Rally gives Frontale slight advantage over Grampus

by Andrew Mckirdy

Kawasaki Frontale came from behind to take a slender lead into next week’s Asian Champions League quarterfinal second leg after beating Nagoya Grampus 2-1 in Wednesday’s opening encounter.

Josh Kennedy put Grampus ahead with a header in the 28th minute, giving his side a precious away goal with Frontale hosting the game at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

But a piece of crafty opportunism from Kengo Nakamura brought Kawasaki level on the hour mark, three minutes before Juninho completed the turnaround by pouncing on a rebound from a Hiroyuki Taniguchi header.

Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic felt his side was unlucky to lose, but remains confident knowing a 1-0 win in next Wednesday’s return would be enough to progress.

“The result is very active,” he said. “We scored a goal away and that is very important for us. We have to be careful of Frontale using the counterattack, and we have to be aggressive. It will be a very interesting game.”

Frontale manager Takashi Sekizuka is also taking nothing for granted.

“It was the first leg and we were at home, so we knew we had to get a result one way or another,” he said. “The game started in the way we least wanted, with Nagoya scoring and us missing chances. We started very stiffly until Kengo found a way through, and then we managed to find our usual rhythm. But it’s not over yet.”

Kennedy opened the scoring after beating Yusuke Igawa to the ball in the first real chance of the match, but the Australian was not impressed by Frontale’s physical approach prior to the goal.

“I thought they came out with the intention to hurt or injure me, and anyone could see that in the first 20 or 30 minutes,” he said. “It was pretty pathetic to be honest.”

Nagoya’s Koichi Hirono thwarted Frontale’s attempts to find an equalizer before halftime, but the goalkeeper was at fault when Nakamura struck after the interval.

Renatinho went down for a free kick wide on the left, and with Hirono expecting Nakamura to loft the ball into the area, the national team midfielder spotted a gap at the near post and exploited it ruthlessly.

With Grampus still reeling from the setback, Juninho made it two. Yusuke Mori’s cross found Taniguchi’s head, and Juninho was on hand to sweep up the crumbs when the ball came back off the crossbar.

The second leg could have had a very different complexion if Nagoya substitute Yuki Maki had buried Hayuma Tanaka’s cross in the final minute, but Stojkovic preferred to accentuate the positives rather than brood over errors.

“The first goal was a big mistake,” he said. “It was a very cheap goal and that is difficult to accept, but we must accept it. We lost our concentration and paid a high price.

“In the last minute Maki missed the ball, but we worked very well as a team and the players did very well. We will see what happens.”