Tatsuya Ito shines as Hamburg stop the rot
Hamburg ended a run of four straight defeats in a goalless Nordderby against Werder Bremen. Both sides had chances to break the deadloock, but it was 20-year-old Japanese debutant Tatsuya Ito who stood out.
When Tatsuya Ito was substituted off in the 53rd minute of the 107th Nordderby betweenHamburg and Werder Bremen, Kyriakos Papadopoulos led the applause in the Volksparkstadion.
At just 1.66m, the 20-year-old Japanese winger became the smallest player in Bundesliga history when he came on for the last eight minutes of Hamburg's defeat to Bayer Leverkusen last Friday.
But there was nothing small about his contribution on his first Bundesliga start against Werder Bremen on Saturday, answering coach Markus Gisdol's call in the absence of the injured Nicolai Müller and Filip Kostic.
Bremen's Robert Bauer won't forget Ito in a hurry
A defender's worst nightmare
In a first half in which both sides' best chances came from set pieces, Ito gave the Bremen defense nightmares on the left wing. Less than 20 minutes had passed when he left Theodor Gebre Selassie standing. Seven minutes later, he left two more Bremen defenders in his wake.
When Ito skipped inside past Robert Bauer just after the half-an-hour mark, the Bremen defender had had enough and tugged him back, a yellow card from referee Denis Aytekin only compounding his frustration. Moments later, Philipp Bargfrede became Ito's next victim.
Just before the break, it was Florian Kainz who was forced into committing a foul, but despite weighing a mere 58 kilograms, Ito wasn't fazed by Bremen's physicality. After all, having made in 26 appearances for Hamburg's second team against the seasoned semi-pros of the Regionalliga Nord, he's no stranger to tough tackles.
'Every tackle is hard'
"Japanese football and German football are two completely different sports," he told HSV's official website earlier this month. "It's a completely different tempo here and every tackle is hard."
Instead, Ito takes inspiration from his heroes - Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and Napoli's Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne. "They're my idols. I might be small but so are they and they've all made it."
The young winger suffered cramp after half-time
Since moving to Hamburg from Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol in 2015, Ito has found another player to look up to - compatriot and Hamburg captain Gotoku Sakai.
"He's brilliant on the ball," Sakai told Hamburg tabloid Morgenpost. "Tatsuya has enormous talent and quality. It's great that young players like him know they can make the step up to the first team."
Derby day deadlock
Ito was Hamburg's biggest threat against Bremen but, despite combining dangerously with Sakai and Andre Hahn on the left wing, couldn't quite break the deadlock. When Ito was replaced by Lewis Holtby after suffering from cramp early in the second half, Hamburg's threat waned and it was Bremen who looked more likely to score a winner.
Ultimately, the Nordderby finished goalless for the first time in 17 years leaving Bremen still without a Bundesliga win and Hamburg with their first point in five games. But it's the little Japanese winger Tatsuya Ito who Hamburg fans - and Papadopoulos - will remember most.