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Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009

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Celebration: Kawasaki Frontale forward Chong Tese celebrates his goal in the 15th minute of the Nabisco Cup semifinal match against Yokohama F. Marinos on Wednesday at Todoroki Stadium. Frontale won 2-0. KYODO PHOTO

Frontale take control of semifinal

Staff writer

KAWASAKI — Kawasaki Frontale planted one foot in the Nabisco Cup final with a disciplined 2-0 semifinal first-leg win over Yokohama F. Marinos on Wednesday night.

Chong Tese gave Kawasaki a 16th-minute lead at Todoroki Stadium, and his defensive teammates proceeded to soak up Yokohama's attempts to hit back before Juninho launched a sucker-punch to widen the gap in the 59th minute.

Frontale's experience and tactical nous allowed them to close the match out without conceding an away goal, leaving manager Takashi Sekizuka purring at a job well done.

"To win 2-0 in a semifinal at home without giving up an away goal is very satisfying," he said. "We kept our shape well and the defense really stood up to the task. That said, this is only halftime in the tie, so now we have to get ready to finish the job."

Both teams were missing key players called up for the national team's friendly matches in the Netherlands, depriving Frontale of captain Kengo Nakamura and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, and Marinos of talisman Yuji Nakazawa.

Kawashima's absence opened the door for understudy Rikihiro Sugiyama to make his debut, and the 22-year-old did not let his side down with a series of saves to keep Yokohama at bay.

"He was excellent tonight," Sekizuka said. "He has been waiting for his chance and he was confident, so I think this has been a great experience for him."

Chong's lime green boots left no doubt that at least he was present and correct, but the North Korean still managed to evade Yokohama's attention to notch a classic predator's goal.

Yusuke Mori drove down the wing before cutting inside and whipping the ball toward the striker, and Chong stole in front of his man to get the slightest touch to divert it into the net.

Sugiyama grew more and more comfortable after good saves from Yusuke Tanaka and Shingo Hyodo, and a spectacular flying block denied Ryuji Kawai with Marinos pushing hard for an equalizer.

Koji Yamase rolled the ball just wide as the visitors upped the pressure into the second half, but just as Kawasaki's back line looked like buckling, Juninho popped up to double the lead.

Kazuhiro Murakami swung in a deep cross, and the Brazilian took advantage of slack marking from Takanobu Komiyama to head past a furious Hiroki Iikura in the Yokohama goal.

Chong missed a golden chance to bury Marinos when he fluffed a one on one with Iikura with 10 minutes remaining, but a header wide from Yokohama substitute Kim Kun Hoan with time running out could prove more costly in the second leg on Sunday.

Marinos manager Kokichi Kimura believes his team is capable of turning the tie around, but admitted to being tactically outmaneuvered by his Kawasaki counterpart.

"We came here looking to guard our goal and hit on the counter, but that's exactly the opposite of what happened," he said. "It could have been 3-0 and I'm glad that didn't happen. But my players fought until the end and never gave up, and if we play like that in the second leg with home advantage, we can get the two goals we need."

A 2-2 draw between Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo leaves the other semifinal more delicately poised. Takuji Yonemura opened the scoring at Shimizu's Outsourcing Stadium before Frode Johnsen hit back a minute later.

Cabore gave Tokyo another precious away goal shortly before halftime, but a 70th-minute equalizer from Takuma Edamura ensures S-Pulse will go into the second leg with realistic ambitions of making the final for a second year in a row.

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