Nabisco Cup - Final: Tues, 3rd November 2009
|2 - 0|
Venue: Kokuritsu Stadium
"One Step" is Kawasaki Frontale's team slogan for 2009. And one step remains the distance at which they stand from their first piece of silverware after Tuesday's 2-0 Nabisco Cup final defeat at the hands of local rivals, FC Tokyo.
Having lost at the final hurdle to Gamba Osaka two years ago, Frontale were determined not to let another trophy-winning opportunity go to waste. But goals in each half from Takuji Yonemoto and Sota Hirayama once again delayed the gratification that must surely come to the Kawasaki club sooner or later.
And to be fair, Frontale actually put in a performance of which they can be reasonably proud. Their forward play wasn't at its scintillating best, but they defended solidly for the most part. And were it not for a couple of first-half blunders, this could have been a very different game.
Both teams started brightly, but with Frontale beginning to dominate play, and FC Tokyo looking increasingly vulnerable, Taniguchi was sent through on a one-on-one with Tokyo keeper, Shuichi Gonda. Although the 20-year-old stopper did well to make the initial block, Taniguchi was still able to square into the path of Juninho. But somehow, from just 6 yards out and directly in front of goal, the Brazilian contrived to lift his unchallenged shot over the crossbar.
Having failed to capitalise on that gilt-edged chance, Frontale were immediately punished. Tokyo's excellent young midfielder, Yonemoto, hit a speculative 30-yard effort that Eiji looked to have well covered. However, in truly un-Kawashima-like fashion, and despite having two hands behind the ball, the big keeper could only palm it weakly inside his near post. The shot undeniably had some fizz and dip, but it was a real soft one by Eiji's standards.
Unsurprisingly, coming (as it did) so completely against the run of play, the goal took the wind out of Frontale's previously billowing sails. And by the time they'd regained their focus, FC Tokyo had settled into a more defensive lead-protecting shape - the likes of which Frontale so often struggle to break down.
And this established the pattern for the entire second half. Frontale huffed and puffed, but could not find a way to blow down FC Tokyo's well-organised and heavily-populated defence. Gonda was delivering a commanding perfomance between the Tokyo sticks and wave after wave of Kawasaki pressure was being repulsed.
With more and more men being committed to attack, it was inevitable that Frontale would eventually be caught out on the break. And a fine counter-attacking move it was that culminated in an unmarked Hirayama heading past a helpless Kawashima on 59 minutes to extend FC Tokyo's lead.
Frontale continued to dominate possession, but the tell-tale signs were there that this was not going to be their day. The quality of the final ball into the box was getting progressively worse as the team became increasingly desperate. Chong Tese hit the bar and Gonda made a fine save low to his right to deny Kengo, but the goal never really looked like coming.
FC Tokyo, for their part, had a couple more decent chances on the counter - Tatsuya Suzuki was particularly unlucky to see his effort bounce back off the inside of the post - but the 2-goal margin proved enough.
The boys will obviously be disappointed by the result. But the nature of the defeat will hopefully mean their confidence is not overly dented, and rather spur them on at this vital stage of the season.
With just 4 games standing between them and the (far more illustrious) J.League title, they may still be able to complete that "One Step" to glory.