J.League Division 1: Sat, 20th June 2009
|2 - 0|
|RENATINHO 26', 61'|
Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Saturday afternoon's routine victory over J1 strugglers Oita Trinita turned out to be the perfect preparation for Wednesday's ACL knockout clash against Gamba Osaka.
Not only did Sekizuka take the opportunity to rest some of his big names - Kengo, Chong Tese (both freshly qualified for next year's World Cup), Juninho, Vitor Junior and Terada all sat this one out - but even those on the field weren't exacly stretched by a distinctly sub-standard Oita outfit.
Despite fielding a strong defence - Ito partnering Igawa in the middle, with Mori and Murakami on the flanks and Yokoyama and Taniguchi sat in front - the attacking options looked a touch limited. Yajima was given a lone striker role, with Yamagishi and Renatinho manning the wings and Yuji Yabu filling Kengo's shoes in his first appearance of the season.
It took about 10 minutes for the new-look Frontale to dust off the cobwebs. During that early spell Shingo Suzuki forced a fine save out of Eiji Kawashima, but from then on the home team were coasting. (Good to see that the month Eiji's just spent warming the bench with the Japan NT hasn't dulled his reactions.)
There weren't a whole host of chances in the first half, but Frontale were controlling the game with ease. Murakami and Taniguchi both sent long-range efforts narrowly wide, and it wasn't long before Renatinho was on hand with the required skill to break the deadlock.
Yabu was the provider - playing a Kengo-esque, defence-splitting pass for the Brazilian to race onto. Then, at full-stretch, and without looking up, Rena instinctively clipped the ball goal-ward, beating outrushing keeper, Shusaku Nishikawa, in the process.
Yabu had a good game in the middle of the park, aided by Taniguchi and in particular Yokoyama, who grew in confidence as the game wore on. Mori, no longer looking like the wicked witch of the west with his new sensible haircut, was finding plenty of room down the right and Igawa was uncharacteristically rock-like at the back. In fact the only players who did nothing to enhance their reputations were Yajima and, somewhat predictably, Yamagishi.
Oita did threaten to make a comeback after the restart, but their spell of pressure was pretty shortlived. Their passing game, both long- and short-range, was poor. And Ueslei, who is looking increasingly like Calibos from the 80's classic 'Clash of the Titans', seemed wholly uninterested in anything that involved running.
The visitors managed to deliver a handful of dangerous crosses during the remainder of the game, but the resulting headers were either blocked or squandered.
Midway through the second half, it was Renatinho who once again struck to seal his guests' fate (that's 4 goals he's notched up in 2 clashes with Oita). From a quickly-taken free-kick, Yokoyama angled a long ball in to the far post and, without a defender in cat-swinging distance, the scamp from São Vicente sent a glancing header into the corner of the net. Game over.
There was to be no hat-trick for Rena, as a clash with keeper Nishikawa's knee forced him off the field with a bleeding mouth. Tasaka looked lively in his place. But it was the addition of debutant Kyohei Noborizato late in the game that kept the crowd enthralled.
The 18-year-old looked reasonably bright in his allotted 9 minutes of playing time. His first touch was a roundhouse volley from the edge of the box that was well wide, but indicates he's not shy about having a crack. His second was a cross from the left which, although inaccurate, struck the near post with the keeper beaten. Not much to go on, but pretty encouraging.
So, on to Wednesday's ACL encounter in Osaka. This is a one-leg, winner-takes-all tie, so no room for caution. There are question marks over the fitness of Endo and Leandro. It would certainly boost morale to be facing Gamba without them.