This was a bit of a funny game to be honest. We went into it with the knowledge that if we didn’t concede three goals we would be assured of going through. So I should have been full of confidence but couldn’t quite help feel that I should be aware that anything is possible with our inconsistent performances (which to be honest have been much less inconsistent recently, but you never know, eh?). Would we turn up and play like we did in the first leg or would we put in an away at FC Tokyo performance and bow out against all the odds? Judging by the coverage we were getting before the game, our progression to the next round was a done deal. No-one was talking about us before and no-one seemed to be afterwards, choosing to focus instead on ‘brave heroes’ Kashima Antlers who won but went out on away goals. After the game the fact that in both legs we had walloped a team that had beaten Kashima was glossed over. But I’m not going to whinge too much as I think I might prefer things this way.
Even though the scoreline suggested we had pretty much already done the job, we started with the majority of the usual line up. Sung-Ryong continued in goal but the defence was shuffled slightly due to Taniguchi not being 100% fit and Edu not being available for the ACL. Tasaka started at right back, Nara was joined by Kurumaya in the middle and Nobori took Kurumaya’s place at left back. The defensive midfielders were Neto and Kengo (who proved again that I know nothing by having a great game after I said last time that he always plays better further forward). The front four were Abe, Ienaga, Kobayashi and Hasegawa. Put them where you want as we seem to be sticking with the plan of them changing their positions throughout the match. The Frontale website has Kobayashi as being up front, Ienaga right, Hasegawa in the middle and Abe on the left. But I thought it looked like we started with Hasegawa up front, Abe on the left, Kobayashi on the right and Ienaga in the middle. In any case, this whole rotation thing seems to be working. The bench was Arai, Taniguchi, Morimoto, Moriya, Rhayner, Kano and Otsuka. Muangthong had brought a decent amount of fans with them. Full credit to them as the situation didn’t look that positive for them. I should also say that their fans seemed like thoroughly decent folks too. For the second ACL game in a row there has been some really nice interactions between opposing fans which I really like. After the game the Muangthong fans were apparently chanting ‘Frontale!’ too which is really nice of them. I hope we are going some way to mending any damage recent events might have caused our reputation. I should also say that Muangthong’s Japanese defender Aoyama got a round of applause from our fans which was pretty nice too. But it wasn’t all a big love-in, there was a football game too so I suppose I should mention that.
Unusually, we changed ends before kick off, so in the first half were kicking towards our home end. I’m not sure whose decision this was. I guess it could make sense from either captain as I suspect both would have welcomed an early goal; them to get back into the tie and us to kill off the tie. We started well with plenty of possession and a few decent chances. As I mentioned above, Kengo was doing a great job in the middle and the combination of him and Neto meant that we were pretty much dominating there. Any attacks that Muangthong had which came through this area were thwarted by them and we were looking pretty comfortable. Possibly up front things weren’t clicking completely with Hasegawa and Ienaga not being quite on the same wavelength. I guess they haven’t played together much yet. Not saying things weren’t working, as we were doing pretty well, but more that a couple of times their runs and passes were totally at odds with one another. A bigger problem was the ref (here I go again). He seemed to be giving us absolutely nothing with pretty much every decision going to them. A few times I was left totally bewildered by him. It felt like he had some kind of interest in evening up the game a bit. We had a definite penalty turned down when they player clearly handled a cross but the more confusing decisions were when he not only didn’t give us the foul but gave the foul against us. I know I’m partizan but it was really weird. I can’t remember exactly, but I seem to think that Abe got booked for getting fouled. If the game had been closer these decisions could really have cost us, but for once it’s nice to be able to moan, but for things not to matter so much. On 31 minutes the game looked to be sealed as we scored the opening goal. They’d now need to score four times. It was another nice goal for Kobayashi. A pass from Nobori was kind of dummied by Abe which seemed to put the defender off. Kobayashi received the ball, turned the other defender and slotted it home from the edge of the box. It seems that the sliding defender got something on it which diverted the ball from its path into the corner but it still had enough power to sneak under the keepers dive. On 32 minutes we scored again but I guess the situation didn’t change so much. Due to away goals they’d still need four, but the kick in the guts you’d get from conceding twice in two minutes must have deflated their confidence further. This time Kobayashi was the provider, collecting a forward pass from Tasaka and driving a cross across the box. Ienaga was inches away from scoring his first goal for us but luckily Hasegawa was lining up behind him to smash the ball home into the top of the net. On 40 minutes it was three and it was now almost certainly over for Muangthong barring a historic collapse. From the penalty appeal that we weren’t given that I mentioned above we won a corner. Kengo took it short to Tasaka who returned the ball. Kengo then looped over a lovely first-time left-footed cross which Neto headed into the corner. Haven’t seen him score like that before and it was also the first time I have been taking a picture and we've scored (see below). I can still make it as a sports photographer! And it seems that we actually pose a threat from corners now which is a bit of a turn up. So, 3-0 at half time, 6-1 on aggregate.
