J.League Division 1: Sat, 6th December 2008
|0 - 2|
|FUKUNISHI sent off 26'||RENATINHO 64'
Venue: Ajinomoto Stadium
Well, you can unfasten those seatbelts now. Kashima's win in Sapporo put an end to the dream and ensured the J1 crown will stay in Ibaraki for another year. Still, for Frontale to have taken it to the final day of the season is an accomplishment in itself. And Saturday's 2-0 win over Verdy secures both a very respectable 2nd spot in the table and, more importantly, a place in next year's Asian Champions League.
The match itself wasn't the great spectacle it should have been. Needing to make up 4 goals against the Antlers to stand any chance of topping the league, Frontale came out with all guns blazing. But an inexplicable red card for Verdy's Takashi Fukunishi midway through the first half put a strange spin on the contest that the visitors struggled to deal with.
It would be wrong to talk about "opening exchanges" because that would suggest Verdy had some influence on the game's early stages. As it was, they spent most of the time looking on as their opponents tested the quality of their woodwork.
Frontale should have been a goal up within the first minute, but Juninho managed to hit a seated defender rather than the gaping target of an open goal - the ball rebounding off the post and into the keeper's grateful hands. The prodigal Brazilian was then just inches away from getting a toe on the end of a slightly misdirected Taniguchi strike. His third chance saw him hook the ball onto the crossbar from 3 yards out following a decent save from a Chong Tese shot.
Still, nothing particularly strange about Juninho failing to convert chances, and Verdy were offering nothing in return. It seemed only a matter of time before the floodgates finally opened.
Then in stepped the referee to change the tide of the game. Looking to clear the ball after a Frontale corner, Fukunishi swung his arm to get a bit more leverage. Whatever contact there was with Shuhei Terada, who was standing behind him, was minimal and certainly not malicious, but the referee saw fit to issue a straight red card and award Frontale a penalty. Utterly baffling.
There was a long hold up while Verdy players inquired about the referee's optical health - understandable, given the very real (and ultimately realised) threat of relegation to J2. When Fukunishi finally left the field it was just left for Juninho to send his spot-kick wide and add more fuel to an already stoked Verdy fire.
With the home side now primed for a fight the game changed. They worked much harder to close Frontale down and started to show some attacking threat. Although Eiji Kawashima was never really tested, they managed to amass a reasonable shot count and even had a couple of penalty shouts of their own.
However, as the second half wore on the numerical difference started to take its toll. Gaps started to reappear in the Verdy defence, and although for a while Frontale still seemed unable to put the game to bed, the inevitable breakthrough eventually arrived - Renatinho showing great centre-forward's instinct to get in front of his marker and dispatch a Juninho cross. The result was then put beyond doubt by a fizzing 20-yard strike from captain Kengo in the dying minutes.
And so there you have it. The end of another sparkling season of J.League football. And plenty to look forward to next year...if only it wasn't 3 months away!