J.League Division 1: Sat, 17th October 2009
|2 - 3|
|MATO 44'(pen), 89'(pen)||JUNINHO 21'
CHONG 44', 64'
Venue: Saitama Stadium
A valuable away win over Omiya Ardija on Saturday afternoon saw Frontale climb to the dizzying heights of top spot in the J.League table.
It was a crucial victory over a club that proved to be a thorn in the team's side last year. 2008 saw the Saitama Squirrels win at Todoroki, with what must be one of the longest-range goals in J.League history, and at Omiya Park, with a piece of Klemen Lavric brilliance which no doubt surprised the home fans as much as the away section.
A fine Juninho lob plus a brace from last week's hat-trick hero, Chong Tese, ensured Omiya took nothing from our two meetings this season and put Frontale in pole position in a title race now entering the finishing straight.
With the venue switched to Saitama Stadium to take advantage of its greater capacity, the Omiya and Frontale faithful didn't disappoint, turning up in droves. Their reward was a pulsating game that featured five goals and four penalties (two of them missed by Frontale).
The visitors fielded their strongest line-up and should have gone ahead after 10 minutes when Omiya keeper, Koji Ezumi, brought down Chong Tese in the box. However, from the resulting penalty, Juninho hit the inside of post and could only look on as the ball rebounded across the face of the goal and away to safety.
10 minutes later Ezumi gave Juninho the opportunity to redeem himself. The Brazilian escaped down the right channel and finished smartly with a lob from a narrow angle. But the keeper's premature dash off his line certainly made things less complicated for the veteran striker.
Ezumi did however find his own path to redemption. With the referee awarding Frontale yet another spot kick - this time for a rather dubious trip on Chong Tese - the Korean decided that he would take over penalty duties from his Brazilian colleague. Maybe Renatinho would have been the better option, as Ezumi got a strong hand to Chong's attempt, keeping the visitors' advantage to a single goal.
Encouraged by Frontale's inability to extend their lead, Omiya pressed forward and mounted their first spell of extended pressure. As the clock ticked over into first-half injury time, Taniguchi brought down striker Naoki Ishihara at the edge of the penalty area and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There were staunch protests that the challenge happened outside the box, but the referee's decision was certainly no more suspect than with his previous penalty call.
Up stepped Omiya's towering Croat, Mato Neretljak, to show Frontale's foreign contingent exactly how a penalty should be taken. But within seconds of the restart Chong made amends for his botched spot-kick with a blistering 20-yard drive to restore Frontale's advantage on the stroke of half time.
Chong seems to be hitting a rich vein of form at precisely the right moment. The campaign started brightly for him, but some arduous trips with the North Korean national team, plus a few fitness setbacks, saw the goals dry up mid-season. If the team are to cling onto top spot for the next few weeks and claim their first title, having Chong Tese firing on all cylinders will be a real confidence booster.
And it was the Korean who sealed victory for Frontale on Saturday. After a frantic back-and-forth start to the second half, Chong latched onto a through ball from Juninho, and out-muscled Mato before lashing a left-footed shot just inside the far post to seal the 3 points. The colossal Croat pulled another one back from the penalty spot in second-half injury time, but it was too little too late for the home side.
So, top of the league with five games to go - I'd say that's cause for some premature celebration...