Soccer / J. League

Red-hot Frontale cautious about Asian Champions League showdown with Reds

Kyodo

Kawasaki Frontale manager Toru Oniki insists last month’s hammering of Urawa Reds will count for nothing when the two J. League teams clash in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday night.

Yu Kobayashi scored twice as Kawasaki crushed the Reds 4-1 at Todoroki Stadium in the J. League on July 5, and Frontale’s recent form suggests they are favorites to come out on top of what should be an entertaining contest.

Unbeaten so far in this season’s ACL, Frontale have only lost once in their last 10 league matches and are on a three-match winning streak.

But speaking on the eve of the match, Oniki said, “They have a bit of a different group to the last time we played them and they have changed their system as well.

“They will be in a different frame of mind so we will not have the last game in our heads. We will be looking forward to a fresh challenge.”

The Reds have turned a corner since manager Mihailo Petrovic was fired a day after the team lost 2-0 away to struggling Consadole Sapporo on July 29.

They are unbeaten in three league matches under Petrovic’s replacement Takafumi Hori, and go into Wednesday’s game on the back of consecutive wins against Ventforet Kofu and FC Tokyo, plus a 1-0 win in between those two victories against Brazilian club Chapecoense in the Suruga Bank Championship.

“Reds have started putting together results since the manager changed and you get the feeling they have regained their confidence. In addition, they are more organized in defense and more compact but we will be going out and trying to attack them,” said Oniki.

“We started the season with the aim of winning titles and the ACL is one of them. Tomorrow is only going to be the first half of the tie but we just need to win it, then the next game and the games after that, too.”

The Reds won the ACL title in 2007, but Kawasaki has never been past the quarterfinal stage.

“Our (ACL) challenge has so far panned out the way we hoped but at the end of the day it is all about winning titles. We won’t be able to say our mission is complete until we have won the championship. That is our aim,” said Oniki.

Kawasaki’s failure to go beyond the last eight is not something that seemed to bother striker and captain Kobayashi, who said in hindsight he is more comfortable playing Japanese opponents at this stage of the competition.

“I thought first of all, it would be more interesting playing a different team and would be a new learning curve,” Kobayashi said. “I’d rather have played a Chinese team but looking at the situation now, we have games coming one after another so maybe it is better for us that we are playing in Japan.”

“I’m not concerned we have never made it past the last eight and just hope we can create a new chapter in the history of the club. That is what we will try to do.”

Hori is hoping the Reds can continue their nascent revival under his leadership, but is well aware of the task facing his side.

“Frontale have won their last three games in the J. League and are on a roll,” he said. “They are a good side from the back to the front and it will be a difficult game, but we will try and put out everything we have been preparing and put on a good performance.

“The winner will be decided over two legs home and away and we will plan our strategy with that in mind. The players are determined to do well in the ACL and I will send them out on the pitch tomorrow in good faith that they will play well.”

The all-J. League quarterfinal matchup means Japan will have a team in the semifinals for the first time since Gamba reached the last four before being beaten by eventual champions Guangzhou Evergrande of China 2-1 on aggregate in 2015.

Gamba were the last J. League team to win the ACL in 2008.

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