Friday 25 August 2017

Vs Urawa Reds (home) 23/8/17, ACL Quarter Finals

Kawasaki Frontale 3 -1 Urawa Reds

My first game back after my holiday and it was a cracker. We were back on ACL duty again, although this game didn’t have quite the usual exotic excitement of an ACL tie, what with us being up against familiar opponents Urawa Reds. Since we last faced them (and totally demolished them I should add!), they have had a change of manager and had gone on a decent run, being undefeated till this game. Pleasingly, we were able to put that run to bed. It was a good performance from us, with perhaps the only downside being the goal we conceded. But, if we manage to go to their place and score once, we’ve cancelled that out and have given them a mountain to climb. It’s not over though, as they came back from a similar position against Jeju in the last round. I’m keeping my pessimist hat firmly on, very much enjoying this result, but not counting any chickens yet.

Once again for an Urawa game, we decided to hand them far too many tickets. I know we are a friendly club, but I think it’s kind of stupid to diminish our home advantage in this way. Because of ACL rules, the standing terraces behind the goals were closed, so already our capacity was reduced. Urawa fans filled the usual away end and spilled over into our sections down both sides of the pitch. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t do the same for us at their ground. As usual, their support was pretty rubbish given their numbers. Before the game they were silent aside from briefly singing a song about Kashiwagi (who got injured in the warm up and didn’t start). Similarly, when the game started there wasn’t much coming from their area. Finally, when they were two behind they did start singing a little but I am still yet to be impressed by their support. When they do sing, it’s pretty loud, but it does feel a little like they can’t be bothered most of the time. Although given what their team was producing, maybe it’s not that surprising that they couldn’t be bothered.

Our team was as expected. Sung-Ryong in goal with the recent back four of Elsinho, Nara, Taniguchi and Kurumaya. Neto and Oshima were in front of them and the front four were Ienaga on the left, Kengo in the middle, Kobayashi on the right and Abe ahead of them, although as usual this was somewhat fluid. It seems that we have been able to change the ACL registered players as Edu was on the bench. Also there were Noborizato, Tasaka, Morimoto, Hasegawa, Moriya and Arai. We started the game pretty brightly, pushing forward a lot and were dominating on both possession and chances, although our final ball wasn’t quite getting there. We were however maybe pushing forward a bit too much as when we did lose the ball we were leaving a few gaps at the back. We were defending well though, if a little nerve-janglingly. Neto was totally controlling his part of the pitch. Urawa’s tactics seemed to be desperately defend and then when they won the ball, hoof it forward. Considering that they have a positive reputation for the football they play, it seemed that they were playing more like Kashima, perhaps judging by recent results, looking to come away with a 3-1 defeat, rather than a 4-1 defeat. (Please allow me this joke as it’s not often we hammer Urawa and Kashima so close together). The game was played in an unbelievably laid back style, at walking pace sometimes. Perhaps this was due to the heat (it was a very sticky summer’s evening), or perhaps this is our natural speed but the attentions of the opposition normally force us to speed things up a little. Urawa didn’t seem interested. Surely they weren’t coming with damage limitation in mind? They just sat deep and let us play the ball across our back line even when they were losing. It was really weird actually. We took the lead through some good work from Kengo, who played a one-two with himself if such a thing is possible. He looked like he wanted to lay the ball off to Ienaga, but Ienaga didn’t realise he was involved and Kengo collected his own pass, took the ball to the line and was able to pass to Kobayashi who was waiting on the penalty spot to slot it into the corner, totally unmarked. Pretty poor defending from Urawa, but I’ll let Kengo take the credit. Fantastic dummy from Ienaga too... It was no more than we deserved though as we were making plenty of chances, although our usual accuracy problems were on show. However, if you make loads and loads of chances, I guess it doesn’t matter so much if only a third are on target. So, in we went at half time with a lead and looking like we were pretty comfortably on top.

