YOKOHAMA — Kawasaki Frontale’s inconsistent season took a potentially richly rewarded turn for the better Wednesday evening, Juninho scoring twice in a 2-1 victory over Yokohama F. Marinos in their Nabisco Cup semifinal, first-leg match at Nissan Stadium.
ball during the first leg of the Nabisco Cup semifinal match on Wednesday at Nissan Stadium. Frontale won
The Nabisco Cup may not be as desirable as the J. League title or Emperor’s Cup, but with ¥100 million going to the winner there’s nothing Mickey Mouse about it in the eyes of club bean counters.
It’s a useful trophy to win if a promising season has gone a little skew-whiff. Take Kawasaki Frontale’s, for example. Turfed out of the Asian Champions League by Iran’s Sepahan in the quarterfinals, 24 points behind leaders Urawa Reds in a league title race they were expected to contest, Takashi Sekizuka’s men are now in a position to salvage the season somewhat with a little bit of cup glory — and the lot of moolah that comes with it.
“It was a very important first game for us and it puts us in a good position for the second match,” said Sekizuka, whose team hosts Marinos at Todoroki Stadium on Saturday in the second leg. “We’re still only halfway there, though.”
They might not have fancied their chances too much against Marinos, having lost both league fixtures to the Yokohama team by the same 2-1 score line this year. Frontale’s recent form has left a lot to be desired as well. Two losses, two draws in five games tell their own sorry story.
Then again, Hiroshi Hayano’s men have lost their last three league games, taking the gloss off a mini-midseason renaissance. A classic was hardly on the cards and so it proved, with neither team appearing to be on the mend.
The athletic figure of Frontale’s Juninho stood out a mile from the otherwise mediocre fare on offer. The Brazilian’s pace and power overwhelmed Marinos from the get-go, the forward habitually surging past the blue-shirted brigade.
Juninho, top scorer in the league with 17 goals, stormed through the Yokohama backline just before 10 minutes to put his side ahead, the forward beating ‘keeper Tetsuya Enomoto from close range.
But it also was disappointing to see the other side of Juninho. For someone whose 60 kg appear to be made up of sinewy muscle, the Brazilian is a tad too sensitive in the tackle. Twice in the opening period he was rolling around on the deck after innocuous challenges.
He wasn’t the only one from Frontale to do so.
It wasn’t looking good for Marinos, but moments into the second half Yukihiro Yamase kept his head amid a melee in the box to steal in past ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima and side-foot home after substitute Daisuke Sakata’s first shot was blocked.
Marinos failed to capitalize on the momentum a goal can bring. Frontale more than welcomed the invitation to press forward and the next attack brought dividends.
Kengo Nakamura hoisted a pass to Magnum who, through on goal, was brought down by the covering Hayuma Tanaka. Penalty, ruled the referee, and Juninho, the lone star on a largely dismal night, strode forward to rattle the ball beyond Enomoto.
In the other semifinal first-leg match, Gamba Osaka beat Kashima Antlers 1-0 at Banpaku Stadium.