Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Kawasaki Frontale v Kashima Antlers

J. League Division 1: Sun, 5th July 2009

Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 1 Kashima Antlers
JUNINHO 33' (pen.) KOROKI 64'
UCHIDA sent off 33'

Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Attendance: 22,185

Frontale let slip a first-half lead and a golden opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table against 10-man Kashima Antlers on Sunday evening.

While it's heart-warming to know there's little danger of Frontale becoming predictable (after all, this could have been a third successive 1-0 win!), the uninspired nature of their performance in this crunch contest is slightly concerning.

The game hinged on the controversial dismissal of Kashima's, Atsuto Uchida, in the 34th minute. The young defender blocked a goal-bound Taniguchi header on the line and the referee adjudged that he had used his arm.

There was more than a little doubt as to whether or not the ball had actually come into contact with an illicit body part. But with the foul called and a penalty awarded, there was no other option but for Uchida to receive his marching orders.

Juninho dispatched the resulting penalty kick with some aplomb. However, a spirited reaction from the ten remaining Kashima players, and a disappointingly lacklustre second-half display from the home team, saw the game end with honours even.

In a break from recent tradition, rather than utilising the quietly effective Yabu in Vitor's absence, Sekizuka opted to start with Yamagishi, who gave a typically ghost-like performance. A crueller observer might suggest that the referee was only levelling things up by removing Uchida so early. But there was worse to come.

Early in the second half, Chong Tese - on the verge of becoming the second player to see red - was withdrawn from the game. Had Renatinho been around to take his place, Kashima would certainly have been harder pressed than they were by the hopelessly ineffectual Kurotsu. In essence, by this stage the Antlers were a man up, with Yamagishi and Kurotsu vying to see who could be more invisible.

There's no doubt the visitors were in the ascendancy after the loss of Chong. But, even then, it took a schoolboy error to gift them their way back into the game.

Terada, continuing in his defensive midfield role of recent games, inexplicably failed to look behind him before playing a backpass. Had he done so he would have noticed the menacing figure of Marquinos on the prowl. But he didn't, and the Brazilian was quick to exploit, releasing Shinzo Koroki who rounded Kawashima before finishing well from an acute angle.

Of course accidents do (and as we know with Frontale, frequently will) happen. What's disappointing is the lack of response after Koroki's equaliser. Even when Sekizuka went to the bench, the only impact players at his disposal were Tasaka and Yajima.

That's not to say the blame should be laid on the (admittedly disappointing) replacements. The overall quality of Frontale's final ball was frankly abysmal in the latter stages of the game. The number of decent crosses could be counted on the digits of a three-toed sloth...with toes to spare. And a last-gasp effort from Tasaka - well-saved by Kashima keeper, Hitoshi Sogahata - was much too little too late.

Before the game, the promise of a point would have been welcomed with open arms. But, as the despondent faces of the players coming off the pitch attested, this was a major body blow for the team. They now need to pick themsleves up quickly for next week's tough trip to Niigata.


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