J.League Division 1: Sun, 10th May 2009
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RENATINHO (pen.) 73'
VITOR (sent off 89')
Venue: Saitama Stadium
Frontale claimed their first away win of the season at the expense of Urawa Reds on Sunday, putting an end to the Saitama side's nine-game unbeaten run.
In a match filled with incident and intrigue, Frontale twice fought back from behind before wrapping up the three points courtesy of second-half goals from Juninho, Renatinho and Chong Tese.
Things got off to a bad start when Terada hobbled off after just 20 minutes. (A centre-back pairing of Igawa and Kikuchi seemed like a recipe for disaster, but the two acquitted themselves remarkably well in an all-round strong team performance.) And it got worse when a failed corner clearance gave the Reds the lead - Edmilson stooping to head in off the post after a mistimed leap from Yokoyama had left the rest of the defence flat-footed.
However, in retrospect, this was probably the best thing that could have happened. Frontale were forced to abandon their cautious approach and it was now Urawa who sat back inviting pressure.
There were a couple of half chances before the break. Juninho prodded an effort inches wide and a blistering 30-yard effort from the unlikely Kikuchi forced a decent save from Reds keeper, Ryota Tsuzuki. But the scoreline remained unchanged as the teams went in at half-time.
The momentum was very much still with Frontale in the second half. But after 10 minutes, with a breakthrough proving elusive, Sekizuka made the decisive step of taking off Murakami, switching Mori to the left, Igawa to the right, Yokoyama to centre-back, and bringing on Renatinho to spice up the attack.
Within minutes of the reshuffle the equaliser arrived. Mori, now on the left, made a penetrating run and laid the ball up to Chong Tese at the edge of the Urawa box. The Korean had been looking out of sorts thus far, but he laid off perfectly for the advancing Juninho to arc the ball into the net.
No longer content to sit back, the Reds brought on Naohiro Takahara to add some experience up front and started to display more of the attacking intent they'd shown in the opening quarter. And it was from Takahara's intelligent movement that the home side quickly regained the lead.
Still coming to terms with the recent changes, the Frontale defence was thrown into disarray when Takahara ran into an offside position to receive a throw-in. Kikuchi failed to track one of the Urawa runners and the ball fell nicely for Tulio to rifle into the top corner from 12 yards out.
However, the long spell of superiority Frontale had been enjoying brought with it a brimful of self-belief. And it wasn't long before some Brazilian magic had the game square again.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Renatinho made a jinking run down the right before playing a neat pass inside to Juninho. A desperate lunge from Tulio caught the elder Brazilian's ankle just inside the penalty area and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot (despite fierce protests from Tulio et al.).
Renatinho stepped up confidently to dispatch the penalty and level things up. But the impish striker's work wasn't done yet.
After surviving another wave of Reds pressure, Kengo received the ball deep in his own half and unleashed a 60-yard pass to Renatinho. The pacy frontman killed the ball with a single touch while simultaneously holding off the attentions of Keisuke Tsuboi. He then had the wherewithal to look up and pick out Chong (whose marker, Tulio, had given up the chase) for a simple tap-in.
The game ended on a sour note. Although happily it was the home team who came away smelling of vinegar.
Deep into injury time, Urawa refused to return possession after Frontale had put the ball out so that Tanigichi could get attention for cramp (admittedly he was probably laying it on a bit thick). Realising they weren't going to put the ball out of play, Renatinho went in for a tackle which the referee somehow deemed a foul, awarding the Reds a free kick in a dangerous position.
The entire Frontale team and staff were incensed that such unsportsmanlike behaviour should be rewarded. And amidst all the belly-aching, Vitor talked his way to a second yellow card and a one-match ban.
I'd normally be prepared to get much more vitriolic over an incident like this (and if the result had been different, I probably would). But too much good happened in this game to let the under-hand tactics of a team of spoilt brats ruin it.
Last season's win against Urawa proved a landmark in a very successful campaign for Frontale. If they can consolidate with a home win against Jubilo next week, this result could well turn out to be equally important.