Kawasaki Frontale 3 - 3 Urawa Reds (4 - 4 on aggregate)
Oh well, that’s that for our involvement in everyone’s least favourite cup competition (unless you’re doing well in it). It always seems a bit unfair with the ACL teams coming in at the quarter final stage and in that respect, perhaps some justice has been done with us and Gamba getting knocked out. Although that’s maybe a bit unfair on us and them, as we didn’t design the format of the competition so can only play the games that are in front of us. And we can only play the players who are able to move without the aid of crutches or wheelchairs. This somewhat scuppered us in the first leg and totally ruined us in the second. Because of the tiny pool of players we had to choose from and our general pretty average form, I’m not going to moan too much about us getting knocked out. Obviously it stings a bit given that we were leading by two goals with 7 minutes to go. But away goals are the rule and after only managing to score one from a dubious penalty in the first leg, it always felt like they could come back to bite us, particularly when we were starting the match with one of our usual back four and one of our second choice back four (and two others, one of whom had hardly played at all for us, and the other being a midfielder). Bizarrely though, I’d say the problem was more going forward than at the back. Anyway, we’ll do a few paragraphs but the headings will be a bit different this time.
Going into this game the main question on everyone’s mind was who would start at the back. With Taniguchi injured and Jesiel and Kurumaya both leaving the pitch on stretchers in the first leg we were left with Yamamura (the midfielder) as the only fit ‘centre back’ in the squad. Well, we also have Kamiya and Tanabe but after preferring Nobori to Tanabe at CB in the first leg, Oniki was never going to play either of them was he? Actually he was! I thought Tanabe had a reasonable first half for what was his first start. Certainly their goal couldn’t be blamed on him as far as I can remember as it was on the other side. Oniki perhaps disagreed as he was replaced by Jesiel at half time. I hope this was decided beforehand and Tanabe expected it as otherwise you’ve got to think that he might feel a bit deflated. Perhaps like Issaka in the last match who got moved out of his position after 35 minutes, subbed at half time and then dropped from the squad. I do have my doubts about Oniki as a compassionate human being sometimes and can’t help but feel like he has some pyschopathic tendencies. But I know neither what goes on behind the scenes nor anything much about football (and nothing about management), so probably shouldn’t comment. Also I think most of the fans would prefer us to win, than to have all the players treated as kindly as possible so maybe they aren’t bothered about young players getting subbed at half time. It seemed though that Jesiel was fit enough to play 45 minutes. Tachibanada at right back was less surprising. He seems to be this season’s Morita. He also seems to be a bit better at right back than Morita was though. Probably could still have done with a right back playing there though as with Tachibanada there we don’t have him in the middle. I feel like we did a decent job of defending for most of the game. We just got undone with a couple of late set pieces. The highlights probably won’t be up for a while which spares me having to watch them, but as far as I can remember their second goal looked like a bit like an own goal calamity (but apparently it bounced off Junker and not the defender but perhaps the description is still kind of apt), and the last one was just inevitable after we struggled to defend a few corners as they cranked up the pressure. Perhaps I’m wrong on both and could check if I waited till the highlights are up, but to be honest, I’d rather get this post out of the way and forget about this game. Even though I’m saying we defended ok for most of the game, it would be pretty disappointing and somewhat calamitous if we didn’t have something a little more like our regular defence back for the ACL. I guess that’s quite an optimistic hope though. But still, fingers crossed.
As I mentioned above, I think maybe the problems were just as significant up front, if not more so. Once again we were pretty toothless and didn’t create a great deal aside from the first goal. It was great to score twice from corners, particularly given how usually, many of our corners hit the first defender. To be honest, those two goals have made our stats look a lot better than they actually were. Without those two goals from corners, we only had nine shots in the whole game. Partly this was due to us giving them an early away goal and therefore something to hang on to, after which they seemed to be playing with a back seven with five centre backs. But this happens pretty often to us yet we still struggle to break down a multi-layered defence. The front three of Kobayashi on the right, Miyagi on the left and Damiao in the middle didn’t quite have the effect we might have hoped, and instead sadly had the effect we might have expected. Oniki seemed to switch to a front two of Kobayashi and Damiao but we were still pretty toothless for most of the match. And if nothing is happening for you up front the ball keeps coming back at your defence more often. It was exciting to see Marcinho on the bench. But that is where he stayed, along with Kozuka and Tanno. I wonder if the fact that he was even there suggests we were really short of numbers as he’s only been training for a short while. So another game where we didn’t make all our subs. But I get it, we may have players on there but that doesn’t mean we have a possible plan where we can fit all of them in. I really hope we are saving some players for the ACL. Or we are so focused on the ACL that we took our eyes off the ball a bit in the league and in this game. Because the fact is, we’ve only won twice in the last seven and both of them were slightly dubious performances. We have become Sanfrecce style draw specialists and that’s not going to do the business in a one legged ACL game away against Ulsan.
Considering our injuries Urawa probably went into this game as favourites. We gave it a good go but couldn’t quite get over the line in the end. Still, it stings a bit to lose a two goal lead in the last seven minutes. But as every team who gets knocked out of a cup before the final says ‘this will give us a chance to concentrate on the league / ACL / Emperor’s Cup’. A few less games will be a blessing but it’s obviously a shame. And we could do with a bit of a confidence boost. But that’s not going to happen before the ACL so instead let’s hope for a kick up the backside instead. But that hasn’t really materialised from the last few results so whether it will now is difficult to say. It’s undeniable though that the injury crisis had a major effect on this game. As I’ve said already… Repeatedly… Ad nauseam… So maybe let’s knock it on the head here. I did just want to mention again though that I don’t understand the moral judgement of our supporter group for not drumming if Kanagawa is in a state of emergency. It doesn’t really make sense to me, as if it is safe enough for fans to attend and they are able to clap, what’s the issue with them clapping in time and actually creating some kind of atmosphere? Perhaps this is still self-flagellation for them getting busted having a big old drinking party when they shouldn’t have been, but if it’s ok for them to hang around in the usual area collecting money for something (not sure what it was), it’s probably ok to bang the drum and therefore not cede our home advantage so willingly. Anyway… Well done to both our players who almost managed to pull off a win against the odds, and to Urawa who put us out of our misery and hopefully gave us a kickstart to raise our game a bit. Hopefully… With the tricky ACL game in eight days in mind, let’s stay slightly optimistic and finish with the usual GO FRONTALE.
ESAKA (Urawa) 8' 1-0
LEANDRO DAMIAO (Frontale) 40' 1-1
YAMAMURA (Frontale) 77' 2-1
JOAO SCHMIDT (Frontale) 83' 3-1
JUNKER (Urawa) 87' 3-2
MAKINO (Urawa) 90+4' 3-3