J.League Division 1: Sun, 26th July 2009
|3 - 1|
|DIEGO 18', 57'
Venue: Nishikyogoku Stadium
A desperately poor display against Kyoto Sanga saw Frontale's mid-season wobble take a further stuttering step on Sunday night.
It was all looking so promising when Yajima rose unmarked to nod in an early corner. But Sanga's slow start to the game continued only until the 18th minute when they were awarded a controversial penalty for Ito's challenge on Paulinho.
The ins and the outs of the incident are not really important as the referee's decision is final (however wrong it might be!). But Diego's expertly-dispatched penalty kick certainly put some fire in the bellies of a home team who had thus far looked merely lukewarm.
Sanga had the better of the rest of the half, forcing a string of fine saves from Kawashima. Renatinho and Yajima appeared to be on completely different wavelengths for Frontale, with Yajima in particular proving ineffective at either retaining possession or closing down his opponents.
At half time Sekizuka brought on the man everyone was calling for - Juninho. However, instead of removing Yajima, it was Vitor (still on the mend after several weeks on the sidelines) who made way.
Juninho undoubtedly added some oomph to the Frontale frontline. But with the midfield a man lighter, Sanga quickly gained a stranglehold on the game.
And it wasn't long before the home team made their dominance tell with two quick knockout blows.
First, Jun Ando was given too much time and space and unleashed a swerving drive from 30 yards that found the top-left corner. Then, 8 minutes later, and from similar range, Diego killed the game off with a curling shot into the opposite corner. Some pretty sharp shooting from the men in purple, but the overstretched Frontale defence did little to pressurise their efforts at goal.
Kyoto sat back for the rest of the match, defending their two-goal margin and hoping to snatch another on the break. And, despite a couple of windows of opportunity for Frontale (a few decent strikes from Juninho and a painfully-wasted header from Yajima), the home defence stood firm.
A post-match inquest might include questions such as: Why didn't Juninho start? Why did Yajima play the whole game despite his apparent incompetence? Why was Vitor withdrawn at half-time, effectively handing over control of the midfield to Sanga?
I'm sure there are perfectly satisfactory answers to all of these questions, but with the benefit of hindsight these are the issues that cost Frontale the game. A game which could have been even more embarrassing had Eiji Kawashima not continued his blistering form in goal.
The good news is that the league's other top teams are experiencing their own problems right now. The bad news is that Frontale really need to be capitalising on this, rather than merely matching them step for stuttering step.