Monday, September 15, 2008

Kashima Antlers v Kawasaki Frontale

J. League Division 1: Sat, 13th September 2008

Kashima Antlers 1 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale

Venue: Kashima Stadium
Attendance: 22,292

"Super Tan"? "Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Tan"? The tabloid headline writers would have been spoilt for choice after Hiroyuki Taniguchi once again saved the day for Kawasaki Frontale.

Not sure if that's the fourth or fifth time this season that Taniguchi's rescued at least a point from games that looked like they might be slipping away. And while I've never been dazzled by his involvement over 90 minutes, his knack of finding space in the right place at the right time is something without which Frontale would not be in the position they find themselves now.

In an exhilarating game at Kashima Stadium on Saturday night, both teams showed what a crunch match this was with the ferocity and commitment of their play. Both teams had opportunities to claim the victory, but on balance it was probably right that the spoils were shared.

The first half passed with no clear-cut chances for either side. Initially the home team looked to have a firm grasp on the game with their quick and accurate passing. Frontale for their part seemed a little awed by the occasion, giving the ball away carelessly whenever they did manage to wrest possession away from their opponents.

But after about 25 minutes the visitors started to settle and began to apply some concerted pressure on the Antlers goal. With the game now well and truly on, temperatures started to rise and tackles started to fly.

Koji Nakata was first to be cautioned after bringing down Juninho as he threatened to race in on goal. To be fair the Brazilian didn't need much invitation to go down, but the inciveness of the move had the Antlers backline beaten.

Next, Vitor Junior, who was tackling back in terrier-like fashion for much of the first half, made his way into the book with an over-excited lunge to which most of the Antlers team took great exception.

The gloves were now off and the game threatened to boil over when the referee awarded Frontale a free kick just outside the Antlers penalty area after some scuffling between Danilo and Vitor Junior. Kashima captain, Mitsuo Ogasawara went striding into the ensuing melee before suddenly collapsing to the ground like a sack of proverbial root vegetables. Did Juninho have a swing or was Ogasawara just looking to get someone sent off? Whichever, it was a very relieved referee who blew the half-time whistle a few minutes later.

Second half was a very different ball game. The nastiness creeping in at the end of the first half was gone, but the contest had lost none of its bite. More importantly the match began to open up and chances were being created almost at will.

The first real opening fell to Frontale - Vitor Junior hitting the foot of the post with a header. Then Marquinhos blasted over after Kurotsu had lost possession cheaply at the edge of his own area.

As the match wore on it became obvious that neither side was content to play for a draw. Kurotsu came off for the promising Renatinho, resulting in Frontale moving to what appeared to be a 4-2-4 formation.

Every other move was now resulting in a scoring opportunity and both keepers were called on to make good saves, but it was the Antlers who eventually broke the deadlock. Marquinhos received the ball just inside the box with his back to goal and somehow managed to beat two markers - Ito and Yamagishi - before firing past Kawashima. (It's harsh to point the figure of blame, but this has once again exposed the fact that Yamagishi is not a defender.)

But it's become something of a trademark of Frontale's play this season that they don't know when they're beaten. And just 5 minutes later they were back on level terms - Taniguchi losing his marker to head in a Vitor Junior corner.

The equaliser really took the wind out of the home team's sails and they were lucky to weather the next few minutes as their shellshocked defence watched Taniguchi miss with a free header and Juninho shoot straight at the excellent Sogohata in the Antlers goal, when squaring to Renatinho would surely have guaranteed a second.

However, before the game was out the Antlers came right back into it, twice being denied only by last-ditch blocks from the visitors' defence.

Frontale will definitely be the happier with the 1-1 scoreline. Playing away from home against a very good Antlers side and getting a valuable point out of it is a decent achievement. The Antlers, on the other hand, really needed to be getting as many points as possible on the board before their imminent return to ACL action (which is surely their priority this season).

With just 10 games left Frontale now need to make sure they don't let the 4-point gap between themselves and league leaders Nagoya grow any bigger, while at the same time hoping their rivals slip up. Should be an exciting run-in!


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