We’ve done the double! And we’ve won the Emperor’s Cup for the first time in our history. All in all, a pretty good year! Although if we want to be ultra greedy, we could say that we missed a great chance to do the treble by losing against FC Tokyo in the Levain Cup. Whichever way you look at it though, I’m quite pleased we’ve finally reached the end of this intense season. After this blog post I’ll do a brief season round-up with some transfer news, a player by player season round-up post and my usual Frontale fan survey, although perhaps the answers to that will be a bit vaguer this year given that everything seems to have merged into one big blob and we also haven’t been able to watch as many matches in person as we might have liked. And then we can all have a bit of a rest. Although not much of a rest as the new season is already breathing down our neck a little as it will be starting late next month (I think). There will definitely be plenty of off the pitch action between now and then and with that in mind, let’s get this blog post done as quickly as possible. Here are some bullet points on what was a historic day for a few reasons.
Kawasaki Frontale 1 - 0 Gamba Osaka
Perhaps one of the highlights of reaching the Emperor’s Cup final was the opportunity to play at the new national stadium. If the 2020 Olympics had already happened perhaps more people would already be familiar with this massive new structure. But given their postponement, holding the final here gave us an opportunity to join the club of people who’d had a look inside it before it was able to host the reason for its construction. From the outside it looked great with quite a lot of greenery up the side of the multi layered edifice. In a normal year the area outside the stadium would probably have been full of opportunities to spend money on refreshments or goods. Given the influence of a certain virus on everything it was basically just an empty space with a couple of slightly bizarre sponsor related stalls. I wondered why lots of people were queuing up at one and when I investigated found out that they were in line to ‘win’ a box of plasters and decided it would be better to just go inside. Inside, the concourses were pretty spacious and the toilet facilities were pretty generous. There was a huge line of people waiting for the gents at half time but there was an almost empty second lot of toilets on the floor below. The strange way the tickets were sold for this event (with the sales being promptly stopped as the number of Covid cases rocketed) seemed to have left large areas of the stand unfilled. Not sure why the central area behind the goal was one of those to be honest, as either side it was pretty busy with us all the required one seat apart from each other. Out of the 16000 or so tickets that were sold, it seemed that only around 3000 people had decided to either get a refund or not attend. Of course people didn’t want to miss this and to briefly lapse into something political, I’d say that as long as the government continues being pretty wishy-washy with its advice people will continue to wishy-washily follow it. The instructions to us earlier in the year were a lot clearer and stricter when the number of cases was significantly lower. I wonder if things will be tightened up again soon. The new year period of inactivity and closed doctors’ surgeries will probably result in another huge figure once things are open again. Whether that will cause a rethink in policy I don’t know. Anyway, back to the stadium, the pitch looked quite small and very distant, but to slightly paraphrase an episode of Father Ted, this pitch here looks big, and that one looks small because it’s a long long way away. To be fair, it didn’t look so bad from the seats, but from the concourse the distance seemed bigger than at other track stadiums. Anther potential problem might be the sun. I think Gamba decided to change ends before the match thinking that they could take advantage of Sung-Ryong having the sun in his eyes in the second half. As it was, I don’t think it was too bad for him, but as a spectator, it was pretty difficult to see anything that was going on without shielding your eyes. Combine this with the distance and I think you’ll start to understand why my comments on the actual game are so vague.
Very sunny, couldn’t see… Well I could see us having loads and loads of shots most of which were either straight at their keeper or well off target. Going in at half time with 65% possession and 12 shots to Gamba’s 2 should have suggested that we were well on top. And I guess we were, but only from the point of view of stats, as we had hardly troubled Higashiguchi and had even let the ball go into our net on one occasion. Sitting approximately 150m and directly behind the offside decision I can definitely say that it was clearly offside… Apparently the officials did get it right though. Perhaps for the wrong reason, as I reckon the linesman might have signaled offside for a different player, but the fact is that if we had VAR (and praise the lord we don’t, but take back that praise for the lord as we will have soon I think), the goal would have been ruled out… after about 5 minutes of consultation with everybody in the ground just socially distantly chatting amongst themselves and twiddling their thumbs. Actually, if we had VAR and it was being done by the usual refs we get in these games it probably would have actually been incorrectly given, I guess. But there’s not really any use endlessly writing sentences about a non goal that wasn’t given so I’ll stop that now. Aside from this chance Gamba did pretty much nothing in the first half or for most of the second half. Apparently they came with a tactic that they’d sit back, soak up pressure and try to hit us on the break. Not sure why they were time-wasting so much though. Unless they were playing for penalties. Our goal caused a bit of a change of plan for them, but to be honest, still nothing much was happening for them till the last 10 or 15 minutes. I’ll gloss over this period as we were really under the cosh and it was quite uncomfortable watching. I wonder if they’d come and tried to be a bit more attacking they might have done a bit better. At the same time, I totally understand why any team would try to play spoiling tactics against us, particularly one that we beat 5-0 in our previous encounter. The tactics are perfectly justified but didn’t exactly make for an exciting game. As I said above though, if we hadn’t been quite so off target this could have been a very different game. We ended the match with 26 shots but it was only necessary for Higashiguchi to have any involvement in a small number of them and for maybe half of those his involvement was comfortably catching a ball that was softly patted directly into his gloves. Annoyingly he did make some very good saves for the other half of our chances though. Some might say he should have been the goalie in the J League team of the year. Actually it seems that everyone says it should have been anyone apart from Sung-Ryong, but I’m not going to argue against our nice guy in between the sticks getting it. Oh, I should say, nice finish Kaoru for the winner, but equally, a lovely assist from Damiao and I think that’s something that often gets overlooked when people are looking at our number 9’s performances. Oh, and Patric goes down pretty easily for a big guy doesn’t he? That is when he’s not shoving people off the ball after the half time whistle.