Within five minutes of the start of the second half we’d doubled our lead. We broke quickly with Neto playing a lovely ball through for Kobayashi. His shot was parried by the keeper and fell to Elsinho who was just about able to divert it into the back of the net, even though it looked like it was dropping behind him. Quite a strange looking finish! Once again, Urawa’s defence was nowhere to be seen. Early on in the half, we were making loads of chances. Urawa were very sloppy, not seeming able to pass or control the ball. It looked like it could be another demolition, but then Urawa came back into the game a bit. I guess that sooner or later both the team and their fans would wake up. They started to peg us back in our half a little but once again the whole team were defending well, if a little desperately at times. On 70 minutes, Nobori replaced Kengo, who’d once again done a good job. We were still having to defend a bit, but we were also back making chances again and Nobori was looking lively. On 76 minutes things got a little tense as Urawa pulled a goal back. It looked way offside from where I was sitting and my first views of some replays looked the same, but I think he was just about played onside by Elsinho. So now they had an away goal and the lead was cut in half. Time for me to feel some tension. We didn’t give up and go more defensive though. We were still attacking and looking to reestablish our two goal lead. Classic Frontale I guess. Nobori had to be subbed off on 83 minutes due to an injury. He didn’t look too bad limping off, so I hope it’s nothing too serious as he’s had more than his fair share of injuries. Tasaka came on to replace him. And soon after our two goal lead was back again! This time Ienaga was the provider, beating an Urawa defender with a burst of speed and floating the ball over from the goal line for Kobayashi to head unmarked into the net. It was another nice move and no more than what we deserved. This was Kobayashi’s last contribution as he was already due to be replaced by Morimoto, who did a decent job of putting himself about up front for the last few minutes and caused them a few problems. I think we would have had a fourth if he had a bit more pace as there was a lovely through ball played for him, but he really, really couldn’t get there in time. From here you might have imagined that the game would peter out, but there was still action at either end of the pitch. Urawa tried to claw a goal back and we still pushed forward, perhaps looking to rack up consecutive 4-1 victories over Urawa. But it ended 3-1 and we celebrated wildly in the stands. A comfortable victory in that we had more possession and eighteen shots compared to their four, but it wasn’t without some moments of worry. But we’ve got a decent lead to hang on to at their place in a few weeks. Although knowing us, I imagine (and I hope) that we won’t go there trying to hold on to what we have and instead go looking for a goal to hopefully kill them off and progress. Fingers crossed…

Positives and negatives. Plenty of positives. Really good result in the first game of a two leg tie and it has put us in a great position to progress to the semi final. Speaking as someone who really doesn’t like them, it’s always nice to beat Urawa, whatever the competition and satisfying to be the first team to defeat them under their new coach. Couple of decent goals from Kobayashi, the kind of easier finishes that you want your striker to be putting away for fun. Goals breed confidence, so hopefully more of the spectacular ones will start going in soon. Lovely cross from Ienaga for the third goal. He seems to be be delivering what we hoped for now. Good performances from pretty much all the team and one player in particular who’ll be mentioned below. Negatives, not many, but as a natural pessimist I’ll find some. Lots of shots but less than a third of them were on target. To be honest, I never really paid much attention to these stats until I started writing this blog, so maybe I’m unnecessarily concerned, but I reckon if we want to keep progressing in all competitions we probably need to be hitting the target a bit more regularly. Nobori got injured, but hopefully it’s not serious. We are relatively light on injuries at the moment, so by the law of averages and given that we’re playing the same group of players pretty much every game, I guess we’re going to get some soon. And finally, a bit of a sloppy goal to concede. But to be honest, I’m kind of grasping at straws to find that many negatives, which has to be a good thing!

Next up, we are away to Ventforet Kofu on Sunday. I really enjoyed this fixture last year so I am hoping for great things again. It helps that there’s a nice beer place in the town. After that, we’re at home on Wednesday to FC Tokyo in the Levain Cup. And in case you were wondering, our next ACL game will be on the 13th September. Looking forward to that one too. Go Frontale!


GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO (Yellow card 58')
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
FW 8. ABE Hiroyuki

GK 30. ARAI Shota
MF 2. NOBORIZATO Kyohei (on for NAKAMURA 70')
MF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for NOBORIZATO 83')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for KOBAYASHI 86')
FW 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro

My Frontale Man Of The Match

Quite a few candidates. Kobayashi got the two goals, Ienaga and Kengo put in some good work and an assist each and everyone had a decent game, but perhaps controversially I'm going to give it to...

EDUARDO NETO - Totally shut down Urawa in the midfield for most of the game, put some very important tackles and blocks in and raced forward on a few occasions too. Very important to us at the moment I think.


KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 32' 1-0
ELSINHO (Frontale) 50' 2-0
MUTO (Urawa) 76' 2-1
KOBAYASHI (Frontale) 85' 3-1


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