Sunday, November 09, 2008

Omiya Ardija v Kawasaki Frontale

J.League Division 1: Sat, 8th November 2008

Omiya Ardija 2 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale
MORI 35'

Venue: Nack5 Stadium
Attendance: 10,759

Well, what to say? Before kick-off many people had this chalked up as an easy win for Frontale. But if the J.League teaches us anything, it's that we should assume nothing.

And it was a deserved victory for Omiya, who started the game perilously close to the J1 drop zone. From the first whistle they gave the visitors a lesson in passion and commitment, perhaps suggesting their desire to stay in J1 is stronger than Frontale's desire to win it.

This desire seemed to take Frontale by surprise in the opening stages. They were way off the pace for the first 15 minutes and were pressurised time and again into handing over possession. Indeed Omiya could (and perhaps should) have been 2-0 up before Frontale managed their first meaningful effort on goal. Lavric being the worst offender - 5 yards out with the goal at his mercy he completely missed the ball and watched it bounce harmlessly off his standing leg into the hands of Kawashima.

However, the big Slovenian, who gave Igawa and Terada a torrid time for the full 90 minutes, more than made up for that howler. Just as Frontale were starting to get a foothold in the game, a loose ball from Vitor Junior in midfield left his defence exposed. Omiya eventually worked the ball to Lavric who thundered a shot against the post from the corner of the penalty area and the grateful Fujimoto was on hand to direct the rebound into an empty net.

Conceding early goals is nothing new for Frontale and, with their minds now focussed on the task at hand, they began to find a bit more space in the attacking third of the field. But, although they knocked on the door a few times, the Omiya defence held firm, limiting the Frontale strikers to a few half chances. And it was only an absolute wonder-goal from Mori that finally got the visitors on level terms.

It was a measure of the desperate lengths Frontale were having to resort to that Mori even thought about going for goal when a corner clearance fell to him 35 yards out. But go for goal he did. And before the cynical "What are you doing?!" had cleared the lips of the onlooking Frontale faithful, the ball had dipped and swerved its way into the top right corner of the net. The entire audience was left open-mouthed. An old man in the Omiya crowd looked on stoically. One senses this wasn't the first time the footballing gods had foresaken him.

Understandably, Omiya were a little shellshocked by this and some lax defending almost allowed Renatinho to repeat the feat two minutes later. But his 30-yard lighning bolt flew inches over the bar. Still, Frontale would have been much the happier side going in at half time with the scores equal.

The second half was a more even contest in terms of possession and chances. Frontale looked the more likely to take the lead with Omiya perhaps a little worn out from their first half exertions. But the Omiya defence, outstandingly marshalled by Leandro, continued to frustrate the efforts of the Frontale strikeforce. Even the occasional embarrassing swan dive from Renatinho couldn't conjure up a goalscoring opportunity for the visitors.

After a while the home team seemed to find its second wind. With Lavric expertly bullying away up front, there was always an outlet for his defence to relieve the pressure. And the Frontale backline began to find itself repeatedly overstretched by a fast breaking Omiya midfield.

It was Lavric himself who restored their lead in the 77th minute with a wonder-strike of his own. A break down the right left Lavric alone against Igawa in the middle. When the ball reached him on the edge of the area he took one touch to flick it up and belted it on the full volley past a full-stretch Kawashima. A great goal - perhaps not as awe-inspiring as Mori's effort, but there was probably a little less in the way of luck about it.

To their credit, Frontale threw everything (including the kitchen sink) at Omiya to try to get back in the game, but it wasn't to be. No catalogue of missed chances, no dubious refereeing decisions, just a determined opponent who were prepared to battle for the 3 points.

So where does this leave us in the greater scheme of things? Taking nothing away from Omiya, it certainly wasn't a performance worthy of a title-winning side. And while sub-par performances away from home aren't exactly unheard of, with the finishing line in sight, this could well prove to be more than just a hiccup.

When it comes to the J.League you should assume nothing, but that Emperor's Cup is suddenly looking a lot more attractive!


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