This game was set up to be Kengo’s curtain call. Apparently there was a lot of footage of him warming up shown on the TV feed during the game. We were all prepared for him to come on for the last 5 or 10 minutes and take his final bow in what has been a great career with what we now know was a fairytale ending. But as any connoisseur of fairy tales knows, every fairy tale needs to have a big bad wolf. Step forward Oniki! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to moan about our great leader but I think he deserves a bit of a bashing on this occasion. 100%, winning the trophy is more important that any kind of niceties and compassion, but Oniki’s use of Kengo has been a bit confusing recently. It seemed slightly strange that in his last home league game he was played for 90 minutes. I thought that most managers might have withdrawn him a few minutes from the end to let him have a standing ovation, particularly as the result was pretty much settled at that stage. Perhaps he wanted to have one final 90 minutes though. Against Blaublitz in the semi-final we had a five minute cameo for Kengo to get some more claps and say goodbye to Todoroki one more time. In this game, we imagined the same thing would happen again but it wasn’t to be the case. I’m not really sure we needed to change Oshima for Wakizaka in the 89th minute. If Oshima needed to be changed, I’m not sure why it couldn’t have been Kengo. Or perhaps with us potentially having the thought of conceding and going to extra time lingering in the back of any of our pessimistic minds, why, if Oniki didn’t fancy Kengo for 30 minutes of extra time couldn’t the change have been made later to use up a bit of injury time? The fact is, bringing Wakizaka on in the 89th minute and therefore using up our final allowed substitution window meant that Kengo finished his career as an unused substitute in a game where we only made four changes. Seems like a snub or power move from Oniki somehow, (I don’t imagine that Wakizaka feels particularly good about it either, even though he had absolutely nothing to do with it. Either that or he’s a bit of a sociopath. The stadium interviewer indirectly asked Oniki about the fact that Kengo wasn’t used in his final game but gave Oniki enough room to wriggle free and slightly avoid the issue. I definitely think winning the title is more important, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been handled better. Certainly, there were plenty of people who felt that the triumph was slightly undermined by the weirdness of the decision. Similarly, I don’t know if Kurumaya is 100% fit or not, but if he isn’t I can’t imagine he would have felt too good about being second choice to an attacker when it came to selecting a left back. As before, there may be unknown reasons behind this decision, but it rang bells for me of the way Oniki treated Nara and to a certain extent Jesiel last season. Both of them at times found themselves being used as something of a last resort in their preferred position. It just makes me think that there is more going on in Oniki’s mind than choosing the best team for the game. Sure, he’s got some fantastic results this season, but he has also been blessed by having a lot of fantastic players at the same time. Its been a great year, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve been left with a little bit of a bad taste in the mouth. If he is in charge again next year (not sure it has been confirmed yet), let’s see how well he does with the ACL on his plate and also dealing with the probable loss of a few of his best players. We’ll probably need a few more ideas next year.
The trophies! -
Jeez there were a lot of them…
So that’s it, we’re finally done! The double is complete and the off-season business will begin. Morita is almost certainly moving to a club in Portugal (for free naturally, another bit of great J League business!) and Diogo is going (his lack of opportunities with us was a bit of a shame for him), but Damiao, Jesiel and Sung-Ryong have all signed new contracts. I imagine there will be a bit more movement happening too. Perhaps this will be a bit clearer by the time I get round to writing my player write-ups. But for now, let’s enjoy the fact that we’ve had a great season in a difficult year. The fact that I don’t really know who my player of the season is suggests that plenty of people have done well. Some perhaps too well for Frontale’s sake. But one player leaving means another will get a chance so maybe we might see Harada or Kamiya or some more of Miyashiro next year. Plenty of time for talk about that at a later date though so let’s leave it at this for now and enjoy a bit of a break. Bravo and congratulations Frontale!
GK 1. Sung-Ryong JUNG
DF 13. YAMANE Miki
DF 4. JESIEL
DF 5. TANIGUCHI Shogo
DF 30. HATATE Reo
MF 6. MORITA Hidemasa
MF 25. TANAKA Ao
MF 10. OSHIMA Ryota
FW 41. IENAGA Akihiro
FW 9. LEANDRO DAMIAO
FW 18. MITOMA Kaoru
GK 27. TANNO Kenta
DF 7. KURUMAYA Shintaro (on for HATATE 86')
MF 8. WAKIZAKA Yasuto (on for OSHIMA 89')
FW 11. KOBAYASHI Yu (on for LEANDRO DAMIAO 79')
MF 14. NAKAMURA Kengo
FW 16. HASEGAWA Tatsuya (on for MITOMA 79')DF 34. YAMAMURA Kazuya
HATATE Reo and Sung-Ryong JUNG - Hatate is a total champ for filling in well out of position and I thought he had a really good game for the most part. And of course, the keeper of the season kept another clean sheet and made some crucial saves when we were really under the cosh after having a pretty quiet 70 minutes. Nice work Sung-Ryong!