Understandably, the second half wasn’t as exciting. Rhayner came on for Abe after the break, meaning that Abe wasn’t able to keep his goalscoring run going which was a shame for him, but it was a good opportunity to give him a bit of a rest. Muangthong came into the game a little bit as maybe we’d taken our foot off the gas, but I think pretty much everyone, players and fans knew that the game was over and that they were looking for a consolation goal at best. Chances were half-heartedly made at either end of the pitch without a great deal of conviction and it looked like things were petering out a bit. There was a surprise substitution on 62 minutes when Kengo was replaced by Kano Kenta. The crowd was very happy to see him coming on and he got a great reception. I think he can still offer something and hasn’t really had much of a chance this season yet and he did a decent job during the 30 minutes he was on the pitch. We’re playing one of his old clubs at the weekend, so maybe he’ll feature again and do one of the those ‘curse of the former player’ things. He’s an option I hadn’t really considered for the defensive midfield role, but maybe he’s worth a go there. Muangthong had a couple of good chances and I guess showed some of their attacking capabilities. They actually hit the post and had the follow up cleared off the line by Nara. Astonishingly the ref didn’t decide to overrule the linesman and give the goal. I’m not sure if this is the real Muangthong we were seeing. People raved about them in the group stages but we seemed to have dealt with them pretty comfortably for the most part. Maybe we were defending well and breaking up attacks early or perhaps they had expended all their efforts in the group stage. On 79 minutes we scored again. Kano put in a lovely cross which slightly got away from Kobayashi, but he was able to stop the ball leaving the pitch and backheeled for Rhayner to smash home. Based on the second half at least, it felt a bit harsh on Muangthong and their fans, but I’m always delighted to see us score. There was time for a couple more incidents. Morimoto came on for Nobori on 88 minutes. Not sure why. And then a minute later Muangthong got something they could take home with them. A deep cross was headed home past Sung-Ryong with maybe a suspicion of a foul on Kano from the scorer. He certainly seemed to jump quite easily and Kano seemed to be being held down. But anyway, I’m not going to moan about it. And that was it. We were comfortably through to the next round and are now officially one of the eight best teams in Asia (that’s how it works, isn’t it?).
Positives and negatives. Let’s start negative. Actually, maybe there aren’t any this time. The game was a weird one but I can’t remember anything other than the referee that worried or upset me. Positives, plenty of them! Through to the last eight of the competition convincingly against a team that have had some good results against apparently good sides. Another goal from Kobayashi which is hopefully another step towards great confidence and great form for him. Another game where we scored quite a few goals and didn’t concede many. No new injuries! The return of Kano Kenta was nice too. He seems to be well liked by fans and his fellow players and hope he can make a few more appearances. Could he be another back up option for the position next to Neto? Also, our schedule is going to ease off a bit soon so we can get a bit of a rest. I think playing twice a week with predominantly the same players has greatly helped our understanding and communication in the team, but can’t really have helped our energy levels and our propensity for injuries. And as I said above, the good relations between the opposing fans was great. There were two good videos and a nice picture on twitter which show how things should ideally be. Whilst we rarely have problems with other fans, there is sometimes some ill feeling but we should remember that wherever the other fans are from, they are human beings like us. After all, it’s only a game and often we can’t really choose who we support, it kind of chooses us. Wow…. Peace maaaaannnnn.
Next up is the short away trip to Yokohama to play Marinos. Its a nice stadium and always a good atmosphere. It would be nice to keep our good run going against one of our local rivals, although I’m sure they probably would be delighted to bring us back down to earth. After that, it’s almost two weeks till our next game, at home in the league to a currently wobbling, but almost certainly going to come into some great form when they play us, Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The next ACL match will not be until August, so we have a significant break till we resume in that competition. I guess we will find out our next opponent fairly soon though, although I don’t know exactly when the draw is yet. In any case, we can put the ACL to one side for a bit now and concentrate on hopefully moving up the league table. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 6. TASAKA YusukeDF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (Yellow card 53')
DF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki (Yellow card 29')
FW 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for NOBORIZATO 88')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for NOBORIZATO 88')
MF 22. RHAYNER (on for ABE 46')MF 25. KANO Kenta (on for NAKAMURA 62')
FW 27. OTSUKA Shohei
My Frontale Man Of The Match
Once again, it could have been a few players and I thought Neto and Kengo did a great job in the middle, but one goal and two assists means that one person stood out.
KOBAYASHI Yu - Another nice goal, two nice assists and a feeling that his confidence is coming back. Long may that continue!
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 31' 1-0
HASEGAWA (Frontale) 32' 2-0
NETO (Frontale) 40' 3-0
RHAYNER (Frontale) 79' 4-0
DANGDA (Muangthong) 89' 4-1