AFC Champions League - Group H: Wed, 11th March 2009
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Venue: Todoroki Stadium
On a cold, damp Wednesday night Frontale stuttered to victory in their opening ACL encounter with China's Tianjin Teda.
Group H's other two teams, Central Coast Mariners and Pohang Steelers, ground out a goalless draw, leaving Frontale top of the table. However, the prospect of a trip to Todoroki will hardly have them trembling in their boots after this rather ring rusty performance.
Sekizuka sent out the same team that started against Kashiwa on Saturday, Yamagishi still featuring at right-back. And for the opening 15 minutes they bossed the game, showing the kind of movement and control of which we all know they're capable.
On 16 minutes Frontale's dominance was rewarded. Vitor Junior beat two defenders and whipped in a cross from the left which Renatinho, leaping gazelle-like, angled inside the far post.
At this stage you'd have been forgiven for thinking a rout was on the cards. But the visitors, to their credit, had other ideas and began to expose some of their hosts' vulnerabilities.
Marshalled by former Italian international, Damiano Tommasi, Tianjin started to get stuck in to the Frontale midfield. All too soon, passes were being rushed and possession ceded in increasingly dangerous areas. This in turn led to the kind of rabbit-in-the-headlights defending that plagued much of last season.
Encouraged by this shift in the balance of play, Tianjin pressed forward. But for all their possession in and around the Frontale penalty area they only really had one good chance - a free header that was directed wide.
Half time gave Frontale the opportunity to regrow a pair and they showed much stronger resolve in the second half. The balance of power shifted back to the home team and, as the visitors began to tire from their first half efforts, Frontale's front men saw more and more of the ball.
However, as so often, it was the final ball that repeatedly let the side down. And, apart from one glorious opportunity for Chong Tese to add some sheen to an otherwise anonymous performance, there were few clear openings.
It was encouraging to see the downcast faces of the players at the end of the game. They know they're better than this performance attested and hopefully they'll be able to show that starting with the away trip to Kobe at the weekend.
Still not convinced by the Yamagishi experiment. Defensively both Mori and Yamagishi are suspect, but at least Mori knows what he's doing coming forward on the right. Yamagishi had ample opportunity to show what he can offer offensively, but he continues to look like a fish out of water. The defense looked far more stable when he was replaced by Murakami at the end, although by then, it must be said, the opposition had run out of steam.
The defense was also helped by the arrival of Yokoyama in midfield for the last 10 minutes. This lad has a bright future.