the midfield pairing of Greig Henslee and Tyson Holmes keen to play the ball wide. Holmes found Mark Riley with a through-ball, although keeper Matsumoto was untroubled by the low shot.

Riley was again involved near the end of the first half, not quite connecting with a volley after an Aaron Brazendale corner.

The half ended with the score 1 – 0 in a relatively tight encounter, with Japan unable to dominate the game as they did on Monday evening.

The quality and intensity of the game was maintained after the interval, with Japan continuing to build through passes, and content to shoot from distance when given a sight at goal. In the 49th minute the Fire were dealt an injury scare, with Raymond Schultz going down clutching an ankle, although he returned to the field later in the game.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the score was level after 53 minutes. A Japanese player had gone down injured in an off-the-ball incident in his defensive half, although the play was allowed to continue. Mark Riley found himself in space 25 yards out, and shot over the top of keeper Matsumoto after seeing him off his line, much to the delight of the hundreds of fans who had turned out to watch.

Japan responded to this goal with increased pressure, although failed to immediately regain the lead. The Sunshine Coast went close to again scoring in the following minutes, after Riley found Schultz on the left wing. Schultz held off two defenders as he entered the penalty area, and then went to ground under the pressure. Calls for a penalty were ignored and a scramble in the box was eventually dealt with by keeper Matsumoto.

The frenetic early pace of the game seemed to take its toll on the Fire as the second half wore on, with Japan looking dangerous. A solo effort from Ishihara nearly yielded a goal, as he rode a challenge and then narrowly missed from close range.

On 70 minutes, Japan were again in the lead, as Hidetaka Kanazano rose to meet a precise corner kick, and angled a fine header past Anthony Hall.

A few minutes later, Riley was issued with a yellow card after a hefty challenge.

Japan added a third goal to their tally after 77 minutes, when a nicely placed through-ball found Hiroyuki Abe on the far post, who made no mistake from close range.

The early pace of the game seemed to take its toll in the final minutes, with the Fire managing only one more genuine attempt on goal, when an accurate pass from Josh Taylor found Corey Towle, who forced a fine save from close range.

The match ended 3 – 1, in a disciplined and spirited performance by the Sunshine Coast Fire.

Coach Aston Bell was pleased with the efforts of his players against such a technically strong opponent.

“I was very happy with the level of commitment from our players,” Bell said.

“After missing effectively 3 weeks of the preseason with bad weather, it was good to see the team rise to the challenge today. I wanted them to enjoy the experience.”

Bell was full of praise for the visiting Japanese team.

“They have wonderful technique, and a high level of professionalism and commitment. It makes them a pleasure to watch.”

The Fire’s QSL campaign commences on Sunday March 28, when they face the Far North Queensland Bulls at Stockland Park. Kickoff is at 2.30pm.

Final Score: Sunshine Coast Fire – 1 (Riley, 53)

Japan Under-21 National Universities – 3 (Ishihara, 26 – Kanazano, 70 – Abe, 77)

Crowd numbers in excess of 500