Nabisco Cup: SF 2nd leg: Sun, 6th September 2009
|1 - 1|
(IGAWA sent off 68')
|YAMASE 68' (pen.)
(IIKURA sent off 86')
Venue: Nissan Stadium
Frontale booked a place in the Nabisco Cup final courtesy of a tense 1-1 draw in their semi-final 2nd leg against Yokohama F Marinos on Sunday.
Looking ahead, FC Tokyo, Kokuritsu and November 3rd are the who, where and when for a final that pits 2007's runners-up against 2004's champions.
It was always going to take something shocking for Frontale to jeopardise their 2-goal advantage from the 1st leg. But they certainly made hard work of crossing the finishing line.
The match ultimately hinged on two 2nd-half acts of lunacy, one from either side.
Igawa (in for the injured Kikuchi) got the stupidity ball rolling when he hacked down Korean forward, Kim Kun Hoan, as he ran through on goal. It was a clear penalty and he can have no complaints about the resulting red card.
But with the home team pressing hard for a tie-leveller, their keeper, Hiroki Iikura, threw a spanner in the works.
With time running out and Yokohama's second goal still unforthcoming, Juninho opted to waste some time by claiming a Marinos free-kick as his own. Amidst the protests from the home team, Iikura came charging out of his area and barged the veteran striker in the back.
Obviously the Brazilian went down like a sack of potatoes, writhing around in a grotesquely over-the-top manner. But, to be fair, the referee had already gone to his pocket before witnessing the floor gymnastics.
Did Juninho over-react? Of course - what red-blooded Brazilian male wouldn't in that kind of situation? Was there sufficient violent contact from Iikura to merit a red card? Definitely.
You have to have some sypathy for Iikura. Twice (once in each leg) he denied Chong Tese in on-on-one situations, either of which would have put Frontale out of sight. And there's no denying his moment of brain freeze was provoked. But there's no excusing his actions.
Juninho did nothing to endear himself to the Yokohama faithful, rubbing salt in their wounds with an equaliser deep into injury time. And with that the contest was over.
Progressing to a cup final is, of course, cause for celebration. But, in light of the tricky schedule ahead, it's hard to ignore the disturbing lack of quality in Frontale's recent performances. Kengo's return should provide a much-needed boost, assuming he's not completely burnt out by the amount of running he's being asked to do for the NT. Oh, and Vitor Junior was back on the bench on Sunday. Here's hoping!