Urawa Reds 4 - 1 Kawasaki Frontale (5-4 on agg.)
Damn. It's fair to say that this wasn't how many people expected this game to go. Our ACL campaign is over and in humiliating and heartbreaking circumstances. I think I want to write this about as much as you probably want to read it, so I'm going to try to keep things brief (although I usually fail to do so, when I say this). I don’t think I need to discuss the line-up (the same as usual which has done us pretty well recently) or the goals we conceded (watch the video if you want, but I’d rather not think about them anymore if that’s ok with you). Similarly to the FC Tokyo game, I didn’t make many notes during this match but the reasons were starkly different. Instead of being caught up in the excitement and action, it was more a case of not being able to look away from the extreme slow motion car crash that was materialising in front of us. It’s a cheap metaphor, but there was a feeling of our Kawasaki Frontale puppet having its strings slowly being cut with the only drama being whether the final whistle would come before the scissors delivered the killer blow. In a way, maybe it’s a blessing that they got a winner as I can’t imagine how many more they would have scored if we’d gone to extra time.
The mood after the game was unsurprisingly, in stark contrast to the pre-game atmosphere, where we were treated to a selection of some of the campest chart music from the early 2000’s. It was quite incongruous with Urawa’s tough guy image and was pretty amusing at the time. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed with the ticket allocation we were handed. There was only one area of the ground that had sold out and that was our part. They penned us in to a narrow area behind the goal whilst huge swathes of the rest of the ground were near empty. This is in huge contrast to the first leg, where we sold their fans way too many tickets. A game against Urawa would normally give me a good opportunity to moan about their boring fans, but to be fair to them, on this occasion they actually managed to make some noise other than booing through the whole game. I guess they had a few things to celebrate though. Unlike us. But we sang our hearts out and didn’t stop supporting even when the game was slipping away, and finally was lost. I feel slightly guilty that I left so quickly after the final whistle, but to be honest, I was quite keen to not be on a train with a load of triumphant Urawa fans. Although it seemed that quite a few of them seemed to also have made a swift exit. Guess they’re used to these kind of comebacks.
Going in to the game Kobayashi had said that we weren’t going to go there and try to defend the lead. We would go and attack and look for the two goals we’d need to make it extremely difficult for them. This made sense to me. I wouldn’t have much confidence in us being able to hang on to a lead for 90 minutes. So far so promising. However, we started the game very much on the back foot, very nervous and completely out of sorts. Our passing was severely misfiring and we kept giving them the ball and inviting attacks. This was very much the theme of the evening actually. There were a lot of long balls being played by both teams. I have no idea why, but we were launching the majority of goal kicks long, unsurprisingly losing the ball as we are not exactly blessed with height up front. I really don’t get why, as this is something we very rarely do. Why were we changing out usual formula? Our goal came a little against the run of play on nineteen minutes and came from a nice long pass from Kengo and was a nice finish by Elsinho. At this stage it seemed we were pretty much through. But the nerves didn’t seem to settle and we continued as if we were a non-league team playing in a big stadium and in front of the TV cameras for the first time. Totally baffling. Of course, after a while they scored and then there was the red card. At the time, it looked like the right decision. From the TV pictures, it looked like the right decision, but I’ve heard Kurumaya say that he didn’t make contact with Koroki, which if true, has annoyed me a little as you'd never know that from his reaction. You can make a case for both sides looking at the replay, but fundamentally, the ref was left with a pretty straight-forward decision and we were looking like we were going to have a pretty worrying next sixty minutes. Kengo was sacrificed and Tasaka brought on to take Kurumaya’s place at left back. Not that you’d really know as the remainder of the game was spent with pretty much all of our players defending desperately behind the ball.
The second half was painful, Urawa’s required goals being slowly and methodically scored as our despair deepened. On 65 minutes Oshima was off, replaced by Edu presumably to shore things up at the back but leaving us with not a lot in the middle. We did manage a few attacks on the break, but we were so outnumbered, what with our entire team being behind the ball, that when someone did break there was no-one to support them and the attack fizzled out. According to the stats we had no shots in the second half, a situation which I guess made it quite difficult for us to score. Urawa were winning corner after corner and it clearly was only a matter of time. Still we pumped the ball forward from every goal kick or free kick, instead of our usual passing it out from the back thing, and it came straight back at us. By 86 minutes they had their fourth and even more agonizingly it had come from what was clearly a mis-hit cross. Our final sub was Morimoto on for Kobayashi. It would have been lovely for Morimoto to score a goal hugely against the run of play and put them out on away goals, but of course it didn’t happen. Cue tears on the pitch, the bench and in the stand, but personally, it had felt like it was coming since the start of the game with our goal only being a mere distraction from the inevitable. Of course, I was gutted, but there was a weird side to this feeling, as I was really confused as to how we had gone so badly wrong. The game was so frantic that the only player’s play I can really remember is Sung-Ryong. He maybe could have done better for some of the goals, but to be honest if he hadn’t have been playing it could easily have been double figures. I can’t point my finger at any of the outfield players in particular for having a bad game. No-one really had anything near a good one though. They all merged into one big desperately defending splodge of blue.
