AFC Champions League - Group H: Tue, 21st April 2009
|2 - 1|
Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Frontale overcame the elements and a resilient Central Coast Mariners to book their place in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday night.
A glancing Renatinho header secured the three points after a 60th minute Matt Simon strike had cancelled out Juninho's predatory opener.
The only change from the team that started against Omiya on Saturday was the loss of Murakami at left back. Igawa was brought in alongside Terada in the middle and Ito shifted over to the side.
The first half was football at its least entertaining. It's hard to know who was more to blame, the relentless rain god or the inept referee. Whichever, the combined effect was an opening 45 minutes notable only for the occasional episode of brandished handbags between two increasingly frustrated sides.
With conditions more suited to a Guantanamo Bay swimming lesson, Frontale's intricate passing game was all but nullified. Central Coast, for their part, made a much better fist of closing down in midfield than they'd managed on home soil. Andre Gumprecht, in particular, deserves credit for keeping Kengo quiet, while Matt Simon, returning from suspension, looked a more lively option up front.
Indeed it was Simon who came closest to opening the scoring - denied only by a last-ditch recovery from Eiji after the ball had slipped loose inside the 6 yard box.
On the very stroke of half-time Vitor missed a golden opportunity to give Frontale the lead. Juninho found space down the right and sent over a pinpoint cross. But his pint-sized compatriot made an absolute pig's ear of his unchallenged header from 8 yards out.
Given the slick surface it was surprising that neither keeper's handling was really put to the test in the first half. This was put right within minutes of the restart as Danny Vukovic was unable to hold onto a powerful header from Chong Tese. Juninho was quickly on hand to feed off the scraps and put his team ahead.
Despite the heavens remaining open, the floodgates stayed firmly shut. After weathering a brief storm of Frontale pressure, the Mariners steadied their ship and fought back with the kind of gutsy determination that was so lacking two weeks ago.
Not only did the visitors succeed in keeping themselves in the game, but on the hour mark they were level. The breakthrough came when Ito for once failed to step up and hold the line, leaving Matt Simon free to slide the ball past the advancing Kawashima.
A month ago Frontale might have struggled to respond to this kind of setback. However, these days they look to be made of sterner stuff and, with Renatinho and Yajima on for Vitor and Chong Tese, the home team soon started to regain the upper hand.
And their patient approach didn't go unrewarded. With 10 minutes left on the clock, a corner delivered deep by Kengo was poorly dealt with by two Mariners challenging for the same ball. It dropped to Taniguchi whose floated cross was glanced inside the far post by Renatinho, notching up his 3rd goal in 4 ACL games (in 3 of which he's only featured as a second-half sub).
The result leaves Central Coast at the bottom of the group on 2 points. Frontale stay top on 10 points. Home and dry!
Here's how things stand in Group H with two games to play:
|Central Coast Mariners||4||0||2||2||3||9||2|