Competition: J.League - Division 1
Date: Sunday, 18th April 2010 (16:00 kick off)
Venue: Saitama Stadium
MF TANIGUCHI (replaced by NOBORIZATO 73')
MF TASAKA (replaced by NAKAMURA 46')
FW KUROTSU (replaced by VITOR JUNIOR 46')
FW RENATINHO (yellow card 59')
Bad result, but take heart - this performance was light years ahead of some other recent losses.
Conceding two goals in as many minutes at the very start of an away fixture is hardly a recipe for success. But, apart from this (albeit fairly major) blip, Frontale honestly weren't too bad.
I'm not going to attempt to excuse the two-goal head-start presented to the hosts. Hajime Hosogai's opener had some welly behind it, but it was straight at Eiji. Unfortunately the big fella botched his punch and the ball ended up skewing off his gloves into the top corner. Unlucky or careless? Probably a bit of both...okay, probably slightly more the latter.
Then within seconds, perhaps still in shock at Eiji's rare blunder, the Frontale midfield was carved open by a simple give-and-go. Tatsuya Tanaka bore down on a back-tracking defence and unleashed a 20-yarder into the very same corner. It was a good strike (Eiji had no chance this time) but the defending was positively vaporous.
To their credit Frontale responded strongly, mounting a spell of concerted pressure. Kurotsu hit the woodwork (although Kashiwagi did the same at the other end moments later) and the Urawa keeper made a couple of decent saves.
It was vital for the visitors to claw something back before the break, and sadly it took an erroneous offside flag to prevent them from doing so.
Renatinho won a free-kick at the corner of the penalty box. He then sent in a dangerous delivery that found Igawa at the back-post via an Urawa head. The centre-back made no mistake with his finish, but his celebrations were curtailed by a raised flag on the far side. The referee's assistant must have deemed the flick-on to have come off a Frontale player, rendering Igawa offside. Bad decision.
Had Igawa's goal been allowed to stand, there could have been a very different outcome to this match. But when the game resumed after the interval the longer the two-goal margin remained, the more open Frontale were forced to leave themselves at the back.
Now, is it just me, or do you hate it when football officials choose to atone for their mistakes by giving an equally bad call the other way? Well, there was another example of this on Sunday.
In the second half, the referee almost gifted Frontale a way back into the game when he pointed to the penalty spot for a dubious foul on Chong Tese. The challenge wasn't inside the area, and in any case I'm not entirely sure the defender did anything wrong.
However, Renatinho's spot-kick was a tame one. And, to add insult to injury, he somehow managed to slice the rebound over the crossbar. It was at this stage that I think most fans accepted it was just going to be one of those days.
As the clock ticked on, with Frontale's all-out attack mode beginning to wane (and the referee deciding that Renatinho's tumbling no longer deserved the benefit of the doubt), Urawa were finding all kinds of space on the break. It was the unlikely Satoshi Horinouchi - brought on to shore up the home defence - who drove home the final nail, arriving late in the box to convert the rebound after Eiji had made another good stop. 3-0. Game over.
Unlike the recent embarrassment in Yokohama, coach Takahata was blameless on this occasion. He did the sensible thing by bringing on the big guns of Kengo and Vitor at half time (earlier than he was probably planning). He even had Noborizato on the touchline stripped and ready to bolster his tiring strikeforce at the precise moment Urawa's third went in. Again, just one of those days.
Important that the team bounces back against Vissel Kobe on Saturday. And then it's crunch time in the ACL on Wednesday with a must-win game in Beijing. Never a dull moment!