KAWASAKI - Kawasaki Frontale’s weekend began as so many recent weekends have: with the team staring up at what appeared to be an insurmountable point gap between it and runaway J. League leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
What a difference 90 minutes can make.
Attacking explosions in both halves gave Frontale a 7-0 win over Consadole Sapporo on Saturday night, reducing their deficit from nine points to six following Sanfrecce’s 1-0 loss at Sagan Tosu earlier in the evening.
The encounter between second and fourth-place sides at Todoroki Stadium was, in theory, supposed to be one of the most hotly contested matches of the night, featuring two of the first division’s strongest offenses.
Indeed, the opening 25 minutes provided plenty of end-to-end entertainment, with Sapporo boasting the lion’s share of chances as one counterattack followed another.
While Frontale bent, it was Consadole who broke in the 28th minute. Akihiro Ienaga’s shot on goal was cleared by goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun, but the ball went straight back to the former Mallorca man who did not hesitate to loop his second effort just over a helpless defender on the line.
“We had chances to score twice before they scored their first goal,” Sapporo manager Mihailo Petrovic reflected after the match. “We pressed from the front and played bravely. We were playing as we’d aimed to play.”
As one might not expect from such a scoreline, his opposite was in agreement.
“It was a difficult start to the match and we could have allowed several goals before we scored,” Frontale’s Toru Oniki said. “We were able to earn this sort of result because of our patience.”
Ienaga quickly involved himself in Kawasaki’s second goal less than two minutes later, forcing a turnover and dishing the ball forward to Yu Kobayashi, whose cross to Kengo Nakamura was swiftly volleyed into the back of the net.
Gu was again punished for his poor stops just 10 minutes later, blocking Kobayashi from close range only for Hiroyuki Abe to hammer in the second effort and make it 3-0 heading into halftime.
Petrovic attempted to turn things around with a pair of veteran substitutions to start the second half, but neither defender Naoki Ishikawa nor striker Jay Bothroyd could do much to reverse the tide.
In the 57th minute, Ienaga notched an assist as Hokuto Shimoda scored in his maiden appearance wearing blue and black. One minute later Kobayashi found his way into the scoresheet, embarrassing Gu in a one-on-one to make it 5-0.
The situation went from bad to humiliating for Sapporo in the closing stages of the match, with Ienaga assisting Kei Chinen’s goal in the 86th minute and 20-year-old Ao Tanaka scoring in stoppage time to make his J. League debut one to remember.
While the result may have pleased 22,522 fans at Todoroki Stadium, it did not sit well with Sapporo players.
“It’s an embarrassing performance, an embarrassing result, the worst of my career,” Bothroyd said. “Our fans don’t deserve that kind of performance.
“We all need to look at ourselves in the mirror, and now we’ve got a massive game against (Kashima) Antlers at home. It’s a game where we’ll need to show heart, show desire, and show character.”
Perhaps just as important as the three points for Frontale was the scoreline, which lifted them to just behind Sanfrecce’s plus-21 goal difference with plus 20 after going into the day at plus 13.
“It would be great if we scored like this every game but it’s not that easy,” said Nakamura. “But we know we can’t lose and we needed to win this game to stay in the title race.
“We’ve been playing poorly since the Gamba game (a 2-0 away loss) and this was the sort of win we needed.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Vegalta Sendai defeated third-place FC Tokyo 1-0 on a 50th-minute own goal, rising to fourth place above Consadole, who dropped to fifth. A Musashi Suzuki hat trick helped last place V-Varen Nagasaki to a 4-3 win over Nagoya Grampus, snapping that side’s seven-game winning streak.
Relegation-threatened Kashiwa Reysol’s struggles continued in a 3-2 home defeat to Shimizu S-Pulse, while Gamba Osaka were winners in the Hanshin Derby with a 2-1 victory at Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe.