Sunday, April 05, 2009

Kawasaki Frontale v Nagoya Grampus

J.League Division 1: Sat, 4th April 2009

Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 1 Nagoya Grampus

Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Attendance: 20,148

The sakura lining the streets round Todoroki Stadium wasn't the only thing in full bloom on Saturday afternoon as Frontale finally put together a performance befitting the pre-season press hype and high hopes of their fans.

So far this season there have only been brief glimpses of the free-flowing football of last year. But against a potentially dangerous Nagoya Grampus they seemed to find the balance and composure that's been so absent of late.

Yusuke Tasaka earning his first start of the season, added an extra touch of dynamism to the side - his hustle and bustle allowing Kengo to play a slightly more withdrawn role than in recent games. The pint-sized midfielder had the occasional heavy touch and his cross, midway through the first half, to an unmarked Juninho was criminally overhit, but he could well prove to be a valuable asset this season.

Despite a fairly comfortable start from the home team, it was Nagoya who opened the scoring. Yoshizumi Ogawa jinked his way neatly between Mori and Tasaka before arrowing in a lethal cross which Magnum, who seems to be making a habit of scoring against his former team, bundled in at the far post.

However, within a minute of the restart the game was all square. Competition for the right back spot has done Mori the world of good and he immediately made amends for his defensive slip, tearing up the right wing and crossing for Vitor Junior to prod the ball home. Seigo Narazaki, the Nagoya keeper, complained that he'd been obstructed by an offside Chong Tese, but there was no way the North Korean could have been deemed active.

Vitor, it must be said, deserves a lot of the credit for the team's impressive display. In recent games he's looked on a totally different wavelength from his team mates. But on Saturday he was back to his best. Maybe it's the return of milder weather.

Indeed it was Vitor's corner that led to Frontale's second. Delivered long to Terada, the towering defender nodded the ball back into the danger zone where Taniguchi placed a looping header perfectly into the top corner.

Nagoya ended the first half strongly, but the home team's much-maligned defense battled admirably to keep them at bay. The left side is starting to look very solid, with Ito in the middle and Murakami bringing a bit of pace and energy to the full-back position. On the right, as already mentioned, Mori looks a new player. And Terada, a strong contender for man of the match on Saturday, made the talented Davi look surprisingly ordinary.

Davi did have one opportunity to make space for himself in the Frontale box, but Taniguchi was on hand to make a double block at point blank range. There were mild penalty appeals from the Nagoya players for handball, but it would have been a very harsh call at such close range.

Another penalty shout came when Ito blocked on the line minutes later. But the referee again waved it away.

At half time Sekizuka looked to consolidate and brought Yokoyama on for Tasaka. And it was the lanky defender-turned-midfielder whose timely interception in the centre of the park brought about Frontale's match-killing third. The ball broke to Chong Tese who charged up the middle like a modern-day Moses as the Nagoya defense parted before him and tucked away his third goal in four league matches.

Overall it was a pretty disappointing performance from Nagoya. They showed very little steel in the middle of the park, coming out second best in the majority of the 50-50 challenges. And they left far too much space at the back against a team renowned for their strength on the counter attack. That said, they can probably count themselves unlucky to have come knocking on the day Frontale finally found their form.

After a performance like this it's hard to criticise, but it should be noted that Frontale's much-lauded front pairing were once again not quite at the races. Chong Tese can be forgiven, having just flown back from 2 tough World Cup qualifiers against UAE and South Korea. Juninho, however, was lucky not to be hauled off much sooner after repeatedly missing chances and squandering possession. Ultimately it didn't matter on Saturday, but I just wonder if Renatinho might be due another chance to impress.

One final thought. Nagoya fans would probably disagree, but I felt the referee had a very good game. At least, that is, until the dying minutes when he elbowed Ogawa in the head. Check out this YouTube clip, around the 2:20 mark - The ref looked to have come off worse, but it turned out Ogawa had a bleeding gash to his forehead and was ordered off the field!


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