Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 1 Vegalta Sendai (5-4 on agg.)
This was a pretty uncomfortable afternoon at the Todoroki, but at least one with a pleasing outcome. The first and second legs of this tie were at the same time polar opposites and very similar, if that even makes sense. Polar opposites in the sense that Wednesday was a loss that felt like a win, and this match was a win that at times felt quite like a loss. Similar in the way that both games featured the home side dominating the first half and then getting battered in the second half. Both games featured some dubious refereeing with a home player being sent off for two yellows which had a big effect on the game. I guess the significant difference is that we managed to defend a little better when we were under the cosh. But don’t be under any illusions, it was far from comfortable. But yes! We’re there in the final and we’ll play Cerezo Osaka so there will be a new name on the trophy this year. Perhaps contrary to most people’s wishes, I wanted to play Gamba in the final. When the semi-finals were announced and we had just smacked Cerezo in the league, I predicted that it would be a Frontale Cerezo final with the recent 5-1 victory giving them a real desire to win the game. It does seem to be the case that after we give someone a pasting at our place we don’t do so well against them the next time we play them, particularly when it's away. We hammered Kobe at home and then could only manage a probably disastrous (for our title hopes), 0-0 away. We beat Urawa 4-1 and then 3-1 before throwing away our ACL campaign at the Saitama Stadium. I guess at least this game will be on neutral ground, but it’s back to the Saitama Stadium that we’ll be going. I hope that memories of our recent capitulation there won’t play on our minds too much. Anyway, enough of the predictions of doom and gloom and on to the game in hand.
Unsurprisingly, after the first half on Wednesday, Oniki decided to go with a back four from the start. Kurumaya is still away with the national team. Hopefully he’ll get a chance in the next Japan game as it will be pretty annoying if he’s been taken away from us when we have a couple of crucial games to just sit on the national team bench and be patted on the head by Halilhodzic. Nobori was in from the start this time, with Nara and Taniguchi in the middle and Elsinho on the right. Itakura was dropped to the bench. Because of this, Miyoshi found himself starting on the right, (the rules of this competition stipulate that one under 21 player has to be in the starting line-up). He’s been a bit of a mystery recently, not even getting on the bench, but he seems to be back, and back with a bit of a bang judging by his performance in this game. To his left, in the middle of the pitch, was Kengo and Ienaga was on the left. Kobayashi was up front and the defensive midfielders were Neto and Moriya. Morimoto made it back to the bench and he was joined there by Wednesday’s goal scoring hero Chinen, and Arai, Tasaka, Hasegawa, Rhayner and Itakura. Unlike Wednesday we started fairly well. Sendai seemed to be playing a similar game to us, passing the ball around and building things up slowly. Perhaps they were trying to protect their lead a little, with every minute taken up without us scoring meaning they were one step closer to going through. The referee roulette this time gave us Iemoto, who of course is on my referee blacklist (who isn’t?). His main contribution to the game seemed to be a desire to play on all the time, in almost any situation, with very few fouls being penalised with a free kick (although looking at the stats, there did seem to be a fair few given in the first half, so that shows how much I know). We received two yellows in the first half, both of which were given from a surprisingly long distance and very quickly. I can’t comment on the challenges as I saw them from even further away than the ref did. Of course the only reason I am mentioning these is because of Nara picking up a yellow in both halves. I was slightly concerned that one of our centre backs got a yellow in the 14th minute. A booking so early in the game does put you at risk, especially when you’re playing against the despicable Crislan (of course, I’d say this, but his penalty run up and general fouliness is still irking me). We were making some good chances but a combination of poor finishing and decent goalkeeping was keeping us at bay. But we made the breakthrough on 28 minutes and it was through Miyoshi. He picked up the ball on the wing, laid it off to Moriya, who passed to Kengo. Kengo put Miyoshi through with a lovely backheel and Miyoshi finished neatly at the near post. It was a nice goal and put us ahead in the game and overall. Whilst the tie was still even, we were in front on away goals. Things were still precarious though as any Sendai goal would put us behind again. Whilst we were still singing the definitely overlong goal celebration song, Sendai went up the other end and put the ball in the net. It was Frontale loan player Nakano who scored, but the goal was ruled out for a foul Crislan made on Sung-Ryong. No booking for him though. Given that this is the Levain cup, we have those extra goal line officials. Not sure if they spotted the infringement, but I think pretty much any off the ball contact on the keeper counts as a foul. It was a big relief certainly and a bit of a let off. The game was end to end at this stage. Neither team wanted the scoreline to stay the way it was. They needed a goal to win and we needed a goal to give ourselves some breathing space. As end to end suggests, the game was a little ragged with both teams being stretched and not playing their best football in defence. The half finished with an equal amount of shots for both teams, but I think we’d had the better of it. We were certainly in for an interesting second half. Sure we had the advantage, but it was a slim one, and we also have a history and some recent experience of choking. Fingers were crossed.
