J.League Division 1: Sat, 19th September 2009
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Venue: Todoroki Stadium
Frontale's unbeaten home run finally came to end on Saturday as they lost 2-0 to a stubborn, but largely unimpressive, Urawa Reds.
Robson Ponte put the visitors ahead in fortuitous fashion, floating in a free-kick that missed everyone before somehow finding its way inside Eiji's left post. Keita Suzuki then added some undeserved gloss to the scoreline with a low drive from the edge of the box.
Reds manager, Volker Finke, had obviously done his homework, forging a game plan designed to nullify Frontale's strength on the counter. It made for a very dull opening half as neither team was prepared to commit sufficient numbers to attack. Entirely understandable from Finke's perspective, given Urawa's recent form. Less so from Sekizuka's.
It was all very similar to the performance against S-Pulse a few weeks back. Although, whereas S-Pulse played the better football and probably deserved more than their single point, Urawa offered very little up front and should count themselves lucky to get all three. That's not to say that a home win would have been any more deserved.
What Frontale really missed yesterday was a midfield runner prepared to get forward and create space for the 3 strikers. However, with Kengo orchestrating from deep and Taniguchi weighed down with defensive responsibilty, neither Yabu nor Tasaka (his 2nd half replacement) was really up to the job. Nor does it bode particluarly well that Vitor Junior, the one man who might have excelled at the task, was once again missing from the bench.
It's hard to say what was most disappointing about this rather limp-wristed performance and result. The loss of concentration that gifted the visitors the all-important opening goal? The continued refusal to take more risks against defence-minded opponents (until a goal down)? Or wasting yet another golden opportunity to close the gap on Kashima?
Still, looking on the bright side, it's not like any ground has actually been lost in the title race. And Saturday's events should act as a timely wake-up call ahead of the ACL quarter-finals. The good news for Frontale is that Dragan Stojkovic's charges are unlikely to be quite so defensive in their approach.