I think most people are blaming Oniki for this defeat, and I guess whilst I have to agree, I think some of the decisions he’s been criticised for are of less significance for me. Firstly the substitution of Kengo after the red card seems to be what everyone thinks was the end of the game for us. It’s true he’s been playing very well recently, but you can’t exactly say he’d been having a good game (like everyone else in blue). I am guessing that Oniki’s thinking was that he’d probably have to replace Kengo around 70 minutes anyway (as has been the case recently) and that bringing someone else off at that stage would have meant that he would need to sub Kengo off later, playing another one of our cards. I think maybe I would have brought on Edu instead of Tasaka and gone to three at the back. Tasaka has played some good games in defence since he has been asked to fill in there last season, but I’m not sure left back is the place for him in a game like this. Our second sub, Oshima off and Edu on, has been criticised too. True, it removed pretty much all of our midfield, but we weren’t really using this area of the pitch much anyway. The ball was being lumped long, usually down the wing or being picked up on the edge of our box, with the player then running forward with it. The final sub, Morimoto on for Kobayashi, was also criticised. I agree with Morimoto coming on to see if we could get something to stick a little up front. Not sure why it came so late though. And not sure who I would have taken off. Kobayashi would definitely have been an option, but probably Abe and Ienaga could also have been possibilities. My criticism is related to the tactics. Sure it was a big game and we were nervous, but I have no idea why we weren’t trying to play our usual game. Even before the sending off we weren’t passing. I’m not sure that Urawa were particularly pressing us to the extent that we were forced to rush and not do our usual passing thing. I know we’ve started games not particularly well recently, but we’ve not started one this badly. It was shocking, with us losing the ball repeatedly and rushing when we would normally stop, think and make another sideways pass. It just doesn’t make sense to change our game plan so drastically when we have used pretty much the same one all season so far. I know I’ve often said that we don’t have a plan B. Perhaps Oniki thought this too and therefore decided to start this game with a plan B that we hadn’t actually tried practicing yet. It’s just baffling. As I said above, there was not even any hint of us trying to go there and score twice. We left the tunnel with our backs against the wall and remained there for 90 minutes.
Positives and negatives are kind of ridiculous after a result like this. Perhaps one positive could be that we are no longer spreading ourselves thin over four competitions. I don’t think we would have been able to win the ACL and the long distance travel required would have stretched our already thin first choice team to breaking point. It does feel heartbreaking to go out like this though, especially against a team like Urawa. I have gone into my negatives at length above so I’ll merely briefly recap them here. Complete tactical implosion right from the start, not just after the red card. A real nervy shakiness that I’ve never seem from us before. Sure, we’ve looked bad in the past, but this was really to another level, or maybe I should say a new low. This must have been as devastating for the players as it was for us. Let’s hope we can pull ourselves together, firstly for Saturday, and then to concentrate on the remaining three competitions we’re in. We can’t afford any slip ups from now on. We’re still in with a shot on three fronts. Let’s hope we can go one better than silver in at least one of these. Oniki is still in his first season and we have to expect that sometimes things won’t go our way and that sometimes this will be due to mistakes on our part. I’m sure he’s learned a lot from this game and I hope that going forward we won’t make the same mistakes again.
Next up in the league is Shimizu away on Saturday. And then Shimizu at home on Wednesday in the Emperor’s Cup. Not exactly the team we might want to be playing in these circumstances as we never seem to do well against teams towards the bottom. In a way though, if we put in a good performance, I’m pleased we are able to get on with things fairly quickly after this game. The ACL has gone now and we have to put it behind us and focus on what we still have. A surprisingly optimistic way to finish this blog post. Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHODF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (Yellow card 31')
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (Red card 38')
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
MF 41. IENAGA AkihiroMF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
MF 8. ABE Hiroyuki
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 6. TASAKA Yusuke (on for NAKAMURA 42')
FW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki (on for KOBAYASHI 89')
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
DF 23. EDUARDO (Yellow card 71') (on for OSHIMA 65')
MF 28. ITAKURA Ko
My Frontale Man Of The Match
JUNG Sung-Ryong - Kept the scoreline embarrassing, preventing it from becoming totally humiliating. That's about as optimistic as I'll get with this.
ELSINHO (Frontale) 19' 0-1
KOROKI (Urawa) 35' 1-1
ZLATAN (Urawa) 70' 2-1
RAFAEL SILVA (Urawa) 84' 3-1
TAKAGI (Urawa) 85' 4-1