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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Frontale placing hopes on Inamoto

Staff writer

If there was a certain inevitability about the way Kawasaki Frontale failed to win their first piece of major silverware last season, it did not go unnoticed by anyone at the Kanagawa club.

News photo
Second stint: Tsutomu Takahata, manager of Kawasaki Frontale, says veteran Junichi Inamoto will be a key addition for his club this season. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Looking to re-establish their one-point lead over Kashima Antlers with three league games left to play, Frontale somehow contrived to lose against Oita Trinita, a team that had been in shambles all season and had already had its relegation to J2 confirmed.

That defeat, which paved the way for Antlers to claim a third straight league title, came hot on the heels of November's 2-0 Nabisco Cup final loss to FC Tokyo and September's exit from the Asian Champions League at the hands of Nagoya Grampus.

When Vegalta Sendai sent Takashi Sekizuka's side packing from the Emperor's Cup in December, it merely confirmed what everyone already knew — when the heat is on, Frontale crumble.

The scenario has played out so many times that Kawasaki's players could be forgiven for thinking there is a hex on Todoroki Stadium. Midfielder Hiroyuki Taniguchi, however, is determined to tackle the issue head-on, starting with Saturday's season opener at home to Albirex Niigata.

"We only want the title — nothing else," he said. "In the past, when we had an important game we just couldn't win it.

"We also haven't been able to win the title because we have started slowly, so we're determined to put that right this year. Now (Junichi) Inamoto has arrived, and he has the experience that can help us."

Taniguchi is not the only one expecting big things of Inamoto following the much-traveled veteran's off-season move from Rennes. Manager Tsutomu Takahata, who has taken the reins for the second time after Sekizuka stepped down at the end of last season, believes Inamoto can be the man to help his new teammates finally go the distance.

"We finished second in the league last season, got to the Nabisco Cup final and got to the last eight of the ACL," Takahata said. "We didn't win the title so we knew we were lacking that something that would allow us to take that extra step. Inamoto has the experience, and I hope he can give us what we need.

"He chose us and we chose him because it was a good fit in terms of playing style. So even though he hasn't been with us for long, I'm not worried about him fitting in."

Inamoto's start to his Frontale career has been interrupted by international duty, which also deprived Takahata of key playmaker Kengo Nakamura and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima for most of February. The team has already seen competitive action ahead of this weekend's J. League kickoff, however, losing 2-0 to South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa in its opening ACL fixture.

"The national team players were away but we have had plenty of meetings to work on our strategy for the new season," Takahata said. "We had our first game in the Asian Champions League and that helped us get our shape and gave us a good warmup for the season."

One player it was certainly not good for was Nakamura, who suffered a broken jaw that will keep him sidelined for up to eight weeks.

Takahata acknowledges his captain will be badly missed as Frontale attempt to overcome their traditional slow start, but the manager prefers instead to focus on the bright side.

"The team isn't built just for one player," he said. "Maybe this situation can help the others players improve."

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