Thursday 16 March 2017

Vs Guangzhou Evergrande (away) 14/3/17, ACL Group Stage Match 3

Guangzhou Evergrande 1 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale

I’ll keep things fairly brief today as this was the first match this season I haven’t seen in person. [Having finished writing it up now, it looks like I was being a bit optimistic about the whole brevity thing...]. I watched it on TV in a pub so can’t really give any insight that anyone else who watched the game on TV couldn't do. Before the game, I’m sure we would have gladly taken this result, but after 90 minutes, or more accurately after the second 45 minutes, 1-1 feels a little bit like a let down. However, we can’t ignore the fact that our first half was pretty bad and that we only managed to get the equaliser in the 96th minute, so maybe the draw was fair after all.

We started the game with a much stronger side than we put out against Eastern. This always looked like being our most difficult group game. The Chinese Super League teams have a lot of money, and whilst Guangzhou’s foreigners are not quite in the same league as the Shanghai teams are (lots of big names and big money signings) they are still the most successful team in the Chinese Super League and are managed by a world cup winning manager. It seemed we must have had a late injury to Tasaka as he was with the squad but didn’t make either the starting line-up or the bench. Also, I think the fact that Chinen was on the bench reinforces this assumption. He’s one for the future, but it seems likely that he was along on the trip to make up the numbers in the event of a last minute injury, seeing as this is his first appearance in any squad this season. Oniki went with Sung-Ryong in goal and a slightly strange back four of Igawa at right back, Taniguchi and Kurumaya in the middle and Nobori at left back.  The midfield was Itakura, Neto and Oshima in the more defensive roles and Nakamura, Abe and Kobayashi ahead of them. Today it was Kobayashi’s turn to lead the line, the attacking end of the pitch being shuffled again. On the bench we had Arai, Morimoto, Miyoshi, Hasegawa, Moriya, Chinen and Kano. Quite an attacking bench which probably reflects more on our numerous defensive injuries at the moment rather than being any statement of intent. By the way, what I considered to be the formation differs from what they said on the Frontale website. Guess these things are fairly fluid anyway, but if you want the official word on it, you can check it here.

The first half was a bit of a disaster for us. We looked ultra shaky, totally over-awed by the experience and out of our depth. Guangzhou were a strong and physical side and were causing us a few problems. Thankfully, Alan and Goulart, two of their Brazilian ‘wonders’ were proving to be very wasteful in front of goal. Goulart had a particularly bad game I thought. Not sure he hit the target with any of his shots. Unfortunately, Alan did hit the target once and scored, which was pretty much the only thing he did in the game, apart from dive and pretend to have head and back injuries, but these were apparently enough to secure him the man of the match. The goal came from a massive hoof upfield that Goulart was able to get to way ahead of Igawa, who looked tired and slow (don’t blame him for eithero of these things, by the way), and cross for Alan to complete his contribution to the game. Nobori and Kurumaya were unfortunately both unable to get anywhere near him to stop the shot. Sung-Ryong didn’t do particularly well with it either, but he was making some great saves to keep us in the game. He also was doing some pretty bad kicks to put us in trouble (one which was basically a pass to Alan who was free in front of our goal). But if he saves the shots, I guess the kicks don’t matter as much. We were really under a lot of pressure in the first half. Our passing wasn’t working and we looked very nervy. Think we only really had one good opportunity which was when Abe got the ball and drove a low hard shot toward the near post corner which the keeper just about managed to stop. Things really weren’t working and on 36 minutes Oniki made an early sub, replacing Itakura, who hadn’t at all looked like the player we know he is, with Morimoto to presumably give us a bit more muscle up front. At the same time he seemed to reshuffle the back four with Igawa going into the middle and Kurumaya to left back and Nobori to right back. Not sure why this wasn’t how we were playing from the start to be honest and I guess it has to go down as a bit of a blunder from a relatively inexperienced manager.  All in all, I was relieved to get to half time at just 1-0. Guangzhou weren’t looking great, particularly at the back, but we were looking pretty bad.

