J.League Division 1: Sat, 14th March 2009
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Venue: Kobe Wing Stadium
Frontale's stuttering start to the season took a turn for the worse on Saturday as they surrendered all three points to a pretty ordinary Vissel Kobe.
A strong end to a solid first half, culminating in Chong Tese's second goal in two league outings, suggested that the team might finally be finding its feet. But such hopes were quickly banished in the second half when a soft Vissel equaliser saw an utter lack of composure sweep through the side.
This was a very open match right from the whistle. Neither keeper was unduly troubled early on, although there were the obligatory speculative long-range efforts from both teams.
Kobe were holding a very high defensive line and Kengo looked in the mood to exploit this. But his searching passes were all just slightly over-cooked, with Vissel's keeper, Tatsuya Enomoto, filling in as sweeper on a few occasions. However, it was the home team who had the first noteworthy opening when Takayuki Yoshida sent a free header inches wide from 10 yards out.
That scare sparked Frontale's front men to life. Chong Tese was a little unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside. And then a wonderfully-weighted pass from Vitor Junior found Juninho free in the box, but his acrobatic effort was smartly saved by Enomoto low to his left.
When the breakthrough finally arrived, it was from a trademark Frontale counter-attack. Yusuke Igawa, whose every touch thus far seemed to have fallen to the opposition, intervened well to foil a Kobe raid. Following a quick one-two with Vitor, he released Juninho down the left, and the Brazilian's early cross was headed home by Chong.
The big Korean was looking much brighter than in the season's previous games and Renatinho was a constant thorn in Vissel's right side in a first half that ended with a deserved one-goal lead for the visitors.
However, within minutes of the restart Frontale's advantage, along with their self-belief, was stripped by a goal that highlighted the team's defensive frailty on its right flank. Yamagishi was pulled out of position and then failed to track back, allowing Daisuke Sudo to retrieve a simple give and go and lob a stranded Kawashima.
Frontale responded poorly to this set-back, and Kobe's confidence was growing with every wave of attack. With half an hour left to play, Sekizuka decided it was time to bring on Yokoyama to help shore up the defense. But rather than sacrificing Vitor or Taniguchi, he pulled Renatinho - a curiously cautious move with so much time left on the clock.
Whatever the intended effect of Sekizuka's tinkering, it didn't work. Not only was a dangerous attacking option no longer available, but the team looked in total disarray as it tried to come to terms with the change of formation. Kobe's tails were up and within minutes they were ahead - a flick-on met at the far post by an unmarked Shota Matsuhashi, who'd only just come on for Sudo.
Sekizuka instantly made the change that really should have happened in the first place. Off came the hapless Yamagishi and on came Mori, who was immediately tearing off up the right wing, beating two players and winning a corner. (If Mori doesn't start on Wednesday I'd be amazed.)
So in the space of 20 second-half minutes, Frontale had seen the game turned on its head. But there was still a quarter of the match left to play. Plenty of time to at least rescue a point. Surely?
'Fraid not. Although the team finally managed to secure a foothold in the game, eveything about their attacking was too rushed, too forced, too desperate.
Tasaka looked fairly sprightly when he came on for Vitor. He had a moderate penalty appeal shrugged off by the referee, and was a hair's breadth away from burying a Juninho cross right at the death. But it wasn't to be.
Of course, Kobe also had chances on the break and could have really embarrassed their guests if they'd shown a bit more composure of their own. But in the end, 2 goals were enough.
In the greater scheme of things this result, however demoralising, is hardly the end of the world. At this stage last season Frontale had the same number of points and had just been hammered 4-1 in Kobe, so in some ways this is an improvement! But it would certainly be nice to see them turn this corner sooner rather than later.