Sean Colfer watched this match up at the top of Mixed pool H to see how SMOG, one of the UK’s best teams, matched up against an elite Japanese team.
There are few elite teams so shrouded in mystery at this tournament as Café de Luida. They are the Japanese Mixed champions, we know, but otherwise little is available about them. Even their name was a mystery until it was explained that it’s based on a game called Dragon Quest, where a bar called Bar Luida is the place that players can gather and chat. The founders of the team wanted to engender that same atmosphere, hence the name.
SMOG came into this game with only a vague idea of how their opponents would play; quick and sharp, with aggressive throws amongst the handlers, a typically Japanese style. They had the intention to use their superior height to make yards in big chunks, to make the game easier for themselves.
That didn’t work very well in the early going. Luida came out with a zone right off the bat, a cup with two women on the points and two on the wings. They got a turn very early on a poor pop into the cup and scored quickly for a break. The next point was exactly the same – a poor pop as SMOG tried to move the disc quickly and a block by Yukako Nakane led to a huck to the endzone. It wasn’t a great huck, but a spectacular trailing edge catch from Genichi Nakano bailed out the throw.
SMOG finally snapped out of their funk on the next point, running through the middle of the zone with a nice string, but they struggled mightily to contain the Luida offence on the next point and then conceded another break after a drop after that. They looked like they were spooked by the alien style of the Japanese, like nothing they’d seen in Europe before, and had no idea how to deal with it. Luida led 1-4.
SMOG scored their next point despite an early turn, Callum Spiers with a money huck to Fraser MacDonald. Luida scored their next offence too but were put under much more pressure by SMOG – they looked to be growing into the game defensively. SMOG then had a very long offensive point at 2-5 with several turnovers. At one stage Luida called a timeout but then turned with an unlucky and badly timed slip on the endzone line. Alex Mazzon intercepted, dished it off and went long, where Tom Lees found him. Mazzon went up a long way and beat two defenders for a huge score.
SMOG seemed fired up by the play and got a break on the next play, Heather Williams blocking a huck and the offence going high over the top of the Japanese zone a few times until Andy Turner had a wide-open throw to Alice Si available. It was 4-5 and SMOG had a new lease of life.
The next two points were relatively straightforward. Luida turned but got it back quickly and slotted it in, while SMOG used their long game to good effect to score quickly too. SMOG threw a zone of their own at 5-6 and generated a turn. They hucked but a Luida player managed to get a block, and then a Luida score was negated by a travel. The pressure ratcheted up on the endzone line and there was a turn on a bad swing. SMOG took the opportunity to slow the game by calling a timeout, and went on to score with MacDonald bossing the offence. They had levelled the game at 6-6.
Both teams scored a good offence point, so we were at 7-7; the so-called ‘galaxy point’ for half. SMOG called a strong D line after a timeout but Luida dealt very well with the additional pressure from their opponents and scored a calm offence.
Luida came out on offence after half but turned very quickly and gave SMOG a momentum-generating break. The teams were tied again, 8-8. Luida made amends on the next point and notched a good score after using both sides of the field. SMOG turned on yet another poor pop into the cup but got the disc back after a bad Luida huck and Bennett went long to pull down a score. The next few points featured no turns, with both teams running their offences very well. Luida threw a curveball at 10-11, going with a match defence for the first time. SMOG seemed surprised and couldn’t get out of their own endzone. They turned and left Luida with a one pass goal for a 10-12 lead.
The air went from SMOG’s sails almost immediately. They turned – another bad pop – and Luida slotted it in quickly. SMOG then needed Rachel Turton to take down a huge catch between two defenders to convert an offence, and wasted an opportunity to get a break back with a bad huck after a Luida turn on a scoring throw. Luida worked it up and scored easily for a 11-14 lead. SMOG seemed resigned to their loss.
Luida came down with another zone and SMOG seemed to be looking off several of their key cutters in space behind the cup, instead opting to continue with the popping tactic that had yielded mixed results. They sent a huck, finally, but it was too far from the receiver. Luida worked a power position and sent a huck of their own which was caught (with a gratuitous layout) by Nakano for the win. Luida celebrated relatively tamely, and SMOG heads dropped. They had started badly but pulled themselves together well, which made it all the more disappointing that the team couldn’t maintain that level throughout. Luida are a mystery no more – SMOG now know for sure exactly how good they are.