J.League Division 1: Tue, 23rd September 2008
|1 - 1|
OGURA sent off 80'
|NAKAZAWA 72' (o.g.)|
Venue: Tokyo National Stadium
Is that it? Are those two dropped points the death rattle of Frontale's title challenge? Or was that simply the team clearing their collective throat for a final rousing chorus? Well, I don't hear any fat ladies singing, but there's certainly a chubby girl doing some laryngeal warm-up exercises somewhere.
A strange game this. For much of the first half both teams played in a way that was truly reflective of their contrasting league positions. Frontale were quick off the blocks with their fast, flowing passing game. The Marinos struggled to get a foot in and looked decidedly vulnerable at the back. But Kawasaki were unable to capitalise on their early superiority and were later made to rue their missed chances.
And chances there were - mostly for Chong Tese. The Korean brought a decent save out of Tetsuya Enomoto in the Marinos goal after a trademark through ball from Kengo Nakamura. Minutes later he was unlucky to see his best effort come back off the crossbar and he completed his hat-trick of first-half opportunities when he blasted into the side netting from a tight(-ish) angle. Kurotsu and Juninho also saw efforts go close, but as time ticked by it started to look like the mojo so obviously missing from the FC Tokyo performance was still lost.
Then came what can only be described as "one of those things". With minutes remaining of the first half, Yokohama won a corner from a typically timid attacking foray (Eiji Kawashima really should have done better than to turn the shot wide). Up strode Yuji "notoriously-dangerous-from-set-plays" Nakazawa, from the back. And the next thing you know it's 1-0 Marinos. Goal scorer? That's right, the very same Yuji "mark-me-loosely-at-your-peril" Nakazawa. Who'd have thought it?
Seconds later a moment of madness from Hiroki Ito, foolishly trying to beat his man at the edge of the 6-yard box, almost handed his opponents a 2-goal cushion. Fortunately, the resulting shot was straight at Kawashima and the referee's whistle brought some much-needed regrouping time.
Second half saw a rejuvenated Marinos much more involved against an increasingly desperate Frontale. This should have been a good thing as it created more space, but the rushed, panicky nature of Frontale's forward play was far from encouraging.
And then, just when it was looking like Kawasaki couldn't buy a goal, Yuji "reliable-as-you-like-especially-in-the-air" Nakazawa, under no real pressure, inexplicably headed into his own net from a Frontale corner. The Marinos had hardly deserved their lead, but they certainly didn't deserve this.
Their misery was compounded further when, 8 minutes later, Shohei Ogura was sent off for a second bookable offence. Frontale's numerical advantage had no obvious impact on the way the rest of the game played out. They continued trying to work the ball into dangerous positions too quickly, ultimately resulting in hurried shots that failed to find their target.
I'd like to say overall Frontale deserved to win this game, and to be fair Juninho and even Ito (in the dying seconds) had gilt-edged chances to wrap things up. But if they are to mount a final push this season (and I think that means winning all their remaining games) attacking displays like this one (and the FC Tokyo game) just won't cut the mustard.
If in fact it turns out that the dream is now over, it would be easy to point a finger at the hatful of wasted opportunities from the front men. The more telling statistic, however, is the number of goals conceded this season. Frontale have the 5th-worst defensive record in the league and have conceded twice as many goals as current leaders, Oita Trinita. (Oita Trinita? Current leaders? Still can't get my head round that.)
And it's not as if we've been on the wrong end of many drubbings. I think the away games to Kobe (4-1) and FC Tokyo (4-2) are the only times we've lost by more than a single goal). A little bit tighter at the back and the mountain left to climb wouldn't be quite so steep.
Anyway, speaking of mountains, onwards and upwards. P.S. If anyone finds the team's mojo can they return it in time for Saturday's game at Kashiwa Reysol.