The second half started with no changes and Miyoshi sending a shot whistling past the post. Miyoshi does definitely seem to offer us something that our other strikers don’t. I’m not saying he’s greedy, but he definitely has a sharp focus on scoring. He made up for his miss a few minutes later when we went two up. This time it was a Kobayashi dummy that sent us through on goal. Elsinho’s shot was saved by the keeper but Miyoshi was there to turn the rebound home. All was good in the world. They now needed two goals, as one would have us still ahead on away goals. Little were we to know that the whole feel of the match would turn soon afterwards. Nakano, who seemed determined to make his mark on the match, and apparently rule out any chance of returning to us after his loan, received the ball and went past Nara. There was the slightest of contact and he went down. Nara’s immediate reaction suggested that he knew what was coming, and plenty of Sendai players were on hand to help the ref make his decision. The second yellow came out and then the red, brandished with a slight smirk by Iemoto. Not sure about that. I wish I could remember the first yellow better. The second seemed a little harsh, but I guess if contact was made it was probably going to be given. Nakano certainly seemed to go down easily though. He’d previously fallen over running towards goal earlier in the game, so maybe he had a problem with his boots… But anyway, the situation was pretty reminiscent of the first leg where Sendai lost a player to a couple of yellows. This was a defender rather than a striker though, was a lot earlier in the game and meant that Itakura would be coming on in the centre of the defence. Moriya was sacrificed which meant Kengo dropped back a little. So, down to ten men for almost half a game in the second leg of a cup competition. Recent memories were way too prominent in my mind, so I guess the players were thinking the same thing. We started sending the ball long again from goal kicks and free kicks. I know we had one less player, but this has failed to be an effective tactic time and time again this season, so I don’t know why we are persisting with it. As has been the case pretty much every time we've done it, the ball was being won by them and coming straight back at us. Our defending was starting to get a bit desperate. Ienaga was doing a great job at both ends of the pitch, helping out in defence but also using his strength to try to hold on to the ball. We were still making chances, but we were having to stop a lot more of their chances. Crislan was making his presence felt in the way he knows best, crashing in late on Sung-Ryong, “challenging for the ball” but conveniently leaving a boot in. He really is a nasty piece of work. I think it’s fair to say that we were doing a little time wasting though, so perhaps the result of some of his challenges weren’t quite as bad as it might have looked. Hasegawa came on for Miyoshi. A good idea I think, as although they are similar players, it made sense to freshen things up a little and give the defenders a new challenge on our occasional breakaways. But it was mainly one way traffic. Oniki made our final change on 83 minutes, bringing Rhayner on for Kobayashi. Rhayner, like Neto, is very good on the ball but doesn’t seem to be that good at shooting, but his arrival definitely released a bit of pressure. We were giving them something to worry about as we had a bit of pace and guile about our breakaways. Slightly against the run of play, we scored again. With only four players up against seven defenders Neto threaded a pass to Hasegawa, who took a touch and then bent the ball into the top corner. Cue wild celebrations, but it wasn’t over. A goal for them would send us to extra time and we still had six minutes of injury time to deal with. But we hung on and we were through to the final against Cerezo Osaka in a few weeks.
Positives and negatives. Let’s start negative. This was not a great performance. Sure, the sending off changed the game, and we dealt better with it this time, compared to the Urawa disaster, but it was still hearts in the mouth stuff for almost 45 minutes. Certainly, if we hadn’t given ourselves such a mountain to climb from the first half of the first leg, things would have been easier. Nara’s red card means he’ll be banned for the final, which is horrible for him and not great for us. He’s been playing well recently and will be a big miss. I guess this means that Edu will come in, and that in turn probably means Rhayner won’t be taking part. Although the performance wasn’t the best, I think I’ll leave it there for negatives as we won and we’re through. Positives. Great reaction from Miyoshi, coming in after a long time without playing. His goals weren’t spectacular, but it’s nice that he put two away, boosting his confidence and giving Oniki something to think about. Another good performance from Sung-Ryong, keeping us alive on a few occasions. Ienaga was great, particularly when we were up against it towards the end. Lovely goal from Hasegawa and good work from him and Rhayner to ease the pressure a little at the end. The biggest positive has to be that we’re though to the final. It was nowhere near as smooth a ride as we had against FC Tokyo and we looked pretty awful at times in this tie, but we made it. It was for the most part a thoroughly uncomfortable game to watch in the stands, but we did our job and we have a chance to win our first trophy. As I said above, I’m a little worried about playing Cerezo, as they’ll have revenge on their mind and our apparently innate high level of chokability means that we can’t take anything for granted. The final is not too far away, (November 4th) and who knows what will happen in between now and then. Perhaps Abe will be back. We should have Kurumaya too. But also we could lose some others. Whilst the games aren’t coming quite so rapidly as they were a couple of months ago, we still have four matches in between now and then.
Next up, we play Sendai again, at home again, but this time in the league. It’s another must win for us to keep the pressure on Kashima. Let’s hopefully keep the momentum going and avoid any slip ups. This season could still be a huge success or another year of painful second place, (or worse), finishes. The treble is on, but so is another trophyless season. Fingers crossed it’s the former! Go Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 18. ELSINHO
DF 3. NARA Tatsuki (Yellow card 14', second yellow/red card 52')
DF 2. NOBORIZATI Kyohei
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 21. EDUARDO NETO
MF 19. MORIYA Kentaro
MF 13. MIYOSHI Koji (Yellow card 27')
MF 14. NAKAMURA KengoMF 41. IENAGA Akihiro
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu
GK 30. ARAI Shota
DF 6. TASAKA YusukeFW 9. MORIMOTO Takayuki
MF 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for MIYOSHI 66')
FW 20. CHINEN Kei
DF 28. ITAKURA Ko (on for MORIYA 56')
My Frontale Man Of The Match
MIYOSHI Koji & IENAGA Akihiro - Two goals after ages out of the squad from Miyoshi is a real statement of intent. He has a real desire to score and a willingness to shoot which we sometimes lack. Ienaga had a understated but dominant game. Did everything he was supposed to do, gave us options up front on and off the ball and tackled back fantastically in the second half. Really looks like he’s enjoying his football with us too now. Long may that continue!
MIYOSHI (Frontale) 29' 1-0
MIYOSHI (Frontale) 49' 2-0
NAKANO (Sendai) 59' 2-1
HASEGAWA (Frontale) 90' 3-1