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Thursday, March 18, 2010
J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK
Flying start suggests Frontale finally mean business
Received wisdom dictates that a league table is not even worth looking at until two months of a new season have passed, but one glance after just two weeks of this year's J. League campaign says plenty about Kawasaki Frontale.
Last year's runnerup has taken a maximum six points from games against Albirex Niigata and Nagoya Grampus, with North Korean striker Chong Tese securing a 3-2 win over the latter with an injury-time cannonball at Toyota Stadium on Saturday.
For a team whose championship credentials have been consistently undermined by slow starts to recent seasons, the significance was not lost on anyone at the Kanagawa club.
"In order to win the title we need to pick up points away from home," manager Tsutomu Takahata said after Saturday's game. "For the past two years, we weren't able to do that in our early games, but now we're doing it straight away."
Kawasaki's perfect start has been all the more impressive considering the absence of captain and chief playmaker Kengo Nakamura, who will miss the first two months of the season with a broken jaw, and striker Juninho, who has also been missing through injury.
But while Frontale have been winning in the domestic championship, they haven't been doing so well in the Asian Champions League. Takahata's side opened its continental campaign with defeats to Seongnam Ilhwan and Beijing Guoan, and looks in real danger of going no further than the group stage.
This no doubt bridles with a club yet to win its first piece of major silverware, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Frontale went in search of a quadruple haul of trophies last season and ended up with none, and an early exit from a long and energy-sapping tournament could be just what they need to conserve energy for the home front.
Takahata is too diplomatic to say it, but if Kawasaki has to prioritize one competition, surely it would be the J. League.
It seems not everyone is dancing in the streets to celebrate Shunsuke Nakamura's return to Yokohama F. Marinos.
Marinos midfielder Kenta Kano had to make do with a place on the bench to accommodate Yokohama's prodigal son in Saturday's 3-0 win over Shonan Bellmare, but the 23-year-old had the last word when he came on to replace the former Celtic star in the 84th minute.
Nakamura failed to score the goal that would have put the cherry on top of his first game for the club in almost eight years, but Kano wasted no time in hitting the back of the net with a screamer from 30 meters to give manager Kazushi Kimura something to think about.
"Kano really put everything into that goal, and it's good for him to play like that," Kimura said. "I told him yesterday that he is the only player who can come off the bench to replace Shunsuke, and I don't think he liked that. I think I might have made him angry."
With a man sent off and a goal ruled out for a debatable offside, FC Tokyo could hardly count itself lucky in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Urawa Reds. Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, on the other hand, certainly seemed to have someone looking over him when Reds went on the attack shortly before halftime.
The 21-year-old was completely beaten when Yosuke Kashiwagi cracked a free kick off the post, and looked dead and buried when the rebound flew toward Urawa's Tatsuya Tanaka rushing in at pace.
But Gonda somehow ended up with the ball in his hands as Tanaka blasted his flying volley against the other post, prompting a rueful shake of the head from the Reds striker.
"I'm too short," Tanaka said. "If my legs had been longer, it would have gone in."
Quotable: "I'm just happy they didn't throw anything at us."
— Shonan Bellmare manager Yasuharu Sorimachi salutes the fans who turned out to watch their team's 3-0 capitulation to Yokohama F. Marinos.