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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Renatinho header lifts Frontale to ACL triumph

Staff writer

KAWASAKI — Kawasaki Frontale virtually guaranteed themselves a place in the Asian Champions League knockout phase with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Central Coast Mariners on Tuesday night.

News photo
Victorious shot: Kawasaki Frontale substitute forward Renatinho heads in the go-ahead goal in the 81st minute during Tuesday's Asian Champions League match against Central Coast Mariners of Australia. Frontale won 2-1. KYODO PHOTO

Frontale had beaten the Australians 5-0 in the away fixture two weeks ago, and looked to be easing toward victory again when Juninho took advantage of a mistake by Mariners goalkeeper Daniel Vukovic to score the opener seconds after halftime.

But Matthew Simon complicated matters when he leveled for the A-League side in the 59th minute, and it took a header from substitute Renatinho 10 minutes from time to snatch the three points in steady driving rain at Todoroki Stadium.

Anything less than a win for China's Tianjin Teda over South Korea's Pohang Steelers in the night's late game would send Frontale through to the round of 16, and manager Takashi Sekizuka is quietly confident his team can improve on its run to the quarterfinals two years ago.

"We beat Central Coast Mariners 5-0, but they proved tonight that they are a very good team," Sekizuka said. "They were going all out for the win, and they were fast and powerful with a very strong will.

"After the first half I thought it might be one of those games where it's difficult to create chances, but gradually we managed to get on top of things and we were able to play our kind of football right until the end.

"Now we have to take it one game at a time, but we have more confidence now than we had two years ago."

Frontale dominated early possession, but Vitor Junior missed the chance of the first half seconds before the break when he headed a Juninho cross into the ground unmarked at the back post.

The blunder capped a miserable few minutes for the Brazilian after he had gifted Central Coast's Adam Kwasnik with a scoring chance from a suicidal back pass, but the interval seemed to do the 22-year-old the power of good. Within seconds of the restart, Vitor Junior delivered a free kick that Chong Tese rose to meet with a header, and Juninho was on hand to pounce as Vukovic spilled the ball at his feet.

Just as Kawasaki looked to be coasting toward the finish line, however, Andrew Clark split the defense with a clever pass, and Simon shrugged off Hiroki Ito to slot the ball past Eiji Kawashima for the equalizer.

Mariners turned up the pressure as Simon and Dean Heffernan went close for the visitors, but Frontale had the final say when Hiroyuki Taniguchi picked out Renatinho in the 80th minute, and the Brazilian picked his spot to seal the win for the home side.

After Central Coast's home mauling two weeks ago, Mariners manager Lawrie McKinna was pleased to have salvaged some pride.

"We came here after a very poor performance in Central Coast, and we came with a game plan to make it hard for Kawasaki," he said. "We frustrated Kawasaki for most of the night and we had the best chances, but our defending from set-pieces was very poor.

"Their defense is very well organized and hard to break down."

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