The second half began in much better style for us. We started to create more chances and we were really pinning Guangzhou back and restricting them to counter attacks. We had an absolutely stonewall penalty, (at least in my eyes), turned down when Morimoto was shoved to the floor whilst on the ball in the box and I was beginning to curse our refereeing luck in the ACL. Alan was a particularly offensive stain on the second half, constantly whinging, claiming injuries and fouls and trying his best to get Taniguchi sent of. There were a lot of dives from Guangzhou players. Has there been a rule change and people no longer get booked for this kind of thing? If you’re in the box and go down claiming a penalty but the ref decides there was no foul, should you not be cautioned for simulation? It’s probably a good thing I’m not a ref as games would end up being 7-a-side most of the time. On 60 minutes our defensive injury crisis sank to new depths as Igawa had to be stretchered off after getting a whack on the knee defending a cross. Definitely not the fault of the Guangzhou player who hit him, just one of those things. So, time for another defensive reshuffle. Kurumaya went back into the middle and Hasegawa came on at left back. Last seen playing as a centre-forward, Hasegawa has played as a full back before, I just can’t remember when… He was a revelation though, really causing Guangzhou some problems and doing a great defensive job too. Around 70 minutes Kobayashi hit the inside of the post, and when 9 times out of 10 it would go into the net, tonight was the night it bounced straight back out to him and his second attempt was off-target. I could have sworn it was in, was celebrating and was confused why it had been ruled out until I saw the replay. Bit embarrassing, but guess I wasn’t the only person in the pub who thought it was a goal. Guangzhou were really hanging on at this stage and we creating chance after chance, but as has been the case recently, they weren’t going in for one reason or another. On 82 minutes, Morimoto the substitute was substituted, (never a great feeling I would imagine) and Miyoshi was brought on. Morimoto had done a decent job of getting in the Guangzhou faces I thought, but he still looks horribly short of form and confidence. I really hope he can get back on track soon. Miyoshi did his usual thing of getting hold of the ball and running at defenders, but it looked like we were running out of time. Guangzhou suddenly appeared to be getting lengthy injuries all over the pitch. I’m not saying they were time-wasting, but their physio was certainly getting some slow jogging practice. As we approached 90 minutes the ref signaled four minutes of injury time. This coincided with their keeper going down injured for something approaching a couple of minutes. Shortly afterwards we were awarded a penalty for what was one of the most audacious attempts at a foul/ridiculous pieces of defending (delete as appropriate, but either way it was pretty funny…) when a Guangzhou defender managed to do a jumping handball with his left arm and then followed it up by punching the ball away with his right. I can’t remember ever having such amusement combined with such exhilaration. Kobayashi stepped up in his new capacity as our official penalty taker with I imagine a fair bit of pressure on him. The Guangzhou keeper was kind enough to point to where Kobayashi should put the ball, dived the other way and Kobayashi followed his instructions. Credit to the ref and linesman for giving the decision at such a late stage and in a massively partisan stadium. It was pretty clear cut, but under a lot of pressure, I’m glad they could do the right thing. Not sure how the Guangzhou players could have to cheek to argue with the decision. Guess they were saying it was outside the box. It was great to see Abe grab the ball out of the net and run back to the centre circle too. Although there wasn’t really much time to grab a winner, it’s nice that we had the confidence to consider it.

So, all in all, maybe a fair result as this truly was a game of two halves. We were woeful for most of the first half, but came out fighting in the second and did a fine job of it. In the end we could consider ourselves unfortunate to not have won, but I think we have to be realistic and remember quite how bad we were in the first 45. Positives and negatives. Positives first. Great performance from Hasegawa getting us out of a hole. Pleased to see Kobayashi put away a penalty under a lot of pressure. Sung-Ryong made some great saves. And a draw in what we thought would be our toughest group game. Negatives, Sung-Ryong’s kicking, our general first half performance which was nervy, uncoordinated and sloppy and most of all Oniki’s greatest tactical mistake so far, imagining that Igawa would be a good selection at right back. I know it’s still early days in his managerial career, but that was a clanger. I’m sure he has learned from it. Also, I guess we should be a little concerned that we now seem to have a huge amount of injured defenders. Igawa looks like he’ll be out for a while so he joins Elsinho and Takeoka on the long term injured list. Tasaka has picked up something, but not sure how bad that is, Edu is still coming back from his shoulder operation, no idea how long that will be and Michael, well, that’s a real mystery, but apparently he’s injured too. Thankfully Nara will be available for the league games and Hasegawa has shown himself more than capable of playing at left back. I wonder if we’ll see him there on Saturday against Tokyo. I also wonder if Tabinas is nearing his debut or at least a place on the bench. I’m quite excited to see him platy.

So, a few days rest and then we’re off to the Ajinomoto stadium for the Tamagawa Classico. Okubo, who has been having a patchy time so far at FC Tokyo will presumably play his first blinder for them and ruin our day, but I hope we can take some of the confidence we have got from a decent result in China into the game. I’d love a repeat of last year’s scoreline, but I’m sure that FC Tokyo, many people’s pick for the title this year will have something to say about that. In any case, I’m sure we’ll give it a go! Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 4. IGAWA Yusuke
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Yellow card 16')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki

GK 30. ARAI Shota
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for ITAKURA 34')
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji (on for MORIMOTO 81')
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for IGAWA 60')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 25. KANO Kenta

ALAN (Guangzhou) 26' 1-0
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) PEN 90+4' 1-1


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