Kawasaki Frontale advance to ACL knockout phase

Kyodo

Kawasaki Frontale became the first J.League club to reach the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Ulsan Hyundai in Group H on Tuesday.

Yu Kobayashi and Yoshito Okubo struck in the opening half, with man-of-the-match Jeci closing the scoring late as Frontale finished second in the group behind Western Sydney Wanderers on goal difference, qualifying for the last 16 for the first time since 2009.

Wanderers beat last-place Guizhou Renhe 5-0 at home. Kawasaki meet the winner of Group F, which includes Sanfrecce Hiroshima, in a home-and-away tie.

“It wasn’t like playing Ulsan away,” Frontale captain Kengo Nakamura said. “We can play the way we want to here. As we’ve said from the start of this competition, this is the style we want to win in Asia with.”

In Group G, Yokohama F. Marinos were not as fortunate, crashing out of the tournament after losing 2-1 at champions Guangzhou Evergrande to finish last in the pool.

Needing a draw to go through against a team Kawasaki lost to 2-0 away on March 12, Frontale were in control for most of the 90 minutes at Todoroki Stadium.

Renato came within inches of the first goal in the 20th minute, breaking free down the inside left channel only to smack the right-hand post — and see his effort off the rebound swatted away by Kim Seung-gyu.

Ulsan went close twice around the half-hour mark, but Jeci cleared former Gamba Osaka striker Rafinha’s header off the line and Yohei Nishibe was called into action to save a header by Yoo Jun-soo.

Kawasaki broke the deadlock two minutes past the hour through Kobayashi, who finished from the edge of the box after a super through ball by Nakamura.

Frontale wasted no time padding out their lead two minutes later, when Okubo hit past Kim from a right angle for his first goal of the competition.

Rafinha shaved Frontale’s lead after 36 minutes, but the visitors would not get closer despite a couple of decent chances in the second half.

Jeci locked up the three points with a 77th-minute header, joining Okubo in opening his ACL account from a Nakamura right-wing corner.

“The ACL and the J.League are two, totally different competitions so we can’t bask in this win for long,” said Nakamura, whose side hosts Gamba in the J.League on Saturday. “We only had two days of rest since playing (Urawa) Reds, but we did well in regrouping for tonight’s game.”

On Wednesday, Hiroshima hosts Central Coast Mariners, while Cerezo Osaka are away to Shandong Luneng in Group E.