J.League Division 1: Sun, 8th November 2009
|3 - 2|
|RENATINHO 55' (pen.), 70', 89'||KUDO 35'
Venue: Todoroki Stadium
I think it would be fair to say the past week has not been one of the brightest in Kawasaki Frontale football club's short history.
Losing the Nabisco Cup final. Losing face at the post-match awards ceremony. Losing (or choosing to return) the 50 million yen runners-up prize. The icing on the cake would surely be a slip-up against all-but-relegated JEF United.
But the players reacted well to the club's self-inflicted humiliation and, despite a late scare, succeeded in bagging the all-important 3 points that keep them at the summit of the J.League table.
Prior to Sunday's kick-off, club chairman Shimpei Takeda led the entire squad and staff in making a formal apology in front of the fans. Lined up in smart grey suits, they stood solemnly as their sins were recounted. All except a tearful Yusuke Mori who maintained a low bow for the duration of Mr Takeda's 10-minute speech.
Not entirely surprisingly, it is Mori who has emerged as the villain of the piece. It was his refusal to shake hands with leading sponsors and patrons of Japanese football, including a member of the imperial family, that was the real cause of the club's embarrassment and subsequent tsunami of apologies.
Mori has been forced to make his own individual apology for his behaviour and will not be allowed to represent the team for an as-yet-unspecified number of games.
Sunday's match itself was another nerve jangler. JEF took the lead in the first half when a Seiichiro Maki header rebounded off the crossbar for Kohei Kudo to follow up.
Renatinho made things square from the penalty spot 10 minutes after the break. He then put Frontale ahead after his shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net.
Then, with just 2 minutes left, Takumi Wada brought JEF level again after a goalmouth scramble. And with Kengo forced to leave the field with an adductor injury that's likely to see him miss at least 2 weeks of action, Frontale's week of misery looked set to continue.
But as the clock ticked over into injury time, Juninho escaped down the left and crossed for Renatinho to secure the victory from close range and notch up his first J.League hat-trick.
Frontale now need just one point from their remaining three games to ensure an ACL berth for next season. But their eyes will need to stay firmly fixed on the main prize which is now tantalisingly close.
Kengo's injury means he'll miss the Emperor's Cup clash against J2's Kataller Toyama on Wednesday. Fortunately that's followed by an international break, which will hopefully give him enough time to get back in the frame if not for the trip to Oita then at least for the home tie against Niigata.
Much as I hate the old rollercoaster cliches, I would strongly advise those with heart conditions, those who are pregnant and potentially also those with serious back problems to avoid Frontale's progress in these final few weeks of the 2009 season.